The Carretera Austral is one of the most remote and stunning off-piste road journeys in South America, if not the world. Starting from Puerto Montt, the 1270 km-long Carretera Austral road crosses over rivers, national parks, forests, fjords, glaciers and flower-filled mountains. It ends in Villa O’Higgins at the foot of the Southern Ice Field – also the largest in the world outside Antarctica and Greenland.
I was lucky to travel in November (during the local springtime) and just when all the flowers and trees were starting to bloom (the multi-coloured lupins were particularly stunning). The Carretera Austral – which translates as ‘Southern Road’ – is rugged 4×4-ready territory, and the perfect place to discover hidden landscapes and stunning snow-capped scenery.
On Lago Carrera, the largest lake in Chile, we sailed out to the Marble Caves. Carved through the erosion of limestone over millennia – the smooth surfaces and layers of multi-coloured rock catch the sun and reflect beautifully onto the surrounding lake water. This is made all the more mesmerising with the snow-capped mountains sitting in the background.
Another highlight in this region is visiting the confluence of the River Neff and Baker River. The Neff is full of glacial sediment; and where the rivers converge, they mix to create the beautiful aquamarine Baker River. It is possible to raft the river; where you disappear into a lush valley of vegetation and flowers. You can even stop off for a spot of fly-fishing, if you choose to do so.
Caleta Tortel is one of the southernmost villages to reach (the road only opened in 2012). Before this, the only way to access it was to take a boat down the coast. Hence why this place was chosen for Prince William to do his Operation Raleigh – no press could easily reach the isolated spot. It’s also as interesting as it is remote. Every house is connected by a maze of boarded walkways and stairs built up and around the hillside – sharing great views out across the bay.
Accommodation varies – but most properties are small family-run lodges where you can benefit from their knowledge and maximise your experiences. Stay at the Lodge at Valle Chacabuco – built by the philanthropist and conservationist Doug Tomkins – and immerse yourself in this undiscovered region of Patagonia.
What this wild and remote road really offers is the opportunity to travel off the beaten track. With a great choice of adventurous experiences, including visiting the newest national park in Chile and heading to Patagonia Park to see guanaco, pumas and condors, you’ll be constantly struck by all the new ways to explore. The Carretera Austral suits the wild at heart, the independent traveller and someone with a thirst for adventure and wild locations. And, being independent and free to choose where to stop in your 4×4 allows maximum access to this remote and rugged route – an envious situation to be in for any traveller.