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Drive the spectacular Carretera Austral Highway

I have recently returned from a fantastic week-long holiday to the little visited Aisen Region of Chilean Patagonia, organised by the Aisen Tourist Board. As one of the few areas of Chile that I had not visited, I jumped at the chance and the excitement grew as we finally flew from Santiago to the regional capital, Coyhaique. Passing by the snow-capped peaks and volcanoes of the Andes and landing in Balmaceda, this is where the week-long adventure began!

After a one night stop on the edge of Coyhaique, we set off north to the small town of La Junta, travelling 180 miles along the renowned Carretera Austral Southern Highway, one of the great road journeys on Earth. The camino is partially paved so a 4×4 is a must, and enables travellers to experience the best that this region has to offer. The route north heads all the way up to Puerto Montt in the Lake District and towards the Argentine border close to Esquel.

We continued our journey south again towards the Queulat National Park, which is close to Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa. Reached by boat, the lodge has a privileged location at the edge of a beautiful fjord, surrounded by mountains and forest. Whilst guests should make use of the hot thermal baths, the excursions on offer are excellent, heading off the main highway to hike to glacier viewpoints and through the rainforest. The highlight of my stay here was a lovely hike to view the spectacular Ventisquero Hanging Glacier plunging into a lake-filled ravine.

In trying to fit as much as possible into the week-long trip, we travelled around 1,000 kilometres in total after driving south of Coyhaique to Lake General Carrera for the second half of the trip. Again, the journey was spectacular with glacier covered mountains, waterfalls, vast fjords and huge rivers such as the Baker River. The fact that we must have passed ten cars at most during the day illustrates how few people live in the region, let alone how few tourists there are! We spent a night on the shore of Lake General Carrera, the second largest in South America and it is quite simply one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Visitors will find some great lodges all offering fantastic trout fly-fishing and outdoor activities to make the most of what the region has to offer.

Few people visit Aisen Region and it is important to get the season right, with October – April being the optimum period to experience this beautiful region. Visitors can ski out of season though. It is an area that will suit travellers seeking an off the beaten track experience with hiking, horse riding, white water rafting and world class trout fly-fishing combined with the independence of travelling by 4×4.