Home Travel A detailed guide to traveling the Carretera Austral, Chile

A detailed guide to traveling the Carretera Austral, Chile

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Traveling the Carretera Austral can become a lifetime adventure for anybody. The legendary Southern road offers incredible scenery, a unique ecosystem and a thrilling feeling of being in the wilderness. If you want to go off the beaten track, discover new places, do wild hikes and meet wonderful people, Chilean Patagonia is the right place for you.

We spent one month exploring the region, did several hikes, visited many off the beaten path places and remember this as one of the best trips ever. We’d like to come back there one day and explore more of the Carretera Austral, it’s the ultimate place to travel for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Carretera Austral facts

  • Total distance – 1240km/770 miles
  • Starting point – Puerto Montt
  • Finishing point – Villa O’Higgins
  • Road conditions – ongoing road works, half of the way has been already paved, half is still in process.
  • Best season to travel – December – March, Patagonian summer
  • Cost of traveling – from US$15 (very budget) to US$90 (comfortable)

Reasons to travel the Carretera Austral

  • The Carretera Austral is an unspoiled and incredibly beautiful region.
  • There are many outdoor activities to do here like hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, cycling, etc. It’s a real paradise for nature lovers.
  • The majority (if not all) trekking routes don’t require special permits or guides.
  • Despite being a wild region there are no dangerous animals like bears or wolves to be worried about. There are pumas living in the area but they’re very shy and try to stay away from people.
  • Patagonia is a safe place (as safe as a wild place can be).
    Traveling the Carretera is a lifetime experience. Total distance – 1240km/770 miles

History of the Carretera Austral

Until the 80s there was no road in Chilean Patagonia, to get anywhere you had two options to fly or to go by boat. The construction of the Carretera Austral started in 1976 and in the 90s a dirt road connecting Puerto Montt with Villa O’Higgins was finished, total distance – 1240 km.

Partly the road is paved and partly still a dirt road. In the nearest future, the road will be all paved so it will make Carretera Austral accessible for any car because nowadays you need a proper 4×4 to drive through some parts.

Carretera Austral travel cost

Accommodation

Camping is the most budget option here considering that in many places you can do wild camping if you don’t mind being without basic facilities of course. You can find established campsites in every town or village on the Carretera Austral. Average price CLP 5000-6000/US$7-8 per person/per tent (depending on the campsite). 

Some bigger towns like Futaleufú or Coyhaique have traditional hostels with shared rooms and facilities, they cost about CLP 10000/US$13 per person. 

Hotels/guest houses are very common in the area there are many from very basic cabins to luxury spa lodges, here everything depends on your budget, be ready to pay from CLP 12000/US$17  to CLP 35000/US$50 per person. In general, for the price you pay in Patagonia in other countries, you can get better facilities.

Transport

Hitchhiking is the cheapest option to move around though it can be a bit frustrating and time-consuming. Cycling won’t cost much money as well but it will definitely take a lot of time, to cycle 1200km partly on the gravel road is quite a mission.

Taking buses is not crazy expensive but sometimes you might get stuck in a place due to irregular bus service or no open spots on the bus. Buses do connect main towns on the Carretera and it’s possible to get around this way but you’ll have to plan in advance buses to some places go only a couple of times a week. In this post, you’ll find a spreadsheet with buses on the Carretera Austral. The average price for a ride is between CLP 7000/US$10 and CLP 10000/US$14 depending on the distance.

Renting a car is the most comfortable way to travel the Carretera Austral and probably the most expensive though it depends on what car you rent and between how many people you share it. The longer the rental period is the cheaper it gets per day. To rent a 5-seat sedan in Puerto Montt for 5 days will cost from US$160 or US$32 per day if you’re more than two people it might be cheaper than taking buses. You can always find someone to share a car with once you hit the road.

Food

Making your own food is by far the cheapest way to eat in Patagonia, food in shops is more expensive than in the rest of Chile but it’s still quite affordable. Eating out is quite expensive in Patagonia considering what you get, the food is pretty basic here. If you want to save some money, make sure to book places with a kitchen or to carry a camping stove (if camping). Buying food in shops will cost CLP 7000/US$10 per person per day. Eating out from CLP 7000/US$10 per meal.

Activities and entrance fees

Hiking is basically free here, except some places where you pay the entrance fee but it’s usually not too much CLP 6000/US$9 or so. Other activities are more pricey, e.g. doing a boat tour in Queulat National Park costs CLP 30000/US$40 per person, hiking on Exploradores Glacier in Puerto Río Tranquilo CLP 45000/US$62, etc.

How much to budget for the Carretera Austral

Backpacking (camping, hitchhiking, making own food, doing free activities like hiking) – from US$15 per person per day. 

Traveling with more comfort (budget hotels, buses, making food, some paid activities) – from US$50 per person per day.

Comfortable holiday (nice hotels, rental car, making food/eating out, paid activities) – from US$90 per person per day.

Chilean Gauchos riding horses and many sheep on the gravel road
In some parts of Patagonia, it looks like life hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years

Travel insurance for Patagonia

Whether you’re going to hike, cycle or just travel around, Southern Patagonia is a very remote area which, of course, makes it very exciting to travel here but when going to such places, it’s recommended to have travel insurance in case something unexpected happens.

Traveling the Carretera Austral like any other adventure involves risks of getting an injury or losing some of the gear due to unpredictable weather conditions or just unfortunate circumstances. I know what I’m talking about I lost my entire backpack with everything in it while hitchhiking on the Carretera Austral, it fell out of the truck. We had to spend a couple of extra days in Coyhaique doing shopping.

World Nomads travel insurance company has special packages for outdoor and hiking lovers that cover you in case something goes wrong. Their insurance policy is very flexible you can buy it online while traveling for the whole period of a trip of just to cover a specific activity. It takes just a couple of minutes to fill the form online and get your insurance.

The road conditions

The Carretera Austral of Ruta 7 is a permanent road construction site due to difficult rocky terrain, narrow fjords, mountains, rivers, and lakes it takes a lot of time to pave the road. Add to these unpredictable Patagonian weather; snow in winter, strong wind and rainfalls in summer and very isolated location it takes a long time to get necessary construction vehicles here.

As for 2019, the Carretera can be divided into two parts; from Puerto Montt to Villa Cerro Castillo – this part is mostly paved with a bit of gravel road here and there and from Villa Cerro Castillo to Villa O’Higgins – this part is mostly gravel road. When plan your trip keep it in mind for obvious reasons it much faster to travel on the paved road than on the gravel.

Different ways of traveling the Carretera Austral

Renting a car

This is by far the most comfortable and the easiest easy way of traveling the Carretera Austral. Though we hitchhiked the whole way and it was fun but next time when we come this way we’ll definitely rent a car it’ll save so much time and we’ll be able to visit some off the beaten path places that we could reach hitchhiking. It’s more expensive than taking a bus but you’ll have the freedom to go anywhere you want considering that buses don’t go everywhere. If you’re two and more people renting a car it might be even not much more expensive than taking a bus.

Renting a car will help you to save some money on accommodation camping is much easier if you have a car and on food, you can buy a lot of stuff in supermarkets in Puerto Montt where everything is significantly cheaper than on the Carretera. 

If you’re only two people renting a car you might be able to find travelers to share the cost on the Carretera, at one of the campsites or hostels. Many people try to hitchhiking and get sick of it pretty soon and buses are not always available. 

Important to remember! If you’re going to travel the Carretera in the high season (end of December – January) remember about several ferries on the route, plan your trip according to the timetable and rather try to buy tickets a day before you go to secure the spot. 

Ferries on the route

Caleta La Arena – Caleta Puelche – daily, basically 24 hours a day from 6 am to 4.30am, at least to ferries every hour, take 30min. Price CLP 10000/US$ per car, passengers/pedestrians don’t pay.

Hornopirén – Caleta Gonzalo (Pumalín park) – daily, at 9 am, the journey takes 4 hours. Return daily at 3 pm. Price CLP 9200 per person, CLP 55000/US$ per car. Strongly recommended buying tickets in advance.

Puerto Yungay – Barcaza Rio Bravo – daily, from November to March at 10 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, and 6 pm. From April to October at 12 pm and 3 pm. The journey takes 45min. Price – free for everybody.

A small town of Hornopirén from the ferry
On the ferry from Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo, Pumalín park

Traveling by bus

It’s a good alternative if renting a car is not an option because it’s too expensive, nobody to share with, no driver’s license, etc. and hitchhiking doesn’t sound too appealing. Buses is one of the most popular ways of traveling the Carretera Austral but in high season they get very busy and sometimes it’s difficult to get a spot. Buses don’t go everywhere but they do go to the main towns on the route.

If you go by bus there is no need to worry about ferries your bus ticket includes any ferry ride that is on the way. We didn’t use buses but saw once how people couldn’t get on a bus because there was no space, it was at Villa Cerro Castillo, there was only one bus a day going from Coyhaique towards Puerto Rio Tranquilo.

Carretera Austral buses timetable

Keep in mind, times and prices can change anytime, confirm departure at the bus terminal/ticket office. If you have any updates, please, comment at the end of the post and we’ll make changes in this timetable.

Route Days Time Duration Price
Puerto Montt – Hornopirén Mon – Sat
Mon – Fri
Sat, Sun
Mon – Sun
Mon – Sun
8.00
11.30
12.00
14.30
17.00
3 hours US$17
Puerto Montt – Chaitén Mon – Sun 7.00 9 hours US$25
Puerto Montt – Coyhaique* Fri 7.00 18 hours US$56
Chaitén – Puyuhuapi Mon, Wed, Fri 16.00 3 hours US$9
Chaitén – Coyhaique Wed, Sun 11.30 9 hours US$33
Chaitén – Futaleufú Daily 12.00
17.00
3h30min. US$7
Coyhaique – Cochrane Daily 9.00 8 hours US$22
Cochrane – Villa O’Higgins Wed, Sat 8.30 6h30min. US$10

Getting to the Carretera by ferry

There are several port towns in the area where it’s possible to get by ferry it might be a good option for those who want to get to Patagonia from Chiloe Island or those who prefer boats to buses and cars. Depending on who far you go by boat you’ll skip some parts of the Carretera, mainly the northern part. 

Ferries

Puerto Montt – Chaiten – leaves Mon, Thu, Fri at 11 pm. It takes 9 hours. Price CLP 17000/US$23.

Puerto Montt – Puerto Natales – leaves every Saturday at 4 pm. It takes 3 days.  Operates from mid-October to April. Price from US$450.

Quellón (Chiloe) – Puerto Cisnes – leaves every Wed at 7 pm and Sat at 5 pm. It takes 12 hours. Price CLP 11500/US$16.

Quellón – Puerto Chacabuco (makes 9 stops on the route) – leaves every Wed and Sat at 11 pm. It takes 31 hours. Price CLP 18000/US$25.

Joining a tour

We personally not tour travelers but I know some people like doing activities in a group especially if they travel alone. Patagonia is a challenging region and traveling here is quite unpredictable if you’re not an experienced traveler and feel a little bit uncomfortable embracing this journey along a small group tour might be a great option for you.

We always recommend going with a reliable company that can guarantee your experience will be up to the standards without sudden cancellations and delays. We’ve met many people all around the world traveling with G-Adventures and Intrepid Traveler and everybody always seemed happy with them. In fact, I even have friends working there. Both companies have some interesting adventure tours in Patagonia, here are some of them;

Hitchhiking the Carretera Austral

It might be the most fun way of traveling the Carretera (you’ll meet many locals, make new friends, etc.) and at the same time the most time consuming and sometimes frustrating. In the peak season, there are so many people hitchhiking that sometimes it can take hours till you get a ride.

We spent two months hitchhiking the Carretera Austral and other parts of Patagonia and loved it but as I said before one time was enough, next time we’ll rent a car and will definitely stop to pick up hitchhikers! Hitchhiking does work pretty good in Patagonia and in Chile in general just remember if you go in January, February you’ll have a lot of competition mainly from local students that are on holiday.

Hitchhiking tips

Patagonia is a pretty safe place for traveling we saw many girls hitchhiking alone, we personally never heard any bad stories from the road, all the people we met there were extremely nice and helpful. We don’t want to say nothing can ever happen to you but chances are pretty small compared to the most places in South America.

Hitchhiking is a part of Chilean culture many people who picked us up told us they did the same when they were younger and now they feel they have to give the favor back.

Don’t get disappointed and give up easily. Many first-time hitchhikers after an hour of waiting on the road give up, be patient and sooner or later someone will pick you up.

Always make a big sign saying where you want to go.

Try to be original, funny, different that you can stand out n the crowd. Remember, there will be many people hitchhiking there. Often Chileans are more curious and interested to chat with foreigners, make it clear you’re from far away, write the name of your country or draw a flag on your sign.

Talk to people in hostels, campsites are nice and social, there is a good chance you’ll meet someone who will invite you to join for a trip for free or to share petrol cost.

Many drivers told us they stop only for female travelers or couples because ether they feel sorry for girls or just feel safer. If you’re a guy traveling alone try to team up with a girl or two it’ll increase your chances to be picked up.

Cycling along the Carretera 

It’s probably the ultimate adventure on the Carretera Austral and we would love to do it one day. When we were there we were quite jealous of cyclists, it’s a completely different way of experiencing the region and seeing things. We met both first-time cyclists (not many though) and experienced travelers and for both cycling in Patagonia seemed to be quite challenging.

The weather here is very unpredictable, it gets very windy, all of a sudden it starts raining so you must be prepared for tough days and long distances. Have the right gear and a good bicycle is quite important as well. It can be very challenging to cycle all 1200 km if you’re not a seasoned cyclist, it’s better to choose a part of the route.

Border crossing points on the Carretera Austral

There are several places along the route where you can cross the border between Chile and Argentina, here they are;

  • Palena
  • Futaleufú
  • Balmaceda
  • Chile Chico
  • Candelario Mancilla (ferry from Villa O’Higgins), only on foot or with a bicycle.

Accommodation on the Carretera Austral

Depending on your budget and preferences you can choose between camping in your own tent, which is the cheapest option, staying at hostels – more expensive but more comfortable or having more privacy and paying more for staying at guesthouses or hotels. Most of the towns and villages have all the listed options though hostels might be difficult to find in smaller places. 

For camping you’ll need your own gear; tent, mat, sleeping bag – most of the campsites provide designated camping area with a kitchen and ablutions but they don’t rent tents and gear. We camped a lot and it was great and very social, especially in the evenings but sometimes after hiking and camping for a week in the wild you don’t feel like pitching a tent again and sleeping on the ground, we’d suggest combining camping with staying at hostels/hotels to get a bit of a break.

A table with the towns on the Carretera Austral and their infrastructure
The infrastructure of the towns on the Carretera Austral, Patagonia, Chile

Cash vs cards on the Carretera Austral

  • Puerto Montt – a very busy town with many shopping malls and ATMs.
  • Hualaihue, two ATMs on the main square only one of them works with international cards, supermarkets accept cards.
  • Caleta Gonzalo (Pumalin park), no ATMs, only cash.
  • Chaitén, no ATMs, credit/debit cards accepted in a few places, can buy bus tickets only by cash.
  • Puyuhuapi, no ATMs, no cards accepted.
  • Coyhaique, a couple of ATMs, credit/debit cards accepted.
  • Villa Cerro Castillo, no ATMs, only cash.
  • Puerto Río Tranquilo, no ATMs, some tour operators accept cards, some shops accept cards.
  • Cochrane, two or three ATMs on the main square.
  • Caleta Tortel, nothing to do without cash.
  • Villa O’Higgins, no ATMs, some shops accept credit/debit cards, campsites and ferries only cash.

Puerto Montt

The beginning of the Carretera Austral and the last big town for the next 660km till you reach Coyhaique so make sure to draw money and stock supplies if you drive a car I’d suggest to do a big shopping here. Besides being the starting point of the Carretera the town itself is quite nice and beautiful. If you have time we’d suggest staying here for a couple of days and exploring the area there are quite a few things to do;

Visit Chiloé island, it’s a short trip by bus and ferry. There are several daily buses from Puerto Montt to Castro and Ancud (two main towns on the island) they include the ferry ride to the island as well. To get to Castro takes 3h30min., costs from CLP 6000/US$ one way. Getting to Ancud is faster, 2 hours and costs from CLP 3700/US$ one way. 

Do a day trip to Osorno Volcano and Petrohué waterfalls. The best way to visit both is to rent a car or join a tour.

Visit Puerto Varas, one of the coziest towns in Chile, it’s located at the beautiful Llanquihue Lake. Puerto Varas is just 22 km away from Puerto Montt, it’s easy to get there by bus, there are many daily buses that connect two towns, it takes 30min., price CLP 900/US$1.

Go for a short hike in the Alerce Andino National park just 30km outside of Puerto Montt. There are no public buses going there you’ll need a car or a shuttle to get to the park.

Spend some time exploring the town, go to Plaza de Armas, the Costañera (waterfront), the Cathedral, the Historical Museum of Puerto Montt etc. 

Accommodation in Puerto Montt
Budget | Mi Hostal Tu Casa | Islanet Hostel & Bar | Habitacion en Acojedor departamento | Refugio Urbano
Middle price | Habitaciones con vista al mar | Hostal Posada Angelmo | Hostal Copiapo 9 Pto Montt |
Luxury | APART HOTEL SUVERAL | Hotel Presidente Suites Puerto Montt | Hotel Don Luis Puerto Montt |

Orange sunset sky, full Moon, lake and the volcano on the background
Sunset view of Osorno Volcano from Puerto Varas

Hornopirén

A first stop on the Carretera Austral there is a couple of other places before but they’re very small with not much infrastructure. Many people stay in Hornopirén for the night only because they have to wait for a morning ferry as we did but actually there are some interesting things to do in the area, like hiking in the Hornopirén National park.

The entrance to the park is located about 18 km away from the town, it’s possible to drive the first 11 km till the road finishes, the last 7 km are on the footpath. You can get more info at the park information office in the town (Bernardo O’Higgins street). There are two hiking trails in the park; 3 km and 3,6 km. 

Accommodation in Hornopirén
Budget | Cahuin Hostel | Camping Hornopirén | Camping Bosqué Nativo |
Middle price | Cabañas Palafito | Hosteria Catalina | Pichical Ruka |
Luxury | Cabañas y turismo Lahuan | Cabañas Quechucaví | Cabañas El Mirador |

Pumalín Park

There are two access points to the park; Caleta Gonzalo and Sector Río Amarillo. If you coming from Puerto Montt you get first to Caleta Gonzalo, the ferry from Hornopirén arrives here. This park is an incredible place with many hiking trails and several campsites. It was a complete surprise for us we didn’t plan to stop here but in the end, we spent 5 days in the Pumalín and did several one-day hikes. For more details on the park, walking trails and campsites read our detailed guide to the Pumalín park. The entrance is free. 

Alya climbing the ladder to get to the waterfall, Pumalin park, Carretera Austral
Alya climbing the ladder on the Cascada trail in Pumalín Park, Caleta Gonzalo, Carretera Austral

Chaitén 

It’s a very small town with not much to see it’s located along the Carretera between two access points to the Pumalín park. If you’re planning to visit both parts of the park Chaitén is a good place to stop for a night to stock food supplies, charge your devices and get a hot shower.

The town is connected by bus and ferry with Puerto Montt. There are buses from here towards Coyhaique and Futaleufú. 

Accommodation in Chaitén 
Budget | Camping Tierra Viva | Hostal & Camping Las Nalcas | 
Middle price | Cabañas Los Chilcos | Departamentos Emanuel | Chucao Bosque y Cabañas |
Luxury | Tranqueras del Monte | Paraiso Patagonico | Ecolodge el Fandango |

Futaleufú

A beautiful town on the border with Argentina, the first point on the Carretera Austral where you can cross to the neighbor country. The scenery around Futaleufú is breathtaking; pine forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the ideal place for outdoor activities.

Things to do in Futaleufú

  • Hiking, there are many trails near the town e.g. Piedra del Águila, Garganta del Diabolo, Circuit Las Escalas.
  • Kayaking/Rafting
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Rappelling/ziplining

Futaleufú is quite a detour, 77 km east from the Carretera most people stop here on the way to Argentina but even if you’re not planning to cross the border it’s well worth coming here. There are public buses from Chaitén and Puyuhuapi.

Accommodation in Futaleufú
Budget | Hostería Outdoor Patagonia | Turismo Rural Los Alpes |
Middle price | Pumallen | Cabañas Lonco-Lafken |
Luxury | Cabaña | Hotel Antigua Casona Patagonia | Hotel El Barranco | 

Puyuhuapi 

The scenery on the stretch between Chaitén and Puyuhuapi is fantastic; turquoise lakes, waterfalls, fast rivers, mountains, etc. If you drive a car or cycle you’re lucky because there are many places on the route to stop and take photos.

Puyuhuapi is another small cozy town on the route, we stayed here for one night on the way to Queulat National park. The town is located in the fjord next to the water in the summer don’t miss the sunset here it’s beautiful. The town is very small and quiet, there is a nice sandy beach where you can relax, swim or rent a boat.

Accommodation in Puyuhuapi
Budget | Hostal Scarlett | camping La Sirena | camping Adhonai | camping Tía Chela |
Middle price | Hostal Don Luis Puyuhuapi | Hostel Y Cabañas Augusto Grosse |
Luxury | Cabana Senderos Puyuhuapi | Cabañas Río Pascua | Departamentos Rossbach | 

Sunset at the lake in Puyuhuapi, Patagonia
Beautiful sunset at the fjord in Puyuhuapi, Carretera Austral

Queulat National park

A great place to come for a day, located just km from Puyuhuapi the park offers several one-day hiking trails with breathtaking views of the Colgante Glacier, lakes and rivers. Entrance fee – CLP 5000/US$7.

Activities
Hiking, there are two trails, the longer one to the Mirador (viewpoint) and the shorter one to the lake.
Kayaking
Boat ride to the glacier

Accommodation in Queulat
| Camping Ventisquero Colgante (just before the entrance) | Camping Experiencia Austral (inside the park) |

Torquoise lake surrounded by the lush green mountains with a hanging glacier on the background, Queulat Park, Carretera Austral
Hanging glacier in Queulat National Park, a great stop on the Carretera Austral

Puerto Cisnes 

A small port town about 30 km west from the actual Carretera Austral. It’s the first place on the route where you can get by ferry from Chiloé Island. Most people stop here on the way from the ferry to the Carretera. There is a small sandy beach in the town, you can rent a kayak or do a boat trip or short hikes from the town. There are three trails; Sendero Cerro Gilberto (uphill to the viewpoint), Sendero Dos Lagunas (to the lakes) and Sendero Virgen de Las Rosas (to a small chapel).

Accommodation in Puerto Cisnes
Budget | Hostal Chucao | Alojamiento en casa privada de Puerto Cisnes |
Middle price | Hostal Bellavista | Profe Nelson |
Luxury | La Casa Amarilla |

Puerto Chacabuco/Puerto Aysén

Though these are two different towns they are located only 14 km apart. Puerto Chacabuco is connected by ferry with Puerto Montt and Chiloé Island. Puerto Aysén is located more inland, on the way from Chacabuco to the Carretera Austral. Like Puerto Cisnes these two towns are mainly visited as an entrance point to the Chilean Patagonia.

Accommodation in Puerto Chacabuco
Budget | Hospedaje Daniela |
Middle price | Cabañas Lomas del Salto |
Luxury | Loberias Del Sur |

Accommodation in Puerto Aysén
Budget | KIXIE COT | Hospedaje Melchor |
Middle price | HOSTAL HUDSON | Casa de familia compartida |
Luxury | Hotel Aysen Austral | Hotel y Cabañas Patagonia Green |

Coyhaique

The first biggish town on the Carretera Austral with a couple of supermarkets and gear shops a good place to stock food supplies. There are not many activities you can do from the town, it’s a stopover kind of place with the best infrastructure you can find in the area. We spent two days here mainly because I lost my backpack on the way (it fell out of a truck that picked us up on the road) so we had to so quite a bit of shopping.

Accommodation in Coyhaique 
Budget | Habitación Independiente | Aumkenk Aike Hostel | Donde Lupe | 
Middle price | Patagon Backpackers | Hospedaje familiar | Hostal Casa Arrayán | 
Luxury | Borde Simpson Hotel Boutique | Hostal Los Teros | The Patagonian Lodge | 

Villa Cerro Castillo

A tiny village on the Carretera, it’s worth stopping here only if you’re planning to hike in Cerro Castillo National park otherwise you can just skip it. There are two trekking routes; a short day hike up to the lake and back to the village and a 4-day wild trek. For the second one, you’ll have to carry camping gear and food supplies. You can find a lot of information on a detailed guide on hiking Check our Cerro Castillo hiking guide for more details. Park entrance fee CLP 8000/US$11 per person.

In busy months (January, February) it might be difficult to get a bus from here all buses come from Coyhaique and are usually already full when they stop. We saw some people couldn’t get in and were forced to hitchhike.

Accommodation in Villa Cerro Castillo
| Caming Rustik Patagonia | Camping Araukaria | Camping El Mirador| Hostal El Rodeo | Refugio Cerro Castillo | Cabañas El Tropero |

Campbell with a backpack at the small green lake on the Cerro Castillo hike in Patagonia
Campbell at the beautiful Laguna Cerro Castillo, Patagonia

Puerto Río Tranquilo

The whole way from Villa Cerro Castillo to Río Tranquilo the road goes past stunning blue, turquoise, and greenish color lakes and rivers. The town itself located at the General Carrera Lake an impressive and huge emerald color lake. If you have a chance, check the lake out at different times of the day, the color changes depending on the light from dark blue to light green.

Río Tranquilo is a great place to stop for a day or two and enjoy some adventure activities other than hiking. Here you can do a boat tour to the Marble Caves (CLP 10000/US$ or hike Exploradores glacier wearing crampons and a helmet and carrying an ice axe. By the way, it is the cheapest glacier hike you can do in Patagonia, CLP 45000/US$65 per person including transportation and gear. Unfortunately, the weather here is very unpredictable and boat trips are often canceled due to very strong winds. You don’t want to mess with this lake, a couple of years back it became famous due to the death of Douglas Tompkins (the founder of North Face) during a kayak trip.

Accommodation in Puerto Río Tranquilo
Budget | Camping Río Chirifo | Camping Lerun | Camping La Peninsula |
Middle price/Luxury | Terra Patagónica | Cabañas la Estrella | Cabañas Patagon Explorador |

Breathtaking sunset at the General Carreras Lake, Patagonia
View of Lago General Carreras on the way from Río Tranquilo to Cochrane

Chile Chico

This town like Puerto Río Tranquilo is located on the shore of the General Carrera Lake so stunning views are guaranteed. Chile Chico is 100 km east from the Carretera Austral on the border with Argentina, it’s the last point to cross the border before the dead-end in Villa O’Higgins.

There are several activities to do from here but you’ll need a car or a shuttle to get there first;

  • Enjoy the scenery at the Laguna Verde, on the way, about 20 km before the town
  • Hiking to the Jeinimeni Lake in Jeinimeni National Reserve
  • Hiking the Piedra Calvada Circuit, 10 km route with a steep ascent and a subsequent descent. This route can be combined with the Jeinimeni Lake, it’s on the way.

Accommodation in Chile Chico
Budget | Mate Dulce | Hotel Ventura |
Middle price | Hotel Austral | Cabañas Cueva del Indio |
Luxury | Costanera Apart | El Engaño S.P.A. |

Cochrane

This town is often unnoticed by the tourists which is easy to explain after days of exploring the natural wonders of the Carretera Austral and several hikes travelers feel like finally getting to the end of the route there are just too many amazing places here. Though Cochrane deserves a stop for a day. I’d rather stay here than in Caleta Tortel.

The town has good infrastructure and several cozy guesthouses. It’s located close to Cochrane Lake and Tamango National Reserve another hidden gem of Patagonia. There are a couple of hiking trails in the park and along the lake that offers beautiful scenery. The entrance fee CLP 5000/US$7.

Accommodation in Cochrane
Budget | Casa raíces | Residencial Horstmeyer |
Middle price | Hostal Lejana Patagonia | Residencial rubio | Cabañas Rincon del Sur |
Luxury | Loft Kalfu Patagonia | Cabañas Los Ñadis | Hotel Último Paraíso |

Caleta Tortel

A tiny port-like village with a wooden boardwalk instead of streets I guess it’s the main attraction here. The Landscape was quite impressive; fjord with mint color water, forest, hills, etc. We didn’t stay here just came by for a couple of hours and to be honest, we didn’t feel like staying here longer. From all the reviews we’ve read about different guesthouses here nothing sounded good and everything looked overpriced. If you have a car it’s worth coming here on the way otherwise I’d skip Tortel.

Caleta Tortel, green lake, mountains covered in the forest
Caleta Tortel a picturesque village with not much to do

Villa O’Higgins

The end of the legendary Carretera Austral and the dead-end of the road. If you drive a car there is no way to go forward for you to get anywhere from here you’ll have to drive back. For people, without a vehicle, it’s possible using ferries and walking/cycling to cross from Chile to Argentina and continue exploring Patagonia in El Chalten.

The town is very small with an only gravel road that connects it to the rest of the world, it does give a feeling of being somewhere in a very isolated place, literally at the end of the world.

Accommodation in Villa O’Higgins
Budget | Hotel/campbiste El Mosco |
Middle price/luxury | Cabanas San Gabriel | Puesto Cánogas Hostal | Robinson Crusoe Deep Patagonia |

A small town of Villa O'Higgins and the gravel road of the Carretera Ausstral
Villa O’Higgins, the last kilometer of the Carretera Austral

General tips for traveling the Carretera Austral

Bring a tent, you’ll need it every day, it saves a lot of money and increases your chances to find accommodation during the peak season. 

Always have snacks with you in case you get stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Every time you are in a place with an ATM, draw money, it can be a problem in Patagonia, in some places, it’s difficult to get cash.

If you run out of cash and there are no ATMs nearby you can try to find a petrol station (usually they accept cards). Wait for a car to come and ask the driver if you can pay by card for his petrol and he pays you back in cash, explain your situation. In fact, you can do the same in a shop.

Always have the cash to pay entrance fees to the park, none of them accept cards.

It’s handy to have a stove and cooking set because not all campsites have a kitchen. Moreover to buy meals in cafes and restaurants is expensive, cooking will save a good portion of your budget.

Be ready to have bad or no Internet connection, if you want to download books/movies/maps do it before you start the Carretera Austral.

Everything in Patagonia is more expensive in order to save money, buy all the necessary gear and clothing beforehand.

What to pack for the trip

Those who’re planning to camp and hike in Patagonia will definitely need camping gear and we’d recommend bringing good quality stuff especially regarding a tent, you’ll need one that can deal with very strong winds and pouring rain.

A sleeping bag should be for comfort, we had one summer sleeping bag (14C comfort) and had to use it with a fleece inner otherwise it was too cold to sleep in it.

A sleeping pad can be either a cheap foam one or a blow-up, we prefer the second option it’s more comfortable for sleeping and it can be fit in the backpack.

Cooking gear will be quite handy though many campsites in towns have some sort of kitchen you’ll still need your own pots and utensils as those are usually scares. You’ll definitely need a cooking set when going on a multi-day trek. Gas for camping stove can be bought almost at any shop on the Carretera.

Comfortable shoes are a must-have for those who’re planning to hike, waterproof shoes are better as you can get quite a bit of rain even in summer. For more details on gear and clothing for Patagonia check our Patagonia packing guide.

Recommended books and guidebooks



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