What to do on the Carretera Austral in 2 weeks ?
The Carretera Austral is a unique road that go through Chilean Patagonia from north to south. For nature and driving lovers, this road is a dream to travel. The traffic is low and ever lower during low season (from April to November). It means that hitchhiking travelers can have some troubles to find a car in this season. Between no cars, those who don’t stop or others that don’t go far enough, with rain, wind or snow … Hitchhike can become a real nightmare ! I have some story down below.
The main big cities of the Carretera Austral can be counted on one hand : Puerto Montt, Coyhaique and Cochrane. Then, it is only small villages with sometimes 5 to 10 streets. So, if you need to do groceries, focus on those 3 cities. The others will only have some minimarkets where selection will be limited and more expensive.
Here is the itinerary I chose to travel for my 2 weeks trip on the Carretera Austral :
D1-D4 : Puerto Rio Tranquilo
D5-D6 : Coyhaique
D7-D9 : Puyuhuapi
D10-D11 : Puerto Montt
D12-D14 : Puerto Varas
D15-D17 : Pucon
Puerto Varas and Pucon are part of Chilean Patagonia but not of the Carretera Austral’s villages. Besides that, it was more obvious to integrate in this article.
What to do in Puerto Rio Tranquilo ?
We come to Puerto Rio Tranquilo for the marble caves and cathedral, and the Exploradores glacier.
The « classic » tour of the marble caves and cathedral costs 10000 CLP (November 2019 price). And you have the one called « Full Marmol » tour which lasts longer because it takes you to see others caves around Puerto Ibanez and costs 20000 CLP. I chose this second one to watch and see all different types of marble caves but they are in fact all similar.
Why did I stay there for 4 days ? So I can choose the best day to do the caves’ tour. In this region, clouds, wind and rain are usual and almost daily. But the weather quickly changes and can be different from an hour to the other. By luck, among my 4 days, I got 1 beautiful day and I could benefit of an amazing lighting to admire all marble nuances’ color.
In fact, according to lighting and the weather, the experience can strongly vary on the beauty of the place, the colors or even the navigation on the lake. Si you do the tour during a grey, rainy and windy day, I am not sure this will be one of your best memory. Unlike me, I got a dreamy day, almost no wind, so shiny beautiful colors.
The tour for Exploradores glacier costs 80000 CLP (November 2019). It breaks down into 1 hour driving, then 2 hours of walking across the forrest, 1 hour and a half on the glacier and then getting back. Clearly, si you went to the tour on Perito Moreno glacier, I am not sure it will be worthy to do it again. And I chose not to do both.
What to do in Coyhaique ?
There are some nice spots around Coyhaique but honestly, I didn’t do much besides walking in the city and going to the park to have a look over the valley. Otherwise, there is Coyhaique Natural Reserve not far, but apparently not very impressive.
What to do in Puyuhuapi ?
The main highlight of this village is the Queulat National Park where we can see a hanging glacier ! The entry cost is 8000 CLP (November 2019). Unfortunately, there are not so many trails. Only 3. That day, it was pouring rain so I had to walk with my umbrella for 2 hours straight. I did the Panoramic Trail and the one that leads you to the laguna where you can see the hanging glacier. If you are lucky with the weather, you get a nice beautiful view over the glacier.
And this is when I tried hitchhiking ! I got to go to the park with a guide, who also make transfers, à 8:30 AM. But if I wanted to go back to town with him, I had to wait until his day was over at 5 PM. After 2 hours in the park, I had done it all. So I decided to go back to Puyuhuapi by hitchhiking. It was still pouring rain. And I had to wait for 30 minutes before someone agreed to take me. And during those 30 minutes, there were only 4 cars. The 4th one took me. 2 cars went to the park, 1 got out of the park and ignored me and the 4th one was a truck.
Initially, I had to stay 2 nights in Puyuhuapi but … buses going north, to Chaiten then, only work every 2 days (Monday-Wednesday-Friday) and at 6 AM only ! After my experience of hitchhiking, I didn’t want to get lost in the middle of nowhere. I decided to stay one more night in my house with Netflix (included in the price) !
What to do in Puerto Montt ?
After 10 days spent in the lost villages of the Carretera Australe, Puerto Montt was a total choc. The city is « big » but without any identity ! Clearly, I didn’t like this city at all. Around the city, there are some nice things to do and see. But you will need a car for more flexibility.
So how did I get to Puerto Montt from Puyuhuapi ? I took the bus at 6 AM to Chaiten. Then, it was a ferry day (I didn’t get it wrong) that took me directly to Puerto Montt. The navigation took 9 hours still ! There was an other solution, taking the bus with switching between land and ferryboat to cross rivers … and it would have taken 11 hours !
Besides that, in November, it is still low season and there was a discount price on all ferry tickets. Initially pricing at 17300 CLP, I actually paid 12110 CLP thanks to the 30% off (November 2019).
Puerto Montt wasn’t a favorite and I regret staying 1 more night there.
What to do in Puerto Varas ?
Unlike its neighbor, Puerto Varas was charming. Located near Llanquihue lake, with an overview of Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes, it felt good living here.
You can walk throughout the village, in Philippi or Monte Calvario parks then sit on the beach in front of the lake and volcanoes. Tours are available if you want to climb Osorno volcano, visit Vicente Perez Rosales National Park to trail and watch the impressive Petrohué waterfalls.
Finally, you can rent a bike and ride along the lakeside to the Frutillar village. This is a total of 32 km one way and will take you 2h30 to 3h. Be careful that 2 steep slopes will wait for you. I couldn’t ride them, I walked on road side with my bike. The hostel that rented the bike had offered the option of leaving the bike in Frutillar and getting back by bus. This was an amazing option because we were 7 people at the beginning without any intention of leaving our bike there, well each of us took the bus to come back. The bus costs 1200 CLP (November 2019).
What to do in Pucon ?
Most of the people going to Pucon want to climb the famous most active volcano of South America, Villarrica volcano. Weather condition and volcano forecast can make the ascent close for several days. On top of that, it costs a lot of money, around 100€ !!! Be aware of that. Other than that, you have different things to do around. You can also hike in Huerquehue National Park.
The other major activity is thermal baths. There are a good selection of thermal baths in the region. The famous and most expensive one is Geometricas thermal baths because there are inside nature itself with 40 pools. The least expensive one is Los Pozones one. As for me, I choose an in-between one, I went to Menetue thermal baths. The entry price was 14500 CLP (November 2019), included transfer round trip to Pucon, access to the 5 pools and locker and shower. There were not many people in that period, this price was discounted. Otherwise, in high season, it costs 25000 CLP ; in low season, 21000 CLP (November 2019). Personally, I think it is not worth the price even discounted. The last pool was nice, outdoors with a mini waterfall. The others were less hot and low maintenance.
Here we are, my itinerary on the Carretera Austral ! It was a favorite of this region of Patagonia ! You are really inside nature itself ! Everything is green because it rains a lot, unlike the Argentinian side where everything is pretty dry. So I preferred the Chilean side more. Maybe I will come back some day to explore more the region by going further south down Puerto Rio Tranquilo and have more stops in other cities !
Find out here how I came to the Carretera Austral, also here for more of Patagonia in Argentina !
What do you recommend me visit there for an other time ?