Next Time I Do Carretera It'll Be On Two Wheels!
Carretera Austral, Chile
Today, we are on our journey to our ninth country, and second last country that we are going to do in South America, on this trip. We are on a two hour ferry ride across the second largest lake in South America: Lago Gral Carrera. The ferry disembarks from Chile Chico, Chile, and goes to Puerto Ibanez, Chile, which lies on the border of Argentina. From Puerto Ibanez we will take an overnight bus to El Chaltén, Argentina, and continue exploring the Patagonia region on the eastern slopes of the Andes.
We have travelled the acclaimed Carretera Austral route through Chile. The Carretera Austral route is a scenic route through the Andes, leading to the southern tip of Chile. It is a mixture of paved roads, gravel roads, and ferries. In the summertime it is predominantly used by travellers who are coming and going from the famous Torres Del Paine area of Patagonia. In the winter, it is partially closed due to inclement weather. It is by no means the quickest route to reach southern Chile, but it is the epitome of the statement: “it is about the journey, not the destination”. Recently the route has gained notoriety as a supreme cycling adventure route; it has tons of camping and hiking enroute, and minor vehicle traffic - it is a road for adventurers!
We are here in the peak of peak season, which is a great time to see this area from both a weather perspective and for meeting local Chilean travellers. This time of year, this route seems to be a right-of-passage of sorts, that Chilean “twenty somethings” backpack. Backpackers, cyclists, and overlanders gravitate here to explore the beautiful landscape. Our path to this point has been a journey consisting of many bus rides, ferries, and some hitch hiking. It is not a easy area to travel, unless you have your own means of transportation. Given how little information there is online regarding bus schedules, and the fact that buses don’t run everyday means you need to have a somewhat relaxed schedule. Also, if you don’t speak some Spanish it is extremely difficult to organize transportation. That being said, nothing is impossible and if this is an area that you passionately want to explore, I would say so go-for-it! You will survive, just be prepared for things to get a little frustrating from time-to-time. Get a data plan for your phone, and google translate will make up for what you lack in Spanish skills.
We have come a long way South, from Santiago, which has amounted to a handful of days of bus rides. Our choice to continue to journey South was fraught with some angst, as the bus journey back North to Buenos Aires was beginning to become a mental barrier. We spent a day in Coyhaique planning what we wanted to see in Argentina and how to see it, and ended up deciding that we wanted to continue exploring southern Patagonia. We purchased flights from El Calafate, which will be the most southerly point that we will reach, to Buenos Aires, which saves us from the torture of spending almost forty hours of busing back north. The flight to Buenos Aires was a couple hundred each, slightly more than the buses would’ve cost, but a good value proposition from a time and sanity perspective.
We have spent nearly five weeks in Chile, camping and hiking. To stay inside our budget we have camped most of the time we have been here. This is without a doubt the best way to get the most of your travel experience in Chile. For those of you who prefer the metropolitan lifestyle, outside of Santiago, Chile doesn’t have a lot to offer. If you want to get the most from your time in Chile, you have to spend your time outdoors, and put in the work to reach the incredible vistas that this country has to offer. Even when we have “splurged” and stayed in hostels, they have been in working towns and have not been the slightest bit luxurious.
Camping, with next to no amenities ranges from $25-$30 CAD, for two people.
Seeing Chile on a budget is more difficult than other South American countries, but if you want to get into the mountains than Chile is the place to come. Fortunately you will not have to hire guides for most hiking in Chile, which significantly reduces costs. You can do Chile cheap - we did - but be prepared to cook and do lots of camping. If you choose to do Chile on a budget, it won’t feel like a relaxing vacation, but you will get a lot out of it. We slept for nearly a month in a tent, ate cold food (we didn’t pack around a camp stove and pans), were deprived of regular warm showers, and hitch hiked to get to some of our destinations (hitch-hiking actually can save you time and money, so it’s not necessarily a “hardship”), but we also did and saw so much, as well as made great hiking friends along the way.
Now that we have done the Carretera Austral by bus, and hiking, I would come back and ride it to the southern tip of Chile. One of the things about traveling is the first time you go anywhere you have to put in the legwork to get to know an area which can leave much to be desired - which is a great thing! There have been many places on our travels so far that I have wished I could spend more time and really “do it”. When I get the chance to come back, I will be on two wheels. Whether that be a bicycle or a motorbike, this area of the world is a dream destination for those of you who like get off the beaten track, and experience nature full on - it’s my kind of place.
Hit These Incredible Spots Enroute:
Huerquehue National Park
Cochamo Valley - Arco Iris
Chiloe (Beach Trail)
Chaiten - El Volcan
Torres Del Paine