Studying in South America can be the best chance you have to travel around this fascinating continent too. If your destination is Chile, leave the surrounds of the capital Santiago to join the most adventurous and stunning road trip through the Route 7, also known as Carretera Austral (Or Southern Highway).
Imagine driving over 1200 kilometres of magnificent views of forests, national parks, mountains, fjords and glaciers. This is what you will find at this scenic journey of natural beauty at the Patagonian region in Chile.
This famous road trip can be made by motorbike, bicycle, or even trekking and hitchhiking. But I would recommend you renting a car, and stopping in the villages along the way the get a real feel for this magical area.
How to get there?
To start, I would spend at least one week exploring the Route 7 properly. So, plan your visit in advance booking accommodation, checking the weather and choosing necessary travel gear to explore the area. There are all kinds of accommodation in the region; from hostels to luxurious cabins. But have a sleeping bag, just in case you do need to sleep in the car.
Ready to go?
The Carretera Austral starts at the “capital of Chilean Patagonia” Puerto Montt. And it can be reached on a two-hour flight from Santiago. So, stay in Puerto Montt to check the Osorno Vulcano and the Alerce Andino National Park.
The trip continues in a straightforward route at paved roads that are generally in good conditions. It is not a complicated journey to follow, but prepare in advance. Make sure you pack some extra food and a reliable GPS to avoid problems on the road.
The next step is taking a ferry across the river to the village of La Arena. While waiting for your ferry, it’s time to get a typical Chilean empanada. A must-do thing! Then, enjoy the views on this short trip. By the way, there are more ferries to take, empanadas to eat and stunning views to appreciate in several parts of this road trip.
Remember: Sometimes the roads can be in bad condition, so try to choose an adequate transport for your challenging travel on Route 7. Some travellers would recommend renting a 4×4 car. Others think that is perfectly okay to have a conventional one. It is up to you!
Get to Chaitén as the next stop. A quiet village in the Lagos region where a famous active volcano is located. The town had to be evacuated in 2008 when the volcano erupted causing flooding and destruction. The village was rebuilt in 2009 and it has become an obligatory stop on the journey through La Carretera Austral.
Futaleufú is also a close by district that is highly recommended to visit with its picturesque views of the River Espolon and the scenic valley around. It is a perfect stop for practicing kayaking and rafting. Don’t forget you may need to cross the Argentinian boarder here. Prepare your visa in advance, if the idea is exploring the area visiting the National Park in Futaleufú.
In Puyuhuapi you can enjoy stunning views from the Nevado Queulat and National Park. It is also an excellent place to try some fresh fish coming from the Puyuhuapi’s fjords. There is nothing more comforting on a road trip than a proper indulgence in the local food.
The journey continues for nearly 50 kilometres until the next village Maguinalles, in the Aysen region. The highlight of this part of the journey is visiting the Bosque Encantado, and Enchanted Forest, in the middle of the Route 7 next to the Queulat National Park.
When in Coyhaiqui, enjoy the arts and crafts products made by locals. Enjoy a different perspective of the Carretera Austral, visiting a modernised city full of restaurants and charming hotels. Feeling more adventurous and ready to have a closer contact with nature? Why not camping in the village of Puerto Rio Tranquilo?
It’s in this charming village you can also find the Lake General Carrera, the largest one in South America. Famous turquoise waters that can be navigated by boat too. And definitely an indispensable thing to do during your trip to the Patagonia. Cochrane is another pit stop to fill up the car and buy some extra supplements. It’s also the gateway to the new Patagonia National Park and Tamango National Reserve.
At this point, keep going until reach the Lake Esmeralda. The breathtaking views will make your trip, I promise you that.
Now it is nearly in the end of the road trip, and it’s time to visit the most exciting part of this region. In my opinion. Starting with the Caleta Tortel.
This coastal village is famous for having no conventional streets. Only wooden walkways can take you for a wander among the houses, also made of wood, until the bank of the River Baker, the largest river in Chile.
Chile Chico has also exuberant landscapes to be explored visiting the Jeinimeni National Reserve. It is probably one of the most beautiful landscapes of the whole trip. A Breath-taking valley with a turquoise lake to complete the magnificent scenery.
Heading to the end of the Route 7 you’ll find the Villa O’Higgins. The final point of this journey and the location where you can take a boat to the Glaciar O’Higgins, also known as The Great Glacier. This is one of the biggest glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere.
It is an extremely remote location, so don`t forget to book this trip in advance or you are going to miss one of the most exciting experience of the whole Chilean Patagonia.