Our road trip down Chile’s Northern Patagonia from Coyhaique to Chile Chico
12.02.2019 - 15.02.2019
Moving South from Coyhaique, the scenery started to become really breath-taking. The mountains got higher, the valleys got deeper and the road got curvier. Our first stop was in Villa Cerro Castillo, a town named after the spectacular peak that can be seen from it. We hiked a steep path, about one vertical kilometer up, to a viewpoint from where Cerro Castillo could be seen even closer, with a blue lagoon in front of it. Not just the sight of the mountain was fantastic, but also the view of the untamed valleys, rivers and lakes below.
We were very positively surprised by the condition of the Carretera Austral so far. Between 80 and 90 percent of the road between Puerto Montt and Villa Cerro Castillo was paved. This was about to end now. South of Villa Cerro Castillo the highway is entirely unpaved. After zig-zagging through valleys for a while, the road reaches Lago General Carrera, South America’s second largest lake after Lake Titicaca.
The next night we spent in Puerto Río Tranquilo, a small village at the lake, clearly unprepared for the amount of tourists that visit it. We tried at first to find a campground, but every place was so hopelessly overcrowded that we gave up on that idea. Locals were making a business of letting backpackers camp in their backyard and those backyards often already had 20 or more tents pitched back to back. Not exactly our idea of camping as a way to be close to nature. After many unsuccessful requests, we eventually found a guesthouse that still had a room with a bunk bed left. The reason so many people come to Puerto Río Tranquilo is the Marble Caves, which we visited on a boat tour. The caves have been formed by erosion from the lake over hundreds of years and are a stunning sight.
The Carretera Austral officially ends in Villa O’Higgins, but we saved ourselves the last 300 kilometers of it. From Villa O’Higgins, there is no way of crossing into Argentina by car, so we would have had to drive the entire gravel road back up again. Therefore, after following the bumpy highway along the lake for a while, we took a turn towards Chile Chico, from where it is easy to cross into Argentina. The 115 kilometers to the small border town were sometimes difficult to drive, but very scenic. Almost the entire time we had views over Lago General Carrera from high above.
Before leaving Chile, we spent one day exploring Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinimeni, which is close to Chile Chico. Since the access road sounded too difficult for our small rental car, we hired a guide to bring us there in a 4 wheel drive. Along the way, we stopped at a lagoon that had hundreds of flamingos in it. It was very interesting to watch those exotic birds in the wild. Although we could see them with the naked eye, our guide also provided binoculars to watch them even closer. After that we arrived at Lago Jeinimeni and did a hike around the lake to a beautiful lookout. Probably due to the difficult road, there were very few other visitors there, which made our time at the stunning lake even more enjoyable.
In the evening of the 15th of February, we drove to the border to leave Chile for Argentina. Interestingly, after hundreds of kilometers of unpaved roads, the last few kilometers to the border where very nicely paved. It almost seems like Chile wants to make a good impression on visitors entering from Argentina.