A Travellerspoint blog

The Carretera Austral - Part 1

Our road trip down Chile’s Northern Patagonia from Puerto Montt to Coyhaique


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

We started driving the Carretera Austral, known officially as Ruta 7 in Chile, from its start in Puerto Montt. The highway was the brainchild of dictator Augusto Pinochet, who wanted to unite the nation by connecting even its most remote parts. It cuts through the Aisén region, Chile’s most sparsely populated one. While originally just a gravel road, many parts have been paved now and paving is ongoing. Two sections near the start of the highway are interrupted by large fjords which require a car ferry crossing. The first crossing takes only 30 minutes and the ferries run regularly throughout the day. The second one, however, takes 4½ hours, runs only twice a day and requires a reservation about a week in advance. We procrastinated this reservation a bit too long and ended up having to go three days later than we would have liked to. We spent two extra days in Chiloé, which were worthwhile, and two instead of one night in the sleepy town of Hornopirén from where the second ferry departs and where there is not much to do otherwise. About half of the highway between the first ferry and Hornopirén was under construction, which meant that we had to wait for long times at stoplights and drive on rough dirt and gravel roads, a glimpse into the conditions we would encounter further south on the Carretera Austral.

Car ferry approaching Caleta La Arena

Car ferry approaching Caleta La Arena

Car ferry between Hornopirén and Caleta Gonzalo

Car ferry between Hornopirén and Caleta Gonzalo

After the long ferry ride, the road was again unpaved for a while. We tried to find a space in one of the official campsites around Volcán Chaitén, but were surprised the find all the decent spots already booked. Despite the difficulty accessing this region, it seemed a lot of people still went there. We finally decided for a wild camping location at the beach of the small hamlet Santa Barbara. The next morning we hiked to Volcán Chaitén, an active volcano that last erupted in 2008. The day was quite cloudy but we could still see a lot of smoke coming out of the ground around the volcanoes peak.

Sunset at the beach in Santa Barbara

Sunset at the beach in Santa Barbara

Marta, our car and our tent at the beach in Santa Barbara

Marta, our car and our tent at the beach in Santa Barbara

Smoke coming out of Volcán Chaitén

Smoke coming out of Volcán Chaitén

Valley around Volcán Chaitén

Valley around Volcán Chaitén

Forest burnt by the heat of Volcán Chaitén

Forest burnt by the heat of Volcán Chaitén

From Santa Barbara onwards, the highway was nicely paved and we were able to cover a lot of distance. Again, we were struggling a bit with finding a suitable campground for the night. When we passed a nice looking fishing lodge near Lago Yelcho and asked if we can pitch our tent on their grounds, they offered us a room for a good price instead. Of course we took the offer and were happy to have a hot shower and a nutritious breakfast.

Lago Yelcho

Lago Yelcho

The next day the road followed a nice river all the way to the town of La Junta where we spent the night in a small bungalow. Nights were getting colder now and we were glad to have a wood-fire oven near the bed. Our guidebook mentioned that the only interesting thing about La Junta is that they still have a statue of Pinochet on the Carretera Austral. Some say people in the Aisén region have a rather positive view of the dictator, since he connected them to civilization. However, just on the day we were there, we saw workers take down the dictators monument, pack it in a large black garbage bag and paint over his name.

South of La Junta, we stopped for a while at Parque Nacional Queulat to see the Ventisquero hanging glacier and the large waterfalls emerging from its bottom. We spent another night in our tent a short stretch before Coyhaique. We were lucky to have a sheltered spot as there were strong winds and it was raining throughout most of the night. This would be our last night in the tent for a while, as temperatures continued to drop on the way South.

Carretera Austral running along a fjord near Puyuhuapi

Carretera Austral running along a fjord near Puyuhuapi

Ventisquero hanging glacier

Ventisquero hanging glacier

Unpaved segment of the Carretera Austral south of Parque Nacional Queulat

Unpaved segment of the Carretera Austral south of Parque Nacional Queulat

Coyhaique is the largest town in the Aisén region, with more than 50 thousand inhabitants. We spent two nights there and were able to stay with Paola, a friend from Marta’s studies. We used our time there to run some errands like getting a new hair cut for Sam and picking up our permits to cross to Argentina with our rental car. We also did a hike with Paola near the town, which is surrounded by beautiful nature.

Mountain around Coyhaique

Mountain around Coyhaique

Coyhaique with mountains behind

Coyhaique with mountains behind

Posted by samandmarta 12:37 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Churching in Chiloé

Visiting wooden churches on Chile’s second largest island


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

Before entering Patagonia, we spent four nights in Isla Grande de Chiloé, Chile’s second largest island (after Tierra del Fuego, which belongs in parts to Argentina). To get to Chiloé, we had to take a short car ferry south of Puerto Montt. For the first three nights, we based ourselves in Dalcahue, which was a convenient location to explore the sights of Chiloé.

Around Chiloé, there are countless smaller islands and we actually spent our first day on Isla Quinchao, which is another short car ferry ride away from Dalcahue. From the hills of this small island we had beautiful views of the Chiloé Archipelago and even the snowy peaks of Northern Patagonia were visible in the distance. In Achao, the largest town on the island, we visited the oldest remaining church of Chiloé (built in 1740), Iglesia Santa Maria de Loreto.

Dalcahue from the car ferry to Isla Quinchao

Dalcahue from the car ferry to Isla Quinchao

Car ferry to Isla Quinchao

Car ferry to Isla Quinchao

Achao on Isla Quinchao with mountains of Northern Patagonia in the background

Achao on Isla Quinchao with mountains of Northern Patagonia in the background

Iglesia Santa Maria de Loreto in Achao

Iglesia Santa Maria de Loreto in Achao

Inside of Iglesia Santa Maria de Loreto in Achao

Inside of Iglesia Santa Maria de Loreto in Achao

Churches are in fact the main reason tourists come to Chiloé. During the 17th and 18th century, Jesuit missionaries have built hundreds of wooden churches around the island, it seems at least one in every tiny village. Today, 16 of the remaining churches are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. We spent most of our time around Dalcahue visiting these churches, which have quite a special architecture. The main tower is always in the front, above the entrance. They are made entirely out of wood and painted in interesting colors.

Iglesia de Nuestre Señora del Patrocinio in Tenaún

Iglesia de Nuestre Señora del Patrocinio in Tenaún

Iglesia San Francisco in Castro

Iglesia San Francisco in Castro

Inside of Iglesia San Francisco in Castro

Inside of Iglesia San Francisco in Castro

Palafito houses in Castro

Palafito houses in Castro

Coast of Vilupulli

Coast of Vilupulli

Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Chonchi

Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Chonchi

Inside of Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Chonchi

Inside of Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Chonchi

Iglesia Santa Maria in Rilán

Iglesia Santa Maria in Rilán

Inside of Iglesia Santa Maria in Rilán

Inside of Iglesia Santa Maria in Rilán

For our last day on Chiloé, we moved north to the Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil, a protected area where penguins live year-round. We did a very enjoyable boat tour around the islands were Magellanic penguins were breeding. Walking on the islands was not allowed, but our boat came within 10 meters of the penguins and it was very interesting to see them so close in the wild. We spent our last night on Chiloé in nearby Ancud, where we had beautiful sunset views from our lodge.

Magellanic penguins at Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil

Magellanic penguins at Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil

Magellanic penguins at Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil

Magellanic penguins at Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil

Sunset from our lodge near Ancud

Sunset from our lodge near Ancud

Posted by samandmarta 18:14 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Volcanoes of Chile

Exploring the awesome volcanoes of Sur Chico


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

As we left the fertile wine valleys behind on our way south, we entered an area of Chile that is dominated by its volcanoes. We saw more than a dozen of them in just one week. Chile’s volcanoes are extremely active and a few of them had major eruptions within the last decade.

Our first stop was at the waterfalls Salto del Laja. We were a bit surprised with the amount of Chilean tourists that were also visiting the falls. It seems they are a popular family vacation destination. For the night we drove to the Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja, which was blissfully uncrowded. Back in Santiago we had decided to buy a tent for our road trip, in order to be more flexible with accommodations. Here in the national park, we used it for the first time. We stayed at an official campground which was almost empty. For dinner, we wanted to open a bottle of wine we had bought at one of our wine tastings, but we lacked a bottle opener. Fortunately, the elderly inhabitants of a nearby campervan helped us out. As it was the case surprisingly often in Chile, they turned out to be Swiss (with a Swiss campervan they had shipped from Antwerp, Belgium to Montevideo, Uruguay). The next day we did a short hike in the park with great views of a hanging glacier and the dark and imposing Volcán Antuco (2979m).

Salto del Laja

Salto del Laja

Mountain in Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja

Mountain in Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja

Volcán Antuco (2979m)

Volcán Antuco (2979m)

Hanging glacier in Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja

Hanging glacier in Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja

Later that day we crossed into the region known as Sur Chico. The drive offered spectacular views of three snow-capped volcanoes. We spent the night at a lodge owned by Swiss people, which Sam chose primarily because of the promise of Fondue and Raclette on the menu. Disappointingly, à la carte dinner was not available that day and we had to settle for a set menu which had nothing Swiss about it. On the upside, the lodge had some very cute lamas in the backyard.

Lama

Lama

Lama

Lama

South of the lodge was Parque Nacional Conguillío, which was only accessible by a difficult dirt road that made us fear for our little rental car. Still, we made it into the park and with some difficulty, we managed to secure a campsite for the night. Given the condition of the road, we had assumed that only few people would go to the park but we were wrong. The park and the campings were quite crowded with mostly Chilean vacationers. We enjoyed the beautiful mountain views from Lago Conguillío in the evening, but the giant Volcán Llaima (3125m) at whose foot we were standing could not be seen from there. To get this view, we had to do a hike the next morning. The path led through a beautiful forest of Araucaria trees, which look a bit like trees with cacti on top. At the final lookout, high over the lake, the volcano could be seen in all its glory.

Volcán Llaima (3125m) reflecting in Lago Conguillío with Araucaria trees in the foreground

Volcán Llaima (3125m) reflecting in Lago Conguillío with Araucaria trees in the foreground

Sam in front of Volcán Llaima (3125m)

Sam in front of Volcán Llaima (3125m)

Stratas of different volcanic erruptions visible in Parque Nacional Conguillío

Stratas of different volcanic erruptions visible in Parque Nacional Conguillío

Road to the south of Parque Nacional Conguillío

Road to the south of Parque Nacional Conguillío

The next two nights we spent in Villarrica, from where there are amazing views of the town’s namesake volcano, Volcán Villarrica (2861m). We treated ourselves to a great Asado dinner with perfect volcano views. Asado is a traditional Chilean barbecue. We were served three different cuts of beef, still on the sizzling grill.

Lago Villarrica and Volcán Villarrica (2861m)

Lago Villarrica and Volcán Villarrica (2861m)

Asado and wine, with Volcán Villarrica (2861m) in the background

Asado and wine, with Volcán Villarrica (2861m) in the background

Marta at the shore of Lago Villarrica in Pucón

Marta at the shore of Lago Villarrica in Pucón

Our favorite experience in Sur Chico was the visit to a husky farm south of Villarrica. A German ex-air force instructor founded this place and was by now owning 57 competitive sled dogs. In the summertime he trains his huskies by letting them pull a wheeled cart with tourists as payload, in this case the two of us. It was fascinating to learn about these animals. Through hundreds of years of selective breeding, these dogs now have a stronger will to run than to survive. It was absolute madness when we were starting to take out the dogs to go for the run, as every dog barked and ran around to show how much he wanted to be chosen. As Konrad, the owner, explained, if he did not tell the dogs to stop at some point, they would run until they die of exhaustion. During the run, he controlled the dogs solely with his words, telling them to slow down, speed up or to turn. They were extremely well trained and followed every command. After the training was over, we could play with the incredibly cute puppies.

Huskies in front of the wheeled cart we sat on

Huskies in front of the wheeled cart we sat on

Konrad looking after his huskies

Konrad looking after his huskies

Sam with a husky puppy

Sam with a husky puppy

Along the way south on the Pan-American highway, we stopped for one night at a beautiful remote lodge run by an eccentric Frenchman. There were great views of Volcán Osorno (2652m) and Volcán Puntiagudo (2498m) from the lodge. Many places towards the South of Chile have strong influences from European immigrants. Especially Germans have left their mark on the region, which is why great local craft beers can be found everywhere. The last two nights in the Sur Chico region we spent in Puerto Varas, which is located at a beautiful lake, of course with views of several volcanoes. From there, we also explored Lago Todos Los Santos, a lake surrounded by mountains and forests untouched by human developments.

Volcán Puntiagudo (2498m)

Volcán Puntiagudo (2498m)

Lago Llanquihue and Volcán Osorno (2652m) seen from Frutillar

Lago Llanquihue and Volcán Osorno (2652m) seen from Frutillar

Marta on Lago Todos Los Santos

Marta on Lago Todos Los Santos

Lago Todos Los Santos

Lago Todos Los Santos

Posted by samandmarta 09:55 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Chilean Wine

Trying Carménère in the Colchagua and Maule valleys


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

After Valparaíso, we decided to rent a car for two months. The plan was to drive south on the Chilean side of the Andes as far as possible and return up again on the Argentinean side. Ideally, we’ll make it all the way to Tierra del Fuego. Our first stop on the way south from Santiago was the main wine producing region of Chile.

We already came to like Chilean wine in the short time we’ve been in the country. The signature grape of Chile is Carménère. This variety is originally from Europe, but somehow became extinct there. The wines from Carménère are usually quite light and very easy to drink. The best thing about wine in Chile is that you can buy really good bottles for less than 5 dollars in a supermarket.

Our first stop south of Santiago was in the Colchagua valley. We stayed for one night at a boutique vineyard surrounded by a beautiful mountain scenery. We had a fantastic Cabernet with dinner there and learned that the best wines are never sold in Chile, but exported, for example, to Europe, where they can make a lot more money.

Vineyard in the Colchagua valley

Vineyard in the Colchagua valley

Next we spent two nights in Talca in the Maule valley, where a lot of Chilean wines sold abroad are coming from. Many wineries in Chile offer wine tastings or tours of their vineyards, but in most cases a car is needed to reach these places. This creates a bit of a dilemma, as there is a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving in Chile. Even after a small glass of wine, it would be illegal to sit behind the wheel of a car. With a combination of public buses and Uber, we managed to visit two wineries and drink there as well. The portions at the wine tastings were very generous. At the second vineyard, our friendly tour guide kept pouring us more and more wine while we were talking and we ended up a bit tipsy. In the end, we bought four bottles of wine that day which we enjoyed over the next days of our road trip.

Talca

Talca

Statue on Cerro La Virgen near Talca

Statue on Cerro La Virgen near Talca

Grapes in the Maule valley

Grapes in the Maule valley

Wine tank that was destroyed in an earthquake

Wine tank that was destroyed in an earthquake

Wine barrels in the Maule valley

Wine barrels in the Maule valley

Vineyard in the Maule valley

Vineyard in the Maule valley

Posted by samandmarta 09:57 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Urban Chile

Hablamos español en Santiago y Valparaíso


View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

Our five days in Easter Island have taught us that our Spanish was not good enough. Google Translate is a great tool, that allowed us to ask whatever questions we had. It just didn’t help much in the end, since we often had no clue what the person we were talking to replied. So when we arrived in Santiago de Chile, we decided to invest a few days to improve our Spanish. We signed up for a three day intensive Spanish course where we would spend six hours a day studying Spanish.

The Spanish school turned out to be a great idea. Not only did our Spanish improve faster than we expected, but we also really enjoyed our time in the classroom. The class was fast paced, but covered all the grammatical basics. We learned to conjugate verbs, use past and future tense, build passive sentences and much more. Marta previously used the Babel app, which basically lets you learn entire sentences. We found the class much more useful, because knowing the grammar behind allows you to adapt any given sentence to countless different situations. After the 3 days, our Spanish was still basic, but we could now comfortably order food in a restaurant, ask about available rooms at a hotel or talk about our travel plans with our Uber driver.

Santiago, the capital of Chile, is a perfectly nice city, but somehow fails to stand out in any way. We stayed near the old center of the town, in an apartment on a high floor, which had wonderful views over the city with the Andes in the background. On our school-free days, we explored the main sights of the city. One of our favourite places was Cerro San Cristóbal, a hill to the north of the city center with even better views than from our apartment. We also visited a former detention center, where dissidents were tortured and in some cases killed during the regime of Pinochet, Chile’s infamous military dictator of the 70s and 80s.

Santiago with Andes in the background in the morning, seen from our apartment

Santiago with Andes in the background in the morning, seen from our apartment

Chilean Flag in front of Palacio de La Moneda

Chilean Flag in front of Palacio de La Moneda

Virgen de la Immaculada Concepción on top of Cerro San Cristóbal

Virgen de la Immaculada Concepción on top of Cerro San Cristóbal

Santiago with Andes in the background, seen from Cerro San Cristóbal

Santiago with Andes in the background, seen from Cerro San Cristóbal

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Londres street in Santiago

Londres street in Santiago

After five days in Santiago, we rented a car and drove out to the coast, where we stayed two days in Valparaíso. The port city is built into a very hilly coast, which makes getting around in it an interesting challenge. Throughout the city, tiny funiculars (ascensors) run up and down the hills, most of them from the early 1900s and very much looking that way. Together with the colorful houses, we experienced it as a very charming place.

Valparaíso

Valparaíso

Hills of Valparaíso

Hills of Valparaíso

Valparaíso is also full of interesting art. In every little side street you can find beautiful and interesting murals. Some are small, while others cover entire high-rises.

Mural in Valparaíso

Mural in Valparaíso

Mural in Valparaíso

Mural in Valparaíso

Mural in Valparaíso

Mural in Valparaíso

We also spent one day in Viña del Mar, which is just north of Valparaíso. Viña del Mar has a beautiful coastal area, which is probably why the president of Chile has his summer residence here. We loved watching the huge pelicans fly alongside the coast.

Seaside in Viña del Mar

Seaside in Viña del Mar

Pelicans in Viña del Mar

Pelicans in Viña del Mar

On our last evening in Valparaíso, we were surprised by an earthquake while getting ready for bed. Our room was shaking quite a lot for a good minute, but luckily it was not strong enough to cause any problems. As we learned shortly after, this earthquake had a magnitude of 6.7. Luckily, the epicenter was around 400 kilometers to our north. It was an interesting experience, as we have never been in such a significant earthquake, but we still hope we will not experience it again.

Valparaíso by night

Valparaíso by night

Posted by samandmarta 22:01 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

(Entries 26 - 30 of 70) « Page 1 2 3 4 5 [6] 7 8 9 10 .. »