The Carretera Austral

“You’re going down the Austral right?” “Don’t miss the Austral” I kept hearing about this road from other motorcyclists so when it came time to decide what route to take to get to Ushuaia it was an easy choice. Besides if I didn’t want to ride the Austral the other option was the bland pampa of Argentina on Ruta 40. The Carretera Austral, which means southern highway, is a road through Chile’s remote Patagonia region. I didn’t have a set itinerary or plan and decided I would just ride until I was ready to stop each day and find a place to camp. Here are some of the highlights and photos from my four days on the Austral.

After riding through the small Argentinean town of Trevlin the pavement ends and a dirt road works its way along the Rio Futaleufu to the border. I thought the crossing a few days earlier into Argentina was a sight but this was something else. With the tree covered mountains and the teal blue water flowing through the river, this is a beautiful way to begin the journey on the Austral.

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Rio Futaleufu on the Argentinean side

After stamping out of Argentina and into Chile I followed the road along the river until reaching highway 7, the Carretera Austral. Below is a map of my 500 mile route through this beautiful region. The Austral goes further south to Villa O’Higgins but I chose to cut back into Argentina further north at Chile Chico.

My route on the Carretera Austral. Beginning in Futalafu.

My route on the Carretera Austral. Beginning in Futaleufu and ending in Chile Chico.

Lago Yelcho, Chile

Lago Yelcho, Chile

Once I was on highway 7 heading south there was a short section of pavement and but then back to the gravel road. In Chile gravel roads are called ripio. It was late in the day when I started riding on the Austral so I began looking for a place to set up camp. Most of the property along the road was fenced off so I kept riding until I eventually saw a small dirt road leading through the forest to a beautiful clearing at the river. With no sign of anyone around I decided this would be a perfect spot to spend my first night.

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Bush camp along Rio Frio south of Villa Vangaurdia

With the campsite set up I started cooking dinner. The easiest meal I’ve found that I can eat day after day is pasta. And of course a bottle of red wine. IMG_5684

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To save weight and space in my bags and to change things up from the usual tomato sauce I bought packets of pesto sauce.

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Buen provecho!

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One of the reasons I decided it was fine to camp here is I saw two other old campfires.

With the campfire as the only light around I sat on the bank of the river with my piece of chocolate, bottle of wine and took in the nights entertainment in the sky.

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Night sky along the banks of Rio Frio

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Early morning on the road towards La Junta.

In a few sections along this stretch of road it seemed as though they had taken stones from the river bed and dumped them on the road with no effort to compact them. Riding through the deep and loose large stones was a challenge requiring all my attention on the road and couldn’t enjoy the surrounding views. Thankfully the riverbed sections didn’t last for too long and it was a great day riding in the dirt through parts of the national park here.

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Riding into Puyuhuapi

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Parque Nacional Queulat

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Parque Nacional Queulat

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By the afternoon I had reached Coyhaique, the largest city in the region with about 50,000 people. I stayed at Patagonia Hostel which is owned by a really friendly German woman and her family. It’s not that special of a town but the center is nice. I wasn’t all too surprised that in the main square they were having a wood carving competition.

IMG_5777In the morning it was too nice of a day not to ride so I headed back on the road. The section of the road north and south of Coyhaique is paved. Most of the morning ride was through a valley with farms covering the rolling hills before reaching mountains and Cerro Castillo.

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Cerro Castillo

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The last few kms of pavement before Cerro Castillo.

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Back on the ripio.

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This was a fast stretch of road. It was hard packed and amazing.

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Lago General Carrera

In the small lakeside town of Puerto Rio Tranquillo I parked the bike and jumped in a small boat to take a tour of the Marble Cathedral and Caves. Along the shore of the lake the water and wind has cut through the marble to create a truly unique natural spectacle. We cruised through the wind chopped lake for 30 minutes until we saw the tall marble cliffs with caverns below.

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The Marble Cathedral

Getting back to Puerto Rio Tranquillo ended up being quite the adventure. The wind had picked up which created the biggest waves I will probably ever see in a lake, and this time we were going right into them. There were 11 of us in the boat and the captain. The captain was constantly adjusting the speed and direction of the boat. Most of the return trip we were going over 5 to 6ft waves and crashing onto the other side with a large splash. All of us were getting soaked and huddling together to be as close to the center of the boat but all the while laughing. It was like a roller coaster ride where you’re screaming the whole time from loving it but being completely freaked out that disaster could strike at any moment.

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Back on land and after drying off and warming up at a cafe, I rode for another hour on a beautiful and fast stretch of road. I turned off the Austral to head east on 265 towards Chile Chico. A few miles passed the small village of Puerto Guadal I found a bush camp for the night. With the wind still blowing hard I had to look for spot that would protect my tent from being destroyed by the strong winds. Once I had my tent set up I relaxed and watched the new film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s a great film and highly recommend it. After the movie finished I went to sleep but a few minutes later I heard the loud sound of hooves charging through the woods behind me. Branches were breaking and the sound was getting closer and closer. I sat up in my tent thinking to myself I hope whatever those animals are they don’t run over my tent! My heart was racing as I could hear the hooves getting closer right behind me. I breathed a sigh of relief as they passed a few feet from my tent and then stopped in the clearing. It turned out to be a few horses that came to eat the grass. After that wild minute of excitement it took a while for me to fall asleep.

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In the morning I woke up to a gorgeous view from my tent. As the sun was coming up over the mountains I was on the road and riding by cowboys herding their cattle. No cowboy hats for these gauchos though. Down here they wear large berets and wool sweaters. Of course they had cigarettes in their mouths though.

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Highway 265 in Chile

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Just before the border with Argentina is the small lake, Lago Verde. A beautiful way to end my journey down the Carretera Austral before riding through the Pampa of Argentina.

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This was one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ridden on, if only there was less construction truck traffic. North of Coyhaique I was constantly in clouds of dust from the passing dump trucks. Finding fuel wasn’t a problem as there are Copec stations scattered over the 500 mile stretch. There’s so much to explore in this area. I could easily have spent weeks here. But knowing there’s more beautiful places to explore further south, I was ok to continue on.

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