The Carretera Austral winds through prominent rural and remote scenery in the Patagonia region of Southern Chile. Cars are very rare in this highways since it was built on a geopolitical whim in a region with a very small population.
The Southern half of the route is mostly wild. The road meanders across a fjord by free ferry, across a remote terrain, by countless lakes, and across many passes to arrive… nowhere. The road ends at a lake and ice field which is a dead-end for cars. However, for bikers, the adventure usually continues past the existing glaciers and the virgin forest by boat and single-track path into Argentina and to adventures beyond.
A Large section of the road is gravel (ripio in Spanish) ranging from relatively good quality to totally horrible. If you are driving, you will not require a 4WD, but your vehicle will be suffering. You will certainly have to take a ferry or even two to get in or travel along this road.
The local tourist offices in the towns along the route always distribute excellent and free maps and information booklets. The highway passes by the Andes, lakes, millennial glaciers, fjords, impenetrable forests and channels allowing you to discover its incredible beauty by bicycle.
Traveling on the Carretera Austral by bicycle is highly popular during the summer months (perfect in December, February and January). You will require a good quality bike (touring or mountain bike), spare tires and some tubes, and good panniers (even though some people have been known to use some milk crates and other cheap alternatives). It will also be useful to have zip ties, duct tape, and elastic straps.
The only huge cities with the entire range of services are Coyhaique and Puerto Montt where there are huge supermarkets, bicycle shops, and even bicycle repair shops. Anywhere else, you will be privileged to find a hardware shop (ferreteria).
The Carretera Austral has now become very popular for cycling touring, and many cyclists from different countries are now taking the challenge. A challenge for sure like this isn’t a piece of cake and difficult cycling touring, so for a first experience, it could be very challenging.
A place attracting so several cyclists cannot be bad so for sure. This is very enjoyable with broad, wild places. However, from our point of view, there are far better areas to cycle in South America like Peru, Equator, Colombia and Bolivia! This is of course so subjective and if what you like is few encounters with the local population, wild camping, green and wet landscapes, definitely you will love the Carretera. In case you are a bit more adventurous and eager to discover less developed areas and less touristy regions, northern South America provides possibly better opportunities.
Do you need some quick facts about the Carretera Austral? Read on.
5 Interesting facts about Carretera Austral:
1. The highway runs for nearly 1,240 kilometers (770 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins.
2. The road started as almost fully unpaved, but many sections are being paved every year. As of 2008, many parts of the road was still unpaved.
3. Traveling the whole route needs the use of three ferries: one of which is a 5-hour crossing from Hornopiren (110 kilometers) south of Puerto Montt to Caleta Gonzalo.
4. The unlucky citizens of the Chaiten town had to be evacuated in May 2008 due to the eruption of Chaiten Volcano for the first time in over 9,000 years.
Those who chose to stay behind finally had to flee since, shortly after that, the banks of the Blance River burst to result in a complete flood in the town.
5. Along the way, you’ll find Hornopiren National Park. The park has 482square kilometers of rugged mountains and unexploited Valdivian temperate rain forest. There are about 22 hectares of glaciers, mountains, and volcanoes, and the park is a home to 18 endangered species.