2017ChileHighlightsLandscapesSouth America

Carretera Austral: Dream road with volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls and flipped over trucks

In the morning we drive from our night ferry, which has brought us from the island of Chiloé to the northern beginning of the Carretera Austral – it is one of the ten dream roads of the world – and drive first through the city of Chaiten. It was completely destroyed in 2008 by a devastating and completely surprising volcanic eruption. The ashes were driven as far as South Africa.

Then we drive north to the start of the Carretera Austral into the Pumalin National Park – absolutely impressive what Doug Tompkins, the founder of North Face, has realized here. He has bought land in the size of Bavaria to protect it from road and dam/water energy construction, and has built natural trails and campsites – and all without admission fees. Afterwards, we read a lot about Doug Tompinks and watched movies about him and his passion, an impressive person and incredibly modest and withdrawn.

The first day in the Pumalin National Park is still extremely rainy, we walk to beautiful waterfalls. Afterwards we are soaking wet but the next day we have bright blue sky. We start our first volcanic ascent during our trip around the world on the before mentioned Chaiten. Arriving at the crater rim, we have a gigantic view: below us two different colored crater lakes, on the opposite mountain side a smoking slope and behind us the view of the valley with the river, which has buried with its mud Chaiten among itself.

After this dream hike, we continue the Carretera Austral south over 1,000 km and a total of 7 days along the Chilean / Argentine border, accompanied by glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes and lakes. And the weather is getting worse, then better again.

On the azure lake General Carretera we visit the famous marble caves, which give us spectacular pictures and a rough boat trip on top of that. Karin says in the evening: “I just do not want to trade our situation with anyone” and I agree with her.

The next day we drive perhaps to the most beautiful valley, the Ruta de los Ventisqueros. It leaves at Puerto Tranquilo and you have to go back, but the trip from both sides is worth it!

The farther south we go, the more spectacular the landscape (Tip: Rio Baker), the more challenging the road conditions however. Initially well paved with only occasional gravel passages, the last third of the Carretera Austral is a pure gravel road – from Cochrane only very narrow, heavily cambered (for non-professionals: on both sides of the road sharply sloping so that the rain can drain into the ditch) and sometimes heavily washed out. I have to concentrate a lot while driving. In a curve, we see where a short moment of inattention or a small driving error can lead: just before us, a road construction site 4-axle truck in a curve slightly got off from the slope into the soft edge area and overturned. The construction workers are still running around the truck finding out what to do. It initiates some thinking with me: it was a professional driver who drives this road several times a day, rather than an inattentive tourist traveling too fast with his rental car. I realize how fast our dreamlike world trip could also be over.

Even more concentrated we drive to Caleta Tortel, a tiny village built entirely on stilts and crossed with stairs, which marks the southern end of the Carretera Austral.

In the evening at the sundowner on our dream site with a view of glaciers, lakes and landscapes, we review the day …. I love to be behind the wheel, but today I’m glad that the ride is over. I am tired, but happy.

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