Journeying along Chile’s famous ‘lost in time’ highway
Strike while the sun is out and enjoy Chile’s famous Carretera Austral during the brief Patagonian summer.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Carretera Austral is ripe for exploration and adventure. Photo via clockworkted / Flickr
The deep blue lakes and soaring peaks of the Carretera Austral stretch for hundreds of miles. A place of pristine nature, isolated from much of the modern world and sparsely populated, perhaps the best way to experience this magical place is on two wheels with time to take it all in
As a recent BBC Travel article recognized, the 700-odd mile route of Patagonian wilderness has few rivals for top road trip destination.
“The Carretera Austral could be one of the most spectacular and challenging cycle tours in the world,” writes Gabi Mocatt. “It is made of endless stretches of empty dirt roads surrounded by forests, mountains, glaciers and lakes, with scenic villages, free campsites and hot springs along the way.”
Built over more than two decades as part of a hugely ambitious project to connect southern Chile to the rest of the country, the road begins just south of industrial hub Puerto Montt and runs to tiny Villa O’Higgins, close to the famed Fitz Roy Massif and the Argentine border.
Much of the ground now covered by the Carretera Austral was only accessible via Argentina until the road’s completion in 2000 — giving the region a “lost in time” feel as described in the travel piece.
“The route is so remote that some days you might only see a jinete (horseman) trot by with his band of dogs,” reads the BBC article. “But the journey is not unachievable – all you need is a sturdy bike, a knack for light packing and a sense of adventure to make this the cycle tour of a lifetime.”
This isolation also means the area is particularly well preserved. The route begins weaving through native forests rich with wildlife. Rare deer species such as the huemul and the pudu — the world’s smallest at a height of little more than 12 inches — are endemic to the region.
Along the way you can take in two national parks — Quelet, famed for its hanging glacier, and the volcano-spotted Hornopirén — as well as the extraordinary marble caves of Lago General Carrera.
However, as with all of Patagonia, it’s best to go prepared so make sure to pack plenty of warm clothing, take a sturdy bike, verse yourself in repairs and carry supplies. The remoteness of the area means there are plenty of great camping spots to spend the night, but you will need to be self reliant as it’s possible not to encounter a town for days at a time as you explore the region’s dramatic scenery at your own pace.