Carretera Austral, the adventure route

1,240 kilometers of lakes and forests, small towns, active volcanoes, glaciers and rivers that are ideal for rafting.

Monday, July 27, 2009  
Carretera Austral Río Futaleufú (Photo: Sebastián Alvarez /

This is an area full of attractions, and traversing its geography from north to south has become one of the goals of adventurers and tourists who travel through isolated villages and beautiful natural landscapes. From backpackers to cyclists and caravans of vehicles from other countries, they visit the main points of the two regions covered by the Carretera Austral: Los Lagos and Aysén. What visitors find is great adventure in the midst of burgeoning nature.

Hornopirén National Park

A little over 100 kilometers south of Puerto Montt are some 48,332 hectares of land protected since 1998. The Hornopirén Park is one of the least known of the Carretera Austral and has imposing landscapes. Notable are the larch forests, Lake Pinto Concha and the 2,187-meter high Yates volcano. !5 kilometers away  is the beautiful town of Hornopirén and the nearby Llancahue hot springs.

Pumalín Park

A private park turned into a Nature Sanctuary, it covers some 317,000 hectares of natural surroundings untouched by human hands. Its main access is located 30-kilometers  south of Caleta Gonzalo. There are 11 interesting trails through mountains, fjords, numerous lakes, ventisqueros (glacier faces with calving icebergs), thousand-year-old forests and the 2,4000-meter high Michimahuida volcano. The Cahuelmó Hot Springs offer a relaxing respite. It is advisable to find out whether there is lodging available due to the activity of the nearby Chaitén volcano, which makes the area both inaccessible and dangerous. 


The Futaleufú river enjoys international fame. It possesses one of the best whitewater rapids for rafts and kayaks, which has led to a burgeoning tourist development in the town of the same name that is located 420 kilometers north-east of Coyhaique. Apart from rafting, the simplicity of the town, with beautiful Chiloé-style houses and tourist infrastructure, is an added attraction. Nearby are the Espolón Lake and river, next to the Futaleufú National Reserve. The site enjoys a mild microclimate.

Puyuhuapi and Queulat National Park

Halfway between Futaleufú and Coyhaique is the famous Cuesta Queulat (mountain road). After a long and sinuous ascent, it offers a magnificent reward: a panoramic view of the mountains and glaciers of the Queulat National Park. A protected area extending over 154,093 hectares with a series of trails, notable among which is the one that leads to an outlook over a hanging ventisquero.

Puerto Puyuhuapi is a small village next to the park with a beautiful view of the Ventisquero Gulf. There are two main points of interest there: the manufacture of unique hand-crafted rugs and the nearby Puyuhuapi hot springs and spa.

Lake General Carrera

The largest lake and watershed in Chile extends over 136 thousand hectares on national territory and 224 thousand hectare overall taking into account its total surface area, because the lake is partly in Argentina. It includes several towns such as Chile Chico, Puerto Ibáñez and Puerto Tranquilo. Its territory also includes national reserves and parks and the nearby presence of Campos de Hielo Norte. A boat tour from Puerto Tranquilo leads to the Catedrales de Mármol (Marble Cathedrals), beautiful natural caverns that contrast with the emerald color of the lake. Lake General Carrera is situated 290 kilometers south of Coyhaique.


With three thousand inhabitants, the city is located in the Cochrane river valley, flanked by the valleys of the Baker and Tranquilo rivers. It offers a haven for animals such as huemul (Andean deer) and condor in the Tamango National Reserve, situated 9 kilometers north of Cochrane. It is a center for activities such as kayaking on the Baker, folklore activities, trekking circuits and accordion competitions.

Villa O’Higgins

This is the last town at the end of the Carretera Austral. Bordering with Argentina, it has 500 inhabitants and is called the capital of Campos de Hielo Sur. Founded in 1966, it is currently inhabited by colonists who have made this the ideal site for trekking lovers and adventure seekers. It is situated at the mouth of the Mayer river on Lake O’Higgins and is close to several national reserves. It offers pristine natural surroundings, with the possibility of observing numerous native fauna.