The 700-mile stretch of stunning scenery and tranquil wilderness that makes up the Carretera Austral is a well-known location to adventure travelers looking to get off the beaten track. At present it’s getting even more international attention as Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher and a key companion on many journeys around the world, described the route as “Chile’s most challenging road trip.”
Beginning in Chile’s Lake District and continuing along to the picturesque town of Villa O’Higgins, the “Southern Highway” is much more than just a road. The renowned travel guide describes the journey as one through, “dense forests, snow-tipped mountains, glacial streams, islands and swift-flowing rivers.”
The road is no simple stroll. The drive is wild, according to Lonely Planet, which had previously listed Chilean Patagonia as one of the top ten regions in the world.
“Paso Queulat makes for a particularly difficult drive, its steep, narrow, serpentine curves liberally strewn with jutting rocks, pockmarked with potholes the size of Cumberland and criss-crossed by shallow streams,” the travel gurus commented.
The challenge of the adventure is rewarded with some of the most incredible landscapes seen in Chile. In order to make the most of this scenery, Lonely Planet suggests some key detours, with Caleta Tortel and Valle Chacabuco among those not to be missed, as well as the world-class rapids of Futalefeú — a world famous location for whitewater rafting.
It’s not only the natural beauty which makes this drive an incredible adventure, but the variety of fauna which can can be enjoyed en route too. Guanacos and huemul, some of Chile’s most emblematic species, are two of the most common animals one might hope to spot during the trip.
While the corrugation of the bumpy washboard road was described as the bane of hardcore cyclists, the Carretera Austral is still an attractive route for long distance bike enthusiasts.
“The Carretera Austral could be one of the most spectacular and challenging cycle tours in the world,” is how BBC Travel described the route.
The long and narrow shape of the country opens up thousands of possibilities for driving adventures, with options from driving through the altiplano in the north, down to the inspiring Torres del Paine National Park in the south of the country.
The Carretera Austral, which once completed provided key connections through the Aysén region, is popular with both domestic and foreign travelers, with 35,000 Chileans making the journey each year, mostly during the summer season.