Places to Visit on The Caraterra Austral
(30/03/2012)Discover the end of the world by traveling down the Careterra Austral, in the south of Chilean Patagonia.
Sandwiched between the Andes mountains and the Patagonian Ice field, the Careterra Austral is an impressive engineering feat one of the most spectacularly beautiful road trips in the world.
Visit the Caraterra Austral on our Self Drive Chile Tour
In the southern section, beyond Coyhaique, inhabitants are sparse but the opportunities for exploring, trekking, fishing or just admiring the view are plenty. Few people venture this far south, so a self drive tour to this part of Chile is really rewarding option for a Chile holiday.
Six Places to Visit on the Caraterra Austral
Any road trip is likely to start in the largest town: Coyhaique. There is a small airport at Balmaceda, 40 minutes away; ATMS, hotels and car hire services. Coyhaique is also the entry town to some of the best fly fishing rivers in the world; something known to the fishers of Alaska who visit fly fishing lodges around Coyhaique.
1. Cerrro Castillo
Villa Cerro Castillo is a small, windswept settlement in the shadow of startlingly dramatic Cerrro Castillo National Park. The basalt spires of 2, 320m high Cerro Castillo have given the mountain its name: Castle Mountain. A moderate four day hike around Cerro Castillo includes plenty of wild, remote and dramatic scenery; without the crowds of Torres del Paine.
Near Cerro Castillo are the Alero de Las Manos Caves where the indigenous Tehuelche people left their hand prints 3, 000 years ago.
2. Puerto Rio Tranquillo
The next section of the Caraterra Austral circuits Lake General Carrera. Sediment from melting glaciers give this lake its distinctive blue colour. Another geological anomaly here are the ´Marble Cathedrals´, reached on a short boat trip from tiny Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Glacial retreat left these unusual sections of marble exposed, and centuries of water erosion has left huge structures of white or bluish marble in the shape of caves and arches.
To the west of Puerto Tranquillo lies the North Patagonian Ice field and The San Rafael Glacier. A new road from Puerto Rio Tranquilo into the San Rafael National Park will eventually arrive at San Rafael Lake and, after a short boat trip, the big glacier. For now though, the road give easy access to the equally impressive Exploradores Galcier and opportunites for ice trekking.
3. Caleta Tortel
The 500 or so people of Caleta Tortel live in wooden houses spread over islands, a peninsular and the steep slope behind. Houses are connected by a unique collection of wooden walkways and steps; with not a place for a car in sight. Until the road arrived in 2003, access was by water only, so this rugged and remote community lived quietly until visitors came to enjoy this peaceful place just 8 years ago.
Compared to the rest of the tiny settlements on this final section of the Caraterra Austral, Cochrane seems like a big town. The local shop is a legend, selling anything and everything; from fishing bait to slippers and fresh vegetables. Nearby is Tamango National Park where Prince William spent his gap year. It's a good place to get close to huemul deer as well as guanaco, foxes and birds such as hummingbird and woodpecker.
5. Villa O`Higgins
This last section of the Careterra Austral is the most spectacular with numerous waterfalls and moorland until, finally the road ends in Villa O´Higgins. The Caraterra Austral reached O´Higgins in 2000 and suddenly the inhabitants of the village woke up to find that they had visitors. Now the town caters to many long-distance cyclists and visitors making the lake crossing to El Chalten in Argentina. With a population of around 500, people are friendly, and there is something of a frontier feel about the town.
Hemmed in by lakes, mountains and ice, the road can go no further but, from O' Higgins, it is possible to really get out there on a multi-day trek across glaciers and into the huge expanse of the Southern Ice Field; Patagonia´s last frontier.