While Chile’s southern Patagonian region is famous around the world for the magnificence and splendour of its highlights such as the Torres del Paine National Park, its northern neighbour, while equally incredible, is far less well known.
However, slowly but surely, the extending and resurfacing of the charming, but jarring Carretera Austral ‘highway’ is opening up the remote communities of this forgotten land to a new wave of tourists looking for a more authentic experience taking them far from the beaten track, into a wild world of raw, unspoilt nature.
Running for approximately 770 miles, Route 7 - better known as the Carretera Austral, connects the large port city of Puerto Montt to the tiny backwater village of Villa O’Higgins. The entire journey currently requires the use of 3 ferries, involves numerous stretches of long, unpaved, heavily rutted roads and would take upwards of 2 weeks to complete ‘properly’. But, with daily flights in and out of Balmaceda, it is now possible to intercept the trail just below its halfway point and head straight for some of its biggest treasures.
- Drive a section of one of the world’s most striking and secluded roads.
- Take an optional boat or kayak excursion to the marble caves of General Carrera Lake
- Strap on some spikes and take an optional ice hike on the Exploradores Glacier
- Visit the stilt topping boardwalks of Caleta Tortel
- Trek for hours in untamed National Parks, without seeing another soul
With its snow speckled mountain passes, marauding rivers and dense green forests, the cross section of Route 7 between Balmaceda and Caleta Tortel has everything required to make it one of the true hiking wonders of the world. And the glittering glaciers, marble caves, enormous lakes, frequent fjords and character filled settlements bring added flavour to this iconic, unforgettable journey.
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Itinerary & Accommodation
- Day 1: Balmaceda – Puerto Rio Tranquilo
- Fly to Balmaceda airport, a rare access point to the Carretera Austral, which is fast becoming known as one of the world’s most picturesque, but remote roads. Pick up your 4 wheel drive vehicle and start the journey south to the small, shingle-housed, village of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, located on the western shores of the General Carrera Lake. Spend the next 3 nights in this seasonal little settlement.
- Day 2: Marble caves and hiking
A short distance from Puerto Rio Tranquilo, carved over a period spanning more than 6,000 years, lie the iridescent Cuevas de Marmol (Marble Caves). These swirling smooth caverns come in all shapes and sizes and appear to almost glow with the shimmering light that reflects up from the azure blue waters of the lake below. The caves are only accessible by boat, so pre-book your voyage at the hotel. Alternatively, kayaks can be rented to explore the caves at a more leisurely pace.
Spend the rest of the day hiking on one of the huge selection of stunning trails located nearby.
- Day 3: Exploradores Glacier Hike
Today join an optional day tour to the extraordinary Exploradores glacier. This rapidly receding ice floe, located around 60 km west of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, offers an incredible ice hiking experience with ever changing formations and a beautiful backdrop of snow sprinkled peaks.
Alternatively you could choose to venture into the Laguna San Rafael National Park for some outstanding hiking opportunities.
- Day 4: Puerto Rio Tranquilo - Caleta Tortel
The drive to Caleta Tortel is long, meandering and bumpy, but it is absolutely worth it. This entire stretch of the Carretera Austral has yet to be paved, meaning its deeply rutted surface has, thus far, not featured too heavily on the tourist trail. This leaves those who are brave enough to tackle it to enjoy the extraordinary mountain passes, deep green ancient woodland and gleaming glacial snouts, almost exclusively to themselves.
The drive should take approximately 8 hours including a quick lunch stop in Cochrane and numerous photo breaks.
- Day 5: Caleta Tortel
Caleta Tortel is a tranquil village with a unique and highly unusual appearance. It was originally founded in the mid 1950’s to create a base from which the abundant supply of cypress wood in the region could be exploited and timber is still the settlement’s main source of income today. Built largely over water, the majority of its buildings are constructed with stilts and instead of roads, the centre of the community is connected by a series of interconnected wooden boardwalks.
Beyond the surreal man-made beauty of the village, the natural geography of the region is also not to be missed. Spend the day trekking one of the plentiful trails through fjord lands, glacier valleys, river banks, islands and bays.
- Day 6: Caleta Tortel - Puerto Guadal
- Take the spectacular route back north to the General Carrera Lake, this time overnighting in the town of Puerto Guadal. This picture perfect former port is located on the southern shore of Chile’s largest lake and is the ideal spot in which to relax or explore to your heart’s content.
- Day 7: Puerto Guadal
- There are again a plethora of hiking options available today, including fossil trails and waterfall tracks. Alternatively why not opt for some recreational fishing or a tour of the nearby abandoned Escondida copper, zinc and lead mine.
- Puerto Guadal - Balmaceda
Make the 5 hour journey back to Balmaceda and drop off your car in time to catch your onward flight.
Note: Depending on your flight time, you may choose to spend your last night nearer to Balmaceda. Contact us for details of your options.
Please note: This itinerary is a guideline only and can be tailored to meet with your specific interests and requirements. However, it is important to note that many properties in this region operate a minimum 2 night stay policy. Contact our team of specialists for full details.
Museums throughout Chile are generally closed on Mondays and many tourist establishments may be shut or fully booked during National Holidays. Therefore please inform us of any key elements of your trip that hold particular importance to you, even if they are not being pre-booked, so that we can tailor your itinerary accordingly.
Entre Hielos Lodge - Caleta Tortel
- Grade: Standard
- Type: Guesthouse / B&B
The rustic Entre Hielos Lodge, situated on a sheltered h…
Hostal El Puesto - Puerto Rio Tranquilo
- Grade: Standard
- Type: Guesthouse / B&B
This homely lodge, built almost entirely from wood grown…
Lodge El Mirador De Guadal – Puerto Guadal
- Grade: Standard
- Type: Guesthouse / B&B
Nestled amongst the trees, on the southern shore of Gene…
In addition to those listed, a variety of alternative accommodation options are available for this holiday. Please contact us for further details.
Prices & Dates
2018 Prices and Dates
Price from £786 per person, based on twin-share standard accommodation and 4x4 rental vehicle.
Departs daily, October - March
3 nights bed and breakfast accommodation at Hostel El Puesto (Puerto Rio Tranquilo) • 2 nights bed and breakfast accommodation at Entre Hielos Lodge (Caleta Tortel) • 2 nights bed and breakfast accommodation at Mirador De Guadal (Puerto Guagal) • 8 days 4x4 car hire (CAT F1 - Hyundai Creta or similar) with unlimited mileage - based on early pick up on day 1 & late drop off on day 8 • Airport pick-up/drop off fees • Semi-comprehensive CDW insurance (for 2 named drivers) • Detailed documentation helping you plan your daily activities
All airfares - we would be happy to assist with booking these • Road tolls • Fuel • National Park Fees • All excursions and entrance fees (bookable and payable locally) • Additional airport or airline security charges • Passport and visa expenses (we will be pleased to advise you on any necessary documentation, however this is passengers' own responsibility) • Government arrival and departure taxes • Any accommodation/meals/drinks/land arrangements not mentioned in inclusions • Excess baggage charges • Telecommunication charges, laundry costs and other charges of a personal nature • Travel insurance
How to book
So that we may send you a personalised quote and confirmation of availability, please click on the link below and complete our Enquiry form. One of our Travel Specialists will then be in touch to complete your booking or answer any further questions you might have.
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Speak to a specialist: 1-844-584-0668Book this trip
Our team of Travel Specialists have extensive first-hand knowledge of our destinations and are passionate about travel.