Carretera Austral: An Unforgettable Journey, Part I

This road has the most enchanting views. There is a moment when you think there is no way you can see greener and thicker vegetation, but the road surprises you over and over again turning more magical at every mile.

I made this trip with my family, so I wasn’t in charge of the bookings and stuff this time, but I’ll get you through the entire tour we made. The main goal was to get to Coyhaique to visit my uncle who lives there in the countryside, so we did not reach the end of the Carretera Austral (Southern Way).

Before The Carretera Austral

We started by leaving Melipilla, my hometown, that is located 62 km west from Santiago. We were five people: my parents and my two little brothers (you can imagine how happy we were at first… and the tension that was all over us at the end of the trip!) and the aim was to tour the Carretera Austral by car.

We took the Pan-American Highway, a network of roads that connect most of the American Continent, and so the journey began. The first part of it wasn’t impressive at all, but as we were super excited, we didn’t care much about it. Something that didn’t boost our spirits, though, was the traffic, since that date wasn’t the best for traveling (February, everyone leaves Santiago). As always, we put some music on and kept driving until we got to Yumbel, a rustic little town I had never heard about. It is located in the Biobío Region, 68 km from Concepción. Honestly, I wasn’t very eager to stay there, because I was just too enthusiastic about going more south (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I just love the south of Chile with all my heart). However, when I saw the cabin we were staying in I was very pleased since it was really pretty, it had a pool… and a sweet kitty guarding the place! Given that the sun was still killing us in that area after we took all the baggage into the cabin, we all went directly to the pool. It was a good start for the family trip.

Where The Carretera Austral Beggins

The idea was to only stay there one night and then leave at 10:00 in the morning and so we could continue. The road was so much greener and cooler in this part of the route, which made me feel that we were already in the south. Our first stop was Frutillar, a city where you can find the best southern pastry! the touristic part of the city is little but amazingly beautiful. There is green everywhere and it has old, quaint constructions, everything made of wood. It is the same style of Pucon and Puerto Varas, cities I am very fond of, because of their beauty and the great number of activities available there. We went there basically because we wanted to buy a fresh and tasty kuchen for the ride, but we ended taking thousands of pictures. Then we went back to the road until we got to Puerto Montt, where the Carretera Austral begins. In my opinion, Puerto Montt is not a great deal, it is a city like any other, but I have to recognize that it has something special I couldn’t explain. It is very close to many cities I really like, though. There, we stayed in a house we rented for one night only too. The house was gorgeous, it was an old house in an old neighborhood, and guess what? there was a cat here too, which made me very happy. The place was really homy, all the walls were decorated with wooden wall art.

Frutillar
Frutillar

Taking The First Two Ferries

In the morning I went to the shore with my dad and we bought wool (as you can see, I’m like an old lady: I love cats, old houses and wool). After that, we went back to the house so we could continue the journey. The road did not look like a conventional highway anymore. We could see the sea through the window on one side and dark green mountains in the other. It was a dream scene. We stopped about 20 minutes from the city in a coffee shop that was just in front of a beautiful beach. The weather was perfect for me, a little cold with soft wind, but with the sun up making everything shine. A kind Argentine couple owned the coffee shop, which was full of antiques (and had a spectacular view). We order cheese empanadas, which were delicious, and then went back to the road and got to La arena cove to take the first ferry of the journey.

Beach in Puerto Montt
Beach in Puerto Montt
La Arena cove
La Arena cove

We were on the ferry for half an hour and got to the other part of the route, which led to Hornopirén. Here, the vegetation was darker and denser, so much you could hardly even see through it. After a short time, we reached Hornopirén, a small town with a lot of short trees (because of the wind, I suppose) and not many streets. We wanted to go to the hot springs, but there were so many people, there was a waiting list, so we went to the Main Square, which was colorful and quite. It had a red church that really stood out because of the contrast made by the gray of the day. It was raining, but that didn’t stop us from going to the cultural fair that was being held. There, I ate Milcao, a savory kind of bread made of potato. If you are in the area, you should try it, it’s great! even more, if you are in Chiloé, but that’s another story.

The view of the pier was amazing. We had to take another ferry from there, so we got up early and placed the car in the line to get on the ‘Taustral’. It wasn’t at all what I expected. This ferry was much bigger than the last one. It had three floors; the first one for cars, the second one had comfortable seats and a small grocery store in the middle, and the third floor didn’t have a roof, so you could see the natural scenery from every corner.

Hornopirén pier
Hornopirén pier
View from the ferry to Caleta Gonzálo
View from the ferry to Caleta Gonzálo

I was amazed by the landscape you could see in Caleta Gonzalo, where we arrived. Greener hills than I had ever seen, with eye-catching cabins between the trees. The road embraced us again but in a bewitching rainforest this time. I cannot really explain how I felt on that road, where nature owns everything. It was raining, which made the whole scene more surreal and I was just amazed.

Carretera Austral, Chaitén
Carretera Austral, Chaitén

Part II will be available on February, 27th. Spoiler Alert! Landscapes get even better.

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