Patagonia & Antarctica

Ranking amongst the world͛s greatest road trips, the Carretera Austral runs 1,240km alongside vast ranchos, ancient forests, glaciers and turquoise rivers. There͛s something special about this road that brings travellers from all over the world making the pilgrimage from north to south. Hiking in one of the many national parks will reward you with spectacular vistas over snow capped peaks and glaciers. Nature lovers get your binoculars at the ready, penguins, seals, whales, guanacos, nandus, condors and if you͛re lucky the Patagonian puma. For those who are more interested in eating, catch a fresh trout at world class fly fishing rivers, and if that doesn͛t go to plan feast on a Patagonian lamb slowly roasted over the fire. Voyage on to the Ruta 40 in Argentina and head down further towards Antarctica and you͛ve just about seen the best of South America on one road trip. Ditch the hitchhiking, with your own campervan this land is your own, welcome to Patagonia!

Patagonia Road Trip

For the ultimate road trip around Chile, we highly recommend starting your campervan travels in Santiago and heading south following our Lakes, Volcanoes & Chiloé itinerary . There are then three ways to reach the start of the Carretera Austral in Chaitén, either boarding a direct ferry from Chiloé and making the five hour crodding, a 10/12 hour ferry from Puerto Montt or alternatively driving through Puerto Montt via Parque Pumalín, this requires two smaller ferries, details for all options can be found below in our Condor Tips. Don’t forget you can also collect your Condor Camper from our remote location depot in Puerto Varas.

Whichever way you make it, eventually you’ll end up in Chaitén where you will join the infamous ‘Ruta 7 Carretera Austral’. This is the first town proper on the Ruta 7, it won’t take you long to realise that you are now in Patagonia.

Adrenaline junkies will want to make a slight diversion to the town of Futaleufú, 75km east of the Ruta 7. Here you will find the best white water rafting Chile, and arguably some of the best in the world. Class IV, IV-plus and class V rapids await ensuring that there are stretches of the river suitable for every skillset. Not just a mecca for kayaking and rafting, it also boasts fly-fishing, hiking and horseback riding.

Back on the Carretera Austral ensure you fill up on fuel at every possible opportunity before arriving at Puyuhuapi, a little village famed for the nearby springs and star attraction the Parque Nacional Queulat with its beautiful hanging glacier. In the National Park you can hike 3.2km to the highest lookout point which offers the best view of the enormous glacier, alternatively there’s a smaller lookout a short walk from the park’s entrance where you’re also able to get up close to the glaciers by boat. Don’t miss the nearby Sendero Bosque Encantado (Enchanted forest), a fairy-tale 4km round trip hike through surreal lush forests where you’ll reach another amazing viewpoint.

Onwards to Coyahique, the regional hub of the area, and with a population of 59,000 probably the biggest town that you’ve come across for a while. With plenty of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants this is the perfect place to hanker down for a few days and restock on essentials before continuing on the Ruta 7 south.

Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo is our next destination, the one day hike to turquoise lagoon rewards breathtaking views of the castle like peaks (hence the name) flanked by three major glaciers on its southern slopes. This national park boasts fine fishing, excellent multi day hiking, and with little foot traffic compared to other parks, a great place to get away from everyone and dive in to your very own Patagonia.

Worth a day or two is Puerto Río Tranquilo, sitting on the edge of South Americas second largest lake the majestic Lago General Carrera. It is from here you can visit the amazing marble caves the area is famed for. Other activities offered in the area are hiking, fishing and excurions to Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael where it is possible to hike inside and along the glacier.

The biggest city on the southern part of the Carretera Austral is Cochrane, and again a place to fill up the fuel tank, replenish the cool box and enjoy a night drinking some microbrews at one of the local bars. The Parque Nacional Patagonia, eighteen km north of Cochrane is still somewhat a national park in the making, but with excellent day hikes, home to flamingos, guanaco, huemul, viscacha & puma this national park is getting better year on year. For those not interested in reaching the end of Carretera Austral it is possible to drive through the park and cross in to Argentina at Paso Roballos along an unpaved gravel road which looks like you are driving along the surface of the moon!

For those wishing to continue to the end of the Carretera Austral, a long gravel road really starts to test your driving skills. Call at Caleta Tortel, a seaside village set on wooden boardwalks before making your way to the end of the road, Villa O’Higgins! This is reached by continuing on gravel roads (beware of landslides and always check that roads are open) and then at Puerto Yungay a government ferry (check running times) hauls passengers and vehicles over the inlet where you can slowly make your way to the end. Please note, there is no way of continuing from Villa O’Higgins, you must retrace your steps to Cochrane, above, or to Chile Chico below.

A more popular option is to return towards Cochrane and take the Ruta 265 east in to Argentina via Chile Chico. This amazing scenic drive follows the shores of the Lago General Carrera up and down until reaching Argentina. At 124km long, ensure you stock up on fuel and food before leaving Cochrane, and check the border crossings opening hours to ensure you can plan accordingly.

In Argentina you soon join the iconic Ruta 40, one of the world’s longest routes, and often compared to Route 66 in the USA. For those who have seen all they need to see in Patagonia, they can head north along the Ruta 40 to Bariloche, where they can pick up ideas from our Lakes, Volcanoes & Chiloé itinerary to head back to Santiago. For those with plenty of time, and a desire to visit the end of the world, continue on the Ruta 40 south, not missing the Unesco World Heritage site Cueva de las Manos.

The long drive down the Ruta 40 brings us to our next stop El Chaltén, home to Parque Nactional Los Glaciares and the famous Fitz Roy range. Here is where hikers strap on their boots and spend days exploring world class trails in Argentinas trekking capital. For non-hikers there’s plenty of short trails offering amazing vistas, fly fishing, horseback riding, kayak & canoe trips, as well as rock climbing.

Continue down the Ruta 40 to El Calafate, named for the berry that once eaten guarantee your return to Patagonia, El Calafate is home to one of Argentina’s most famous attraction, Glaciar Perito Moreno, 80km away in the Parque Nactional Los Glaciares. If you’ve come this far there’s no way you can miss the glacier, it is truly amazing! Food lovers will want to cap the day with Patagonian Lamb and a glass of red wine at Don Pichon back in El Calafate town.

Cross back in to Chile and stop in Puerto Natales to stock up on fuel and supplies before heading to the areas main attraction, Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Hikers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the 2,800m granite peaks which are home to some of the most famous views in Chile. Most travellers opt for the ‘Paine circuit’ which takes 7-9 days, or the classic ‘W’ which can take 4/5. Before travelling to the region ensure you have pre booked accommodation to ensure you will be allowed to undertake the hike. Increased popularity has meant that spaces are limited, and in high season campsites and refuges can be booked up six months in advance!

Punta Arenas marks the end of this long route south. With port and sheep-breeding history, the gateway into Antarctica will captivate you with its clean air and sophisticated European architecture. Wildlife watchers shouldn’t miss the chance to take a boat trip to the Isla Magdalena where there are 60,000 breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins. Those with real passion to travel to the end of the earth can continue to Tierra Del Fuego before returning to Punta Arenas and returning your camper, or better still, retracing some of the steps above through Argentina on the legendary Ruta 40 to Santiago via Bariloche and the Argentinian lake district.