Drive Along Beautiful Landscapes On This Long South American Road Trip Route

If you like a long road trip, then Carretera Austral is one for you, as it is 770 miles long and weaves through breathtaking Chilean countryside. This route was named one of the "10 best road trips in the world" by Condé Nast, and it is the perfect introduction to the beauty of Patagonia. As many travelers choose to see the Argentinian side of Patagonia, you may have some of Chile's equally stunning scenery to yourself.

It begins at Puerto Montt and winds southwards to Villa O'Higgins, passing various scenic nature reserves along the way. The road is also referred to as the Southern Highway and generally "Route 7" on navigation apps. This adventure is very much off the beaten track as it is still in the process of being paved, so a lot of it is a rough and unsealed roadway. For the best weather conditions for driving, visit between October and April. It's impossible to miss the highlights of this road trip because the beauty of the Chilean landscape will compel you to pull over and photograph it at every opportunity.

What to see on the Carretera Austral

The minimum amount of time that you can take to complete the Carretera Austral is about one week, but two weeks is more realistic if you want a chance to explore the national parks. Some travelers spend three weeks to one month here as there are ample opportunities to explore nature in this peaceful region. You can begin with an unforgettable wildlife experience by taking the boat from Puerto Montt to Chiloé Island to see the Magellanic penguin colony there.

Nature lovers should also visit the Cerro Castillo National Park as here there are opportunities to see the South Andean deer known as huemuls. In Pumalín National Park you can view the impressive glacial formations and Volcano El Chaltén. Glaciers can also be found in Bernardo O'Higgins National Park on a boat trip and Queulat National Park has the famous Hanging Glacier called "Ventisquero Colgante." If adventure is more your thing, you can try white-water rafting at Futaleufú which is a short trip from Carretera Austral, or kayaking in Corcovado National Park. For a bucket-list experience then take a boat into the blue-colored Marble Caves (known as "Capillas de Mármol") close to the village of Puerto Río Tranquilo. While you won't be short of adventures here, the remoteness of Chilean Patagonia means that this trip requires some preparation.

Know before you go to the Carretera Austral

The drive along Carretera Austral is a wonderful adventure but there are a few things you can do to make the journey as smooth as possible. If you are renting a car, make sure to have insurance and a breakdown kit as the road is rough and some areas are very rural. There are also several water crossings due to the geography of the coastline, so you need to plan ahead or be happy to wait for the ferry. 

As most of the activities include hiking, make sure that you have plenty of warm clothes and decent boots as it can get cold and slippery in glacial Patagonia. A basic medical kit is also useful in case you get blisters, as there are only a few major towns on the Carretera Austral make sure to stock up on the things you need when you have the chance.

The internet can be patchy in some of the more rural locations so download offline maps to find your way around without Wi-Fi. There are various opportunities to cross into Argentinian Patagonia should you wish to continue your trip to another country with even more beautiful vistas. It is easy to cross over at the end of the trip at Villa O'Higgins. If you want to see Argentina, make sure to check the visa requirements and exchange rate before you go to make the border crossing as smooth as possible. Travelers have reported feeling very safe on this trip so your main problem with be choosing which incredible locations to stop at on your journey.