Carretera Austral (1080 km bike route)
The Carretera Austral is one of the most popular roads among cyclo-travelers due to its fantastic landscapes and also due to the fact that it is a road located in decidedly remote areas. In fact, the Carretera was desired by dictator Pinochet to connect Patagonia to the rest of the country.
The Carretera Austral connects Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins, a total of about 1200km. This about was due to the fact that a section of Carretera was closed in early 2018: so I ‘cut’ about 150 km, settling for 1080.
My starting point was Villa O’Higgins, reached from El Chalten: the Argentine-Chilean border ‘crossing’ was adventure before adventure!
This crossing lasted two days and I arrived in Villa O’Higgins at 11 p.m., going directly to the famous cyclist hostel ‘El Mosco’. As soon as I arrived, I found the bike I had rented and prepared all the necessary things for the first leg.
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 1, Stage 1: Villa O’Higgins – Caleta Tortel (98 km by bike + 45 by hitchhiking)
My goal was to leave early, as my plan was to take the 4 p.m. boat to cross the Rio Bravo, located at stage km 100. The schedule went to marengo already at the start: in fact, I did not leave Villa O’Higgins until 10:54 a.m. Of this stage I particularly remember the cold, the rain and some interesting viewpoints.
The little elevation gain and the light weight of my backpack (about 8kg) allowed me to launch a sprint that took me to catch the 7 p.m. boat in Rio Bravo (the last one of the day). I was already ready to sleep in some sort of shelter (read hovel) when incredibly I found a ride to Caleta Tortel. The owner of the pickup truck that would give me a ride told me right away that I would have to be content to stay in the pickup, putting me on wood. These 45km remain a lasting memory! I thus arrived in Caleta Tortel at 9:30 p.m., in time for dinner and good wine, celebrating the 98 km of the first day!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 2, Relaxation: Caleta Tortel
Caleta Tortel is definitely worth a relaxing day: this small village of about 500 souls is definitely interesting since it was built entirely on wooden stilts. In addition to this feature, a short trek of about 10 km that allows you to see Caleta Tortel from above is worth mentioning: some parts of this trek are definitely muddy, but this walk is still very beautiful and it really feels like being at the end of the world! The Chertenka Brewery is another thing to absolutely mention in Caleta Tortel!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 3, Stage 2. Caleta Tortel – Cochrane 125 km
This was the so-called BIG STAGE, also all on topsoil. Again, rain and cold accompanied me for almost the entire stage. After re-entering the Carretera Austral (to get to Caleta Tortel you have to make a 25-kilometer detour), the road often goes through forests. In the final part, just before Cochrane, the landscape opens up and several lakes and streams can be seen. I slept at Hostal Central (classic 10k pesos, 15 euros, for a single room) and ate/drank at Taberna Tehuelche.
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 4, Stage 3. Cochrane – Puerto Rio Tranquilo, 115km
Things get tough, tremendously tough, but definitely wonderful. The first 30 km were really difficult: the road after Cochrane does not have a meter of flat and offers a few viewpoints over the Baker Brook. Around km 40 the Rio is incredibly close to the road, with a spectacular blue color: the 5/6 km to Puerto Bertrand are uniquely beautiful.
In Puerto Bertrand came the time of great doubt: stop for the night or pull up to Puerto Rio Tranquilo? Good friend Gaddo came to my aid from home. He told me that, after an initial climb, I would encounter virtually nothing but flat until the last climb of the day. I began to do the math: Puerto Rio Tranquilo was an attainable goal. In these calculations I had not calculated the beauty of the landscape, which forced me to take several breaks to take photographs.
Lago General Carrera, first accompanied by two other lagoons then majestically solitary, peeped out at km 65. From then, it would keep me company until the end of the stage. In one of the long flats some Argentines cheered me up and left me a couple of liters of water. This had been very helpful, since I had underestimated the difficulties a bit! I thus arrived in Puerto Rio Tranquilo at 9 p.m., very satisfied: a dinner at Restaurant Casa Bruja was a great icing on the cake!
Perhaps this was the most difficult stage, but also the most beautiful!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 5, (Semi)stage 4. Puerto Rio Tranquilo – Bahia Murta 34km.
After 240km all on topsoil in two days, it was time for relaxation. And how relaxing! The morning in Puerto Rio Tranquilo offered me a trip to the Capillas de Marmol: the boat ride on Lago General Carrera costs 10 thousand pesos and, with a two-hour ride, you can see these extraordinary mineral formations. A truly jaw-dropping ride!
After a hearty lunch at Cerveceria Rio Tranquilo in the late afternoon.
I set off toward Bahia Murta: the lakeside ride was truly excellent! I slept at Hospedaje Bahia Murta.
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 6, Stage 5. Bahia Murta – Villa Cerro Castillo 96km.
It was difficult to leave the beautiful General Carrera Lake, and it was also difficult to leave Hospedaje Bahia Murta. The hostel owner specialized in jams, and after eating plenty for breakfast, she gave me some for the trip.
This day gave me beautiful views especially towards the end of the ride, and I still remember it for the super honking of the owners of the Chertenka Brewery: they recognized me and greeted me super friendly (this says a lot about the easygoing atmosphere of the place). I did not find this stage particularly difficult, despite the fact that it was all in potting soil.
I slept at hospedaje la Canela, while for beers I turned to la Querencia.
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 7, Relaxation: Cerro Castillo
Relax that meanstrekking to Cerro Castillo !
It is a wonderful trek, with wonderful views, among the most beautiful in Patagonia! At the end/beginning of the trek there is a great restaurant to eat at (especially on Sundays, as everything in ‘downtown’ is closed).
Cerro Castillo is positioned about halfway through the trip, and it is also the end of the first part of the topsoil!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 8 : Stage 6. Villa Cerro Castillo – Coyahique 95 km.
The day of the black crisis. After 470 km of dirt, here are the first km of asphalt.
The altimetry of the stage definitely fooled me. The first 15 kilometers are very beautiful, traveling along a very scenic road, but all uphill, which took me to the 1050-meter Coppi peak of Carretera. From there, first a descent and then a slight ascent brought me to the halfway point: at that point, only downhill and flat terrain awaited me until Coyahique.
As I descended, I began to notice that the wind was definitely strong and….contrary! Unable to keep going, I decided to aim for the good old hitchhiking (it was the first and only day I would really appreciate a tent): getting no success, I continued on by the sound of saints falling from the sky.
As the wind died down, I regained my faith in humanity thanks to a red light: a boy, in fact, first offered me a dozen raspberries, which briefly became a giant bag! In Coyahique I slept in a former school (Hostal Austral) and found beer in La Tropera.
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 9 : Stage 7. Coyahique – Villa Manihuales 90 km
After leaving the bike for a brief repair at the cyclist Figon (great!),I left Coyahique very calmly.
This town offers some nice scenic spots, although it is definitely messy and busy compared to the rest of the Carretera. This was perhaps the easiest stop of all, and from the point of view of beauty I point out the beautiful Cascada de la Virgen!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 10 : Stage 8. Villa Manihuales – Aonikenk Refuge 123 km
Maybe the BIG STAGE par excellence!
From Villa Manihuales the road continues with several ups and downs to Villa Aminguales: here I stopped for lunch in the company of some workers. After lunch I found a nice scenic spot and, at km 90, the dirt road returned, obviously with a tough climb. Arriving at the summit, the colors of the sunset made me realize that I had to speed up to avoid the darkness: these colors became fantastic just before the hut, with the Ventisquero Colgante Glacier right in front of me!
In the lodge, booked in advance, (two days before) I made a pasta dish and drank wine with several Chilean families.
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 11 : (Semi) Stage 9. Ventisquero Colgante – Puyuhapi 3+19 km.
The Aonikenk Refuge is only 3 km from the Parque Queulat.
When you arrive at the park, there is an additional 3 km of walking to get to the fantastic viewpoint on the Ventisquero: the view from here, of this glacier that flows into a waterfall, is perhaps the most beautiful point of the entire ride.
In the afternoon I went relaxed at a spa for an hour or so .before reaching Puyuhapi
. Small note: I was so tired on this day that I accepted a ride to get into the park and avoid a two-mile walk!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 12 : Stage 10. Puyuhapi – La Junta, 45 km
Leaving Puyuhapi, one immediately encounters a climb.
At the end of this climb the stage becomes decidedly quiet to La Junta: an excellent relaxing day before the tiring next day! In La Junta Cerveceria Kawin and la Rosita restaurant deserve a mention!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 13 : Stage 11. La Junta – Raul Marin Balmaceda 75 km
The day of the sprint
.This was the area affected by the December 2017 landslide: so in January 2018 one had to leave the Carretera, go to Raul Marin, and from there take a boat to Chaiten. The big problem was the time of the boat, which was 3 p.m. In this case I had to challenge myself to try to get to Raul Marin before 3 p.m.
The pedaling was all on dirt, and it is still worthwhile because the vegetation is definitely impressive.Again I noticed the kindness of travelers in these parts of the world as a lady took a nice picture of me while I was pedaling and, as soon as I got on the boat, she came up to send me the picture. The boat ride was definitely long, and I did not arrive in Chaiten until 10 p.m.
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 14 : Stage 12. Chaiten – Hornopiren, 56 km
More boat to take, to get to Hornopiren. This time, unlike the previous day, I was in no hurry.
In this stretch you can see the damage from a fire a decade ago and especially the wonderful ‘Alerces’ trees, with a history of thousands of years: you can take a short half-hour walk to see these trees more closely, and I highly recommend the walk!
Carretera Austral by bike. Day 15 : Stage 13. Hornopiren – Puerto Montt 104 km
Farewell day at RN7. The landscapes become wide, with beautiful views of small fjords before arriving in Puerto Montt. Also today, a short boat ride: in this case, there are no schedule problems as they are cadenced every twenty minutes (indeed, I waited quietly for my boat while eating excellent empanadas). Arriving in Puerto Montt, I left my bike with the guys from Cicloaustral, and before sleeping at hospedaje Sandra I said goodbye to the Carretera with an imperial dinner at Cotele. Nos vemos, Carretera Austral!
IN ADDITION TO THE CARRETERA AUSTRAL YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN…
The climbs between Italy and France!
The most beautiful places on the Carretera Austral!
The information to go from Rome to Milan by bike!
Canarias coast to coast by bike!
CARRETERA AUSTRAL BY BIKE: ROUTE, TENT, ACCOMMODATIONS AND RESTAURANTS
- So, how to plan a trip on the Carretera Austral by bike? The first big question to ask is: should you leave with your own bike or rent it locally? I decided on the second option, renting a MTB with Cicloaustral. Besides that, I decided to brave the wind, which in those areas generally goes from north to south, for travel and logistical convenience. However, most bicycle tourists ride the Carretera Austral from north to south-I have not found any insurmountable problems in riding the route in reverse.
- I left without a tent, to travel lighter: perhaps I would have used it on Day 1 and Day 8. However, as long as you study the stages well, the Carretera Austral by bike can be safely traveled without a tent (even leaving sometimes too late as I did)
- As you have noticed, it is possible to find sleeping, eating and drinking in all the villages (only Coyahique is a real town, the other villages struggle to reach a thousand inhabitants): I only booked the Aonikenk Shelter, two days before I got there. The cost of a single is more or less always 10 thousand pesos, 15 euros.
- The kitchen closes relatively late, around 9-9:30 p.m. in all places
CARRETERA AUSTRAL BY BIKE: WHAT TO BRING AND MISCELLANEOUS INFO
- What should you bring for a trip to Chilean Patagonia? Kway, shoe covers for the rain, 4 socks, 4 underwear, 2 thermal long jerseys, 3 bike jerseys, a pair of bike shorts, a pair of bike pants, tennis shoes (also good for the two treks), neck warmer, windproof jacket, and windproof jacket, towel, some cookies for the day, flip-flops for the end of the day, sunscreen. I had a sleeping bag with me, almost never used. It is possible to find laundries (a nice help!) Including everything (including SLR, gopro, various chargers) the weight of my backpack was eight kilos. As for the bike, I recommend using two MTB backpacks to attach on the rear wheel fenders.
- I have arranged bike rentals with Cicloaustral: they also organize organized tours along the Carretera.
WHEN TO GO, WEATHER AND MORE
- The best season is the months from December to February: the sun sets decidedly late in January (9-9:30 pm).
- ‘Quien se apura en la patagonia pierde el tiempo’: those who run in Patagonia lose time. This is one of the most famous sayings around here. It explains that it is difficult to calculate the time required! The roads are often bumpy, the weather is uncertain, the landscapes are beautiful. Here you have to take the journey and life slowly!
- The weather can be terrible: on the first three days I found wind and rain, on day 8 gusts of wind at 70 km/h.
- If, like me, you arrive start the tour from Villa O’Higgins, be sure to have cash at least for the first two/three days. The first ATM is only in Cochrane (after that it is in Coyahique).
- Temperatures struggled above ten degrees from Villa O’Higgins to Cochrane, then in the first two stages. In the following stages I never suffered from the cold (except in the stage leading to Raul Marin, due to rain).