Carretera Austral Chile: The Ultimate Driving Itinerary Guide
So you’ve heard about the epic Carretera Austral Chile, and you’re wondering about how to plan your trip? Keep reading for everything you need to know.
One of the most dynamic and epic road trips in South America, if not the world is the Carretera Austral Chile in the county’s southern Patagonian region. If you’ve always longed to experience the vast landscapes, glacial fields and mountains of Patagonia, following Ruta 7 (the Austral Highway) is one of the best ways to do it.
Along the way, you’ll be able to stop off and experience some of Chile’s best trekking, white-water rafting, kayaking, boating and ice-trekking. This is a landscape that’s as beautiful as it is unforgiving and around every curve, you’ll find yet another landscape to gawk at.
In this Carretera Austral itinerary guide you’ll find everything you need to know to plan and drive this infamous Patagonian highway.
*This Carretera Austral Chile post contains affiliate links meaning I might make a small profit if you choose to book at no extra cost to you.
WHAT IS THE CARRETERA AUSTRAL CHILE?
The Carretera Austral, Chile is a legendary road in the South of Chile or Chilean Patagonia. The Carretera Austral is just another term for Ruta 7 (Route 7) which starts in Puerto Montt and finishes in the Villa O’Higgins.
The Carretera Austral in Chile is 1240km (770 miles) long, most of which is now paved (Puerto Montt to Villa Cerro Castillo at the time of writing). Driving the Carretera Austral is experiencing Chile’s if not South America’s finest road trip through the wild, rugged landscapes of Patagonia.
The best time to visit Patagonia and drive the Carretera Austral is Chilean summertime (December-March). January and February are the busiest times so plan your trip around these months if you prefer not to travel during the high season when the most popular places get crowded.
WHY VISIT PATAGONIA AND THE CARRETERA AUSTRAL CHILE?
There are so many reasons why you might want to visit Chile and Patagonia but here are just a few that might convince you to finally book that trip.
↠ Patagonia and the Carretera Austral Chile is a beautiful, natural and completely unspoilt region to visit so if you’re a nature or outdoors fan, it doesn’t get better than this.
↠ There are many adventure, active and wellness activities to choose from in the area including kayaking, rock climbing, rafting as well as thermal baths and spas along the way perfect for relaxing in.
↠ It’s a very safe place to be and the people are very friendly.
↠ There are many national parks and so many trekking opportunities you could literally do it everyday.
↠ It’s one of the most iconic road trips in the world and being able to experience it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
HOW TO TRAVEL ALONG THE CARRETERA AUSTRAL CHILE
There are many ways to experience the epic Carretera Austral, Chile and how you do it will depend on many factors, notably time and budget. This guide focuses more on driving the Carretera Austral which is the most comfortable way to do it but there are other ways, especially if you’re on a budget or have a more adventurous spirit.
RENTING A CAR
Renting a car is by far the most popular, the easiest and most comfortable way to approach your Carretera Austral itinerary.
Having a car will allow you to get off the beaten path and visit National Parks and sights along the way where buses don’t go. You’ll also have the freedom to set off when you wish and stop driving when you wish. It can also save you a lot of time compared to hitchhiking and waiting for buses.
The best place to rent a car is in Puerto Montt, where you can find some of the best car rental deals in Patagonia.
Stocking up on all your food in Puerto Montt is also a good idea as it’s considerably cheaper than elsewhere along the way.
Another option is renting in Balmaceda/Coyhaique however you’ll have to double back quite a bit if you’re planning on driving the whole Carretera Austral as these towns are located in the middle of the route. Renting from Balmaceda can also be quite a bit more expensive compared to Puerto Montt.
If you plan on returning the car to a different destination to the one you picked up from you’ll also be paying considerably more for the rental.
While you don’t need a 4×4 for your Carretera Austral itinerary it is definitely advised to rent a car with a higher clearance. From Villa Cerro Castillo southwards the road is still a gravel track so it’s a lot more comfortable having a larger car that’s more accommodating to unpaved roads.
You should also know that in order to cross the border into Argentina at any point you’ll need additional insurance. It’s also a good idea to check with your rental car company if their insurance covers you in Argentina.
If you do need additional insurance you can compare policies and buy it here. It costs about $25 for 10 days.
RENTING A CAMPER
Renting a Camper is another great way to travel the Carretera Austral and while they are more expensive to rent compared with cars, you’ll be saving money on accommodation by sleeping in the car. There’s also something very comforting about being able to pull over next to a stunning, crystalline lake and pop in the back to make a cup of tea.