Chile’s Carretera Austral is the ultimate Patagonian adventure. Plan your journey with our complete Carretera Austral guide.
The Carretera Austral; Chile’s Ruta 7; Route 7; the Southern Highway. So many names, but the one constant is that it’s one hell of an epic adventure.
Weaving through over 1200 kilometers of pristine Patagonian landscape, it’s not even fully paved, adding a touch of adrenaline to an already adventurous trip.
The narrow winding road, lined with glorious blooming lupins, sweeps through ever-changing scenery, with each curve revealing another dazzling sight. Turquoise lakes disappear into the foothills of snow-capped mountains. Glaciers spill out over granite peaks, frozen in their flow, yet ever melting.
Crystal clear meltwater cascades down hundreds of waterfalls, thunderous, tumbling, and tinkling before continuing towards its Pacific destination. And the skies! Enormous skies, filled with heavy clouds, often dark and ominous, more often than not blown clear by the infamous Patagonia winds.
In this guide for travelers, we’ve shared everything you need to know to prepare for this adventure of a lifetime. It’s packed with advice on when to go, how to travel the route, money matters, road conditions, what to see & do, and so much more.
What are you waiting for? This legendary road trip is just a few clicks away…
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Information About The Carretera Austral
This first section covers the basics of Chile’s Carretera Austral, including its history, the length of the route, and the main things you can see and do along Ruta 7.
What Is The Carretera Austral?
The Carretera Austral road is the main transport network cutting through over 1200 kilometers of Chilean Patagonia and connecting Puerto Montt with Villa O’Higgins. It’s best to consider the Chilean map of the region to understand a little of its history.
The Carretera Austral cuts through most of the Los Lagos and Aysen regions. The Andes mountains entirely hem in those regions to the east, fjords and the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Southern Ocean to the south. With ice fields, volcanoes, and dense forests, it is perhaps little wonder that less than 100,000 people live in the region.
But parts of southern Chile are entirely cut off from the mainland. For example, to access Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, and the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego by land you must travel via Argentina. But Argentina and Chile had a bit of a spat over the Patagonian borderland, and relying on a less than friendly neighbor wasn’t something General Pinochet could stomach.
So, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he set about ensuring that every village within Chile, no matter how remote, could be accessed without crossing into Argentina. The Carretera Austral forms a significant part of that plan, though once at Villa O’Higgins, travelers must take to the water to access Chile’s more southerly reaches without crossing the border.
The entire length of the Carretera Austral has only been open since 2000, yet unpaved sections remain.
What Can I See & Do Along The Carretera Austral?
The Carretera Austral stretches through two vast regions of Chilean Patagonia – Los Lagos and Aysen – so you will cross through stretches of mountains, rural estancias, and small villages. You’ll pass a wide variety of geographical wonders: volcanoes, hanging glaciers, the Patagonian Ice Fields, lakes, and rivers along the way.
Cities don’t really feature on this itinerary; Puerto Montt is the largest city, but at the start of the route, it barely counts. Coyhaique is the largest town on the Carretera Austral, but even that is pretty small by Chilean standards.
Traveling along the Carretera Austral is jam-packed with must-see sights every step of the way. While Pinochet developed the route as a way for Chileans to reach every part of their country without relying on Argentina, today, the Carretera Austral is often the destination itself.
Some of the most recognizable things to see and do include:
- Hiking in Pumalin Park, including up a smoldering volcano
- Trekking in Cerro Castillo, giving Torres del Paine a run for its money
- Exploring the mesmerizing Marble Caves
- Have your breath taken in Patagonia National Park
- Stepping out on the wooden boardwalks in Caleta Tortel
- Reaching the end of the Carretera Austral in Villa O’Higgins
Of course, it is your trip to plan and adapt to suit you. You can make deviations and detours from the Carretera Austral to visit other attractions that fit your interests, whether it be whitewater rafting on the Fu, taking a fjord cruise to see the enormous San Rafael Glacier or visiting the colorful palafitos on Chiloe Island.
If you’re planning to include Argentina’s Ruta 40 in your trip, you can check out our Argentinean Patagonia road trip guide, as we drove most of the route after the Carretera Austral.
Carretera Austral Facts & Stats At A Glance
- Total Length of Ruta 7 // 1240 kilometers / 775 miles (without diversions)
- Starting Point // Puerto Montt
- Finishing Point // Villa O’Higgins
- Total Driving Time // 30 hours minimum (without diversions or road works)
- Number of Ferry Crossing // 3 (or 4)
- Main Towns // Chaiten / Coyhaique / Cochrane
- Gas Stations // Puerto Montt / Hornopirén / Chaitén / Futaleufú La Junta / Puyuhuapi / Villa Mañihuales / Coyhaique / Puerto Río Tranquilo / Cochrane / Caleta Tortel / Villa O’Higgins
- Rent A Car // Puerto Montt / Coyhaique
- When to Go // November to March
- Road Conditions // Varied from good tarmac to pot-holed gravel tracks
Carretera Austral Planning Advice
This section answers the most common questions about planning a Carretera Austral trip, including the best time to visit, how long you need, how to get around, where to stay, and loads more practical information. It also gives advice for creating your own Carretera Austral itinerary based on your available time.
How Long Do You Need On The Carretera Austral?
There are many factors to consider when determining how long is long enough on the Carretera Austral.
How slowly will you travel and what mode of transport will you take? How long do you want to stick around in each place?
At one extreme, you might need a whole month to cycle the route – more if you don’t average 40 kilometers every day. At the other extreme, a whistle-stop tour of a few key highlights could be rushed in a few days.
Our suggested Carretera Austral itinerary demands a minimum of 2 weeks by car or public transport, but if that’s all you have, we think that’s a bit rushed. If you have ample time, this area of Patagonia is deserving of it. We think four weeks – maybe a little more – is the sweet spot.
In reality, no matter how much time you have, you’ll wish you had more – unless you end up in a lockdown in the region thanks to a global pandemic (like we have).
Getting Around The Carretera Austral
Perhaps nowhere else is it more evident that adventure is about the journey, not the destination. Fortunately, there are many different ways to travel the entire Southern Highway and even combine a few of them into a single trip.
By far the most flexible way to travel Carretera Austral is on a self-drive trip. A car – or better still, a camper – is the best way to create a unique itinerary. Pulling over and gawping at the sheer beauty along the way is probably one of the things you’ll do more of than anything else on this trip. So, having your own transport is the best way to take full advantage of it.
Some travelers on the Carretera Austral explore the region as part of an epic overlanding South America trip – a bit like us. But they’re not all crazy enough to ship their campers across the Atlantic Ocean.
Chile is a fantastic country to buy a camper – and sell it at the end of your trip. It’s more cost-effective than renting a car for trips likely to last more than a couple of months. Suzi Santiago is a well-known and reputable company that buys and sells cars and campers exclusively to travelers like you.
That means you can buy a camper with their help, explore South America at your leisure and when you’re finished, leave the camper back with Suzi Santiago who will sell it for you.
For everyone else, rental is the way to go.
Where To Hire A Rental Car or Campervan For The Carretera Austral
- Puerto Montt // Ideal for driving Ruta 7 from north to south
- Coyhaique // An excellent option for anyone who has flown into nearby Balmaceda or has used other transport to travel from the south.
- Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales // For travelers exploring southern Chilean Patagonia and want to head north. Punta Arenas has more options and lower prices than Puerto Natales.
We usually use Rental Cars because they cover all the major companies at competitive rates for the best deals. You can get a free, comparative quote from Rental Cars here.
If you’d prefer to hire a camper, you’ll need deeper pockets, but it provides greater freedom for boondocking – one of the most wonderful aspects of traveling the Carretera Austral. Popular campervan rentals firms include:
- Wicked Campers, Chile Motorhomes or Holiday Rent RV // Rent a camper in Puerto Varas ( a little further north than Puerto Montt) or Punta Arenas
- Soul Vans // Rental offices in Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas
You can get all the information you need in our guide to renting and driving in Patagonia. We encourage you to check out that post because it contains essential information about border crossings with a vehicle and one-way rentals.
Cycling The Carretera Austral
Sounds nuts, right? Well, cycling the Carretera Austral is a BIG thing, especially during the high season. Undoubtedly the ultimate in slow travel, cycling Ruta 7 will make sure you take in all the glorious views the rest of us drive past relatively quickly.
Most cyclists we met weren’t on a short jolly either – many of these hardcore travelers had cycled the entire length of the Panamerican Highway from Alaska, no less.
Of course, we’re no experts on cycling long distances, so other than saying it looks pretty exhausting, we can’t really bring much in the way of first-hand experience to this party.
Fortunately, Pim and Nienke from Outdoor Roamers can! Their article is full of helpful information about cycling the Carretera Austral, and seemingly, it’s not as challenging as you might think!
If you don’t have the thigh muscles for cycling or deep enough pockets for hiring a car, your trusty steed might need to be a local bus.
Fortunately, the public transport network along Ruta 7 is surprisingly good, albeit not as frequent as you may be used to. The main route is well connected, but not all services run every day. Detours and diversions from the Carretera Austral are less well served.
Bus tickets usually include the price of any ferry journey on your route.
Check out the latest routes, schedules, and prices directly with the bus operators:
During the high season – January and February – the buses are busy, so book your tickets at least a day or two in advance to secure your seat, unless your schedule is ultra-flexible.
Many long-distance bus routes throughout South America are pretty luxurious with reclining seats and onboard facilities. The operators running the bus routes on the Carretera Austral didn’t get the memo. Most don’t even have a toilet, so rehydrate sparingly.
Hitchhiking the Carretera Austral
So we have no experience of being the hitcher, but we have plenty of experience as hitchees. During January and February, hitchhikers on Ruta 7 are out in force, and believe us, demand is high. As in, there are actual hitchhiking queues.
The best thing about hitchhiking on the Carretera Austral is the chance to meet the locals. You’re also likely to meet fellow tourists, and while we’re not suggesting you pass up on a free ride, if you can afford to be fussy, we recommend sticking your thumb out in front of a Chilean plated vehicle. Seriously! Spending time with the people of Patagonia will bring a whole other level to your experience!
Our research efforts to find an organized tour of the entire length of the Carretera Austral have been in vain. But all is not lost.
If you’d prefer someone else to do all the trip planning for you, we think Viator offers the best value tour that includes most of the route – on a motorbike! How cool is that?
In a relatively small group, you will ride in convoy with your fellow tourists, with a support vehicle for backup. The route diverts off the Carretera Austral at Patagonia National Park out of Chile and into Argentina, where you’ll pick up the legendary Ruta 40. You can check out the tour details over at Viator.
Other tour options we found involve basing yourself in one or two hotels and taking day trips from those bases to the main sights. While it is an option, this approach involves a lot of unnecessary back and forth traveling as you return to your hotel each night.
If it’s something you wish to consider, we recommend you put a little effort into planning it yourself. It will save you a small fortune, and you get to handpick the tours and hotels you wish to stay at.
Coyhaique makes a great base for this travel style because it’s close to Balmaceda Airport – the only major (ish) airport near the Carretera Austral. It’s also the largest town on the Carretera Austral, so there’s no shortage of accommodation options to suit every budget, and pretty much every excursion or activity can be arranged.
Here’s a flavor of some of the day tours you can take from Coyhaique:
- Condor Watching in Coyhaique
- Baker River Rafting
- Capillas de Marmol Day Trip (Marble Caves) – you need deep pockets for this one – so consider the 2 days, 1 night trip instead.
- Queulat National Park & The Hanging Glacier
- Queulat National Park and Enchanted Forest (pricey but far better value than the Marble Caves tour)
- Trekking Laguna Cerro Castillo
- The best value tour we could find was this private guide for 2 days, including simple accommodation for a group of 4. You can adapt your itinerary to do pretty much whatever you want, and the price is for the whole group.
How Much Should You Book In Advance?
For the most part, it depends on your style of travel. If you’re anything like us, you’ll book nothing in advance; simply turn up and see how the land lies. However, other people like to have a detailed itinerary of their day-to-day activities and where they’re going to stay.
Probably the best option is something in between the two where you’ve done enough research to have a fair idea of the highlights you don’t want to miss. If you’re traveling in January and February, consider booking anything that is a must-visit for you in advance so you don’t need to hang around for an opening.
If you make advanced reservations, where possible, try to only book days ahead rather than weeks or months. Aim to keep a flexible itinerary. Advanced bookings can be a blessing when it’s busy but a hindrance when a ferry is delayed by a day, you find a place you’d love to spend more time or someone recommends a fantastic hidden gem you just have to see for yourself – there are lots of those.
Even if you want to just get on the road with no plans – a free spirit after our own hearts – there are a few things we’d recommend you do in advance.
- Rent your car or camper (months in advance, if traveling in January or February)
- Make sure your passport is in order, you’re clear on the latest visa requirements and any travel restrictions.
- Get an International Driving Permit (we’ve never been asked for ours)
- If there are any special hotels you want to stay at, book them in advance too.
- Buy appropriate travel insurance for the entire length of your stay.
What Is The Best Time of Year to Travel The Carretera Austral?
The most popular time to visit the Carretera Austral is the summer – January and February are the busiest months. The weather is glorious, and temperatures can easily hit the mid 30°Cs. Even so, rain isn’t uncommon and the further south you travel, the cooler it becomes.
Spring is a fantastic time to drive the route too. In fact, November and December are most beautiful because the wild lupins and broom are at their most colorful and aromatic. Lower demand for accommodation and activities in Spring and Autumn means reservations are mostly unnecessary.
Winter is bleak and brutal in the region. Tourist facilities and many hotels and campgrounds close for the season. Fishing is off-limits, as is whitewater rafting. Most of the National Parks remain open but trails can close at short notice depending on conditions. The roads are at their worst too, with landslides and new potholes a common occurrence. Even so, it’s a beautiful place to spend a winter.
Read More // Best Time to Visit Patagonia: Timing your Adventure
How Much Money To Budget For A Carretera Austral Road Trip?
How much a trip costs on the Carretera Austral really depends on where you’re coming from, how long you plan to spend on the route, how you plan to travel (e.g., hitchhiking and wild camping, campervan and boondocking, 4×4 car staying in hotels), what activities you’ll book, and your travel style.
A lot of the expenses you’ll probably know well before you leave home, including any flights, insurance, car rental expenses, and so on. Price these into your forecast spend because they can take a fair chunk of the budget.
You’ll incur the rest of your costs on the trip itself and will include things like accommodation, fuel, ferries, food, National Park fees, activities, tours, and souvenirs.
Chile isn’t a cheap country to travel in by South American standards. Prices will always change but the list below shows some average prices to give an idea of what to expect:
- 1 liter diesel // US $0.91 / CLP 717
- 1 liter gas // US $1.30 / CLP 1023
- 1 night campsite per person // US $6.50 – 10 / CLP 5000 – 8000
- 1 ferry crossing (with vehicle, driver and 1 passenger) // US $45 / CLP 35000 (depending on vehicle size & crossing)
- Dorm room in hostel per person // US $19 – 25 / CLP 15000-20000
- Mid-range hotel per room // US $190 / CLP 150000
- Luxury/unique stays per room // US $380 / CLP 300000
- National Park fees per person // US $10 / CLP 8000
- Meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant with a bottle of wine // US $57 / CLP 45000
- Store bought food (for a similar meal) including wine // US $19 / CLP 15000
If traveling by car, you should budget around $350 for fuel for the entire length of the Carretera Austral, including the return trip and the inevitable diversions.
Expect to pay US $30 per day for a small car and closer to US $30 per day for a good-sized car rental. On the otherhand, campervan rental is much more expensive, and you could pay a minimum of US $100 per day.
A 4×4 isn’t necessary. Good ground clearance is a bonus – but also not essential. If you want to drop your rental off at a different location, expect to pay a one-way premium and a further insurance fee to cross into Argentina.
Bus fares, including ferries, will cost around $60 per person between Puerto Montt and Villa O’Higgins.
Most people use a mix of accommodation on this route. Boondocking or wild camping is by far the best way to enjoy the phenomenal Patagonian landscapes – there are some views to wake up to where you will have to pinch yourself to believe – but also the cheapest option too.
Mix things up with the occasional fancy hotel – like the Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa – a couple of nights in a hostel or cabaña, and a few campgrounds along the way.
In general, living costs are higher in Patagonia than in the rest of Chile and South America, and the costs soon add up. But in all honesty, after paying your National Park fees and food bill, there’s not much more to spend your money on here. The views are free!
For a budget-friendly trip, taking advantage of the free hiking options, camping, self-catering, and avoiding organized activities, we recommend budgeting an average of $20 per day, per person plus transport costs. That allows for a little in reserve too.
For a more comfortable journey, including entrance to National Parks, a few organized activities along the way, occasionally eating out or staying at budget-friendly cabañas, a daily budget of around US $50 per day, plus transport costs is closer to the mark.
Prefer high-end hotels, eating out, and no holds barred? Anything upwards of $100 per day per person will see you right.
ATMs, Cash & Card Payments
In an age of contactless payments and online banking, handling cash may feel like something from the dark ages. But if you plan on traveling the Carretera Austral, it’s something to embrace.
Many small villages are pretty much cash-only societies. Card payments are increasingly accepted in hotels and restaurants, especially in the larger villages. But when there’s a power outage, or the Wi-Fi signals are lost – not uncommon in these parts – cash is the only way to pay.
Where card payments are accepted, often the machines only accept Mastercard or Visa – not both – and rarely Amex. So we carry one of each as a backup.
ATMs are few and far on the Carretera Austral, so make sure to carry a cash reserve. Make a withdrawal whenever you can because there are no guarantees the next ATM you find will be working. However, when they do work, you can expect the local bank to levy a flat rate withdrawal fee of around CLP 5000, so withdrawing as much as you can keep the overall banking fees down.
You can find ATMs in the following places but remember, they’re not all guaranteed to work all the time:
- Puerto Montt (a safe bet)
- Coyhaique (another safe bet)
- Puerto Rio Tranquilo
The Patagonian weather is everything you might imagine: wild, windy, wet, and predictably unpredictable. Even in the middle of summer, you’d be lucky to explore the full length of the route without ever seeing any rain. Wind is a factor too, especially on higher ground on open spaces like Patagonia National Park and near Lago General Carrera.
Even some snow isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. We climbed Cerro Castillo at the end of December, and it was freezing cold at the top! You have been warned.
What To Pack For The Carretera Austral
No matter how you plan to travel around, the main activities along the Carretera Austral involve the great outdoors – really great! So, the best things to pack are hiking and camping equipment.
We’ve published a complete guide to packing for Patagonia, and it includes loads of information to help you avoid packing mistakes and bring everything you need for a safe, dry, and comfortable adventure.
In summary, though, here are the essential items you need for hiking in the National Parks:
- Day Pack // A relatively small 35 lt day pack means you can carry a packed lunch and your hiking essentials while keeping your hands free.
- Dry Bag // To protect your camera and other electronics from rain showers and downpours.
- Walking Boots // You will probably spend many active hours in them, so for maximum comfort, choose well-fitting footwear appropriate to the terrain and climate.
- Weatherproof Jacket // With appropriate layering, a waterproof jacket is probably the only essential jacket you need.
- Hiking Clothes // You can avoid bulky items by packing good quality, fast-drying outdoor clothes.
- Swimming Kit // There are many rivers, lakes, and waterfalls in Patagonia. While many are glacier-fed, they’re idyllic in summer, for soaking weary feet, mid-hike, and not forgetting rafting adventures.
- Reusable Water Bottle // We find a wide-mouthed bottle, far easier to refill from streams.
- Hiking Poles // They make for a far easier hike by giving a little extra stability and balance; they really help coming downhill or on uneven ground.
If you want to camp – and we do recommend you take advantage of some of the incredible opportunities in the region – here are the absolute essentials (you can check out our car camping essentials list too):
- Tent // Ideally, something lightweight, quick, easy to pitch, and big enough for you and your backpack!
- Sleeping Bag // We wouldn’t suggest anything other than a good quality four seasons sleeping bag for Patagonia year-round. Don’t scrimp on this.
- Sleeping Pad // Will soften the edges of the rocky, root-riddled ground you’re sleeping on and give you an extra layer of thermal protection too. While these are often bulky, they are essential for a good night’s sleep.
- Pots & Pans // The key here is to find something lightweight, versatile, and non-stick. Don’t plan to cook meals that need several saucepans – think one-pot recipes. And pack a mug and decent cutlery – not plastic rubbish that’s likely to break.
- Camping Stove // It’s all about keeping weight to a minimum. Try to go for a product you can refuel easily. Gas isn’t always available, but you’ll have no trouble finding petrol or diesel.
Patagonia is an extreme environment, so come prepared. Before leaving home, make sure you have an excellent travel insurance policy.
If you haven’t heard us mention it before, we’ll repeat it: if you can’t afford a travel insurance policy, you can’t afford to travel.
In a region where an unexpected injury may need medical evacuation, costs can spiral. Can you afford to pay tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for that level of care?
If you’ve never bought travel insurance before, read this post to help buy the right policy for you.
The Carretera Austral may have opened up a few decades ago, but it still isn’t completely sealed. Most of the Ruta 7 between Puerto Montt and Coyhaique is sealed, although there are some gravel track stretches. Once past Cerro Castillo National Park, tarmac roads all but disappear.
There’s a lot more information in our post on driving in Patagonia but in summary, watch out for:
- Inevitable roadworks as the road surfaces are sealed.
- Dust kicked up by other road users impacts on visibility.
- Stone chips from other road users – driving more slowly and keeping your distance from other vehicles may help.
- Some stretches can be pretty soft, especially towards Villa O’Higgins.
- Unsealed roads (often called ripio or gravel tracks) can be slippery when wet.
For up-to-date information on road conditions on the Carretera Austral, check this website.
A rolling program of roadworks closes stretches of the Carretera Austral. For the latest information on road works on the Carretera Austral, check this website.
iOverlander can provide a good source of information on the latest conditions.
To ask other travelers who’ve driven specific stretches recently, we recommend joining the Pan-Am Travelers Facebook Group.
Carretera Austral Road Trip Guide Book
We recommend that all travelers invest in at least one guidebook to help with information about Carretera Austral while on the road. Such books are few and far between – in fact, we can only find one Bradt guide, but it’s pretty dated.
Watch this space – we’re writing our very own ebook dedicated to this magnificent road trip, and it’s coming soon!
Most larger towns have a fuel station, but they are few and far between. So long as you fill up every chance you get, whether you need it or not, you don’t need to carry extra fuel.
Most fuel stations throughout Patagonia are not self-service. Instead, an attendant will fill your tank and probably clean the windscreen at the same time.
Sometimes you pay the attendant at the pump, though more often, you pay inside a kiosk. It’s courteous to give the pump attendants a few pesos for their trouble.
A few handy phrases to know for fuel station visits:
- Diesel (pronounced dee-ess-el) = Diesel
- Gasoil (pronounced gass-oyl) = Diesel
- Benzina (pronounced ben-tz-eena) = Petrol
- Nafta ( pronounced Na-f-ta) = Petrol
The Carretera Austral is well signposted from Puerto Montt. Because it’s only one road, navigating is pretty straightforward, but it’s still sensible to use navigational aids to help.
We use a free app on our mobile devices called Maps.Me and is much better at navigating in Patagonia than Google Maps. It will help you to judge distances, gives accurate GPS information, and even shows lots of little-visited hiking trails.
iOverlander is one of the most widely used apps for people traveling in Patagonia. Not only is it a valuable and up-to-date source of travel-related information in the area, but you can use it offline too! So it really is worth its weight in gold. Find out how to download the app and update your device so you can use iOverlander offline.
Wifi & Cell Coverage
If you need to stay connected, getting a local sim card is a great idea. Entel provide the best coverage in Chilean Patagonia but there are large swathes of the Carretera Austral where you won’t get a signal. Coverage is much better in the towns and even some of the more remote villages.
If you have a foreign cell phone, you’ll need to make sure it is unlocked to use a local sim card. Chilean law stipulates that all foreign phones must be registered to use them in the country. You usually get a two or three week grace period but after that, even a local sim will stop working. You can register your phone in en Entel store – Santiago or Puerto Montt is your best option – or online. Get the latest information about what is required to register your phone here.
Wifi coverage in towns and villages is surprisingly good. Most villages have a free wifi access point in the plaza. Look out for the ChileGob Wifi Zone signs. It can be a bit hit and miss though.
Hotels and campgrounds often have Wifi too, although it’s not always super fast. Even in establishments with good wifi connections, power outages aren’t unknown in these parts. Even if you depend on internet for working, we recommend you assume the worst case in terms of connectivity once on the Carretera Austral. Call it a vacation!
Border Crossings with Argentina
Crossing the border into Argentina isn’t essential if yoru trip is contained to Chile. Afterall, that was Pinochet’s aim. You can extend your trip from Villa O’Higgins to Chile’s Southern Patagonia and the iconic Torres Del Paine National Park by taking a ferry to Puerto Natales. The car ferry leaves from Puerto Yungay.
That said, Argentinean Patagonia has a few highlights of its own, not least of all Mount Fitz Roy in El Chalten and Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate. By road, you can choose to cross into Argentina at one of a few different crossings. Which you choose should be determined by any onward travel plans you have:
- Futaleufu //
- Ideal for skipping the northern part of the Carretera Austral and all those ferry crossings.
- Cross on foot or vehicle.
- Public transport options on with side of the border.
- Chile Chico //
- Ideal for skipping the southern part of the Carretera Austral past Cochrane and visiting El Chalten, El Calafate or Cueva De Los Manos.
- Cross on foot or vehicle.
- Paso Roballos //
- Similar to Chile Chico but an off-road track through Patagonia National Park – stunning!
- Villa O’Higgins //
- An incredible experience as far as border crossings go involving 2 bus rides, 2 more ferry crossings, plus a 20+ kilometer hike through glorious Patagonian mountains – with all your luggage!
- Not possible with a motorized vehicle.
Can I Bring My Pets On The Carretera Austral?
Traveling with a dog or other pets is possible in Chile. As with other South American countries, you need to follow the rules for pet passports and vaccines.
The greatest challenge of traveling on the Carretera Austral with your pet is that they are not allowed entry to the National Parks. Because most of the main attractions and hiking trails are within National Park boundaries, you’ll need to take pet care into account.
Finding a pet sitter is possible, if necessary – fellow travelers or dog-loving campground owners are often happy to help out.
Accommodation On The Carretera Austral
The type of accommodation on the Carretera Austral is varied, and there’s something to suit every budget and travel style.
For those that love to make reservations, be mindful that many establishments don’t have an online presence, and if they do, often you can’t book online. Refer to our Carretera Austral itinerary, where we recommend places to stay for every day of the trip.
Most villages en route are small, so it won’t take long to find somewhere on foot if you arrive without a place to stay.
Because a trip on Ruta 7 takes at least two weeks, the chances are you’ll stay at a few different places. Many travelers use a combination of hotels, camping, and hostels, depending on budgets and preferred travel style. Here’s an overview of the types of accommodation you can expect to find:
Boondocking & Wild Camping
For travelers with campervans or camping gear, you get the best deal when it comes to options. Pretty much the entire route provides good opportunities to wild camp and boondock. iOverlander can help you find places other travelers recommend, but there are idyllic places everywhere. Please follow our guidelines for responsible boondocking and leave no trace.
Camping on a Carretera Austral trip is common, and there are hundreds of campgrounds. They tend to be pretty basic, but they often have a covered area to pitch a tent and a quincho or kitchen area.
Camping in the National Parks is possible but only in designated areas. Some National Parks, like Quelat and Patagonia National Parks, have CONAF run camps. Others, like Cerro Castillo are more relaxed about where you can pitch a tent. Check with the rangers when you enter the park.
Similar to B&B guesthouses, you can find hospedajes pretty much everywhere. Even in more rural areas, homeowners will rent out a basic room to tourists. They’re also an excellent option for finding dog sitters as Chileans love dogs!
For a more rustic stay, cabañas provide self-contained accommodation, often with fabulous views and sometimes with wood-fired hot tubs.
Hotels & Unique Stays
For a few nights of luxury, the Carretera Austral has a few exceptional hotels offering unique experiences in killer settings. For instance, check out Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa or Yelcho en la Patagonia. Pretty luxurious, no?