The Carretera Austral is essentially a synonym for “the ultimate roadtrip.” Stretching over a thousand kilometres from the more inhabited parts of Chile to its southern hinterlands, the road is well known as one of the most epic journeys one can undertake. Whether making the trip by car, bicycle, motorcycle, or in the backs of trucks as a hitchhiker, travelers eager to tackle the journey are treated with fantastic snow capped mountains, beautiful blue lakes, idyllic meadows, and all sorts of absolutely fantastic scenery the entire way. And it’s not so long that the area has been so accessible; the road was initiated in 1976 to access sparsely populated communities that previously were incredibly difficult to access, as well as to reinforce territorial sovereignty should the need arise. Over 10,000 soldiers worked to construct the road, and the last stretch was only finished in the year 2000.
As we made our way down Chile it was inevitable that we would put the beetle to the test and drive this stretch of road sooner or later. Many people further north in Chile were shocked that we were planning to attempt it, suggesting instead that “you should get a jeep or a 4×4,” but we were confident that we could do it no problem, and save tons of money on gas while we were at it!
Our journey down the Carretera Austral really started off on the Island of Chiloé in its southernmost city Quellón. As we waited for a ferry that was supposed to start boarding at midnight some unknown delay had us sitting around and waiting until 1 am… 2 am… and we wondered whether the ferry would ever come. We weren’t bored, however, as Poncho the Beetle has a sense of humour. As we sat and waited we both started smelling gas, and sure enough, Poncho decided this was a perfect time to start leaking fuel into our trunk, lol! A quick examination and a couple of hose clamps later and we were ready to go, just in time to finally board the ferry at 3 am. Thanks for keeping us busy, silly car!
We arrived in Chaitén the next morning after only a couple of hours of sleep. A windy, rainy, blustery, and grey day greeted us… but luckily we had already patched up the spots that Poncho had been leaking rainwater into the interior a few weeks before- the joke is on you, silly beetle! Having already stocked up on food and other supplies we started our journey. The scenery was beautiful, or at least we think it was, because most of the mountains around us were shrouded in clouds and fog. Fortunately for us we were passing near to a hot spring, and soaking in a warm pool with rain pattering around us and misty mountains in the background was the perfect way to wait for the weather to clear a bit.
It didn’t take long for the skies to clear up, the sun to come out, and the fabulous views to begin.
As we made our way along over the course of a few days, one of our favourite moments was when we took a gravel road off of the main highway to find a campsite, but the road was blocked by a large truck that had apparently broken down. We chatted with the driver, asked if it was okay to camp nearby, and he said that he owned the land and sure, no problem! We could drive through a trail in one of his fields to get to the best campsites, and even though it was a bit muddy, Poncho handled it with absolutely no issues at all… including the extra tiny bridge that followed. We’re pretty sure most big Jeeps or 4x4s would have been too big to get across!
Beyond the bridge was one of the prettiest valleys we have ever been to, with fantastic mountain views, lots of sunshine, and a very welcoming vibe.
We cracked a beer made in the region, said “prost,” and sat back to appreciate just how lucky we were to be together in such a beautiful place.
As our trip south continued we were graced with nothing but good luck, fantastic free camping spots that we found down side roads, and beautiful scenery surrounding us with every kilometre. We even got to share some of it with several Chilean backpackers that we picked up on the side of the road, stacked their bags on top of the beetle, and piled in for a squishy but funny journey together.
After a few days of driving we finally crossed through the windy town of Chile Chico into Argentina, the Carretera Austral behind us and a totally new experience awaiting us on the other side of the Andes. Luckily we had mostly beautiful weather, no issues with our car or anything else, and had a wonderful time cruising down the highway together into the south. In the end, the Carretera Austral is a little bit different to each person who travels it, and it’s something you need to do yourself to realize just how spectacular it is.