March 2 – 8, 2020
Day 510 – 516
The Carretera austral is the must-go place for many travellers in Patagonia. For me, I would consider it to be the very beginning of Patagonia: More than a 1000km of road in the middle of nowhere, zigzagging between rivers, mountains, glaciers, lakes, … Just a few villages on the way. And this place is full of national Park and hikes to do.
This road was constructed in 1986 by the government of Pinochet. And slowly it got extended. Today there are still a lot of work going on on it. It was a huge work requiring more than 10,000 workers. And several of them died.
But this road allowed many isolated villages and cities to be connected to the rest of the world, which were before only reachable by boats for example. And this also attracted many tourists.
This place is also full of hitchhikers, bikers and people travelling with vans. In summer, this place is full of tourists. We are there in March, which I think is very good: the weather is still great, but there are less tourists.
Also, there are less hitchhikers. I know people that have been there in January/February (high season) and they told me that hitchhiking can be very tricky as there is way too many people. And competition can be hard.
We began the Carreteral austral after the island of Chiloé. We start in the north, in the city of Chaitén.
Chaiten and Parque national Pumalin
Chaiten is a little village in the north of the Carretera austral. It is not the beginning of it, but many traveler starts here as well.
This village was nearly completely destroyed in 2008 because of the eruption of the volcano Chaiten where everybody got evacuated. Since then, locals came back in 2011.
We slept two night there in an abandoned prison in town. At least in can say I spent a night in jail :p
Our first stops were in the parque Pumalin, Next to Chaiten. We started hitchhiking and a french guy, Benoit, stopped for us in 10 minutes. We were lucky since we continued to travel with him for two days as he also was discovering the Carretera austral with his car.
Together, we did a few hikes in the area and also took other hitchhikers. First hike was in the forest to see hidden waterfalls and 100 years old trees of the region.
The other nice hike here is the hike to see the volcano Chaiten. Since the eruption in 2008, the volcano always have smoke coming out of it.
We hike with Benoit for this. The first part is going accross the burned forest that starts to regrow from the ashes.
And at the top is the view on volcano Chaiten, two nice lagunas and the smoking crater.
Parque national Queulat
The next day, we leave Chaiten with Benoit to take on the road to the south on the Carretera austral. The road is actually not too bad for the most parts. And it is beautiful all the way.
We stopped in the parque national Queulat for a hike again. For me, the most amazing in Patagonia will be the color of the water that you can see here. In rivers, lakes or glaciers. It is amazing.
The main hike of the part leads you to the Ventisquero Colgante, a hanging glacier that jump into a lake at its bottom. The park made the hike very easy and many people walk to reach the viewpoint on the glacier. Gorgeous !
We leave then Benoit to continue hitchhiking on our own. We got picked up pretty easily to continue more south to another hidden hike to… another glacier ! The Bosque Encantado.
Much more tricky hike, as the trail is normally closed to public. But this makes the viewpoint more rewarding.
The Cerro Castillo is probably the most famous hike around here. This national park offer a day hike to a beautiful mountain called the Cerro Castillo: the castle mountain. It is indeed a very nice mountain.
Here in Chile, nearly all the national park needs you to pay a fee. Sometimes its not much, sometimes a bit more and sometimes it is way too much. Nothing is free in Chile and it is a country which is quite expensive.
So this hike is very very touristy. And with it come a huge price. To do the day hike to the Laguna cost 18,000 pesos (~21€). This is such a huge price… And the worst is that, for this price, there is absolutely nothing. Just the access to the trail.
A private owner owns the beginning of the trail to the Cerro Castillo. Seeing that many tourists come here, and that they are willing to pay, they ask for a fee just to have the right to pass their property. And they are putting a higher price every year…. This is racketing… Honestly…
So Mathilde and I decided not to pay this fucking fee. So we snuck in. The park opens at 7am. So we went before that at 5am and jump over the fence. I am usually not fan about this kind of thing but they are robbing people so i don’t feel ashamed of it.
The best about it is that we were lucky to enjoy the sunrise during the hike.
The hike leads to the bottom of the Cerro Castillo and a Laguna at the bottom. It’s needless to say we were not the only that snuck in the trail. We were at least 6-7 people.
The view on Cerro Castillo is indeed nice, but you nearly have the same than from the bottom. You are just closer. For me, the real best in the view on the other side where you have an amazing view on the valley with the river and the mountains.
it is also pretty impressive to see the clear separation of the no-tree limit and the snow limit. It is like a line has been drawn on the mountains range.
For the hike, we basically hide our bags at the bottom of the hike under a bridge. Bad news: when we came back, somebody came and stole some of my stuf… We don’t really understand why, because we had money for example, but this person only took my tent and my sleeping pad.
Well, it is sad but that’s travelling. Sometimes shit happens. Travelling for nearly 1 and a half year and this never happened to me before. So I can’t complain.
Crossing the border back to Argentina
We continued our way south the Carretera austral. I will say the best in the Carretera austral is also just the road. Even without doing a hike, just driving and looking around is a must-do activity. Everything is so beautiful!
So far, hitchhiking worked so well for us. On the Carretera austral, We never waited more than 20 minutes. Even when we were many groups of people, cars were always stopping to pick people.
Except: our last day. We needed to go to the border to cross back to Argentina. We arrive at a bus stop to start hitchhiking where there was already other hitchhikers.
At the end, we waited 24h… Hopefully we were not alone. Me, Mathilde and 5 others hitchhikers were waiting in this bus station. We spent the night in this same bus station, 5 on the ground, and me above in my hammock 😂
We finally got taken by the yellow Combi of 2 Canadian people travelling in van. I already met them in Peru, 5 months ago ! They took me there hitchhiking, so it was funny to see them again.
And after that, we were back in Argentina. We finished what we wanted to see of the Carretera austral. As I said, it was for me the real beginning of Patagonia as I wanted to see it. And I was not disappointed.
If you go to Patagonia, don’t miss it 🙂