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South Carretera Austral and Chelenko

September 14, 2020

South of Coihaique along the Carretera Austral to Villa OHiggins, discover the Tolkien-like region that surrounds the turbulent waters of Chelenko. Colour, contrast, and commotion define these larger-than-life landscapes. Unexpected beauty awaits any journey here.

Vast, rugged, and least explored, there are castle-like rocky spires, cathedral-like limestone caves, and Antarctic-like ice fields. Here you can venture into the wilderness and go rock climbing, boating, or ice trekking and caving. There is also South America’s second-biggest lake, Chelenko. With its turquoise flowing out into Chile’s most voluminous river, Rio Baker, you can also go rafting, kayaking, and fly fishing. The newly minted Patagonia National Park, another Tompkins’ conservation project, has a dozen easy to difficult self-guided trails, including multi-day hikes. Enjoy wildlife watching, mountain biking, or scenic driving in one of the wildest, untamed parts of the world.

So, why not hike the fabled Smuggler’s Trail? It’s a hut-to-hut route through the Lago Jeinimeni National Reserve and the Patagonia National Park. The trail also passes by lakes, rivers, and estuaries, over mountain passes, through forest and across Patagonian steppe. Here condors, pumas, vizcachas and huemules also abound. From windswept landscapes to the archipelago-sheltered cove of Caleta Tortel, this sleepy village offers a Rivendell-like sanctuary to rest. Car-free, the only access is by a maze of creaky wooden boardwalks over the milky-blue waters of the Baker River. Nestled within icy behemoths and forest-clad hills, this rustic retreat above all lets you belong to something greater.

At the far southern terminus of the 1240km-long Carretera Austral lies Villa O’Higgins. Even at the utmost of Chile’s sovereignty over Patagonia, you can still go beyond, across the border into Argentina. With favourable winds, this epic off-the-beaten-track border crossing is a must-do for both adventure seekers and nature lovers. Challenging yet rewarding, it begins with a boat journey across Lago O’Higgins and in front of O’Higgins Glacier. Next, it involves border controls, a 4WD-truck ride, and a 6km-hike. Then, with another boat journey, you cross the length of Lago del Desierto. Finally, it ends with a short bus trip to El Chaltén, one of Argentina’s best-hiking destinations.

So, for unexpected beauty, why not explore South Carretera Austral and Chelenko? Talk to our travel specialists today about a tailor-made itinerary.

Highlights of South Carretera Austral and Chelenko:

– Cerro Castillo National Park is a quieter and less crowded alternative to Torres del Paine
Lago General Carrera (Chile) and Lago Buenos Aires (Argentina) have been rebaptized as ‘Chelenko’.
– Mallin Colorado Ecolodge offers wooden cottages overlooking Chelenko.
– Marble Caves are the famous wave-shaped limestone caves of Chelenko.
– Exploradores Glacier rumbles off Mount San Valentín, the highest mountain in Patagonia.
– The Aysén Glacier Trail is a 10-day trail to the edge of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field.
– Patagonia National Park links Jeinimeni National Reserve to the Tamango National Reserve.
– Smuggler’s Trail is a multi-day hut-to-hut hike.
– Caleta Tortel is a quaint fishing village 23kms from Carretera Austral.
– O’Higgins Glacier is known for its towering walls of ice and contrasting blue colours.
– Villa O’Higgins-El Chaltén remote border crossing via Candelario Mancilla, between Chile to Argentina, is spectacular.