The Carretera Austral South

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I’ve met more than a few overlanders who call The Carretera Austral (also called Route 7) in far Southern Chile the most beautiful road in the world – obviously it’s been on my radar for while now.
The two ferries and tiny mud track that connect El Chalten in Argentina with Villa O’Higgins, at the southern terminus of the highway in Chile, are barely large enough for backpackers and bicyclists. The only option for motorbike and car travelers to reach Villa O’Higgins is to enter the highway further North, and meander South along the dead-end road, before returning the same way.

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Sitting next to Lago General Carrera

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Amazingly blue

I cross the border at Chile Chico and am immediately rewarded with spectacular views of the amazingly blue Lago Buenos Aires / Lago General Carrera, named differently in the two countries. The road is gravel, windy and narrow and closely hugs the mighty lake while passing through tiny farming communities. The Austral proper is continuously surrounded by snow and glacier-capped peaks, dotted with amazingly clear lakes and often winds along next to gorgeous rivers and streams.
I take out my fishing gear for the first time, and discover the $2 reel is broken beyond repair. I try my luck in a few lakes but give up quickly due to the frustration of manually winding the fishing line onto the reel. Small turn-outs on the side of the road are abundant, so I camp for the night, enjoying the extreme remoteness.

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The mighty Carretera Austral

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Narrow canyon on the Austral (spot the Jeep)

In the morning I catch the free, military-run ferry at Puerto Yungay / Rio Bravo and soon discover why this road is so highly regarded. The road becomes narrower, windier and in places quite steep as it climbs up and over small mountain passes. Somehow, the scenery gets more beautiful too.
In the tiny Villa O’Higgins I post up at the beautiful hostel “El Mosco”, and splurge to sleep in a bed for the first time since Buenos Aires.

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Lakes and mountains everywhere

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Fantastic Austral scenery

I hike up to a very remote and peaceful little cabin above the village, and pass the rainy and cold afternoon and evening sitting by the fire reading and drinking tea. Spending the night is amazing, and it’s for sure one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

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Villa O'Higgins

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Which way to the refuge?

There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

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The refuge above Villa O'Higgins

-Dan

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