Route CH 7 is a road that crosses the Southern Zone and the Austral Zone of Chile. It is characterized as being a path amidst natural scenery areas with almost no human intervention. It stretches for 1240 kilometers from Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins, and it is expected that one day it will reach Puerto Williams.
A major part of the has no pavement, making it an attraction for lovers of ecotourism, which can travel the route in a 4x4 car or mountainbike.
It has gravel in almost all of its terrain and must be permanently in maintenance for damages suffered during the winter with temperatures that are very extreme in these latitudes and it is located in the middle of a rugged terrain with glaciers, mountains, fjords, rivers, forests and lakes. Even though there are damages done to the road in the winter, it still passes through two regions: the Los Lagos and Aysen.
The Southern Highway begins in the region of Los Lagos in Puerto Montt, where it starts as 0 kilometers. The route continues to the town of Quillaipe and from there begin the transfers by ferry in Caleta Puelche and after in Hornopien and Caleta Gonzalo.
Kilometer 200 of the Carretera Austral is located in the town of Chaitén, and from there it travels through the Aysen region at kilometer 547 which is access to Puerto Aysen. Kilometer 610 corresponds to the city of Coyhaique and kilometer 657 goes to Balmaceda. From there you take a new ferry from the areas of Puerto Yungay and Rio Bravo.
In its 1,200 kilometers of length it covers some of the most beautiful places in the austral region of southern Chile, through nature reserves such as Queulat National Reserve, Pumalín Park and Cerro Castillo National Reserve and rivers like the Futaleufu River and Baker. Also, you can see amazing cities like Tortel and Villa O'Higgins and much much more.
Since it does have many sectors that are far away from big cities and if you travel by car it is recommended to travel in a van or a 4x4 car, and always carry a can of gasoline in case of not finding gas stations, since they are scarce and very expensive, especially when approaching Villa O'Higgins and the southernmost parts of the route.
Another recommendation is to drive with caution and avoid high speeds since in several areas the road is very winding and covered with gravel which can cause landslides and rollovers in vehicles that are not used to the terrain.
One last suggestion is to prefer closed vehicles because of the dusty roads and unpredictable rainfall at any time while crossing it.
Prior to the construction of the Carretera Austral the only way you could to Aysen is via boat and flights. It could only be reached by land through Argentina.
In the 70s it was sought to strengthen the Chilean sovereignty over the Patagonia, especially at a time where there were two border disputes with Argentina in the Laguna del Desierto and the Beagle Channel.
Thus in 1976 the construction of this route began, which became known as Carretera Austral. The Cuerpo Militar del Trabajo (Military) participated in the construction of this road; an organization in charge of the Chilean Army as well as the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y su Dirección de Vialidad (Ministry of Public Works and Highway Administration) and other contractor businesses.
The works were carried out by more than 10,000 Chilean soldiers who participated in the construction of one of the most complex and costly paths in engineering because of the rugged terrain where it was located, it is located between glaciers, lakes, rivers, mountains, forests and fjords.
In late 1989, the Carretera Austral had more than 2,400 kilometers of road built, where a network of side roads is also included. The total project cost was approximately 300 million dollars
During the 90's the conclusion of the Highway with Villa O'Higgins was finished and in 2003 the branch to the Caleta Tortel was opened. Following construction towards the south of the route was made impossible by the presence of the Campos de Hielo Sur (Southern Ice Fields), because of its high mountains and glaciers.
In the Rio Bravo sector, the road continues to the snowdrifts of Montt, trying to unite Puerto Natales to Puerto Yungay, where you must use 9 transfers. It is expected that these works, also conducted by the Cuerpo Militar del Trabajo (Military Workers) is completed by 2040.
Where to go
Also known as Rio Negro, it is the capital of the Hualaihué community. It is located 109 kilometers from Puerto Montt. It is considered as "The north gate of the Carretera Austral", since it is the largest town after Puerto Montt, kilometer 0 of this route.
It has beautiful natural areas like Hornopirén National Park and a privileged environment, surrounded by nature.
In Hornopirén some of the off-road parts of the Carretera Austral finish, and you need to take a ferry to continue on this road following location which is the Caleta Gonzalo.
Parque Nacional Hornopirén: (Hornopien National Park)
It has more than 48 thousand acres. It is a protected area and is part of the Reserva de la Biósfera Bosques Templados Lluviosos de los Andes Australes. Here we can find the Hornopirén and Yates volcanoes plus lakes and a forest with native species such as beech, larch, Magellan coigue and others.
Caleta Gonzalo is still found in the 10th Region and can be reached after a 5-hour ferry ride. Located on the grounds of the current Pumalín Park and among its attractions are large areas of larch trees, an area protected and considered a natural monument of Chile.
Apart from its natural surroundings it has an excellent tourist infrastructure with cabins, cafeterias, craft shops where you can buy souvenirs and a remembrance of the sector.
It is located 60 kilometers away from Chaitén.
Parque Nacional Alerce Andino: (Alerce Andino National Park)
It lies on the 10th Region of Los Lagos and is part of theReserva de la Biosfera Bosques Templados Lluviosos de los Andes Australes. It is located approximately 40 kilometers from Puerto Montt.
Its main attraction is the larch forests, covering almost 20 thousand acres of land in the park, where we also find species such as the coihue, the canelo and mañío.
Inside this park we can find beautiful trails that run from Correntoso to the Rio Panga and from there to Refugio. It also has two lagoons, the Sargazo and the Laguna Fria, where you can enjoy water activities such as swimming. Another attraction is the Reloncavi estuary.
In this area you can find native flora and fauna such as the brown and rainbow trout; pudú, black woodpecker, kingfisher, peucos, condors and others.
It is a private park located in the province of Palena, Region de Los Lagos. It has 325 acres, with trails and accomodation services. In the southern sector you can perform different outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and fly fishing, among others, while the north has access only through the fjords, navigating on kayaks and other types of water vessels.
The Pumalín Park is classified as a temperate rainforest and has many natural areas with rich biodiversity in flora and fauna. It is considered a Nature Sanctuary.
Among its attractions are the Michimahuida volcano, the hot springs of Cahuelmo, and the Vodudahue Falls among others.
Termas El Amarillo:
They are located 83 kilometers south within the Pumalin Park. It provides facilities for camping, picnicking, cabins for accommodation and restaurants.
The thermal waters are of volcanic origin and are from the Michimahuida Volcano, reaching a temperature of 52º C. They have healing properties for rheumatic problems and are ideal for relaxing and enjoying nature.
It has artificial pools and natural pools and is ideal for a good night's sleep before continuing the adventure in the Carretera Austral.
This town is located on the border between Chile and Argentina and is famous for the Futaleufu River, considered one of the top three in the world to practice adventure sports such as rafting and kayaking. It has Class 5 rapids such as the Cañón del Infierno.
The Valle de los Reyes (Valley of the Kings) in the Futaleufu River is ideal for fly fishing.
It is located at kilometer 491 of the Carretera Austral, entering the 9th Region de Aysen. It is a small town that is known for its folk traditions, such as the International Festival of Jinetadas, which also involves Argentinian gauchos.
There are basic services and commerce to stock up as we continue our journey through the route.
Parque Nacional Queulat:
It has 154 thousand acres and is crossed by the Carretera Austral along 40 kilometers.
The name of this park in the chonos language, means "sound of waterfalls" and is known for its beautiful landscapes and exuberant nature, with an evergreen forest and an forest of ferns, orchids, vines and large nalca leaves that are found along the Carretera Austral.
It is also a habitat for native fauna such as the black woodpecker, kingfisher, different types of ducks, pudúes, cougar, red fox, black-necked swans, and other species.
It has many attractions like Salto Padre Garcia, Salto del Condor, the Risopatrón Lake and Los Pumas Lagoon, besides the impressive Queulat hanging snowdrift, a glacier that hangs from the Alto Nevado hill, 2255 meters above sea level.
From this height thereis an impressive waterfall, providing a unique show that can be seen from the Carretera Austral.
Within the National Park Queulat there lakes such as Témpanos- which is located at the foot of Hanging Glacier and waterfall Rosada and Acantilado as well as rivers like the Ventisquero,Cisnes, Pedregoso and Queulat, arising from the glacier and finally ends in the Puyuhuapi canal.
In addition, the Queulat Park has the Queulat Fjord in the coastal sector of the reserve, where you can see wildlife such as seabirds, dolphins and sea lions.
This beautiful village that unites the traditions of German and Chilote people is located on the coastline of Queulat National Park and is known for its stunning surrounding nature: mountains, snowdrifts, parks, fjords, forests, lakes and more.
That is why it is ideal for all types of outdoor recreation such as horseback riding, hiking, fishing and boating activities just to name a few.
It offers services and commerce, as well as the Puyuhuapi Hot Springs and Isla Magdalena National Park.
Termas de Puyuhuapi: (Puyuhuapi Springs)
These hot springs at the end of the earth are only accessible by sea since they are located next to the beach of Dorita Bay on the Magdalena Island. They offer excellent quality services and water reaching up to 85° C. They have accommodation options, but are somwhat expensive, so it is recommended to visit the hot springs for the day and choose any of the alternative accomodations that exist in Puyuhuapi.
Lago General Carrera: (General Carrera Lake)
This large lake, known as Buenos Aires on the Argentine side, has an area of over 1800 km2. The water is glacial and on its way to the sea they drain into Lake Bertrand first and later in the Baker River.
Its main attractions are the Capillas de Mármol and General Carrera Lake National Reserve, which has a lot of natural areas that are home to different species such as huemules, pumas, foxes and condors, in addition to native flora and with forests of coigue and lenga. In this area you can do all kinds of recreational activities such as fly fishing, hiking, horseback riding and others.
In the surrounding area are the towns of Chile Chico and Puerto Guadal.
Capillas de Mármol:
The Capillas de Marmol corresponds to a rocky islet formation with strange ivory colored shapes, which are located on the shores of Lake General Carrera.
They are 3 formations: the Catedral de Mármol (Cathedral of Marble), Capilla de Mármol (Marble Chapel) and Caverna de Mármol (Marble Cave), which can be entered from inside to observe the beauty of their forms and the reflection of the turquoise waters of Lake General Carrera in them.
To reach them there are excursions by boats that take place throughout the year.
It is located in the southwest area of Lake General Carrera. It is a town where the main business activity is sheep and cattle farming, besides making homemade jams and sweets.
It has a pleasant microclimate, so it is a highly visited resort during the summer because of the warm waters of the lake and its days of sunshine which are perfect for outdoor excursions.
Another attraction is the Cascada Los Maquis (Los Maquis Waterfall), a waterfall of 25 meters located on the surroundings of Puerto Guadal.
Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo: (Cerro Castillo National Reserve)
It is located south of Coyhaique and has exuberant vegetation of the southern native flora and several trails to explore the surroundings. In this reserve there is also a camping area, full service bathrooms and showers.
It has lakes, such as Lake Chiguay, that allows you to go deep into the reserve and see snowdrifts, glacial lakes and forests of the Andean Patagonian type.
It is located next to Lake Bertrand, at the birth of the Baker River. It has thick forests of beech and its surroundings we find attractions such as the Campos de Hielo Norte (Northern Ice Fields), Lago Cochrane National Reserve, Lake General Carrera, among others.
In this sector you can engage in recreational activities such as fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and more.
It is adjacent to the Campos de Hielo Norte (Northern Ice Fields) and is considered the last great city of the Carretera Austral, perfect to stock up because it has all the services and commerce.
In its surroundings you can practice hiking, horseback riding, fishing, trips to nearby parks like Lago Cochrane National Reserve, Laguna San Rafael National Park, Lago Carrera National Reserve , among others as well as ecotourism, rafting and kayaking, in addition to observing native wildlife, especially huemules.
Campos de Hielo Norte: (Northern Ice Fields)
The Northern Patagonian Ice Fields extend approximately 4,200 km2 in the 9th Region of Aysen. It is estimated that the ice that forms it is more than 30,000 years old.
In this area we can find attractions such as Mount San Valentín and the famous San Rafael Lake and its glacier.
Río Baker: (Baker River)
The Baker River is the largest river in Chile, it begins in the Bertrand Lake, southwest of Lake General Carrera. It is 370 kilometers long and is famous for being a place of many water activities such as the sport fishing tournaments that take place in late February in Puerto Bertrand as well as kayaking and rafting. It flows into the town of Caleta Tortel.
It lies at the mouth of the Baker River, next to the Northern and Southern Ice Fields. It is located near the end of the Carretera Austral and is known for its unique architecture, with wooden walkways to move around through the field, built with cypress wood of Guaitecas. It is considered a typical zone since 2001.
In the area of Caleta Tortel we find the Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, where the Southern Ice Field is located.
This is the last town on the Carretera Austral. It is an area surrounded by large areas of glaciers and ice fields, so it is ideal for mountaineering and hiking lovers. It is the road to reach the part of Chaiten in Argentina.
In this sector there are no cell phones, no ATM or public transportation. It has a gas station, but their prices are quite high, besides that it has offers in accommodations and restaurants.
Beginning from the start of this trip in Puerto Montt, we can visit the Alerce Andino National Park and see a unique and ancient forest, with examples of over 3,000 years of existence.
In addition to this natural area, in the same area you can visit the Hornopirén National Park with its great natural beauty and areas that are completely free of intervention. Here we can practice outdoor activities such as sport fishing in the lagoons.
Continuing south we come to Caleta Gonzalo, where Pumalín Park is located and offers well-marked hiking trails, picnic areas, cabins and craft shops.
Here we also cross the 11th Region of Aysen and Coyhaique where you can reach Futaleufu. Here we find beautiful national parks and one of the best rivers in the world for rafting on the river.
In addition to this, in this area we find the Puyuhuapi sector with the Puyuhuapi Springs in Isla Magdalena and excellent tourist services.
Here you can also tour the Isla Magdalena National Park, a protected area that can only be accessed through the sea.
Continuing along the Carretera Austral wefind Queulat National Park, which has stunning natural attractions: the Salto Padre García Hurtado (Padre Hurtado García Falls) and the wonderful Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier), offering a one of a kind landscape.
As we advance towards the southern zone we can see the Cerro Castillo National Reserve, which has approximately 180 thousand acres, with roads, glaciers, lakes and beautiful surrounding scenery.
We also find the General Carrera Lake with the National Reserve of the same name, which is known for its attractions such as the Capillas de Mármol (Marble Chapels), on the shores of General Carrera Lake, and can be crossed in boats, exploring within its rocky caverns.
In this sector we can explore one of the most important attractions: the San Rafael National Park, explore the Northern Ice Fields, the Monte San Valentin and Bahía Exploradores.
If we continue our journey south, we find the Bertrand Lake, one of the best places in the country to fly fish. Then, its waters flow into the Baker River, the roughest river in Chile, with beautiful turquoise waters that are ideal for water sports such as rafting and kayaking.
Beyond the Baker River, the Carretera Austral changes and becomes more a rugged and winding road. In this area we find the town of Cochrane, the last city with services and commerce, so it is recommended to stock up if you plan to continue the tour. This area stands out because we can find a big huemul population that live naturally in their surroundings, such as the Tamango National Reserve.
From here we continue towards Caleta Tortel with its unique wooden walkways that give a unique charm to this location. In its surroundings we can find natural areas such as theIslas de los Muertos (Island of the Dead), the Steffens and Neff glaciers and more.
From Tortel we can resume the Carretera Austral and proceed to Villa O'Higgins. The road becomes narrow and difficult as you get to Villa O'Higgins, that is the end of Route 7, 1,247 kilometers from its starting point in Puerto Montt. One of its main attractions is the Santiago Park, which has a hill with a panoramic viewpoint and you can see the entire city.
Villa O'Higgins is the gateway to the "Capital of Trekking (Hiking)", the town of El Chalten in Argentina.
Along the Carretera Austral we find various locations, some larger cities with more services and commerce, and other more rural villages, where we find ATMs or money exchange offices.
Some of the cities in the Carretera Austral where we can find money exchange offices as well as shops and commerce that accept credit cards are in Puerto Montt, Coyhaique and Cochrane.
In the larger cities of the Carretera Austral we find all types of transportation, from buses, taxis, colectivos and even airports such as the Tepual Airport in Puerto Montt and the Balmaceda Airport in Coyhaique.
In some localities there are buses that travel through sections of the Carretera Austral, taking ferries to cross the channels. By car you should take the same route, and also relocate to rural areas where there is no public transportation route.
You can also tour the Route 7 throughr Route 40 in Argentina that allows you to travel through the most important areas of the Carretera Austral.
Apart from this, you can reach the Carretera Austral in boats that navigate from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco, located 82 kilometers from the city of Coyhaique in the 9th Region of Aysen. This is a full day trip and allows you to see the beauty of the Chilean Patagonia fromanother perspective.
In its 1,247 kilometers, the Carretera Austral goes through two regions of the country and dozens of cities and towns. The country code for Puerto Montt (the starting point of Route 7), is 65 and the area code of Coyhaique and Cochrane is 67.
Remember if you are calling from abroad you must dial the international code of Chile which is 56, then the city code and finally the corresponding telephone number.
Where and what to eat
Crossing Route 7 we can taste the traditional cuisine of southern Chile. There are preparations with salmon, trout, lamb, venison and wild boar meat as well as crab king crabs which are some of the ingredients that we find in our journey to Villa O'Higgins.
Because of the large areas that you have to travel through, there is the opportunity to try different flavors and foods that are typical of each place. For the large number of ponds, lakes, rivers and coastlines, the seafood dishes are part of the traditional cuisine, and you can taste different types of fish such as trout, salmon and others.
In addition, areas of Patagonia Austral are characterized by cattle ranches, so lamb is one of the classic ingredients of the Patagonian cuisine. A traditional preparation is the Magellan lamb barbecue on a stick.
The large natural areas running along the Carretera Austral allows the cultivation of crops of wild fruits such as blueberries, myrtle, raspberries and others. With these, delicious homemade jams and liqueurs are made and are ideal for heating up the body for the coldest days while crossing Route 7.
Because of the presence of European settlers in various lparts that form the Carretera Austral, the kuchenes, pastries, cakes, pies and chocolates are part of the traditional flavors of this region. The same goes for the Chilote cuisine with dishes like chilota curanto in a hole, cazuelas and other preparations made with potatoes.