Coyhaique to Villa O’Higgins via the Carretera Austral

Coyhaique to Villa O’Higgins via the Carretera Austral

After the beginning stretch of beautiful mountains surrounded in fjords and rivers on the Carretera Austral, we were excited to share the beauty with Matt’s parents for their 4th visit on our journey (incredible!). They were becoming experts at Latin American travel, and we couldn’t be happier to share time with them again, this time in Coyhaique, Chile.They’d rented a nice place tucked into the forest with river access in the town of Coyhaique with gorgeous views. It was a perfect hidden getaway yet still close to town.Two resident oxen skulked around the property, and although the owners told us they were harmless, we kept a safe distance from the large animals. Our first few days were spent catching up, catching fish, relaxing and enjoying the area.  We also had the pleasure of hiking through Parque Aiken del Sur, a land reserve that had a nice waterfall and fantastic information about local flora and fauna. The big event during their time with us came in the form of a boat tour through part of Laguna San Rafael National Park to view the stunning San Rafael glacier. With an early start, we spent 4 hours on the boat in order to reach the isolated glacier. The deep blue colors and varying degrees of ice clarity really painted a nice picture of the glacial environment. The seas were a bit rough, so instead of loading dingys to get close to the glacier, the captain inched the boat closer and closer to the glacial wall. We ended up closer to the glacier in the main boat than the crew had been in years, and it was spectacular seeing and hearing chunks of ice break free and fall into the water. 
As we started our retreat back towards Puerto Cisnes where we had embarked, the passengers had the pleasure to drink bottomless scotch with ice from one of the icebergs. This encouraged all of the passengers to loosen up and have a great time with each other. Everyone enjoyed an epic round of karaoke with plenty of singing and dancing making the time back fly by. We also had a great crew that heightened the experience of being in such a special place. After our incredible glacier journey together, we took one last scenic drive and wished Matt’s parents goodbye for the 4th and final time during our journey in Koru. We felt so happy to have shared some great slices of the trip with them, and we hope their perspectives and horizons, like ours, have been expanded through the eyes of travel.Leaving Coyhaique, we began our exciting southerly passage through the vast and wild lands of Southern Patagonia. The beautiful and last section of paved highway led us into Cerro Castillo, where we would discover a beautiful afternoon hike as the clouds rolled in creating an ominous high alpine feel. It was officially fall now, and snow was beginning to show itself in the higher elevations. A few flakes even fell while we were enjoying the views at the lake.On our way down from the Laguna, we encountered the calafate berry, similar to the blueberry but with a different tarty flavor (check out the link for the legend). There was no hesitation to gorge ourselves.In the small town of Villa Cerro Castillo, we joined up with friends old and new! The Chilean family we’d met a few days earlier at Queulat National Park, Danixa, Juan Pablo and Bruno, were in town and we hung out for an evening talking about traveling and life in their home on wheels. It was the beginning of wonderful new friendship.The next morning, our old friends Tim and Andrea along with another Vanagon traveler named Saimen from Switzerland joined the party before Dani, Juan Pablo and Bruno got on the road!With climbing walls surrounding this little town, the five of us with our 3 vans found a good spot to camp and explore some routes. The climbing was a lot of fun and the views were incredible! We even had the pleasure of viewing an archaeological site full of painted hand prints dating back to between 10,000 and 5,000 BC.After a few great days of climbing and admiring the Cerro Castillo area, the time came to continue south. At this point the Carretera Austral officially becomes dirt until the very end at Villa O’Higgins. Not many venture this far south, and even fewer all the way to our goal, the town of Villa O’Higgins.Our first stop was a quick tour to the well-known marble caves along one of shores of the General Carrera Lake, Chile’s biggest lake. Unique in the world, this young marble has been carved by the waters of the lake to create a natural masterpiece. Continuing our way south, we pulled in some fish and took in more of the unreal sights, including the Rio Baker, a turquoise color unlike any we’d seen before. We had more plans to meet up with our new friends Juan Pablo, Danixa and Bruno, who were also exploring Patagonian Chile heading south in their old Mercedes camper. We timed it to witness a Patagonian rodeo, called a Jineteada in the cool little mountain town of Cochrane.These cowboys were tough, enduring many rounds of bucking horses. A night of music and dancing was enjoyed along with some good food before continuing south.As we drove on, we encountered dreamy camp spot after dreamy camp spot, all along the most beautiful rivers and lakes. Or next stop was the funky little port town of Tortel, where the only way to get around was on wooden walkways, no motorized vehicles allowed!Tortel proved to be one of the most unique towns we’d ever seen, and due to it’s geographic location, not many people have the pleasure to see it. Heading back about 20km, we intersected the road to take us to the most southerly town on the Carretera Austral, Villa O’Higgins. The only way to visit this tinny village is via plane, or a long extensive drive that includes a mandatory ferry crossing through a sound. O’Higgins resides at a dead end, so we thought long and hard about making the trip knowing we’d have to back track more than 200km. So we turned right and south towards O’Higgins, and the first 3 km were so stunning we knew we had made the right choice.Once the decision was made, we realized that we would’ve missed out on one of the best stretches of our trip. Crossing the beautiful sound on the ferry, we were greeted by the famously elusive huemul (Patagonian Deer) which is rarely spotted.Continuing down the isolated and narrow road, we saw no one for hours, only endless landscapes with waterfalls coming from the mountainsides capped with glaciers. As we neared the end of the road, we stumbled upon what fisherman like to call a ‘honey hole’ where some big trout were happy to eat our flies. We kept one each time we fished here, and the fish were big enough for 2 fillets each and a big pot of fish and veggie soup with the bones. Mmm Mmm!Staying the night near the fishing spot, we woke to a brief break in the rain to a beautiful site! Once we made it to Villa O’Higgins, we sought out a good hike and managed to get some great views of the area with a touch of sunshine warming us up! They days were now officially colder and the brief sunshine was welcomed.After getting lucky with weather one day, the next day was raining so we decided to drive to the official end of the road sign 5km outside of town. We made it to the end of the Carretera Austral!Heading back to town, an American named Vicente approached us and began talking to us about our trip. Eventually he invited us back to his house for dinner with his lovely wife.We found out that Vicente is the only pilot to fly people over the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap and surrounding areas in his Cessna airplane. The following pictures are from his plane that he graciously shared with us. Their lives traveling and exploring the world were special and an inspiration to us. Heading back to our camp spot that evening, we noticed something peculiar. A horse was stuck in the mud behind where we were setting up camp. We quickly headed back into town to find the local police. They rushed over as it was close to sunset and worked tirelessly for hours in the cold and dark to free the horse. They left the freed exhausted horse in the trees and didn’t expect it to make it through the cold night, but when we awoke, the brave soul was standing out of the mud warming up in the sun.Elated, we reported back to the local authorities after we packed up to adventure onward. We loved our 5 days in Villa O’Higgins, with wildlife and glaciers around every corner and endless rivers and lakes. One more quick stop at the ‘honey hole’ yielded a nice brown trout on the dry-fly, accentuating the dream of fishing in Patagonia!Our next move was to backtrack north until we could cross back into Argentina and continue further south into what many consider the heart of Patagonia.

3 thoughts on “Coyhaique to Villa O’Higgins via the Carretera Austral

  1. Another great blog with excellent photos. You guys captured the essence of Chilean Patagonia, which we were so fortunate to be able to share with you both. Patagonia is special, and many great memories were made in the short time we were there. The San Rafael glacier trip was truly memorable and a big picture of the blue ice glacier is now on the wall in our Pinedale home. Yes, our horizons have been expanded and our eyes opened as a result of your incredible journey, and we are thrilled to have been a small part of the adventure.

  2. Sarita y Matt:
    Qué bellllooooo…esta parte de Chile se lo ve espectacular, no sólo por los paisajes, sino también por las aventuras que pasaron ayudando al pobre caballito..suerte ? del animalito que la gente se haya unido para salvarlo!!!.
    Además que esta parte del viaje estuvieron acompañados de amigos y familiares, lo que hace la aventura mucho más amena..
    Increíbles fotos querida Sarita..te felicito!!!.
    Linda aventura…
    Con cariño.

  3. WOW!!!
    Time for you two to start a tour operator business! “Caminos Sin Caminos”, “Los Pequenos Caminos”
    Help us all to do and feel what you have accomplished!
    su tio viejo Steve

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