We first heard of the Carretera Austral from a fellow traveler in Nicaragua. Intrigued we started digging out information and learned that this name designed the section of road connecting Puerto Montt in Southern Chile to Villa O’Higgins. Built under the drive of Dictator Pinochet, the road gives access to small remote towns of Southern Chile. The many fjords, mountains and rivers required several sections of the Carretera to be connected via ferries operated by different companies making it hard to figure out routes, prices and schedules. Here is a quick summary:
Starting from Puerto Mont, you will need to take 3 ferries to make it to Chaiten, the first town on the Carretera. Those ferries are operated by Transportes Austral which has a very well designed site.
- La Arena – Puelche runs hourly from 6:45am and cost 6900 Chilean pesos for a motorcycle
- Hornopiren – Leptepu runs once a day at 11am in low season
- Fiodo Largo – Caleta Gonzalo runs twice a day in low season at 2:45pm and 3:45pm. One ticket covers the last two legs of the trip and costs 7500 Chilean pesos for a motorcycle.
We made it from Puerto Montt to Chaiten the same day but you can obviously take things more slowly and camp at one of the gorgeous parks along the way. Here is what our timing looked like:
- We left Puerto Montt at 6:30am and easily made it to La Arena to Catch the 8:00am ferry
- We took the coastal road to Hornopiren, wasted a bit of time and arrived at Hornopiren slightly before 11am. The ferry was delayed by 3 hours due to a combination of high winds and low tide
- Our bikes touched ground in Leptepu at 6:00pm and we promptly rode to Fiordo Largo to catch our last ferry to Caleta Gonzalo
- From Caleta Gonzalo it took us about an hour to reach Chaiten where we spent the night.
Puerto Yungay to Rio Bravo
If you’d like to venture past Cochrane and Caleta Tortel to Villa O’Higgins, you will have to catch the ferry connecting Puerto Yungay to Rio Bravo. It is operated by Somarco and runs twice a day at 12pm and 3pm in low season and 3 times a day at 10am, 12pm and 6pm from December to March.
Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten
Alain, a guide for Compass Expeditions whom we met in Santiago, got us very excited when he mentioned the possibility of connecting Villa O’Higgins at the end of the Carretera Austral to El Chalten in Argentina. We spent quite some time researching whether this was possible and learned that the 20km trail connecting Candelario Mancilla to the Lago del Desierto was impassable by motorcycle. Mention was made of mud pits and shaky footbridge, more than enough for the Zebra to veto the attempt. Nick a bicyclist we met in Ushuaia later showed us pictures of what the trail looks like and we congratulated ourselves for picking Passo Roballo instead to enter Argentina.
If you are on foot or bicycle the ferry operated by Robinson Crusoe runs once a week on Saturday
Porvenir to Punta Arenas
The Transbordadora Austral Broom operates ferries across the Magellan Straight. We used their services twice, the first time on our way to Ushuaia to cross the Primera Angostura at Punta Delgada and enter Tierra del Fuego at Bahia Azul. The second time on our way up from Porvenir to Punta Arenas, there is usually one ferry a day at either 2:00pm or 7:30pm.
Straight up to Puerto Montt
After reaching Ushuaia and riding to Puerto Natales to enjoy Torres del Paine, we decided to make our back North the easy way by hoping on the Navimag. The company operates ferries on 2 routes, Puerto Natales – Puerto Montt that we took, and Puerto Montt – Puerto Chacabuco. The ride takes 4 days and 3 nights, and will set you back for about $500 per person bike included.
From Puerto Montt it is also possible to visit Chiloe Island and its unique churches declared World Heritage Sites by the Unesco. The Naviera Cruz Del Sur operates ferries 24hrs/day to help you cross the Chacao canal to Chiloe.
Chiloe island to Carretera Austral
The Naviera Austal is yet another ferry company operating mainly between Chiloe Island and the Carretera Austral. The route we were interested in connects Quellon at the Southern tip of Chiloe Island to Puerto Cisnes, South of Chaiten. Unfortunately the ferry runs only once a week on Tuesday and it did not work with our schedule.