Entering the Southern part of Chile was a great feeling. As soon as we climbed the Argentine Pass of Pino Hachado, we immediately saw the green landscape littered with snow topped volcanoes! Argentina is beautiful in its own right, the barren earth toned landscape really contrasts with the magnificent colors of the blue sky and any bodies of water that we passed, but we felt that Chile was more vibrant, and due to its more lush vegetation, the surroundings felt more alive and welcoming!
We had originally planned to cycle to the city of Temuco and then head to Puerto Montt, via route five, but after talking to a Chilean Customs Officer on the border of Argentina and Chile, we quickly realized that this would be a huge mistake. The sites to see are not the large cities (although they are great for convenience and economy) neighboring the Pacific, but the small towns that are nestled in the mountainous areas along the Argentinian border (not exactly a smooth ride, but worth the trouble!). These towns are home of some of the Mapuche Indians and are considered far less ‘touristy’ or busy than the neighboring cities or the Carretera Austral. Not to mention the many volcanoes, lakes, and valleys that are begging to be explored by bicycle!
Just past Lago Caburgo (Heading to the Thermal Hot springs of Rio Blanco) we entered Mapuche Indian territory (wonderful people!). This guy, who reminded me of Clint Eastwood, looked amazed at what we had on our bicycles… and then he trotted with ease up this mountainside! We had to both push one bicycle at a time up this one, then go back, get the other bicycle and push again. An hour later we were at the top!
Volcan Villirrica, as seen from the town of Pucón.
Candice relaxing on the shores of Lago Icalma, AKA: Chile’s Shire!
Near the town of Melipeuco, lies a stretch of green valley with flowers and sheep scattered across the countryside!
Road conditions varied in the Southern Chile route. The main route was all paved, but the roads along the lake districts were mainly dirt. The Carretera Austral certainly had more dirt than pavement.
As we traveled the lake district areas we found that 90% of the time the dirt roads were very narrow, but that was a small price to pay for the sheer solitude that can be found here. These areas are barely touched by the government of Chile (as of 2013/2014) and look to be very natural! The camping couldn’t get any better, just try to imaging a camping spot in a mountain range, miles away from any civilization and there you have it! Lush green vegetation all around with nothing to wake you in the morning except the natural sounds of nature!
Narrow roads for two way traffic.
World cycle touring isn’t limited to pedaling alone!! After 8,000 miles, one is now introduced to extreme ‘cycle-jousting’, that is, steep down-hill jousting on dirt and rocky terrain! Be careful, someone is liable of losing an eye!! Candice was jousting from downhill and still managed to knock me off my bike!
One common symptom of cycling for over a year is temporary spurts of insanity. Erek attempts to take down a windmill. What he misses with the bamboo pole, he ends up hitting with his Gandalf-like nose!!
Recommendation for lake districts of Chile:
We are glad that we took the Officer’s advice (noted above) about staying near the mountains. Below is a map of the route we took:
The horrible depiction above gives our recommendation for those interested in traveling to this section of Chile. This section of map is quite a bit South of Chile’s Capital, Santiago, but where we entered back into Chile from Argentina (black line being our actual route). The right of the green line (Icalma, Cunco, Pucon, Villarrica, Panguipulli, Futrono, etc.) is what we would recommend as opposed to the left side of that line (Temuco, Valdivia, Osorno, etc.).
It is quite simple, even the locals will tell you that these are the best areas as this is where they spend their vacations with their own families! On the other hand the larger cities are appealing in some respects because there is more to offer in terms of food and supplies than the smaller towns. Plus, prices will be somewhat cheaper in the small towns due to the nearer larger city presence, as opposed to the drastic Northern and Southern sections of Chile’s Atacama and Carretera Austral, where the prices rise due to transportation costs.
A spoiled Candice enjoys a few days of R&R in the Eco Zerma hot springs.
Chiloé is is the largest island of the Chiloé Archipelago off the coast of Chile, in the Pacific Ocean. The island is located in southern Chile, in the Los Lagos Region.
The coastline of Chiloe.
Chiloé is renown for its seafood.
For us, Chiloe was a nice change of pace, fully paved roads, with some exception towards the end, and plenty of options in the way of food and supplies if needed. The towns of Ancud and Castro were especially nice because many of the structures were made of wood that was painted in colorful ways.
We left the Island of Chiloé by way of ferry from the town of Quellon.
The Infamous Carretera Austral:
Overlooking Rio Neff
This may come as a shock to some of our readers, but we didn’t know what the Carretera Austral was prior to getting here. Actually, our initial plan was to take the Argentine route through this section instead.
“The Carretera Austral Carretera Austral (CH-7), formerly known as Carretera General Augusto Pinochet, is the name given to Chile’s Route 7. The highway runs about 1,240 kilometers (770 mi) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural Patagonia.
Carretera Austral provides road access to Chile’s Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region and southern part of Los Lagos Region. These areas are sparsely populated and despite its length, Carretera Austral provides access to only about 100,000 people. South of the highway’s start in Puerto Montt, Coyhaique (population 44,850) is the largest city along it.” ~ Wikipedia ~
After learning of the many sights along this route we decided to stay in Chile as long as we could, if for no other reason, to stay out of the wind! However, staying with the Chilean route meant more dirt roads for very long difficult stretches, less options for supplies, trouble with atm machines, and an unusual burst of touristic activity! This was a small price to pay for the stretch of scenery we were about to embark upon!
Simply put: Cash is King!
I distinctly remember entering the final town of the Carretera Austral: Villa O’Higgins. We had enough to pay for the ferry ride (because their card machine was broken that day, which devastated our food supply fund!) to get to the Argentine border, but not enough to get much to eat! I remember looking into the windows of some restaurants just drooling, like a dog over a Thanksgiving meal, over the vast array of food choices there!
When we did find an ATM, we found that the overwhelming majority of the machines were not compatible with our card. We soon found that many of our European friends had a similar issue. The most widely used bank here is the “Banco Estado” (some of which take Visa (not Visa Plus, which we have) and MasterCard (which worked sporadically)), and is found even in some of the smaller towns, but not all. On this ~600 mile stretch, we were only able to use our card in the regions largest city: Coyhaique. The banks that worked for us were: BiCi, Banco de Santander, and Banco de Chile.
Thinking there were more options to use our cards south of Coyhaique, I found out from the locals that there was nothing, so I ended up taking a ten hour bus ride (roundtrip) from Puerto Tranquilo, back to Coyhaique, to get some more cash for the rest of the Carretera!
The odd thing about this section, as briefly mentioned above, is that of tourism. We haven’t seen more than five Americans on our entire trip, until we came here to the Carretera Austral, which easily doubled those numbers! Tons of Europeans dot the landscape like the sheep used to do a bit further north. On top of that, there were more cycle tourists than you could shake a stick at! Compared to seeing two or three cyclists a month we actually averaged seeing two or three cyclists per day!
The Landscape vs the People:
“Sure, you can name off a list of towns and popular destinations from your many journeys around the world, but can you tell me the name of one local you got to know and enjoyed a conversation with? As I travel, I am less and less impressed by a persons multitude of destinations and more impressed by how many people’s lives were impacted as a result of their travels.” ~ Erek ~
The landscape here is absolutely amazing. These scenes are post card material. I assume this is why there are so many tourists. In fact, on any given day here, during the summer months at least, there are probably more tourists than residents in these towns. With so many tourists (many of whom were great people), the local residents seemed indifferent. They weren’t mean, but seemed to have that, “I am tired running a museum for people that aren’t very kind or take the time to acknowledge me,” kind of feel.
I distinctly remember walking by a few kids playing, as I got a bit further past them, one kid said, “Hello….[pause]….Gringo.” As I turned back, they shied away. I was ready to put that little guy on my knee, but then realized that they were only voicing the true thoughts of their parents. There must be some ring of truth to that. Vacationers are most likely here for the scenery and not to make friends with the locals (not all of course). We have found the opposite to be more enjoyable, forgoing (not in every case though) the scenery in favor of good company, maybe it is because we have been on the road for so long, who knows. I guess that is why the indifference here hit us hard, we care about the people who are around us and would rather enjoy the scenery knowing that we are welcome there.
Summing up: The Carretera Austral, even north into the lake districts above Puerto Montt, are home to some of the most spectacular landscapes we have ever seen or imagined seeing in person! The people, untouched by the negative experiences that the gringo can sometimes offer, are just as amazing as the landscapes we have seen!
Some Flowers of Southern Chile:
There a many flowers by the wayside here!
The Busy Bee!
Even the fields have a certain appeal here.
Without Candice, there wouldn’t be much to see here!
Great shot by Candice!
Horton Hears a Who!
In Ancud, Chiloe.
Which one is not like the others?
Animals of Southern Chile:
A warm welcome from the Three Amigos!! One of man’s best companions!
This tubby sheep needed some help getting loose!
Beautiful countryside littered with baa-ing sheep (in Icalma)!!
When these birds get together, they sound like old ladies laughing!
When sheep don’t know humans are watching!
No bull, this guy was huge!
Horses are amazing animals!!
The boss leading his flock down the mountain, near Valdivia!
Odd being in the animal category, this cow bone made it much easier to take out a tree stump in our way and to hammer some tent stakes into the ground!
One of thousands of caterpillars on the road!
Horses in the road blocking our trail? See the picture below!
These horses were in our way a bit ahead of us. They then climbed the bank on the side of the road and waited patiently for us to pass so they can travel back on the road again!
These baby goats are hard to get close to!
Oops, how did this picture get here?! Anyhow, Candice truly has a nice snout!! Now it is off to find some truffles!
It is common to see multiple groups of animals together: cows, sheep, horses, and pigs!
A welcoming skull at our refugio for the evening!
Of all the animals we saw on the road, this guy was the least happy to see us!
The grass is greener on the other side syndrome!
A mother pig doing what she does best: eating!
Cow-dodging is more like a work of art than a burden!
Landscapes of Southern Chile:
About 18 miles North of Bahia Murta, an abandoned home is open for camping to cyclists from all over the world.
Candice tears up the ground as she enters Villa Santa Lucia.
Steep ups and steep downs.
Going into Valdivia
Really neat home!!
The city of Castro, capital of Chiloe
A look at the Carretera Austral from Quellón, Chiloe
Sunlight through the mountains. Seen from the ferry as we approached Chaiten.
The Yelcho Hanging Glacier
The unexpected things we find around each corner!
On our way to Villa Cerro Castillo
On our way down to Villa Cerro Castillo
Coming out of the mountains, we saw this! A pleasant surprise.
In Villa Cerro Castillo
When the mountain falls, look out!!
Just past Villa Cerro Castillo you will see this Laguna!
Puerto Bertrand! Beautiful water but fairly cold!
Around the lake district! It is as peaceful as it looks!!
The town of Panguipulli.
It could take life times to explore this part of the country!
A view of three different lakes! That tiny road down there is where we came from!
Snow capped mountains are found just about every here in Patagonia!
We thought water like this could only be found in the Caribbean or Pacific!
Beautiful areas just tucked away from view. A backpacker’s paradise!
Some photos come out better than others, this one was an unexpected shot!
Many hours spent climbing these roads!
The largest lake in Chile: Lago General.
Give Candice an energy drink and she is off!
Candice easily beats the motorcyclist in a race!
Puerto Rio Tranquillo, beautiful scenery, but fairly windy!
The purest water to be found is probably here!
Great spot hidden from the dirt road, high in the mountains. We had a wild boar visit our tent (snort, snort, snort) about four times at sunlight. They are known here as the infamous: Javali! The locals say they would rather deal with a lion than one of these guys! They can get up to 600 pounds and will not think twice at tearing a tent apart to get some fruit! I offered Candice instead!!
Beautiful valleys to be seen here
Just past Villa Cerro Castillo
The blue water always catches our eye.
Beautiful but tough! Windy, cold, and sometimes rainy.
The clouds cover many other peaks in back too!
Lago Cisnes, near Villa O’Higgins
A great riding day!
The weather changes very fast in the mountains! From clear to cloudy in minutes.
Things are farther than they appear! It took us about an hour to get to the end of this road!
Where the snow usually is during quite a bit of the year. Traveling here in winter must be tough.
Candice taking in her surroundings.
Just when you think the road gets easier, your day has only begun!
Near Villo O’Higgins, the end of the Carretera Austral.
Here is one thing we didn’t plan to see!! Just after El Chaiten.
Hundreds of waterfalls can be seen in just about every direction here!
Breaking down the tent before Candice is ready can be a recipe for disaster!!
Some people here in Southern Chile:
We met four girls (Maike, Rose, Rose & Sonna) from Holland, traveling together. We all camped together and found them to be great company!!
With Guy Van Gool from Belgium.
Candice with the locals running Hospedaje La Paz. What a great family!
With Mario Ravioli from Tandil, Argentina! We traveled and camped with him! A great companion!
With Gabo Cofre (Gabriel) near Volcan Llaime! He is from Parral, Chile.
With Javi and Marta from Espana!
With Dallas from Australia! He had the same bicycle as Candice!
With Andy from Temuco, Chile. This guy could haul taters up those mountains!
Luca from Italy, helping push Candice up the mountain! We all took turns helping each other out!
In the company of some fine people, left: Luca from Itlay, right: Andy from Temuco, Chile. We were all resting from pushing our bicycles up the mountain.
With Francisco (from Spain) in the town of Villa Santa Lucia (Carretera Austral). We spent New Years Eve with him and really enjoyed his company!
This is a Canadian family riding North on the Carretera Austral, Chile. Their kids, five and seven years old, were taken out of school (while being homeschooled) to go on this epic trip! They flew into Ushuaia, Argentina and were on their way to Salta, Argentina! They were a very nice and happy family that gave us some great ideas if we ever decided to have children!
With Alan and Cami from Switzerland. In the picture we were in Calafate, Argentina, but we met them in the Carretera Austral, Chile.
This is Maria from Colombia, she lives in Santiago, Chile. We ran into her four times while traveling the Carretera Austral!
With Miguel. He told us that we have a place to stay when we get to Italy, where he lives! He was going the opposite direction and told us we had some rough tracks ahead, he wasn’t lying!
With Boris Jelves Gallardo in La Junta. He helped me find a bus to Coyhaique. My rear derailleur broke and bent into my spokes and we needed to find the nearest bicycle shop, ~ 150 miles away!
Chile’s finest Caballeros are found in the town of Pucon!
Sra. Glady preparing some freshly caught fish for dinner! This family owns about 700 acres tucked away in a valley. A hot spring: Zeco Termas on Rio Blanco, attracts many visitors every year!
With Angelica on the Island of Chiloé. She lives on a farm with her family and helps run the Hostel and Restaurant there.
Southern Chile has been an amazing experience only rivaled by the likes of Colombia! These two countries can barely be described, rather, they need to be experienced! 🙂