🇨🇱 Northern Patagonia: Unveiling the Carretera Austral's Hidden Gems

Written by Peter Lauffer
March 13, 2024

Get ready to embark on a thrilling road trip through the northern reaches of the Carretera Austral! We'll guide you through a land where majestic landscapes meet rich culture – from the bustling port of Puerto Montt to mystical Chaitén and the serene beauty of Lake Yelcho.

Ferry Hornopirén to Leptepu

Embrace the Adventure

This journey isn't for the faint of heart! Expect winding roads, unpaved stretches, and a trio of scenic ferry crossings. But the rewards? Worth every bump and every minute. Chilean Patagonia awaits with its raw beauty and rich history.

Your Carretera Austral Journey: From Puerto Montt to Lake Yelcho

  • The Early Bird Gets the Ferry: Rise before dawn in Puerto Montt – a pre-emptive strike for those ferry queues! Make your way south, the Carretera Austral stretching ahead like a promise.
  • Ferry #1: Caleta La Arena to Caleta Puelche: As the first rays of sunlight touch the Estero Reloncavi, board the ferry for a 30-minute crossing. Breathe in the salty air and watch the coastline recede as you begin your Patagonian odyssey.
  • Hornopiren: Gateway to Adventure:  The Carretera Austral guides you south for an hour, revealing the quaint village of Hornopiren. This is where your journey's tempo shifts –  ensure you've planned ahead for the next ferry!
Carretera Austral near Chaiten
  • Ferry #2: Hornopiren to LĂ©ptepu: This is the big one!  A scenic 3-4 hour crossing awaits. Snag a spot near a window if you can – fjords, mountains, and glimpses of distant glaciers will paint a mesmerizing panorama. Reservations are highly encouraged if you're traveling with a car.
  • Ferry #3: Fjordo Largo to Caleta Gonzalo:  A final 40-minute ferry hop across the fjord offers yet another perspective on Patagonia's wild beauty. Keep an eye out for dolphins!
  • ChaitĂ©n & the Final Stretch: After disembarking, the gravel road leads to ChaitĂ©n. Stretch your legs, grab a coffee in this resilient little town, and fuel up for the final push along a paved road  – Lake Yelcho is calling!


  • Ferry schedules can change, so always double-check in advance.
  • Allow extra time for delays, especially in peak season.
  • Pack snacks, water, and a sense of adventure! This isn't just a road trip; it's a journey of a lifetime.

Don't Miss These Sights:

  • Puerto Montt & Puerto Varas: While Puerto Montt is the logistics hub,  opt for a stay in picturesque Puerto Varas. This charming town on Lake Llanquihue boasts German-influenced architecture, delicious cuisine, and breathtaking views of the snow-capped Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes.
The city of Puerto Montt
  • Alerce Andino National Park: Immerse yourself in the ancient beauty of the alerce forests. These towering trees, some over 3,000 years old, are a symbol of Chilean Patagonia's timeless wonder. Hike verdant trails and feel dwarfed by these majestic giants.
Alerces National Park near Puerto Montt
  • Hornopiren National Park:  Embrace your inner explorer!  Rough-hewn trails lead you past cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, and vast glacial landscapes. Off-the-beaten-track adventures abound in this park, making it truly special for those who seek wilder experiences.
Village of Hornopiren, place for the 2nd ferry to LĂ©ptepu
  • ChaitĂ©n & Parque Nacional PumalĂ­n: The dusty charm of ChaitĂ©n provides a unique glimpse into Patagonian life. Use it as your base to delve into PumalĂ­n Park, a conservation triumph. Hike through lush Valdivian rainforests, stand in awe beneath waterfalls, and perhaps spot the elusive puma, the park's namesake.
Rainforest at the Pumalin National Park near Chaitén
  • Lake Yelcho: This turquoise jewel is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Cast a line for trophy trout or salmon, explore the shoreline by kayak, or simply relax and soak in the serenity. As the sun sets, the stillness of Lake Yelcho reflects the grandeur of the Andes, making for an unforgettable finale to your Carretera Austral journey.
Lake Yelcho

Best Time to Visit: Opt for the warmer summer months (December-February) for ideal weather and longer days.

Patagonia's Unpredictable Weather: Be prepared for anything – rain, shine, and everything in between!

Want a Guided Experience?

Our "Patagonian Rail & Cruise" tour takes you on this incredible Carretera Austral journey, with a potential PumalĂ­n stop and much more.


Get inspired by some photos of this amazing trip:
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