Tips for Traveling along the Carretera Austral
The weather in Patagonia is unpredictable, but it is known that the best months to go are from November to the end of March. But our advice, and if you can, try to go during the months of November, December or March. January and February are full of tourists, and therefore everything goes up in price and it becomes a bit difficult to enjoy the tranquility and beauty that the austral has to show.
In addition, it is not necessary to make reservations for ferries, campsites or lodgings. Leave the cell phone, the computer, the whatsapp, the Facebook and the selfie stick at home. We recommend talking again around a campfire, appreciating as a couple or as a family what you are seeing, seeing your faces and not taking photos to post it and let others think about what you are seeing.
Carretera Austral is a good place to disconnect for a moment and enjoy nature. Drive slowly. It is much better and you can see more at 40 kms per hour than at 70. You throw fewer rocks at cyclists and respect those in front and behind you. You do not wash the neighbors, plants and animals with dirt and you are attentive to that work driver who is not lacking in the austral, who drives every pig like an ape with a knife and does not respect anything.
You run less risk of falling into a ditch in loose stone, running over an animal, and puncturing a tire. Also remember that the one you passed or the one who passed you, you will find it with 90% guarantee at the next destination, be it a ferry, town, supermarket or restaurant.
Carretera Austral is one of the most sought-after destinations for cyclists worldwide, so it is very likely that you will find at least 10 a day. Therefore, always slow down if you see cyclists, nothing is worse than leaving them in the wasp of dirt. Most likely, you will meet them at the next point. And you don't want them to remember your grandmother or your mother.
Reset the odometer when you see distance signs. If you have a mishap, you can know how many kilometers you are from every place.
Leave a space available in the car (if you are not full) to give a lift to strangers to the places that the bus or the interurban vehicle left them. Sometimes the rain is very strong and you do not want to leave that person walking.
The most important maxim for us is that if you see someone in trouble, you should stop. Always remember that life turns around and the safest thing is that one day you will have to be in that position and you will want someone to stop to help you either to change a wheel or to tow you to the next town. Therefore, it is always good to carry a rope. It's something we should all learn from the locals: Always stop when someone is in trouble.
You don't need a 4×4 car, a 4×2 car is fine. Hopefully it is not a small car, since most of the roads are of gravel and not in good condition.
Wherever you see a gas station it is best to fill up with fuel. You have in Hornopirén, Chaitén, Coyhaique, Río Tranquilo, Cochrane, Chile Chico and Villa O'Higgins. In Coyhaique, fuel is still available at a reasonable price. From here to the south it gets more expensive. The cheapest fuel price is in Puerto Chacabuco.
On the southern highway you will find small shops with the basic things to survive, and always, as in all of Chile, there will be a small bakery. It is best to stock up before leaving, however, if you forget something or want a chocolate, etc. you will always find it in local stores and small stalls.
In addition, you will be contributing to the local economy. Take into consideration that between 1PM and 3PM everything closes. What's more, in some towns it is closed from 12 to 4. The days are long, so there is no need to rush.
If you are going to visit Chile in the months of December, January and February, it is necessary to book the ferries that go from Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo online in advance. We went in the first days of November and even so we had a hard time finding available space.
If you have little time, consider taking the maritime network as a good option, either from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco or the other way around. The ferry lasts 18 hours and you can navigate the Patagonian fjords of the largest national park in Chile: Bernardo O'Higgins National Park.
The price includes 3 meals and in addition to saving fuel and driving back, you can meet people from all over the world who come to see this other side of Patagonia.
It is important to do a prior check so that the car is in optimal condition before leaving. Check the oil levels in the box, engine and differentials. Water levels in the radiator, and brake fluid, pads condition and tire pressure, battery condition and that the alternator is charging well.
Bring an extra can of diesel, a rope, spare tires in good condition, as well as the entire front end of your car, ball joints, steering terminals, shock absorbers, tires, and exhaust mounts. Bring a reflective vest, hopefully a Best Buy Auto air compressor, compass and a map.
You may need a car air compressor when driving along the highway in rain. Sometimes it will be better to lower your tire pressure a bit to increase the contact area with the road, as well as the ability to cross terrain on such sections of road. When riding in Carretera Austral in gravel areas, deflate tires at 30, do not ride with 50, or the tires will feel like being sticky and moreover, the gravel in a curve may push you from the road in the blink of the eye.
The southern highway is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful roads in the world. It is Chilean, and it is from that sense of beauty and belonging as a heritage that we must take care of it.
Enjoy your journey through the Carretera Austral and don't forget to get your international driving license. It will allow you to drive safely everywhere around the world.