“Vos sos Holandesa?” asked the 89-year-old Chilean caballero over and over again during our stay. My partner and I just passed his house when we realized that we weren’t going to make it to our planned destination, Hornopirén. We felt like we had walked to Mecca and back (in reality we had cycled 40 kilometres, in the mountains, on an unpaved road), in the scorching heat and just wanted to rest. We asked him if we could set up our tent in his enormous yard, and promised not to bother him and that we would leave by 8am the next morning. He agreed, and also invited us to come and have ‘once’, a typical Chilean light meal around teatime.

Only we didn’t leave until 3 pm the next day. We ate, we drank and we talked, and by asking me for the twenty-eighth time if I really was Dutch, it became clear to me that our new friend simply couldn’t get around the fact that a Dutch girl was traveling the Carretera Austral by bike.

He did have a point though. Chile is a relatively unpopular and unknown travel destination. Few people know that it has everything a travelette could wish for; from the metropolitan city of Santiago to the beaches of Valparaíso, and from the Atacama desert in the North to the remote areas of Patagonia. I have to admit Chile wasn’t on top of my travel bucket list, but I consider myself the luckiest gal to have gotten to know this country so well.

Cycling through Patagonia is probably the most rewarding way to see this incredible landscape. Guest author Esther tells us what it is like to see Chile's south by bike.

Exchanging my backpack for a bicycle

The type of traveller I turned myself into for this trip is a so-called cicloturista. I decided to explore the Carretera armed with nothing more and nothing less than my bike, a tent and two cycle bags filled with only the most essential of essentials. My partner and I kicked off this adventure in February, when the last weeks of the Chilean summer had just begun. In Puerto Montt, our hearts and minds were filled with courage and nothing could stop us. And nothing has stopped us. About three weeks later we arrived at our final destination halfway down the Carretera, Puerto Aysén.

Now that I’ve been home for a couple of weeks, my heart and mind are again filled with courage and desire to tackle the second half of the route as well. Because it allowed me to really see where I was travelling, cicloturismo has won my heart, and so has the Carretera Austral, for the following seven reasons.

Cycling through Patagonia is probably the most rewarding way to see this incredible landscape. Guest author Esther tells us what it is like to see Chile's south by bike.

The Carretera’s Seven Wonders

1. Jaw dropping mountain views

First of all, the Carretera Austral isn’t literally a continuous route, mainly because of Chile’s long coastline and many islands. The route has three ferry crossings, varying from 30 minutes to 5 hours, the first being from Caleta La Arena at 45 kilometres from Puerto Montt to Caleta Puelche. At that point, during my very first day, I became aware of the jaw dropping mountain views Chilean Patagonia has to offer. Another impressive view is that of Cerro Castillo (literally translated as Castle Mountain), which really lives up to its name, considering its profile. It’s a wonderful day hike, starting in Villa Cerro Castillo during which we encountered a gaucho herding his animals, with an even more rewarding view from the top.

2. Patagonia’s coastal line: camping at sea

We decided to take a detour and leave the oh so comfortable paved part of the carretera for a short while. Instead we biked down the unpaved coastal line and to left it two days later, being fully amazed. We spent the night by the sea and slept star-gazed as we camped under the most beautiful pitch-black sky filled with the brightest of stars. As if we weren’t lucky enough, in the morning we were treated to a pod of dolphins passing by. It doesn’t get any better, we thought during our first week.

Cycling through Patagonia is probably the most rewarding way to see this incredible landscape. Guest author Esther tells us what it is like to see Chile's south by bike.

3. Thompkins’s National Parks

Wild camping has turned into one of my favourite things during this trip. However, the carretera is blessed with a couple of amazing camp sites, in some of Chile’s finest parks. A lot of land is privately owned and managed by the late Douglas Thompkins’ non-governmental organisations. Thompkins (founder of The North Face) and his team have developed his many reserves with the intention to protect and preserve one of the world’s last, real wild areas. From what we have seen, he has done so respecting Patagonia’s wonderful flora and fauna.

4. Patagonia’s flora and fauna

Thompkins certainly had his reasons to buy and protect as much land as he did. While we put blood, sweat and tears into conquering the colossal Queulat and some other equally steep mountains, we were simply blown away by the beautiful flora and fauna. We made it our goal to enjoy every detail Mother Nature had to offer us, and so we did. We were simply amazed by the many beautiful forests, lakes, flowers, waterfalls, and animals such as foxes, hummingbirds and condors.

Cycling through Patagonia is probably the most rewarding way to see this incredible landscape. Guest author Esther tells us what it is like to see Chile's south by bike.

5. Look! A condor!

The Andean condor is the national symbol of many South American countries, and is also considered Patagonia’s symbol of power, health and liberty. This is fairly logical, considering that this wonderful creature has a wingspan of over three meters wide and is literally dominating the sky around its rocky mountain habitat. You’re very likely to spot some of these miraculous animals during a trip down the carretera.

Cycling through Patagonia is probably the most rewarding way to see this incredible landscape. Guest author Esther tells us what it is like to see Chile's south by bike.

6. Fresh water

Chile is also known for being a country with some of the largest reservoirs of fresh water in the world. All this water makes for some divine lakes, such as Lago Yelcho and Lago Las Torres. One of Chile’s largest lakes, Lago General Carrera, is shared with Argentina and is home to the Capillas de Mármol. These marble rock formations have been growing for about 370 million years, giving us the opportunity to pass through the so- called cathedral, chapel and cave by boat.

7. Glacier exploring

The natural waterways of Chile don’t stop at the lakes. Chile houses about 80% of all glacier surface in South America. A couple of these gigantic glaciers can be found along the carretera, which are fed by the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Glaciar Exploradores forms part of the northern ice field and after an hour-long hike, brave explorers will be treated to a wavy landscape of ice, surrounded by picturesque mountains. The glacier is easily accessible from Puerto Río Tranquilo, along the second half of the carretera.

Cycling through Patagonia is probably the most rewarding way to see this incredible landscape. Guest author Esther tells us what it is like to see Chile's south by bike.

Things to know before you go

Cycling through Patagonia really is an adventure. The weather conditions and the route itself aren’t always ideal, for example, and your bicycle might show some problems along the way. However, days of rain and unpaved roads are easily compensated by stunning views and a great personal contact with the fairly shy but always friendly Chileans. During this trip, we have seen Mother Nature at her best and we have experienced real hospitality whenever we asked for a place to set up our tent in the absence of a decent camping.

If still in doubt, I’ve got one last word of encouragement: you certainly don’t need a lot of training beforehand or some real specific knowledge regarding your bike. We advanced some thirty to sixty kilometres a day and had some rest days along the way to do some hikes or to rest a little extra. Most problems can be fixed with basic tools and common sense, and you’ve got a good chance of bumping into another cycling traveller who does know how to fix various problems. Good equipment is a must though. Even though you will probably travel during summer (December-March), it is most likely to rain at least for one day. Personally I don’t like travelling with or wearing wet clothes, so waterproof cycle bags and a good tent are something you will be very grateful for during the trip.

Cycling through Patagonia is probably the most rewarding way to see this incredible landscape. Guest author Esther tells us what it is like to see Chile's south by bike.

Altogether, these three weeks have been my favourite trip so far and I would recommend it to anyone who considers herself a supertramp.


This is a guest post by Esther Drewes.

DSC_0121Esther is a 28-year-old Dutch gal who has been dreaming about going global since childhood. She is known for her curiosity, which has brought her all over Europe, made her live in southern Spain and travel through South America. On her most recent trip, she fell in love with Patagonia, and a Chilean. She will make the transatlantic move in October and settle down in Chile, where she will teach and work as a freelance writer, translator and photographer. You can walk along with Esther on her instagram account @estherdrws.