Our trip at Chile West follows the a road called the Carretera Austral through Southern Chile. Today we learn a little bit about the Carretera!
No less than 30 years ago, it was nearly impossible to reach the southern-most regions of Chile. With no roads, the only means of travel to these parts was by airplane or boat. The people who settled there were almost completely isolated from the rest of the country.
When you hear “Southern Highway” it’s easy to think of multiple asphalt lanes going 55 mph, but when you see the Carretera, doesn’t seem like much of a highway. It is literally a two lane, gravel road winding through some of the most rugged sections of the Andean mountains.
Traveling the Carretera, you can’t help but wonder how people even found their way to these parts to settle. Off the beaten path, dense virgin rain forest, swampland and rugged mountains make traveling next to impossible. Local people tell stories of traveling for weeks on horse and ox drawn carts to arrive in other towns. Today those trips take only a few hours as the Carretera is well maintained.
There are over 700 miles of Carretera stretching from Puerto Montt in the Lakes Region, to Villa O’Higgins in the Region of Magallanes. The road is not continuous just yet – if you want to drive from Puerto Montt south, you must take a ferry to Chaiten where the Carretera continues, or drive through Argentina and cross the border at Futalefu and continue driving west until you meet the Carretera at Villa Santa Lucia. The real highway starts here and continues south to Cochrane and beyond. A few sections of the Carretera are paved and there is continual progress here. The majority of the pavement is from Chaiten to Amarillo, and from Cisnes to Coyhaique and beyond to Cerro Castillo.
To this day the Carretera Austral is the main route of travel through these regions, and it’s central to life here.