Carretera Austral – parte dos

Once we left Ushuaia we hit the road pretty hard for three days in a row since for thousands of kilometers there was not much to see. We stopped just for the night at Rio Gallegos, Puerto San Julian and Los Antiguos. The highlight during these three days was the fact that Oscar reached his first 10,000km 🙂 Our goal was to head back to the southern part of the Carretera Austral.

At the Los Antiguos – Chile Chico border crossing (Paso Jeminei) we faced the most stringent border control on our journey so far. All of our backpacks and suitcases were sent through a big scanning machine and of course they found all of the food we had with us. Luckily, Irina declared on her food declaration form that she had food with her. One of the customs ladies was making a big deal about four Argentinian apples which were packed in between clothes in one of the suitcases. I told her that we were not aware about the apples and that the kids possibly put in there while playing. She was quite insisting that we did it on purpose and she wanted to fine us. However, I referred to Irina’s declaration and that we had declared and thrown away all of the other forbidden food items (cheese, salami, walnuts, milk etc.). So Irina had to controversially argue for 15min with two ladies in a separate room and fortunately was convincing enough as she also came up with the kids‘ story 🙂 We’ve read before that undeclared food penalties can be up to $200 (!). Anyhow, it was quite an educating experience and we won’t risk anything at our next (Chilean) border.

The route from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo consisted again completely of gravel and hence took a long time to cross (4h). However, it was definitely worthwhile because the views of Lago General Carrera (on the Argentinian side it’s called Lago Buenos Aires) and its surrounding mountains and small little islands were very beautiful. Not forget to mention the beauty of the Patagonian flowers (Lupine).

We concluded this long driving day with a well-deserved dinner:

The next day we took the 9am tour to the beautiful marvel caves of Rio Tranquilo. It was a small boat with eight passengers which made the atmosphere quite exclusive. It took us on a 30min ride to different cave formations such as “The tunnel”, “The caves”, “The cathedral”. The black, grey and white marvel was very impressive and we could observe it at the interior of the tunnel and even touch it. Together with the turquoise water they looked magnificent.

We spent about 45min at the different marvel rock formations and enjoyed the views from varying perspectives. Overall, a very recommendable trip (10,000clp /adult)!

The dirt road continued the next day for the entire day (160km distance with an average of 40km/h) when we headed toward Villa Cerro Castillo. We left early to arrive late afternoon but unfortunately we were surprised by a road blockage. One of the construction workers mentioned an alternative route through the mountains but we opted not to take it since the main road of the Carretera was already quite a challenge for Oscar. Instead, we bridged two and half hours at a nearby river (Rio Ibañez) with fishing and beers 🙂 No luck though with the salmons which are presumable inhabitants to that river. The beers worked though 😉 Eventually, after letting the opposite’s site rural traffic pass we made our way to the village and found quickly a cabaña for the four of us.

At 8:20am the next morning Lothar started to hike the trail to Cerro Castillo. The trail is easily reachable by a gravel road from Villa Cerro Castillo (ca.1km). The trail itself was very entertaining since the terrain changed from woods and grassy parts to gravel and steppe and finally to snow and rocks. After 1.5 hours uphill Lothar got surprised by a sudden shade which turned out to be a huge condor(!):

The views of the valley with the Rio Ibañez and Villa Cerro Castillo were breathtaking and rewarding at the same time!

The last third of the ascent even got a little bit tricky since it was covered by snow.
After 3 hours and 1000m of altitude difference Lothar reached the lookout point to Cerro Castillo with its deep blue glacier lake:

One of the astonishing things about this hike compared for example to Torres del Paine (some call it the sister mountains of the Torres mountains) was that Lothar did not meet a single person during the ascent. In fact, he had the entire Cerro Castillo (means by the way Castle due to its shape) for the first 20min by himself until six hikers from another trail arrived.
Overall, on the way back he crossed ways with another 20 hikers or so such that this trail still has the character of a hidden gem.

The descent took a little bit more than 2.5hours and was completed with a short bath in a beautiful waterfall.

The last stop at the Carretera was dedicated to Puyuhuapi, a village founded by four Germans at the beginning of the 20th century, and its nearby National Park Queulat. This time most of the road from Villa Cerro Castillo was paved such that we took some time to look around the center of Coyhaique, withdraw cash, drink some craft beer and buy groceries. We reached Puyuhuapi which consists of five streets or so an hour before sun set (usually around 21:30) and found quickly a cabaña to stay at.
The next morning we visited the National Park with its main attraction the hanging glacier of Queulat. The first trail took us up a steady steep path for nearly two hours through dense forest and bushes. Occasionally, we enjoyed views of the nearby laguna. Leo completed the entire hike by himself. The reward was a spectacular lookout point of the hanging glacier and small surrounding waterfall feeding the lagoon at the bottom.

The glacier is considered to be “hanging” due to its weird position in between two peaks.
The other two trails we’ve completed lead us to the lagoon and the river fed by the lagoon. They were pretty easy (600m and 300m) and also offered great views of the glacier. Thanks to the warming sun we had a great day in this beautiful park.

We left the Carretera Austral again via Villa Santa Lucia and Futaleufu, the road we had taken a month before. Due to the few border crossings northern of Puyuhuapi, our next destination Bariloche and our smooth experience with the border officers it made sense to us though. While searching for last minute souvenirs and squeezing post cards under the closed post office’s door (will they ever arrive?) the lifter of the driver’s window broke – Oscar’s first injury 😦 Luckily, we managed to close it completely though since of course on a Saturday afternoon in a small Chilean mountain town is working anymore 😉 Another item on our to do list beside the tablet charger (see below).

This second time on the Carretera should conclude our Chilean-Argentinian border hopping for a long time. We plan on visiting Chile a last time in April/May from Bolivia due to its proximity to the Atacama desert.

PS: This post was supposed to be published three weeks earlier but the charger of our Windows Surface broke. After visiting dozens of computer and electronic shops and websites in Argentina we finally found a solution. More on this in the Mendoza/Argentina section.

Punta Arenas & Isla Magdalena

After the fabulous time in Torres del Paine we headed to Punta Arenas, the biggest town in southern Chile/Chilean Patagonia. The town itself is nothing special: It has two main streets covered by clothes, telecommunication stores and occasionally restaurants. More recommendable is the nice walk along the shoreline of the Street of Magellan.

So why did we at at all come here? The two main reasons to come here: The Magellan penguins and the brewery Cerveza Austral. About the latter one we cannot really say anything because we did participate in it at all since there was an age restriction (18+). This was quite disappointing since we timed our arrival to the restricted hours of the brewery (Mon -Fri 15-17h) and not a single word about age restrictions was mentioned in the confirmation e-mail. Nevertheless, it’s still a very tasty beer and we keep on drinking it 🙂
A funny coincidence happened at the parking lot along the shoreline: The local firefighters were raising some money and offering to clean our car 🙂 What a great opportunity since we were talking for days that Oscar needed a wash.

Isla Magdalena is home to penguin colony of ca. 120,000. It is an island in the Magellan bay and is also inhabited by cormorants and sea gulls. Currently, only two tour operators are available which in the end turned out to be only one company: Solo Expeditions. The tour started 6:30am in front office where everybody had to pay then (which led to huge lines – anything but efficient 😉 ). Luckily, we had our own transport which brought the price per adult down from 73,000clp to 57,000clp. Kids under 4 were free – luckily no passport checks involved 😉

The boat ride was 45min and it was a beautiful day without any rain and the fewest wind in days. In fact, it was so strong that it woke me up two nights in a row. There’s a marked loop on the island which has to be followed. We got lucky as we were among the first ones off the boat. This helps if you’d like to avoid having other herds of tourists on your pictures! One good trick is to walk the loop anti-clockwise as the majority of people tend to walk the other way.

The Magellan penguins themselves were not shy at all. They got closer to us and crossed the visitors trail many times which allowed for cool shots. The kids had a blast! There were so many of them that the officially stated population number seems to be credible.

Penguins start shouting when they get lost from their partner/home. We got lucky to experience one of these moments:

We had an hour on the island before the boat left which was sufficient. The next stop was Isla Marta which is inhabited by a huge sea lion population. Here we just took pictures from the boat as one is not allowed to step on the rocky island. Overall, all four of us enjoyed the tour and we would recommend it.

Torres del Paine

Before heading back to Chile we said goodbye to Kurt and Aljona. We were sad seeing them leaving but someone has to work these days 😉 It was great traveling with you guys!
The next destination on the route was Torres del Paine. This meant again a border crossing. We crossed via Route 40 between Cancha Carrera (ARG) and Cerro Castillo (CHL). It was another sweet little border without any issues (ca.15km of unpaved road). We only had to show the car export paper we had received when we left Chile.


We tried to find an accommodation in Cerro Castillo which would give us close access to the park. However, the only open place was a hotel and they asked for $350 for two nights with only one queen bed and no kitchen. We decided to head to Puerto Natales (40min away) and took a nice fully equipped AirBnB for $60/night. Puerto Natales is a sweet fisher town with a small port and a decent shore line with great vistas.


The forecast was pretty good for the next two days (less than 0.5mm of rain forecasted) but in the park one has to be always prepared for sudden weather changes. We used Route Y-300 to get to the southwestern entrance of the park. This turned out to be a bad decision (google does not know everything 😉 ) as the road conditions were terrible with many sections under construction, It took us 3 hours (!) for 130km to reach the trail to Mirador Grey. But at least all of our tires were fine in contrast to two cars we saw in the park.


The trail to view Glacier Grey was quite varying: It started with a small section over a river and through a little forest, then turned into a beach path and finally became a loop around a small peninsula. We could spot the glacier tongue from far and saw icebergs swimming on lake. In fact, the biggest iceberg which ever broke off the glacier was 13200m2 big (happened in 2017). A clear sign that this glacier is unfortunately shrinking.


We tried to do other hiking trails the same day but with the upcoming rain it got harder to keep the kids motivated 🙂 As a consequence, the last walk of the day led us to the „Salto Grande“ waterfall.
To our suprise the dirt road turned into a paved one 10km after Salt Grande.


The next day was time for big hiking! I started early and approached the Sendero de Mirador de Torres del Paine accompanied by a rainbow marking the start of the hiking trail 🙂 This is the most popular trail in the park and as such it was very busy. At the first 30min it was a bit annoying since one had to adjust the pace to other folks. The trail started off rocky and a bit steep and led to a narrow but flat trail along the mountains with great views of the valley behind.


After 3km the first camping occurred which can be used to have a rest and get some snacks & drinks if needed. I just took a quick look at the map and continued to walk. A guy who carried his one year old in a backpack fascinated me – we’re not the only crazy parents bringing our children they don’t want to 😉 Apparently, the baby was crying the entire way and hence was not a big pleasure for Dad. Next time better take one of the horse taxis 😉


The final 1.2km were again quite steep and rocky such that I had to use my hands to climb occasionally. After 3.5 hours and ca. 9km I finally reached the top: What an amazing view of the towers welcomed me 🙂


The mountain lake was not frozen to my surprise. Its green color together with the blue sky allowed me to get some awesome pictures taken. The only challenge were the strong winds.


The way back went pretty smooth (3:10hrs) and upon arrival at the base station I celebrated the successful hike with a yummy Cerveza Austral. I joined two Canadians on a sunny bench and chatted for a while. I learned about their Antarctic plans and that Torres del Paine was actually just a side trip for them, Their main trip consisted of a 10 day glacier trekking tour in Antarctica which apparently is done just by 175 people per year. No wonder: The price tag of their trip is $40,000 (!).


I completed the day by driving to different miradors and taking pictures of the beautiful landscape. What a great day and time in this treasure of a park!