Our journey continues down this amazing road toward southern Patagonia. This part of the adventure was highlighted by a multi-day hike in Villa Cerro Castillo, kayaking and paddle boarding on the bluest waters we have encountered so far and a near disaster with Titus. We spent about two weeks on this stretch of road which ended for us at the border of Argentina at the new Parque Patagonia.
Villa Cerro Castillo 4 day trek
Probably, the most memorable part of this stretch was the four day backpacking trip we did in Villa Cerro Castillo. Jenine and I are getting good at grabbing our backpacks and jumping on trails without too much stress. What I love about trekking is the simplicity. Spending multiple days being disconnected in nature with just the stuff on you back is a fantastic reset. A good reminder that life doesn’t need to be so complex and the simplest activities can be the most rewarding.
We love long treks where the scenery is stunning, the camping is free and relaxed, the planning is minimal and the trails are empty. These characteristics sum up why the hiking in Villa Cerro Castillo is so awesome, especially compared to the stress of overcapacity while camping in Torres del Paine and the crowded trails at Fitz Roy in Argentina (more on that in future blogs). The Villa Cerro Castillo Circuit is every bit as beautiful as the most popular treks in Patagonia, but just without all the crowds. What could be better?
The Famous Lago General Carrera
After the trek we cleaned up and traveled Lago General Carrera, and encountered the bluest lake possibly in the world. We’ve been carrying a blow-up paddle board rolled up in the back on the van for 20K miles, and now that we are surrounded by lakes, we try to take every opportunity to grab a paddle.
The most spectacular part of Lago General Carrera is visiting the soft Marble Chapel Caves “Las Capillas de Marmol”. We camped near the lake and at dusk we rented kayaks to go explore these marvels of nature. I wasn’t sure how cool they were going to be, but it really was almost like visiting a sacred cathedral but on the water. Locals consider this a Holy place, and I felt it.
Day Hike to Lago Leones
Following our great kayak trip on the lake we took the advice of a local and went hiking again, this time out to Lago Leones, where we were greeted with the views of a stunning glacier. Unfortunately, as we were hiking, there were rescue workers searching the lake for a local guide. He died a few days before when he jumped into Lago Leones trying to swim to catch his Zodiac boat that was floating away. He was swept away and the freezing waters took his life. Such a sad story and a reminder that the power of nature down here is never to be underestimated, no matter how well you think you know the area.
Rio Baker to Caleta Tortel
We also spent a few days camping along the shores of wonderful Rio Baker. The Rio Baker follows you for a lot of your journey down the Carretera Austral. It is a spectacularly blue river and toward the end of the Carretera it meets up with the grey and sediment filled Rio “Neff”, before dumping into the Pacific. The confluence is pretty spectacular as you see these two different colored rivers collide.
While we have been on the road, our interest in keeping up with professional sports in the USA has plummeted. However, you have to watch the Superbowl. Luckily, cellular data connections in Chile are super fast and when we camped near the town of Caleta Tortel we were able to have a little Superbowl party in our van overlooking the cliffs of the town.
Parque Patagonia and a Near Disaster!
Our time on the Carettera Austral was coming to a close. We were driving toward Parque Patagonia at the border with Argentina. This would be our last stop on the Chilean side before heading into Argentina to spend a week exploring Fitz Roy and other sites. However, our trip to the park took a bad turn when we pulled over to take a bio break. I had Titus off to the side of the road with the right side on a decline off the road. As we started to go again and drive back onto the road, Titus starting slipping, tires were spinning and the road gave away. Our entire right slide was suddenly buried in a muddy swampy ditch. In a few seconds, our easy drive had turned into a major problem. There was no way to self rescue here and it looked like our van would easily flip over if anything else went slightly wrong.
We waited on the side of the road, with our tow rope, hoping a big truck would come by to help. We are normally the ones pulling people out of ditches, and now we needed some good karma to come back our way. What we didn’t expect, was that every single Chilean who passed us stopped to help or comfort us. Before we knew it, we had a crowd of over 20 people with us. Some people had driven off to flag down trucks who could help us, and soon some Gauchos (farmers) came by in their work truck. We actually hooked up two tow ropes to two vechiles, and after 3 attempts, we managed to pull Titus out to great celebration. It was an awesome moment. We really felt the love of the people in Chile. Additionally, two of the guys who were helping us gave us a bottle of wine afterwards! We should have been giving out the wine, but that is how Chileans are. Just awesome people.
After all that excitement, we did finally make it to Parque Patagonia! This park is part of Doug Tompkins’ legacy in Patagonia. It is a brand new park, so not everything was ready, but it is so well manicured and offers some great hiking. This was our last stop while along the Carettera Austral. After a few days here, we’d head into Argentina (and immediately we would miss Chile.. more on that next time).
That is it for our lovely trip down the Carretera Austral. This stretch was the most beautiful we’ve driven over the past year and a half, and we can’t recommend it enough to any future travelers!