The Carretera Austral Part II – The Heart of Patagonia

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.

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There is just so much to explore down here

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.

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Midway through the Cerro Castillo hike

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?

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A perfect campsite, hardly another tent here

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The lagunas were so crystal clear they perfectly mirror the mountains

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Heading over a mountain pass in Villa Cerro Castillo

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Enjoying the freedom of the hills

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Look where we've come!

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.

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Perfect island to paddle board around

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I wish I could do this every morning

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Yoga on the lake?

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.

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The young, colorful, soft marble was so impressive

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Jenine moseying on through

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A great day on the lake

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.

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Trekking out to find a glacier on Lago Leones

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Lago Leon glacier, a somber mood sweeping over the place

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You can drink the glacier water in any of the lakes down in Patagonia. Mmmm refreshing

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.

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Admiring the confluence of the pristine Rio Baker and the cloudy grey Rio Neff

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That's a heavy rapid!

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Camping at Rio Baker

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.

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Caleta Torel - the furtherest town we made it to on the Carretera Austral

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Caleta Tortel a Patagonian town built on walkways and stilts.

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It's Superbowl sunday! Streaming the game from our phones to the "big screen" via our surprisingly fast data connection in Chile

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.

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A pee stop gone wrong.... Titus digs himself into a ditch

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Luckily, everyone who saw our predicament stopped to help

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Let's see if that little truck can give us the tug we need

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).

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Welcome to Parque Patagonia - one of the fanciest new parks in chile

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The long day hike in Parque Patagonia had some pretty incredible views

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The Guanacos are everywhere in this part of chile

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!

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Gotta take a moment to remember this beautiful drive

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Start of the trek at Villa Cerros Castillo

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A Gaucho herding his cattle and yelling at us to get off the trail

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Start of the hike at Cerro Castillo

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Jenine hiking up into the mountains

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Heading over a mountain pass in Villa Cerro Castillo

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A hanging glacier at Cerro Castillo

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Taking a trail break

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Jenine hiking in the valleys of Cerro Castillo

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Enjoying the freedom of the hills

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A perfect campsite

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Camping night 2 at cerro castillo

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Jenine fired up for our day 3 hike

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The lagunas were so crystal clear they perfectly mirror the mountains

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Midway through the Cerro Castillo hike

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Look where we've come!

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I think we could climb that??

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Jump into the pool?

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We are way up here?!

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We started our hike way down there at that little town

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A stack of rocks - signifies you are at the top

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impresionante!

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Jenine walking on the moon

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Summit fever

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And now for the long downhill

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If you look really close, you can see Jenine on the right coming down from a long hard downhill hike

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I hope this stick can help my knees....

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I wish I could dive in

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Jenine striking a serious pose

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creek side camping

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Gotta tak a moment to remember this beautiful drive

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the bluest lake - lago general carrera

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Titus relaxing by the lago

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Perfect island to paddle board around

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Inflatable paddle board - great purchase

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Heading out onto the lake

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Yoga on the lake?

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Jenine giving paddle board Yoga a shot

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Time to kayak the lake

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Kayaking to the marble caves

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These soft marble caves are pretty sweet

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A cave paddle

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Jenine moseying on through

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Dusk on Lago General Carrera

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A great day on the lake

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Another day, another sketchy road

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How are we going to hike through this?

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Trekking out to find a glacier on Lago Leones

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Lago Leon glacier

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Wow this place is pretty neat

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Drinking that pure glacier water

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It's a confluence

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A rainbow in Patagonia

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In the fields of pink

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Making pancakes our new favorite pastime!

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Camping at Rio Baker

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Can you do dishes?

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That's a heavy rapid

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Admiring the confluence of the pristine Rio Baker and the cloudy grey Rio Neff

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These are some wonderful waters

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giving this fly fishing a go again

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I don't think there are any fish in here

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This seems like the most sketchy bridge we've encountered in all of our travels down the Pan Am

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But we made it!

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Caleta Torel - the furtherest town we made it to on the Carretera Austral

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Caleta Tortel a Patagonian town built on walkways and stilts.

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It's Superbowl sunday! Streaming the game from our phones to the "big screen" via our data surprisingly fast data connection in Chile

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A pee stop gone wrong.... Titus digs himself into a ditch

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Luckily, everyone who saw our predicament stopped to help

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Let's see if that little truck can give us the tug we need

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The view is really like this the entire way on the Carretera Austral

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Welcome to Parque Patagonia - one of the fanciest new parks in chile

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The long day hike in Parque Patagonia had some pretty incredible views

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The Guanacos are everywhere in this part of chile

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Parque Patagonia

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Our first attempt get titus out didn't go so well. But the 3rd try was a charm.

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4 comments on “The Carretera Austral Part II – The Heart of Patagonia
  1. Sissi says:

    Great post, poor van almost bit it though.
    Where to next?

    • Jenine says:

      Just headed back from Ushuaia! Going to spend the next month or so on the Chilean coast. We can’t get enough!

  2. Haley says:

    Amazing photos! love to you both!

  3. Jane says:

    Carrera marble, guanacos, and the resurrection of Titus ! Salute