Hitchhiking Carretera Austral, Chilean Patagonia
Hitchhiking Carretera Austral can become a lifetime adventure for any traveller. The legendary Southern road offers amazing scenery, unique ecosystem and thrilling feeling of wilderness around. This part of our 13 months trip through Latin America became our favorite because of its nature beauties and amazing people. In total it took us about 4 weeks to go all the way from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. But not because the hitch wasn’t great, not at all, because there are so many places to visit and things to do. If you are still deciding between Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia go for Chilean, it’s more beautiful and interesting and even cheaper.
Reasons to travel Carretera Austral
Two best ways to travel Carretera Austral are hitchhiking or cycling, cycling is more challenging and exciting, and gives you more freedom. Cycling Carretera Austral easily can become you lifetime journey.
If you want to go off the beaten trail, discover new places, do wild hikes and meet wonderful people, Chilean Patagonia is your place. Travel Carretera Austral from it’s beginning to the very end and even beyond it, you won’t regret! Even now in South East Asia, thousands kilometers away every time when the wind blows I close my eyes and travel back to Patagonia. I imagine myself somewhere on the top of the mountain looking at the glacier or torques lake and not being able to believe it’s all real! Now wind is my strong association with Patagonia and Carretera Austral.
Brief history of Carretera Austral
Until the 80s there was no road in Chilean Patagonia, to get anywhere you had two options to fly or to go by boat. The construction of Carretera Austral started in 1976 and in the 90s a dirt road connecting Puerto Montt with Villa O’Higgins was finished, total distance – 1240 km.
Partly the road is paved and partly still dirt road. In the nearest future the road will be all paved so it will make Carretera Austral accessible for any car because nowadays you need a proper 4×4 to drive through some parts.
Where we stopped and what we did on Carretera Austral
Prices for campings, food, entrance fees and more details about each place you can find using links for related articles.
We started in Puerto Montt, actually on Chiloe island, from where we hitchhiked to Puerto Montt. On first day after 4 cars we reached town Hualaihue, where stayed overnight. Apparently there is a beautiful National park nearby where you can do a hike. We decided to skip it, too many parks to visit in Patagonia.
Next day we caught a ferry to Caleta Gonzalo, entrance to Pumalin park, where we camped for 5 days, more information in our article Pumalin park, Patagonia.
Between two parts (North and South) of Pumalin we stayed one night in Chaiten, small sleepy town.
Puyuhuapi and Queulat
From Pumalin Southern entrance we hitchhiked to Puyuhuapi, where camped for two days, we were very lucky, got a ride after 10 min. of waiting, the first car stopped. Puyuhuipi is a beautiful place on a lake, very small and quite.
Near Puyuhuapi there is a National park Queulat with short hiking trails, the main attraction – hanging glacier Queulat. We hitched there and camped one night at the camping next to the road, there is a camping inside but more expensive. The camping was full with mostly Chilean students, we were there right on summer holiday. The day we arrived there were many backpackers on the road, hitchhiking both ways. I became a bit negative about our hitchhiking prospects.
Next morning we woke up very early, broke down our tent and went to the road. We hope to be the first but there were three guys already hitchhiking, so we stopped behind them. Again luck, a car drove past them and picked us up (check our Hitchhiking tip for guys below). First car dropped us off after an hour drive, we were on the road, it started raining. Five cars drove past and finally one car stopped. It was full, with a family going on holiday, we threw our backpacks on the back (it was a big mistake) and jumped inside. They drove all the way to Coiyhaique where on arrival we discovered that my backpack disappeared, it’d fallen from the car! Our disaster story of losing my backpack HERE.
After three days in Coihaique and some necessary shopping, we continued south to Villa Cerro Castillo, got there in two cars, first with a local farmer, second with Dutch tourists. Here we did a 4-day hike in Cerro Castillo National reserve, check out our article about it.
Puerto Rio Tranquilo
From Cerro Castillo it looked even more difficult to hitch. When we arrived at the road there were already 10 hitchhikers and more were coming. For this reason we decided to use our magic sign “Mexico a Usuaya a dedo” (“a dedo” means hitchhiking). And it helped indeed, 15 min. later a car stopped for us! Our driver was a local man from Coiyhaique, a very nice person and he told us he always picks up tourists. He drove us all the way to Puerto Rio Tranquilo where we spent two nights. After we heard some stories from people who got stuck in Cerro Castillo for a day or two.
In Puerto Rio Tranquilo you can do a boat tour to Marmol cathedral and hike on the glacier, we did neither of them, bad weather for the boat tour and very expensive for the glacier. The town is famous due to recent death of Douglas Tompkins (North Face) in nearby lake General Carrera.
From Puerto Rio Tranquilo we hitched towards Villa O’Higgins. First ride was just one hour out of the town. Our second ride was with two Chilean friends on holiday. We needed cash so they drove us to the ATM in Cochrane. After that they invited us to go with them to Caleta Tortel. We went there and on the way back they dropped us at the road split to Caleta Yungay. Here we met 4 Chilean hitchhikers, we pitched out tents in the bush next to the road. There was no point in hitchhiking the last ferry from Caleta Yungay had already left.
Next day we kept hitching towards Villa O’Higgins. Again no long waiting, a family from Santiago picked us up. After one short ferry ride and 4 hours fast driving we arrived at Villa O’Higgins, the end of Carretera Austral. From O’Higgins you can continue south by bike/on foot and ferry. Check our articles on epic 42 km walk from O’Higgins to El Chalten with all our luggage and hike to El Chico glacier on the way.
Hitchhiking tips for Carretera Austral
If you travel Carretera Austral in January-February be ready for competition on the road. Chileans and Argentinians have summer holidays this time of the year. For this reason all campings are full, many people hitchhiking, prices for accommodation higher etc.
First of all don’t get disappointed and give up easy. Many first-time hitchhikers after an hour of waiting on the road give up. Don’t be like that first of all because sooner or later somebody will stop for you. You are in Chilean Patagonia people here are used to help and share.
Always make a sign where you want to go.
Try to be original, funny, different that you can be easily spotted between dozens of other hitchhikers. Chileans treat foreigners very well. Make it clear you’re from far far away, write name of your country or draw a flag on your sign.
Talk to people around, there is a good chance you meet someone in a camping and they invite you to join them for the trip.
Advice for guys – many drivers told us they stop only for female travelers or couples. Either they feel more sorry for girls or just feel safer. Anyway guys, try to find girls to join you, more chances to be picked up and more fun!
General tips for Hitchhiking Carretera Austral
Bring a tent, you’ll need it every day, it saves a lot of money and increases your chances to find accommodation in the peak season. Average for campings you pay 7$ per person, for bed in dormitory from 15$. You can find hostels with dorms only in big towns. Plus sometimes hitchhiking you can get stuck in the middle of nowhere, with your own tent you can camp anywhere in Patagonia, we found it safe. To find out more about camping and hiking gear for Patagonia check our article What to pack for hiking in Patagonia.
Always have some kind of food with you for the same reason mentioned above.
Every time you are in a place with ATM draw money, it can be a problem in Patagonia, in some places it’s difficult to get cash.
If you run out of cash and there are no ATMs nearby you can try to find a petrol station (usually they accept cards). Wait for a car to come and ask a driver if you can pay by card for his petrol and he pays you back in cash, explain your situation. In fact you can do the same in a shop, just amount probably will be smaller so you’ll have to do it couple of times.
It’s handy to have a stove and cooking set because not all campings have a kitchen. Moreover to buy meals in cafes and restaurants is expensive, cooking will save a good portion of your budget.
Be ready to have bad or no internet connection, if you want to downloads books/movies/maps do it before you start the Carretera Austral.
Everything in Patagonia is more expensive in order to save some money buy all necessary gear/clothing etc. beforehand.
Hitchhiking Carretera Austral in search of ATMs
- Puerto Montt – very busy town with many shopping malls and ATMs, try to draw as much as you can here not to worry about cash for next weeks.
- Hualaihue, two ATMs on the main square, only one works with international cards, supermarket accepts cards.
- Caleta Gonzalo (Pumalin park), no ATMs, only cash.
- Chaiten, very small village, no ATMs, credit/debit cards accepted in few places, can buy bus tickets only by cash.
- Puyuhuapi, tiny village, no ATMs, no cards accepted.
- Coyhaique, the biggest town and the capital of the region, couple of ATMs, credit/debit cards accepted.
- Villa Cerro Castillo, small village, no ATMs, only cash.
- Puerto Rio Tranquilo, no ATMs, some tour operators accept cards, can make a deal with them, pay more for your tour and they will pay back the difference in cash. Some shops accept cards. There is a petrol station, we used it to get some cash (how explained in General Tips for Carretera Austral).
- Cochrane, two or three ATMs on the main square.
- Caleta Tortel, nothing to do without cash.
- Villa O’Higgins, no ATMs, shops accept credit/debit cards, campings and ferries only cash.
You pay entrance fees to all National parks by cash.
In our hitchhiking experience Carretera Austral is one of the best hitchhiking places, we already miss it and one day will come back, maybe with bicycles!