Driving in Patagonia: How to Plan the Perfect Road Trip Skip to Content
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Everything You Need to Know Before Driving in Patagonia

There are a number of places around the globe that just lend themselves towards a road trip. Patagonia is one of them; a place of rugged mountains, thick forest that transitions into arid, wind blasted grasslands and, running throughout, the vast, open road.

A four-wheel vehicle is necessary for driving in Patagonia as the roads can be in poor repair
There’s nothing quite like a full gas tank and the call of the open road.

Driving to or around Patagonia is a means of exploring a remote destination that has attracted adventurers for centuries and, with the state of the road improving each and every year, there are fewer reasons not to do so.

This guide follows my multiple visits to Argentine and Chilean Patagonia, where I’ve rented a car and explored vast stretches of road – and learned a lot about driving and road conditions along the way.

I’ve collated all of the information you need to know about car rental in Patagonia, getting around Patagonia on your own four wheels and I’ve even thrown in a road trip itinerary to get the inspiration flowing.

Where (and why!) should you drive to in Patagonia?

As someone who’s driving sections of the famed Southern Highway, aka the Carretera Austral and gone beyond-the-beaten trail on some increasingly dodgy roads in Chilean Tierra del Fuego, the question you should really be asking yourself is why shouldn’t you drive in Patagonia?

The landscapes are extreme and sublime and the roads that traverse them offer a window into the southernmost hinterland of the continent, making it an absolutely gem of a South America road trip.

If you’re seeking places with barely a trace of human interaction and to discover some of the world’s most beautiful, pristine terrain, Patagonia is your place.

The main destinations for a Patagonia road trip are:

The Carretera Austral

Map showing the route of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia
Click the image above for an interactive Google Map of the Carretera Austral.

The Carretera Austral is considered one of South America’s finest road trips: a 1,240-kilometre, mostly unpaved route that winds itself from the Chilean Lakes District deep into the heart of Aysén, Chile’s least populated region.

It lies in what’s considered northern Chilean Patagonia (that’s quite a mouthful!), which effectively means it lies along the very western coast of South America and is separated from Argentina by the ridge of the Andes Mountains.

It’s possible to link this road up with Southern Patagonia via the border crossings at Futaleufu, Chile Chico and in Patagonia National Park, while you can also head through to fjords via the Tabsa ferry that departs from Puerto Yungay (in the far south) and travels to Puerto Natales and southern Chilean Patagonia.

Southern Chilean Patagonia

Map of the route driving through Southern Chilean Patagonia
Click the image above for an interactive Google Map of Southern Chilean Patagonia.

While many people visit Southern Chilean Patagonia – it’s home to Torres del Paine National Park after all – any road trip here is best combined with a drive along Ruta 40 (if you’ve not got much time), Tierra del Fuego (if you’re feeling adventurous) or the Carretera Austral (if you’ve got at least three weeks).

You can head north from here to the Carretera Austral via the Tabsa ferry that departs from Puerto Natales and heads to Puerto Yungay (in the far south of the Carretera Austral) or into Argentina via Paso Río Don Guillermo, from where you can continue to El Calafate.

To reach Tierra De Fuego, you’ll want to take the TABSA ferry across to Porvenir or drive east and take the TABSA ferry from Cruce Punta Delgada to reach Cruce Bahía Azul and Tierra del Fuego.

Driving through Patagonia offers photo opportunities unavailable with any other type of travel.
Rugged mountains, smooth reflection, and the spirit of adventure in Torres del Paine in Southern Chilean Patagonia

Ruta 40

Map of Ruta 40/Route 40 in Argentina
Click the image above for an interactive Google Map of Ruta 40.

Officially Argentina – and one of the world’s – longest road, Route 40 actually begins on the northernmost tip of Argentina at La Quiaca in Jujuy Province. It continues 5,194 kilometres south to reach Río Gallegos in the Santa Cruz Province in Argentine Patagonia and transects both northern and southern Argentine Patagonia.

I’ll only be covering the Patagonia section of this route: focussing on Bariloche heading south. This road is very different from the Carretera Austral, passing through mostly flat, grassy plains with a backdrop of ridged mountains in the west.

In my personal opinion, the scenery is less interesting than what you experience on a road trip along the Carretera Austral.

What most visitors do is link this road with the border crossing into Chile at Paso Río Don Guillermo, from where you can continue to southern Chilean Patagonia where lie Torres del Paine National Park and Puerto Natales.

Tierra del Fuego

Route of roads for driving through Chilean and Argentine Tierra del Fuego
Click the image above for an interactive Google Map of Tierra del Fuego.

The road through Tierra del Fuego, the island right at the tip of South America, is the least traversed of all driving routes in Patagonia. It contains both Chilean and Argentine territory; in fact, most road trips will see you moving between both countries.

Traditionally, travellers have driven south through Chilean Patagonia and crossed into Argentine Patagonia at Paso San Sebastián, from where you can continue south to reach Ushuaia, the most visited city on the island.

However, the Chilean section of the island is – in my opinion – vastly more beautiful, if practically entirely lacking in infrastructure. 

Fast Facts about driving in Patagonia

Can you drive to Patagonia?
Yes! Plenty of visitors head to the region as part of a road trip, driving down from Santiago (the Chilean capital), Buenos Aires (the Argentine capital) or cities further south on the periphery of Patagonia such as Puerto Montt, where rental costs are affordable. Renting a car in Patagonia is a reasonably straightforward process, making it an ideal place for a road trip.


If you’re coming the US, it’s even possible to drive (most of!) the PanAmerican Highway, as it starts in Alaska and meanders its way through the Americas to finish at the very south of Patagonia.

However, the actual route of the PanAmerican Highway is hotly contested, depending on who you speak to. If they’re Chilean, they’ll say the PanAmerican Highway (or Ruta 5 as it’s known in Chile) slices southwards through the country, continuing all the way to Puerto Montt where the road hits the sea at the very tip of northern Chilean Patagonia.

If you speak to an Argentinean, however, they’ll tell you that the PanAmerican actually heads due east across the Andes Mountains at Santiago, before continuing all the way south until it reaches Río Gallegos in Patagonia.


Either way, the full PanAmerican Highway takes at least six months, but often more, to cover, with many travellers spending a full two years driving its length. 


Can you drive from Santiago to Patagonia?
Yes you can drive from Santiago to Patagonia!


The easiest part of Patagonia to reach from Santiago is the Carretera Austral, the main highway through northern Chilean Patagonia. This road (also known as Ruta 7 or the Southern Highway) begins at Puerto Montt, a city 1,000 kilometres south of Santiago. From here, you can drive the full length of the Carretera Austral (all 1,200 kilometres!) to reach Villa O’Higgins, where the road ends.


At Villa O’Higgins, you have two choices: return north to Chile Chico where you can cross the border into Argentine Patagonia and drive south down Ruta 40 to reach El Chaltén, El Calafate and, across the border to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park; or you can catch the TABSA ferry that sails through the fjords to reach Puerto Natales further south.


Is it safe to drive in Patagonia Chile?
Yes of course. Patagonia is considered one of the safest parts of South America. It’s a very relaxed and rural place, where most people know each other and, as a result, crime is low.


The biggest challenges you face driving is the state of the road; most of the Carretera Austral and some sections of Ruta 40 are unpaved gravel, which can be dangerous to drive on if you take it too fast. Punctures are also a possibility, while flying gravel can chip and even crack windscreens.

I cover essential tips for driving to and around Patagonia below, while read these for more information about the state of the Carretera Austral and the state of Ruta 40.


Can you rent a car in Chile and drive to Argentina?
Yes you can! However, as with crossing any international border, you will need to ensure that you have the correct insurance to cover you.

For both countries, it is your responsibility to inform your rental company that you plan to drive across the border and you must do this at least two weeks in advance to allow them the time to prepare the necessary documents.

These should be presented to you when you pick up the car; make sure you know where they are as you won’t be allowed to cross the border without them!

Renting a car in Patagonia

Renting a car for a road trip through Patagonia is a relatively straightforward. I personally always recommend doing so in Chile, rather than Argentina.

In my experience, prices have been cheaper and, thanks to an influx of international companies that have driven the standard of rental vehicles up, quality and service is better. However, the current issues with the economy in Argentina (2020) may well have lowered prices.

Rental prices vary significantly depending on where you pick up the car and also where you intend to drop the vehicle back off. As far as I’m aware, it is not possible to pick up a vehicle in Chile and drop it off in Argentina.

If you choose to rent a car from Santiago and return it in Punta Arenas, for example, you can also expect a significant one-way fee, which can be anything upwards of $400,000 CLP ($560 USD).

Learn more about the best places to arrive into in this post about getting to Patagonia.

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Insurance and documents for car hire in Patagonia

You are required to have insurance for any vehicle that you rent in Chile or Argentina. The company generally requires you to pay a substantial deductible as liability in the event of an accident, such as damage, theft or a write off, which can be between $500 and $2,000 USD.

You will also normally be required to pay a guarantee using a credit card, anywhere in the region of $500,000 CLP ($700 USD) and $800,000 CLP ($1,100 USD).

Most international companies offer roadside assistance, but you’ll find the smaller, local companies across the region rarely do (something I have personally fallen foul of!).

Ensure that the car comes with its permiso de circulación (vehicle registration document) and the revision tecnica (MOT certificate); you normally find these in the glove compartment.

Insurance for crossing the border in Patagonia: If crossing into Argentina from Chile or vice versa with a rental vehicle, you need the necessary paperwork and insurance; this should be organized through your rental company at least 10 days in advance and generally costs $80,000 CLP ($112 USD).

Other important information for border crossing: Another important thing to note when driving between Chile and Argentina is that the customs officials will not permit you to bring fruit, vegetables or any fresh animal products across the border.

This isn’t enforced very strictly when crossing from Argentina to Chile in my experience, but you could get a heavy fine if you don’t declare any items in the other direction. It’s always better to do this and let the customs officials tell you if the offending items need to be binned rather than try and smuggle them in.

Many borders are open 24 hours, with others only during daylight hours. For a full list of this information, you should consult this website.

Sometimes reaching the next section of road requires some time on the water
A ferry is necessary for getting to places like Chiloe.

Chile: Renting a car for the Carretera Austral

There are various places along the Carretera Austral where you can rent a hire car. (For more information about what there is to see along this highway, read my ultimate guide to the Carretera Austral).

Car rental in the north: Aeropuerto Internaciónal El Tepual, the airport just outside of Puerto Montt on the northernmost tip of the Carretera Austral, has some of the cheapest car rentals I’ve found in Chile, with rental rates starting from $20,000 CLP ($30 USD) per day.

I recommend booking through Rental Cars, a comparison and booking site I’ve used on numerous occasions.

Hiring a car or campervan for Patagonia

Rental Cars find the best deals for car rental in the region. I’ve used it in Chile on numerous occasions and have found it both helps you find the best deal, but they also send you your insurance documents in English!

They also have plenty of different vehicles to hire, although you don’t need a 4WD for the Carretera Austral unless you plan to drive the tiniest of roads or cross the border to Argentina through any of the crossings not mentioned in this guide (of which there are a number, but the state of the road itself is generally poor).

It’s important to note that you will need additional insurance if you plan on continuing your trip beyond the Carretera Austral and taking the vehicle across the border into Argentina.

This should cost around $80,000 CLP ($117 USD) and must be organised at least 10 days prior to your trip; the car rental company can organise all of this for you.

I’ve had a reader report that they struggled to organise these insurance documents when booking via Rental Cars. However, I didn’t find out exactly what happened – so if you’re planning on doing this, be sure to check with the rental company you have chosen that they are able to do this.

Prices are also significantly higher if you rent from one destination and return to another, so it’s best to try and plan an itinerary that loops back to where you started.

Car rental along the Carretera Austral: Another option is from Aerodromo Balmaceda, around halfway down the Carretera Austral and close to Coyhaique. Prices are much higher than in Puerto Montt and you can expect to pay at least $560,000 CLP ($768 USD) for a week’s rental. You can check up-to-date prices with Rental Cars, the company I use when hiring cars in Chile.

Chile: Renting a car in southern Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

There are two main towns in southern Chilean Patagonia: Punta Arenas (with the largest airport) and Puerto Natales (the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park).

The cheapest place to pick up a rental car is in Punta Arenas, although there are also rental companies in Puerto Natales. You can expect to pay from $236,000 CLP ($332 USD) for a week’s rental of a small car.

There is nowhere to rent a car in Tierra del Fuego, so you’ll need to organise rental in the nearest city, Punta Arenas.

Hiring a campervan for the Carretera Austral

Hiring a campervan for the Carretera Austral is also very popular – particularly as it allows you to stop as and when you wish along your journey.

In the north: The best place to pick up your new wheels is in the north from Puerto Varas (a 30-minute drive northeast of Puerto Montt) with Chile Motor Homes or Wicked Campers.

Expect to pay $483,000 CLP ($662 USD) for a one-week rental. Prices will be significantly higher if you rent from one destination and return to another.

Along the Carretera Austral: I’m not aware of any places that rent out campervans along the Carretera Austral. Please let me know in the comments if this is incorrect!

Hiring a campervan for southern Chilean Patagonia

If you’re looking for a campervan for exploring Patagonia, the best place to pick up your new wheels is in Punta Arenas. Chile Motor Homes, Wicked Campers and Holiday Rent have depos here. Expect to pay $480,000 CLP ($658 USD) for a one-week rental.

There is nowhere to rent a campervan in Tierra del Fuego, so you’ll need to organise rental in the nearest city, Punta Arenas.

Driving in Patagonia National Park is one of the best ways to see what the park has to offer
Autumn offers wonderful colors against turquoise blue waters, particularly in Parque Nacional Patagonia.

Argentina: Renting a car for Argentine Patagonia, Ruta 40 and Tierra del Fuego

The cheapest place to pick up a rental car is in Bariloche, where prices start from $160,000 CLP ($225 USD) for a one-week rental. However, from Bariloche, it’s an 18-hour drive south along Ruta 40 to reach El Chaltén and the rest of southern Argentine Patagonia, so bear in mind that you’ll need to drive this both ways to avoid an extortionate one-way fee.

Instead, if you plan on visiting the region, it’s easier to rent in El Calafate, where there are a number of international companies based in both the airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de El Calafate and in the town itself. Expect to pay from $230,000 CLP ($330 USD) for a week’s rental of a small car.

Prices for rental in Ushuaia from the airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de Ushuaia, start from $250,000 CLP ($350 USD) for a one-week rental of a small car.

Argentina: Hiring a campervan for Argentine Patagonia, Ruta 40 and Tierra del Fuego

I have no experience of encountering campervan rental companies in Argentina and, I’ll be honest, I’m struggling to find any further information online. If you’ve done it and want to share your experience with the community, please reach out to me via email or in the comments below!

Essentials to know before embarking on a Patagonia road trip

The main appeal of a Patagonia road trip is the fact that, with your own transport, you can stop practically anywhere you wish for a photography, for a picnic or, in some parts, even to camp overnight.

A ferry crossing from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams in Patagonia
Cargo ferries are part and parcel of a road trip in Patagonia

The latter is one of the reasons why I recommend that people bring a tent with them for the trip, as wild camping at different spots along the road – beneath a practically unblemished sky – is quite something and many of the national parks have remote camping sites just waiting for you to pitch up.

However, those who enjoy a spot of comfort will find that lodgings are becoming increasingly of better quality and comfort level – and still grant easy access to beautiful night skies.

Note that the wind can be fierce along Ruta 40, so finding a protected site can be difficult. iOverlander (mentioned below) is your essential guide with this.

Some of the overlooks in Tierra del Fuego National Park can only be seen while driving in Patagonia
Some overlooks in Tierra del Fuego National Park are best experienced with your own rental car and a pair of legs!

If you do drive, I’d recommend the following:

  • Allow yourself a flexible itinerary. In Patagonia, things don’t always go quite to plan, so leave yourself plenty of cushion for your trip.
  • A 4WD vehicle is not essential but a high-clearance vehicle and patience are indispensable. There are a handful of places where your rental company will advise you not to drive unless you have a 4WD. Listen to them! They know what they’re talking about and you do not want to get stranded or stuck anywhere – particularly as breakdown services are costly and extremely slow!
  • Avoid driving faster than 60 kilometres per hour. Possible hazards include tire punctures, chips to the windscreen from gravel, and unexpected wildlife on the road. Pack food, water and a sleeping bag in case of breakdowns. When picking up your vehicle, double-check it has its spare tire – you may well want it!
  • Fill up with fuel every time you see a gas station. While there are now plenty of gas stations in Patagonia, the rule of thumb is to fill up whenever you see one. I’ve listed where they are in the area-specific tips below.
  • Pick up a copy of the COPEC Rutas de Chile map. This map of all of Chile and Argentine Patagonia is indispensable for anyone driving in Patagonia. You can theoretically pick it up from any COPEC gas station in Chile for around $3,000 CLP ($4 USD) – however, in practice, many places don’t stock it, so you may need to visit a couple. It has all COPEC gas stations marked on it; as the most frequent of all the companies selling fuel in Chile, this is useful stuff. They also have Argentine fuel stations marked.
  • Download maps.me. This free app allows you to download maps of Patagonia to your phone (do this while you still have a WIFI connection!) that can then be used offline. Their maps use OpenStreetMap data (another great website for Patagonia) so generally have hiking marked accurately on them.
  • Download the ioverlander app. This free app is a crowd-sourced guide to road conditions and campsites as compiled by overlanders (people who travel overland). It is an indispensable resource for helping you to find good wild camping spots, as well as up-to-date information about the state of the roads in Patagonia. You do need internet to be able to access the maps in the app. 
  • Make sure your normal sim card works or pick up a local sim card for Chile and for Argentina. If you plan on booking accommodations and doing other logistical stuff en-route, don’t expect to be able to rely on the internet anywhere in Patagonia. The internet reception through my phone is invariably faster than what you can pick up through WIFI at most hotels and hostels, so do yourself a favour and sort this before you get to Patagonia.
  • Consider picking up hitchhikers. The vast majority are your fellow travellers just looking for a kind stranger to give them a ride. They’ll be ever so grateful if you do!
Signs for the Carretera Austral mark your path when driving in Patagonia
The Carretera Austral is considered one of South America’s finest road trips.

Advice for driving the Carretera Austral

If you want to drive the Carretera Austral, first I recommend you read my complete guide to visit Ruta 5 aka the Carretera Austral and secondly, I suggest you follow these tips:

  • Around 90% of the road from Puerto Montt to Puyuhuapi is now paved. This means that you really should have no issue on this stretch of road with a normal, low-clearance car.
  • You can find updates on the state of the roads here (English). This should tell you exactly where roadworks are taking place. Note that road works can cause sections of the road to be closed, normally between 2pm and 5pm during the day. This information is best found by consulting the tourism office of the town you’re in and then planning accordingly.
  • This site (English) gives you information about the different border crossings along the Carretera Austral. You can find information about the state of the roads – many of which are just gravel or in worse condition. You can find opening hours for all of the border crossings here.
  • Wild camping is generally possible.In most cases, you can pitch up practically where ever you want along the Carretera Austral, although the free ioverlander app should give you a good sense of where you can’t and where it’s recommendable to stay. Practice ”leave no trace” principles and make sure that whatever rubbish you bring in you take out with you. If the land is clearly privately owned and there’s a dwelling nearby, be sure to pop in and ask for permission before settling down for the night.
  • Along the Carretera Austral, Entel has the best phone coverage. Claro comes in second. Sim cards can be picked up from booths manned by these companies in big shopping malls in cities such as Santiago or even in some corner shops. You top it up in pharmacies (don’t ask me why!) by asking for recarga.
  • Make sure your car insurance covers transit along the Carretera Austral. I had a company in Coyhaique who tried to rent me a vehicle but said it wasn’t covered for the road. Go figure.
  • Gas stations are located in: Puerto Montt, Hornopirén, Chaitén, Futaleufú, La Junta, Puyuhuapi, Puerto Cisnes,  Mañihuales, Puerto Aysén, Puerto Chacabuco, Coyhaique, Chile Chico, Puerto Río Tranquilo, Cochrane and Villa O’Higgins.
  • If you start in Puerto Montt, there are two ferry crossings before you reach Chaitén. For more information, read this article about travelling the Carretera Austral.
A cozy cabin can offer the perfect contrast to the rugged wilderness it overlooks
There are some lovely places to stay along the Carretera Austral, such as Mallin Colorado.

Advice for those driving in southern Chilean Patagonia

If you plan to drive anywhere around Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales or in Tierra del Fuego, bear the following in mind:

  • Most of the main roads around Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are paved. However, once you get away from the main highways (Ruta 255 and Ruta 9), many are unpaved gravel roads. Generally, these are fine to drive on with vehicles with some clearance, but you’ll want to take it slow to avoid gravel bouncing up into your windscreen.
  • Practically all roads in Torres del Paine are unpaved. Again, you should have no issue traversing these with a normal vehicle, even one with low clearance.
  • Roads in Chilean Tierra del Fuego are practically all gravel, except the road from the very north of the island to Onaisin. If you plan to head deep into the Chilean side of the island, you will need a vehicle with high-clearance and I would personally recommend a 4×4 as poor weather conditions may cause roads to become unpassable – and there really isn’t anyone coming to help you here! The road between San Sebastián and Cullén in Tierra del Fuego is also in a dreadful state and I wouldn’t recommend driving it!
  • Gas stations are located in: Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Terminal San Gregorio, Cerro Sombrero, Cullén, Porvenir and Russfin.

Advice for driving Ruta 40 and Argentine Patagonia

If you’re planning on hiring a rental car in Argentine Patagonia, the following information should be helpful:

  • Claro is the best cell network for Argentine Patagonia. However, connection can be poor in lots of parts, including El Chaltén. You can buy a sim card by going to any of the company’s shops in Buenos Aires or other Argentine cities. The full process is described in detail here.
  • Gas stations are scarce south of the Chile Chico border crossing and are located in the towns of: Perito Moreno (the town, not the glacier), Gobernador Gregores, Tres Lagos, El Calafate, Esperanza, and Tapi Aike (although the latter is often closed and, when open, is cash only), Río Gallegos, Río Grande, Tolhuin and Ushuaia.

Patagonia road trip itineraries

If you’ve got the time, spirit of adventure and the money, there’s no excuse not to embark on a road trip through Patagonia, and I strongly recommend you do it. Some of the most powerful memories I’ve got from my different trips exploring Patagonia come from road trips through the region’s wild landscapes.

The following itineraries give you an idea of various different road trips available to you for different parts of Patagonia.

If you’re interested in learning more about any of them, I offer a trip planning service for Patagonia and can provide you a fully customised itinerary, taking the stress and hassle out of putting together your trip. Find out more information here.

Autumn offers some of the best photos when driving in Patagonia
The wild mountain peak of Cerro Castillo stands sentinel over milder hillsides.

Fourteen days driving the Carretera Austral

Two weeks is enough time to drive, and enjoy, most of the Carretera Austral. However, because of the prohibitively high costs of one-way rentals, it makes financial sense to hire and drop off your vehicle in the same place.

This route includes most of the Carretera Austral, as well as a short trip through Chiloé, another of the most magical parts of Chile.

Overview of this 14-day Carretera Austral itinerary:

  • Day One: Puerto Montt to Hornopirén
  • Day Two: Hornopirén to Chaitén
  • Days Three and Four: Parque Nacional Pumalín
  • Day Five: Puyuhuapi and the hanging glacier in Parque Nacional Queulat
  • Days Six and Seven: Villa Cerro Castillo and Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo
  • Day Eight: Puerto Río Tranquilo and the marble caves
  • Days Nine: Parque Nacional Patagonia
  • Days Ten and Eleven: The Naviera Austral ferry to Quellón
  • Days Twelve and Thirteen: Chiloé Island
  • Day Fourteen: Puerto Montt

Day One: Puerto Montt to Hornopirén

Rent a car from the airport in Puerto Montt using Rental Cars. Either board the Naviera Austral ferry service from Puerto Montt to Chaitén (9 hours, $114,000 CLP ($146 USD) per vehicle plus $17,300 CLP ($22 USD) for passengers) or drive south to Hornopirén (3 hours).

Stay overnight in the cosy bedrooms of Hosteria Catalina.

Day Two: Ferry boat from Hornopirén to Chaitén

Board the SOMARCO ferry at 10.30am to Caleta Gonzalo (4.5 hours, $33,500 CLP ($43 USD) per vehicle including passengers; price includes ferry to Leptepú and to Caleta Gonzalo) and head south to Chaitén (1 hour).

Stay overnight in the basic cabins at Chucao Bosque y Cabañas.

The mist rises over Parque Nacional Pumalin, reached by driving along the Carretera Austral in Patagonia
Mist rising over the verdant temperate rainforests of Parque Nacional Pumalín

Days Three and Four: Parque Nacional Pumalín

Enjoy Parque Nacional Pumalín, one of the most spectacular parks along the Carretera Austral, packed full of hiking opportunities, hot springs and kayaking.

Day Five: Puyuhuapi and Parque Nacional Queulat

Drive south to Puyuhuapi (2.5 hours) and spend the afternoon in Parque Nacional Queulat, where the spectacular Ventisquero Queulat (or Queulat Hanging Glacier) is located.

Stay overnight in the affordable Hostal Aonikenk, which is ideal if you’re self-catering.

Days Six and Seven: Villa Cerro Castillo and Parque Nacional Villa Cerro Castillo

Drive south to Villa Cerro Castillo (6 hours) via Coyhaique, the largest town along the Carretera Austral and a great place to pick up provisions in the large UNIMARC supermarket located there.

Spend the following day hiking the trail up to Lago Cerro Castillo for incredible views of Cerro Castillo, a castle-shaped peak in the middle of park.

Stay in the beautifully decorated rooms at Refugio Cerro Castillo, with views of the mountain from the windows.

The smoothly water-carved Marble Caves can be seen from the shore when driving through Patagonia
You can see the water-carved Marble Caves from the shore or take a tour by boat.

Day Eight: Puerto Río Tranquilo and the Marble Caves

Drive south to Puerto Río Tranquilo (3 hours) and visit the marble caves on the cyan waters of Lago General Carrera, or go ice trekking on the nearby Glaciar Exploradores.

Stay overnight in nearby Mallin Colorado Ecolodge (read my review of this Patagonian lodge).

Days Nine: Parque Nacional Patagonia

Drive south to Valle Chacabuco (2.5 hours), a part of the beautiful Parque Nacional Patagonia.

Spend the day hiking in the national park and stay overnight in the luxurious Lodge at Valle Chacabuco or in the more utilitarian guest house Lejana Patagonia in Cochrane, an hour’s drive south.

Days Ten and Eleven: Naviera Austral Ferry to Quellón

Drive north to Puerto Chacabuco (8 hours) and catch the Naviera Austral ferry to Quellón (31 hours, $231.400 CLP ($295 USD) per vehicle plus $35.800 CLP ($46 USD) per passenger), a town in the south of Chiloé Island. This is a beautiful, if long journey north.

Note that tickets give you a seat on the boat (like a reclining seat on a bus), not a cabin. When you reach Quellón, drive north to Castro (1.5 hours) and stay overnight in the picturesque converted palafito, Palafito 1326.

Days Twelve and Thirteen: Chiloé Island

Explore the palafitos (old fishermen dwellings on stilts) of Castro, take a day trip out to Cucao and drive out to Isla Quinchao or Isla Lemuy for the day.

Palafitos in Castro, Chiloe in Chile
The palafitos in Castro make a great place to stay for the night

Day Fourteen: Puerto Montt

Drive north back to Puerto Montt (3.5) hours via the boat from the Chacao port (operates 24 hours, 30 mins, $12,600 CLP ($16 USD) vehicle with passengers).

Changes you can make to this Carretera Austral Itinerary: Add an extra two days and visit Futaleufú, a three-hour drive east of Chaitén that is know as one of the world’s best places for white-water rafting and also has some beautiful hikes.

Two-week Carretera Austral self-drive itinerary from Balmaceda

This road trip through Patagonia offers an alternative route, this time arriving in Balmaceda by plane and exploring most of the southern part of the Carretera Austral:

Overview of this 14-day Carretera Austral itinerary:

  • Day One: Balmaceda to Puyuhuapi
  • Day Two: Parque Nacional Queulat
  • Days Three to Five: Villa Cerro Castillo and Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo
  • Days Six and Seven: Puerto Río Tranquilo and the Marble Caves
  • Days Eight to Ten: Parque Nacional Patagonia
  • Day Eleven: Caleta Tortel
  • Day Twelve and Thirteen: Chile Chico
  • Day Fourteen: Ferry and Drive to Balmaceda

Day One: Balmaceda to Puyuhuapi

Fly into Balmaceda and rent a car using Rental Cars. Drive north to Puyuhuapi (5.5 hours) and stay overnight in the affordable Hostal Aonikenk, which is ideal if you’re self-catering.

Day Two: Parque Nacional Queulat

Spend the day in Parque Nacional Queulat, where you find the spectacular Ventisquero Queulat (or Queulat Hanging Glacier) and return to Puyuhuapi at night.

The Ventisquero Queulat is a hanging glacier near Puyuhuapi along the Carretera Austral
The sound of waterfalls fills the air near the Queulat Hanging Glacier.

Days Three to Five: Villa Cerro Castillo and Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo

Drive south to Villa Cerro Castillo (6 hours) via Coyhaique, the largest town along the Carretera Austral and a great place to pick up provisions in the large UNIMARC supermarket located there.

Stay in the beautifully decorated rooms at Refugio Cerro Castillo, with views of the mountain from the windows.

Spend a day or two in the national park, hiking the trail up to Lago Cerro Castillo for incredible views of Cerro Castillo, a castle-shaped peak in the middle of park, and other trails in the other side of the national park.

Days Six and Seven: Puerto Río Tranquilo and the Marble Caves

Drive south to Puerto Río Tranquilo (3 hours) and visit the marble caves on the cyan waters of Lago General Carrera, or go ice trekking on the nearby Glaciar Exploradores.

When driving in Patagonia, keep an eye out for the endangered Huemul deer.
An endangered Huemul deer hides in the brush along the Carretera Austral

Stay overnight in nearby Mallin Colorado Ecolodge (read my review of this Patagonian lodge).

Days Eight to Ten: Parque Nacional Patagonia

Drive south to Valle Chacabuco (2.5 hours), a part of the beautiful Parque Nacional Patagonia. Spend a day or two hiking in the national park; you can also visit Sector Tamango, which is a couple of kilometres east of Cochrane.

Stay overnight in the luxurious Lodge at Valle Chacabuco or in the more utilitarian guest house Lejana Patagonia in Cochrane, an hour’s drive south.

Day Eleven: Caleta Tortel

Drive south to Caleta Tortel (3 hours) and enjoy this remarkable village, where there are no roads. Instead boardwalks traverse for miles across this picturesque the fjord-side settlement.

A house on stilts in Caleta Tortel, a town best reached by driving through Patagonia
The town of Caleta Tortel has a singular appearance

Stay overnight in the modern bedrooms of the stylish Entrehielos Lodge.

Day Twelve and Thirteen: Chile Chico

Drive north to Chile Chico (6.5 hours). This is along the southern shores of Lago General Carrera, which are both vertiginous and horribly potholed – so you’ll want a 4WD if you plan on undertaking this journey.

Spend a day in the northernmost sector of Parque Nacional Patagonia, Jeinimeni, for glorious mountain views and some beautiful short hikes.

Stay overnight in the charming Hostería de la Patagonia.

Day Fourteen: Ferry and Drive to Balmaceda

Take the Naviera Austral ferry across to Puerto Ingerniero Ibáñez (2 hours, $19,750 CLP ($25 USD) for vehicles plus $2,300 CLP (3 USD) for passengers) and then drive back to Balmaceda to return the car (1 hour).  

Changes to make to this itinerary: Add three days and drive down to Villa O’Higgins (7 hours) where there is hiking, boat visits to and flyovers of Glacier O’Higgins. You may well see a huemul – a rare species of deer – on the road here.

A 14-day drive through Southern Chilean and Argentine Patagonia

Two weeks is enough time to explore the main highlights of southern Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.

You’ll cover large distances, and spend a lot of time on the road, but can break it up with visits to extraordinary national parks and natural highlights, such as the Perito Moreno Glacier and the king penguin colony in Tierra del Fuego.

Overview of this 14-day Carretera Austral itinerary:

  • Day One: Punta Arenas
  • Days Two to Four: Puerto Natales and Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
  • Days Three and Four: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and Glaciar El Perito Moreno
  • Day Five to Seven: El Chaltén and Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
  • Day Eight: Río Gallegos
  • Day Nine: Parque Nacional Pali Aike
  • Day Ten: Parque Pinguino Rey and Ushuaia
  • Days Eleven and Twelve: Ushuaia
  • Day Thirteen: Porvenir
  • Day Fourteen: Ferry to Punta Arenas

Day One: Punta Arenas

Fly into Punta Arenas and rent a car using Rental Cars. Spend a day visiting the nature reserves located nearby or driving to the end of the road beyond Puerto del Hambre, where you can appreciate the mountains of Isla Dawson and Tierra del Fuego and may see dolphins swimming in the Strait of Magellan.

At the very end of the road near Punta Arenas, with views across Isla Dawson and Tierra del Fuego
The end of the road: a remote and spectacular place

Stay overnight in Swedish design-inspired Hotel Ilaia.

Days Two to Four: Puerto Natales and Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

Drive north to Puerto Natales (3 hours) and then into Torres del Paine National Park (1.5/2 hours, depending on which entrance you use).

Spend a couple of days hiking sections of the W trek and exploring the different viewpoints and short hikes around the national park. Stay overnight in one of the luxury hotels or more budget-friendly cabins or camping in Torres del Paine National Park.

One of the best glaciers to see is the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia
The Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that is not retreating.

Days Three and Four: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and Glaciar El Perito Moreno

Drive east to El Calafate (3-5 hours, depends on traffic at the border) and enjoy the scenery across Lago Argentina. Stay overnight in Design Suites Calafate, which has mesmorizing views of the lake.

Drive east to the southernmost section of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (1.5 hours) to visit El Perito Moreno, Argentina’s most impressive glacier. Return to El Calafate for the night.

Day Five to Seven: El Chaltén and Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

Drive to El Chaltén (3 hours). Spend a couple of days hiking here, including the most well-known hike up to Laguna de los Tres and Monte Fitzroy. Stay overnight in the charming Nothofagus B&B.

The Laguna de los Tres in one of the many sight you can visit if driving in Patagonia
Reaching the Laguna de los Tres in Los Glaciares National Park is an exciting moment.

Day Eight: Río Gallegos

Drive south to Río Gallegos (6 hours), a nondescript port town on the Atlantic coast. Stay overnight in Hotel Patagonia, the smartest and most upmarket (but still affordable) option in town.

Day Nine: Parque Nacional Pali Aike

Drive into Chile and to Parque Nacional Pali Aike (2 hours), a barely-visited national park with volcanic craters, lakes filled with flamingos and the chance to spot armadillo and even puma.

Stay overnight in nearby Punta Delgada and the simple but comfortable Hostal San Gregorio.

Day Ten: Parque Pinguino Rey and Ushuaia

Drive to Ushuaia (7 hours) via Parque Pinguino Rey, a private reserve home to a colony of king penguins.

King Penguins can seem a little out of place in the grassy fields of Tierra del Fuego National Park
King penguins waddle through a grassy field in Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Cross the border back into Argentina at Paso San Sebastián and stay overnight in La Casa en Ushuaia, a smart little guesthouse with incredible views of the Beagle Channel.

Days Eleven and Twelve: Ushuaia

Explore Ushuaia, hiking up to Glacier Marshall, exploring Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego with its spectacular views of the Beagle Channel or taking a boat trip out to visit sea lion and penguin colonies.

Day Thirteen: Porvenir

Cross the border back into Chile and drive to Porvenir (5.5 hours), a small town on the western edge of Tierra del Fuego and stay overnight in the neat, spacious bedrooms at Yendegaia House.

Day Fourteen: Ferry to Punta Arenas

Take the TABSA ferry from Porvenir across to Punta Arenas (2 hours, $43,000 CLP ($55 USD) for vehicle including passengers) and return the vehicle to the airport.

A road trip through Chilean Tierra del Fuego

If you’re interested in exploring Chilean Tierra del Fuego, an incredible remote and wild part of the region and one that truly does feel like the very ends of the earth, download my free Patagonia ebook, which has an itinerary that covers this stretch of the country.

Everything You Need to Know About Hiking the Torres del Paine O Circuit
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Maria Keenan

Thursday 7th of May 2020

Hello Steph, I’m a 73 year old widow who’s determined to go solo on a driving tour of the Carretera Austral in Jan 2021. Actually, I’m planning on purchasing a car in Chile where I’ll be staying for 6 months. I was born there, have dual citizenship with US where I’ve lived for 56 year, now in San Francisco, CA. I’m enjoying your article on traveling Ruta 7, one of the most comprehensive I’ve read so far of the area! I’m thinking on doing your two-week round trip tour from Puerto Montt, staying at your suggested accommodations, do you recommend reserving now? Actually, until God gives me good health, my knees don’t do so well, so my hiking will be very limited, I’ll continue traveling. I left my country of birth last to visit, have been pretty much all over, last year I travelled to San Pedro de Atacama for a week. I was born in central region, zona de los buenos vinos. In any case, I’ll continue reading more about the area, reading, in addition to travel is my passion. Thank you for all the great information, and stay healthy!

Steph Dyson

Thursday 14th of May 2020

Hi Maria, honestly, what with the current circumstances of the pandemic, I would hold of reserving anything right now. South America has been very cautious and most borders and airports are closed now, with no set date for them opening again. I would keep an eye on guidelines being issued in Chile (I'll be posting about this soon) to see when they start lifting restrictions and what this might mean for travel next year. I'm glad you had a lovely time on your last trip to Chile and I hope you get the chance for another trip soon! Steph