After spending the best part of a week viewing some of the largest glaciers in the world and conquering some amazing trecks, we set our sites on a less travelled path – the Carretera Austral. This stretch of mainly dirt road runs through some of the most beautiful parts of Patagonia. The mountains are covered with untouched green forrest from the winters rain and the rivers are the color of an emerald; it is a must-visit location for any nature lover.
Our first step to get going on this route meant we needed to say goodbye to El Chalten and Argentina (for now) and head to Chile. The small town of Chile Chico was our first stop. There isn’t much in terms of things to see and do in Chile Chico, it is a small town mostly popular for transit to start the Carretera Austral. That being said, it can be a litle tricky to get there as buses will only run from the neigbouring town Los Antigos in Argentina if there is enough people to make the journey worthy. The bus costs 150AR or 10,000CLP and is only about an hour with the border crossing. For us this was the case and no bus was running on the day we arrived in Los Antigos after a 12 hour bus ride from El Chalten. Our only option was to hitch hike over the border (taxis will not cross the border due to high border crossing fees)! After about an hour we managed to get the ride we needed over the border and the best thing is…it was free! Hitch hiking is very common in Argentina and Chile and is usually very safe. It is also a great way to practice your Spanish and speak to locals.
Finally we arrived in Chile Chico. This would be our resting spot for the next two days while we sorted a few bank issues out and planned our next few stop overs. We stayed at a small family run hotel which cost 28,000clp (about $56 AUD) per night for a private room, this was much cheaper than staying at the hostel in town. The owners of the hotel had a restaurant in the lobby and normally no public access to the kitchen, but they said since it wasn’t busy they would let us use the kitchen when they weren’t which was nice of them and saved us a few dollars.
After Chile Chico it was time to see the Marble Caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo – but first, a short bus ride along gravel road weaving through mountains and valleys. This was our first taste of the Carretera Austral and it did not dissapiont! We were lucky enough to have a bus driver who let us stop at all the view pionts along the way to take in the amazing lakes and views of the mountains along the way. This bus ride takes about 3 hours and cost 20,000CLP per person, alot of people where hitch hiking this part as the bus is really expensive. Hitch hiking is a good option for people who have time and patience to spare, because this route is not very busy sometimes it can take a couple days before finding a ride.
Puerto Rio Tranquilo is another small town and is home to the Marble Caves. These caves have been carved out by erosion for hundreds of years and are a must-see if your down this way. Tours to the caves are run by almost every travel company in the town and the tour lasts about 2 hours on a small boat (or there is an option to rent a kayak to see the caves yourself). As for the boat, there are two options: 1) get enough people together to rent the entire boat for around 40,000 to 50,000CLP or 2) you can buy an individual ticket for 9,000CLP and join onto another group. For us there was not enough people at our hostel who where doing the caves that day so we opted for the individual ticket.
The caves truly are beautiful and the amazing blue green colors of the lake make it an awesome place to take some amazing shots. The waters around the caves are sheltered from the wind by the suroundng mountains so the trip is really smooth and enjoyable. Rio Tranquilo also offers Glacier trecking tours which are alot cheaper than others around Patagonia.
Our next move will be to continue up Route 7 through the Carretera Austral to visit more amazing places and meet even more amazing people.
– Daniel Caracciolo