Summary: We (my boyfriend and I) did the southern half of the trail (from Villa O'Higgins to Coyhaique) in 2004. We started further south from the Chilean city of Punta Arena and made our way north. The Carratera Austral section, especially that around Lago General Carrera was our favorite. After battling with the southern Patagonia wind on the pampas, it was totally refreshing to be surrounded by rainforest, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains.
There were sections on the trail where the dirt road was as smooth as pavement but there were more loose surface littered with with rocks and washboards. We were "lucky" enough to trail a couple of construction crew grating the road, that was the worst. The element is definitely a factor, we did cycle in the rain but wished we waited out so we could enjoy the scenary more. It's not a trail to be rushed.
It's definitely an adventure to do this trail. But with the right gear (long distance touring set-up for mountain biking) and the right attitude, it could very well be the greatest cycling trip out there.
Recommended Route: Our website at http://www.pobox.com/~ysu/travel provides more information about the area and a day-to-day travelogue of our trip.
Summary: It's funny MTBR asks, 'How often do you ride this trail'. I can honestly say that when I was completed, once was enough. But looking back on it, almost one year later, I would go back in a heartbeat.
This is THE BIKE TOUR - if you're looking for an unforgettable journey thru some of the most varied terrain anywhere, offering up amazing solitude, unnamed mountain peaks in every direction, glaciers, rain forests, small random villages...do this now, because once it becomes a little more publicized, or even worse, paved, it will become 'crowded' (this term being used very lightly, not many folks live down here but you can sense that things are changing)
I went in the opposite direction from most, starting in El Chalten, Argentina, crossing Lago del Desierto and Lago O Higgens, arriving in Villa O Higgens and then heading north, to Chaiten where I took a ferry up to Puerto Montt and then pedaled down to the island of Chileo. All in all, it was about 30 days - fast - of cycling anywhere from 40 to 80 km and ~ 6hrs a day, with about 3-4 rest days.
A note - I started in late February and finish end of March. This was very ideal in terms of traffic (both automobile and tourist) - there was almost none - no problems camping, no problems finding beds on those rainy nights. BUT - I would be a bit hesitant to start any later due simply to the fact there are no real schedules down here. Boats, buses, all of it is dependant on weather and whether or not the owner of a 'ferry' feels like running it that day.
So, what about the road. Don't take a skinny-tired bike. Bring a mountain bike. You don't necessarily need any suspension although it would prove useful over the many many miles of washboard road you will encounter. I would be curious to hear from someone who cycled this road recently as there was much work going into grading and paving while I was moving north (especially around Coyhaique).
This is not an easy tour. It is very hilly and although you're not climbing much altitude you are constantly climbing and descending and at times, the road is really pretty bad. That being said, if you are prepared for an adventure, have the right gear, and don't mind spending a lot of time on your bike moving slowly, buy a plane ticket and get down to the Carretera Austral. It's got to be one of the best bike tours ANYWHERE.
Recommended Route: If you want to know more, please feel free to contact me. I'll share whatever I can. But if you're wondering whether or not to go, just go...
Ah, the weather. I was pretty fortunate I think. Yes I had some wet days - and you will, for sure - but considering how many days I was biking, the weather was very kind. Speaking to a local, he said it was the hottest Feb. on record ('04).
And - know Spanish. I didn't, at least not very well, and really wish I had. English is spoken in very few areas down here.
Review Date April 6, 2002
Overall Rating 4 of 5
Ridden Trail: Ridden Once
Visitors rate this review 1.00 of 5,
Reviewed by: Eric
, from Ft. Collins CO USA
Summary: Hell of a bike tour through very diverse Patagonian lands. The distance is actually around 1100 km not 2000km. Be ready for lots of rain as there are a few hundred miles of riding through dense rainforest. The road has steep climbs and descents and is usually very washboarded. I averaged 60 miles a day, traveling as light as I could. South of Coyhaique is where the really good scenery starts, as do the winds. Lago General carrera is breathtaking. The final sections from cochrane are very remote and see about 5 vehicles a day and have quite large climbs. If you plan on doing this ride bring a strong bike with good wheels, travel light and be ready for bad weather. It is possiable to cross the boarder from villa O higgins to El Chalten in Argentina via a boat and hike - be ready for an adventure
Recommended Route: I Started in Temuco riding through the lakes, then From Puerto Montt the entire distance to Villa O'Higgins
Other recommended trails in the same area: around bariloche is fun.
Review Date December 10, 1999
Overall Rating 5 of 5
Ridden Trail: Once a year
Visitors rate this review 5.00 of 5,
Reviewed by: Aaron Heilbrun
, from Santiago, Chile
Summary: I'm not sure I made it clear. This dirt highway is in southern chile. It's a 1000 km south of Santiago and begins in Puerto Montt. After 20 years (yes, twenty), the final section to Villa O'Higgins was completed this year (1999). It is all dirt road excepting a few stretches near the major town of Coiyaique. The term highway is misleading as traffic is pretty minimal. I road this trail on mtb with a friend in February of 1999. We road about 800 km, from Puerto Montt to Coiyaique. Maybe it was more, I can't remember. Trip came to an abrupt halt when my frame broke at the chain stay. So we did a 3 day horseback riding trip and went back to Sanitago. Bikes are better than horses, I think. It is rough dirt road with considerable uphill and downhill sections. I recommend full suspension or at least a suspension post on a hardtail. Nonetheless, we saw quite a few long distance bikers who were on rigid frame and forks. To each their own, I guess. We had a lot of problems with flat tires. My bike had flats everyday. Idunno if I decend too fast, perhaps, but it's hard to resist the temptation. The major advantage to the Camino Austral is the beautiful scenery and the climate. The towns are evenly spaced every 30-50 km or less. It's easy and inexpensive to find a place to stay. Many locals will let you camp on their land for a small tip ($2) or you can look for a hostal/pensin for about $5-8 a person. Bike parts are limited and basic, so keep that in mind. High tech stuff can be a problem. If it brakes and you don't have spares or don't know how to fix it, you're sol. Plus, zoot attracts attention and increases your theft risk. On that note, crime risk is low. Very, very little violent crime. Theft can be a problem, but it would be something where your stuff was gone when you got back, not the case of someone sticking a gun in your gut.
It was a great trip and if you are looking for a peaceful, idyllic mountain bike trip that can last as long as a month, this is it. It's inexpensive to travel here and the people are friendly. Anyone who is interested and/or has any questions can e-mail me. I'd be happy to offer any advice. Someday soon I'll get back there and do the whole thing. Just please don't let my frame break again.
Recommended Route: It's probably far easier to start in Puerto Montt and continue as far south as you can/want.