Carretera Austral (The Southern Highway)

Overview

Introduction

South of Puerto Montt, hugging the Argentine border, Carretera Austral is a narrow penetration road that meanders through the thinly populated land of volcanoes, steppes, fjords and forests of the Aisen region, all the way to Villa O'Higgins. In this northern Patagonian region, only near the regional capital of Coihaique and the northern town of Chaiten does the 620 mi/1,000 km Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) enjoy areas of pavement, but public works projects to widen it are well underway.

The region's Pumalin Park—a private nature reserve donated to a Chilean foundation by U.S. outdoor-gear tycoon Douglas Tompkins—is a verdant swath of temperate rain forest and pristine lakes dotted by campsites and lodges. A new conservation project, headed by Tompkins's wife Kris McDivitt, hopes to donate Valle Chacabuco, near the town of Cochrane, into a larger national park.

The rare huemul deer still finds refuge in the region, as does the tiny pudu deer. Even in this remote corner of the world, isolated resorts such as Termas de Puyuhuapi offer hot springs and haute cuisine.

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