Carretera Austral: The Inside Scoop

Matt Evans
Oct 30, 2017 · 4 min read

… actually this is a spot for additional details for those deep in planning and where I can add comments from other fantastic people who do this route and send additional tips (please message me with tips).

Hopefully it’s useful if you print this out and use it as needed on your trip.

More Details on Getting to the Start of the Ride

CC, the lowest Navimag class. I’d recommend opting for BB which is the same size, but has a window. All the foreigners who bought BB on our Navimag to Puerto Chacabuco got upgraded to AA which had it’s own bathroom and only 2 beds/room.

To get to Coyhaique I’d recommend flying to Santiago and then taking SkyAirline either to Puerto Montt or Coyhaique. SkyAirline currently charges NOTHING extra for bikes and has better planes. Check their policy for changes.

We flew to Puerto Montt and then took the Navimag ferry (about ~$180, but it includes a sleeping cabin and 4 so-so meals) for the 24 hour ride through AMAZING Chilean fjords to start in Puerto Chacabuco. I’d highly recommend that approach, or taking the Ferry to Chaiten, Chile and starting there. Keep in mind you must ride 11km from Puerto Montt to the Navimag port (called Oxxean in 2015).

More Details on a Typical Riding Schedule

We found that on days when we left camp early (around 9am) and rode for 8 hours the schedule didn’t feel too hectic. We did the ride in mid February and it was light till 9:30pm so we still had plenty of daylight to cook, even when we got to camp around 7 or 8 pm.

More on How Much Time You Really Need

If you like keeping moving, you can complete the ride from Coyhaique to El Chalten in 11 or 12 days and it is possible to get yourself back to an airport within 2 weeks.

BUT, taking two weeks doesn’t leave much of a buffer for things to go wrong, not does it leave time for enjoying some amazing side trips and taking a more relaxed approach. Taking 3 weeks to do this ride is preferable and would definitely allow for a more relaxed adventure in Patagonia.

With three weeks you could: 1) ride the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco and start your ride there (highly recommended); 2) take rest days in places like Caleta Tortel (a town with no roads, only boardwalks); 3) ride the Robinson Crusoe ferry to see the Villa O’Higgins glacier (very cool, but skip it if you are going to go to the Perrito Moreno glacier); or 4) spend a day or two hiking around Cerro Castillo or El Chalten.

It’s also worth noting that there is a wonderful community of bikers riding the CA in the summer who are mostly doing multi-month tours and who would say that even 3 weeks is not enough, and that the northern part of the CA (from Puerto Montt or Chaiten, Chile to El Chalten, Argentina) is also amazing.

It’s possible to continue from biking from El Chalten, or there is a bus from El Chalten to El Calafate (3 hours). From El Calafate you can fly out to major Argentine cities, or you can catch a bus to Punta Arenas (8–9 hours via Puerto Natales).

More on how to do the CA without bringing your bike to Chile:

First, I’d recommend bringing a bike to do this ride if you can. If you can’t though, no problem.

Renting

We only found one vendor that rented bikes for people to take on the Carretera. We had to rent because the ride was the 3rd stop of a 6 stop journey through Latin America so we couldn’t bring bikes. The vendor info is here: http://www.lagosandinos.cl/en_biking_tours_in_chile.php

The good: the bikes were decent, the paneers were great, we could easily return them in Puerto Montt at the end (or leave them in Chalten and pay a $350 return fee… which we didn’t do since SkyAirline let the bikes on for free).

The bad: the repair kit lacked most things we needed, the spare tubes provided busted, the rack on one bike broke because it was welded poorly, etc.

If you rent, bring all your own stuff including full repair kit, seat, pedals, shoes, etc! The cost of renting was 70,000 CHP per week.

Buying then selling or leaving:

As of writing, there were 3 bike shops in Coyhaique: El Figon, Patagonia Cycles, and one other. Figon had tons of used bikes you could buy and spend a day outfitting/repairing for the ride. The others also had new and used bikes and good mechanics. Bikes cost about 40% more than they would in the states new. Used the prices were about the same. You could also buy a new or used bike in Santiago or Puerto Montt (we found Oxford bikes had a huge selection of new bikes). From there you can either ferry or fly it for free to the start of the ride.

There are lots of bike shops in El Calafate and Punta Arenas that might be willing to buy a used bike for cheap, but I have no info on this. It’s probably a better idea to try to buy a bike for less than the ~$350 cost of renting.

More details on nice lodges

There are quite a few VERY nice lodges you can stay at along the way if you wanted. In fact, you could spend two thirds of the nights in nice lodges if you planned the route based on lodge locations in advance. This could be a swanky tour!

  • Bring lots of US Dollars in cash for Argentina. The official ATM ex rate in 2015 was 40% less than the cash “blue” exchange rate. Argentina is very cheap if you buy Argentine pesos with US cash, but expensive if you have to use the ATM or convert Chilean pesos.

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