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March 2004

Austral Road Travel Diary

For a long time I had wanted to make a trip down Chile's "Carretera Austral" (Austral Road) and the Patagonia. But due to a chronic space disorientation, I had not dare take such a complex itinerary with all my family.

By Cecilia García-Huidobro FzK

A chance meeting with an old friend who I had not seen for a while, helped to make this wish a reality: she's been living in Coyhaique for some years, where she manages a tourism office, organizes trips around the zone, coordinates flights, rentals, hotels, journeys and ferries according to each passenger's requirements. So I kept constant e-mail contact with Rosario Robert (Aisén Bridges, 56-67-233302 / for two months, planning all of the trip's details and its different possibilities.

February is high-season, so we had all the reservations ready and payed for. Three days before leaving, my husband had to go through an operation for a hernia. But he refused to stay in Santiago, so we left along a very enthusiastic convalescent. We landed in Balmaceda, where we had a jeep waiting for us. Don't you ever think you can make this adventure in a car that can take anything but rough treatment! All we had ahead was gravel and calamine.

We drove through the villa of Cerro Castillo, a very beutiful scenery where you can stop and take a look to a site that maintains cave paintings. The journey follows through the Murta river, Puerto Tranquilo -where you can take a boat and have a look around the impressive natural marble cathedrals. With its thousand-year-old geological formation, the famous Marble Chappel is a must. Then we drove around General Carrera Lake until reaching Puerto Bertrand. Because of the road's condition, these 159 miles took us almost eight hours. So it was a relief to get to the Patagonia Baker Lodge (56-67-411903) and be hosted by its charming owners, Juan Roth and Carlos Noriega, who gave us the best possible pisco sour. We ate divinely and slept like children in comfortable rooms. The next day, the landscape showed itself in all of its beauty: the torrential Baker river and its emerald water facing the Northern Ice Camps. The day was splendorous and intensely hot. Such luck stayed with us for the whole trip.

The next two days were dedicated to fishing and some journeys around the zone. I was impressed by the tale of Carlos Noriega, a Mexican who left the vice-presidency of an important bank in his homecountry just to come and live at the Baker River. The right thing to do would have been to go from there to Caleta Tortel, but that would have taken us eight hours round trip, so we decided to just reach Cochrane, due to my husband's recent operation.

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