One of the World’s Most Scenic Highways
It bears several names: Route 7, the Augusto Pinochet Highway (because it was completed during that dictator’s presidency), and the Carretera Austral , the Great Southern Highway. It runs for 770 miles (1,240 km) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. At that point, no roads go farther south. According to Wikipedia:
Carretera Austral has a strategic meaning due to the difficult access by land to a significant portion of Chile’s southern territory. This area is characterized by thick forests, fjords, glaciers, canals and steep mountains. Access by sea and air is also a complex task due to extreme winter weather conditions. For decades, most of the land transportation had to cross the border to Argentina in order to reach again Chile’s Patagonia. These difficulties were deepened during the 1970s due to the Beagle Conflict crisis. In order to strengthen the Chilean presence in these isolated territories and ensure the land connection to the rest of the country, the government planned the construction of this road, which was executed by the Chilean Army’s Engineering Command. More than 10,000 soldiers worked on its construction.
South of Villa O’Higgins is Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and the Torres del Paine, the FitzRoy Massif, and Chilean Tierra del Fuego—but only after a gap of 225 miles (363 km) of dense forests, raging rivers, and high mountains. Eventually, Chile plans to extend the Carretera Austral south to Puerto Natales, but it will take years. Until then, vehicles have to cross over into Argentina and take Route 40 (“Ruta Cuarenta”) through the windy wastes of Patagonia.
I would love to take the Carretera Austral, but even though the road is paved, many of the rivers (such as the Rio Baker) are unbridged and require time-wasting ferry crossings. Add to that the fact that there are no large cities (except Coyhaique with 45,000 population) along the route if something were to happen to your car.
There’s nothing to stop me from dreaming.
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