Colours of the Carretera Austral

We finally made it back across the Chilean border and onto the much anticipated Carretera Austral. This is the road heading north through the Chilean side of Patagonia. We crossed the border over a stretch called Paso Roballos. It was a distinct crossing for its remote setting, its golden, hilly landscapes and a very memorable Border Collie puppy that came to greet us when we got to Chile.

We were the first vehicle that crossed that day, so we chatted with the ‘Carabineros’ and played with the puppy! One of them told us the story of a couple who tried to cross by motorbike with this lively creature. It’s hard to cross borders with animals on any day, but apparently they tried to do it without papers – alas the pup had to stay. He is now having an infancy deep in the wilderness – and he seems to be loving it!

Theo at sunset in the black volacanic ash beach of Santa Barbara, petting a local dog. Chaitén, Chile.
A local dog at Santa Barbara Beach, Aysén, Chile

Border Collies are all over Patagonia, known for their infinite energy and ability to expertly herd the vast quantity of livestock. One thing we’ve noted along our way in Chile especially, is how friendly the dogs are.

On a 12k hike to some caves we did recently, two local dogs accompanied us the entire way! Journey by journey and walk by walk, we’ve realised these dogs are generally very peaceful and content. They seem to have a playful existence, chasing one another, running into the sea, or after the unsuspecting birds, flying!

Image of the Chilean autumnal landscape with a colour palette strip at the bottom that represents the corresponding landscape colours.
Vistas of the Carretera Austral, Chile

In the Aysén region of Chile, the Carretera Austral really took our breath away. Being next to the Pacific Ocean and with an extensive portion of the Andes, the journey north has an entirely different backdrop to the barren estepa of Argentina. This side is more lush and abundant, with a significant amount of water and rain.

We passed along the Rio Baker from Cochrane to Villa Cerro Castillo and we were wowed by the autumnal colour palette at this time of year. Road after road, view after view, the burnt umber, ochre and fiery reds etched in our memories.

We finally managed to get some climbing done in between the rainy days that seem to be the norm in these parts, instead of wind. The Patagonian weather is really a force to be reckoned with!

Maxine standing on a bridge over a stream looking up at the lush Valdivian Rainforest. Santa Barbara beach, Chaitén, Chile.
Santa Bárbara Beach, Los Rios, Chile

Without much notice, the vegetation shifts on the Carretera. the climate adjusts and you realise you are entering the temperate, lush green, rainforest. There is not a guanaco or choique in sight!

From thereon, it’s waterfall after waterfall (so much water) and lush valley, after lush valley. Large green nalca leaves (affectionately nick-named dinosaur food due to their look, size and prehistoric age) are absolutely everywhere here. There are also the odd, sometimes ancient Alerce and Fitzroya trees, which are humbling to be near.

Theo huffing and puffing after a cold swim in front of a waterfall, surrounded by lush green. Cascada La Virgen, Chile
Cascada La Virgen, Aysén, Chile

It’s actually been challenging to find the right places to park, or even stop and enjoy the amazing views along the way here in Chile. The majority of spots are fenced off as ‘private’ or overgrown.

Those reading this in the UK may be familiar with our network of public footpaths and the ‘right [we have] to roam,’ which means that even if land is private, if it has a certain status (grassland, moor, coastline, downs, rivers…) everyone should still be able to access it.

From what we’ve seen in Chile, that isn’t the case, at least in practise. Apart from parks and national parks, the beautiful scenes have been hard to access. Not so many cold swims recently, but we’ve still found the odd treat!

A dolphin's fin sticking out the sea at Santa Barbara beach near Chaitén, Chile.
Santa Bárbara Beach, Los Rios, Chile

As we finish up this post, we’re on the outskirts of a national park called Pumalín. There’s a unique and rather exciting story about it that you can read about here.

We’re parked up at the black ash Santa Bárbara Beach. Today, it’s a calm grayscale, with sprays of green. When we climbed onto the rocks to get our first sight of the Pacific, we were surprised by some fins! Dolphins, sea lions and even whales are here at the right time of year. This place is full of poetry and we’re so happy to spend time here.

Ginormous, green nalca leaves (affectionately nick-named 'dinosaur food') are absolutely everywhere here…