The Carretera Austral starts in Puerto Montt Chile and ends in Villa O’Higgins Chile where the road is blocked by a massive lake by the same name Lago O’Higgins and the even more massive Southern Patagonia Ice Fields. You must understand the work to keep this road open and viable is constant, every year crews are working to improve it, pave it and simply keep it open. It passes through some of the most remote and diverse areas in all of Chile.
There are of-course many passes to travel between Chile and Argentina from the Carretera Austral over to Argentina’s Ruta 40. So, for much of the Carretera Austral you can cross into Argentina to travel further south in Patagonia. However, in Villa O’Higgins there is not a viable pass open during the summer months. Therefore, the last 220km from Cochrane Chile to Villa O’Higgins must be ridden again. That last 220 km from Cochrane to O’Higgins is the most remote and in my opinion one of the most beautiful sections. However, it gets passed up by many riders and overland travelers simply because there is no outlet. Oh, and I forgot to mention there is a first come, first serve ferry in that section that only runs 3 times a day in Summer.
The logistics start to pile up and create doubt for many travelers - Is it worth it?
Let’s discuss the pass that IS right outside of Villa O’Higgins and why it is not a viable option to cross into Argentina during summer. The pass named Paso Mayer is a legal and guarded international pass on both the Chilean and Argentine side. But between the two guard stations of Chile and Argentina there is no road that is passable during the summer because of the River Mayer, which you must ride through, and because of the snow melt the river becomes too deep and too strong to cross. The access road itself is a muddy mess and passable with a 4wd only in winter or the very few riders who are willing to risk it. In fact, the Chilean Carabineros (Police) will tell travelers once you stamp out of Chile and leave the border you are on your own and the Police cannot help you should you get stuck or have trouble. All of this requires riders to back track north on the same 220km and use the same ferry to get back to a pass that is open during the summer.
The Carretera Austral is a destination ride all its own. In fact, Moto Patagonia is likely the only motorcycle tour operator offering a tour of the entire route with off bike activities ranging from rafting the Futaleufú River to private airplane flights over the Southern Patagonia Ice fields. You don’t get access to these things skipping over sections. It’s why we offer a tour of the Carretera Austral all on its own, it’s worth it to spend a couple weeks and ride the whole thing, down and back. Stop at ALL the great locations and enjoy how much there is to do and see in this 1247kms worth of riding. If you have more time, use it on the Carretera Austral, if you are coming to Chile just for this route, you will not be disappointed!