One of our favourite places in Chile is the southern region known as Aysén. In March 2021 we were able to go back one last time to Cerro Castillo and to discover the final section of the Careterra Austral that we missed the first time. I had been itching to see the fjords and Parque Nacional Queulat and this one week trip combines all three. Leading up to the trip, I was hiking the W, so this time my husband booked everything! Which might explain the luxe accommodations…… Actually it was our last trip so we decided to go all out. Here’s what we did.
We flew into Balmaceda airport early and drove the one hour south to Cerro Castillo. This is a great, paved road but after Cerro Castillo it leads to gravel and washboard sections and north of Coyhaique it turns twisty, dirty and full of holes. This time we rented from Mitta, previously we rented from Traegar and there is a Europecar at the airport as well. We had good service from all of them. I would suggest 4WD for the roads, gravel and traction.
It was still mid-morning so we took a drive down a side road (the X-65) to Puerto Ingeniero Ibáñez. It was a beautifully sunny day and as you drive towards Puerto Ibáñez you are on the top of a plateau with cliffs to your right cut out by the Ibáñez river below, as the road slowly winds downward. We had breathtaking views the whole way.
Cerro Castillo and mountains are at your back but the view as you drive is of stubby trees, rock cliffs and outcrops. We ate at a restaurant recommended by the cabin owner, Doña Leo. It was home cooking and delicious. It is on a little farm so it’s perfect for children with alpacas, dogs, chickens and lots of running around room after a long flight. They also have cabins to rent.
After lunch we took another road back to Villa Cerro Castillo to make a loop out of the drive. We took the X-723 towards the Salto del Río Ibáñez. There is a spot to pull over by the bridge to take photos of the waterfall. Stay on the X-723 towards Lago Central and back to Highway 7. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive filled with twists, turns, hairpin corners along rock walls, rivers and lakes. You are slowly going back up all the way but this time you are driving up from the river along the canyon, whereas on the way to Puerto Ibáñez you are driving down but along the flat top. It was very nice to have both perspectives. Coming back you have stunning views of Cerro Castillo.
On our way back to Cerro Castillo on the X-723 we passed some very nice cabins including Palo Lodge which is on Airbnb. And we saw signs for Cabañas Lago Tamango. We stayed at Chalet Cerro Castillo which is a beautiful cabin on private property with trails for hiking, picture window views of Cerro Castillo and a kitchen-living room you will never want to leave. Clara welcomed us (it was our second time seeing her as she managed the cabins we stayed in the last time!) so it was lovely to see a familiar face. She stocks the kitchen with a wonderful breakfast of all kinds of hot drinks, fresh bread and butter/jams and cereals for the children. The house has everything you could wish for and is so comfortable with local artesian touches. It’s the perfect viewpoint for sunsets and we heard a terrific thunder and lightening storm go shooting down the canyon one night.
The following day we booked horseback riding and a lamb asado. We each had our own horse and we went with a local gaucho, Albanio, his wife and toddler and his father. We had a great day riding up through the back of his ranch looking back over the way we had driven the day before and with amazing views of the mountains. Afterwards, Albanio’s mother served us a delicious home cooked asado meal of lamb and all the trimmings. We had two horseback riding recommendations, one was Albanio (+569 8457 8138) and a second one was Mary Brys (+569 6224 4725).
On the third and final day we did a walk / hike up the back of the property from the cabin. My ankle was still hurting after the W so I hung back with the younger two, but it was a really nice quiet walk through a field and a forest and up to a lookout. You could also do the Cerro Castillo day hike, or the multi-day hike which is a great practice run for the W.
We spent tried to buy local beer from Cerveceria Caiquen but they were all out. And I was looking for homemade tapestries which lead us to a camping area and by a great climbing wall as we saw a lot of people with their climbing gear. If you head through town and then out towards camping Araucaria you will find it. Or ask at the tourism info centre on the main road, they are very helpful.
In the afternoon we went to the museum, which was the former school, and has interesting exhibits on early life in Cerro Castillo as well as the Paredón de las Maños — Pinturas Rupestre which is beside it. There is a bit of a scramble to see the guanaco and hand paintings on the wall and my ankle would not let me do it but my husband and eldest said it was very interesting to see the hieroglyphics.
On day four we said goodbye for one final time to Cerro Castillo and headed up the Carretera Austral via Coyhaique to the boat launch for Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa. We didn’t have time to stop as we had a 3 p.m. ferry booked, but the drive was beautiful as after Coyhaique the road changes to graded gravel and takes you through high lumpy lush hills that make way for the odd snow-capped peak, and then you slowly descend back down to the fjords, following a variety of rivers all the way. We found it difficult to find the boat launch as there is no sign for the lodge. It’s after Parque Nacional Queulat and before the town of Puyuhuapi. It has a green gate and a little lodge house, with a steep drive down to the boat launch. It looks like a private launch.
We all loved our stay at Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa, the children especially loved the kid’s menu and huge glasses of Fanta! The rooms were comfortable and we all enjoyed the hot pools which are nestled along a trail in the woods with views out to the water and fjords. There is also a huge indoor swimming pool and hot tubs. While we were there we did a 4 km hike through the woods and to a deserted small beach. It was quite muddy but the children did well climbing up and over logs and swinging through the trees. We rented kayaks another day and otherwise just enjoyed the facilities.
One day we drove to La Junta so we could say we had finished off that portion of the Carretera Austral! On the way we stopped by at Tepaluma Gin. You can buy the gin at little corner shops in the area. We had texted the owner so stopped in and had a chat and saw their brewing facilities, they have a fascinating story which is on their web site. And a delicious product! We left La Junta and before the big bridge take the side road to the right to Rio Rosselot. It is a beautiful semi-deserted beach (just us and one other family) where you can climb on huge beached logs and throw stones. We did an impromptu family photo session there as it was so pretty. On the way back we had lunch in the town of Puyuhuapi at Cocinera Estrella del Sur where they have tables out the back facing the water and boats. It was one of the best pieces of salmon I have had in Chile. I find they tend to overcook it and hers was cooked to perfection! It was a grandson taking orders and his grandmother in the kitchen and I made sure to compliment the chef on my way.
Rio Rosselot and my salmon!
The following day we spent the day in Parque Nacional Queulat which is another of one of Chile’s many national parks. This was was quite impressive as they had accessible trails from the parking lot to see Ventisquiero Colgante, the hanging glacier — the boardwalk made it easy with children but also for buggies or wheelchairs. We then took the trail (1.5 km or so) to the boat launch and took the boat out to see the glacier. They told us in the 1970s the glacier was all the way out to where the boat left from and now it’s way up at the top of the mountain! You can do a more advanced hike up along the ridge to the top of it.
Our final day we swam and soaked — the children and my husband got out of one hot pools and swam in the river to the next hot pool. We were very sad to leave Aysén as we knew this was our final trip in Chile. When we arrived back in Santiago, the children went back to school for a final few months in Chile before we packed up in July and got ready for our next adventure! Our move to Mexico City!