Take the perfect road trip at the bottom of the worldchevron-down

Photograph by Beth Wald
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Glacial waterfalls, tropical plants, dolphins, marble caves: Patagonia’s remote Carretera Austral is an explorer’s paradise.

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Chilean Patagonia is a rugged region—isolated, wild, and ecologically diverse. Where else could you stand next to human-size rhubarb leaves, watching dolphins play in a fjord while impressive waterfalls cascade from the glaciers behind you?

To see it all would take years. But on a road trip down Chile’s Route 7—also called the Carretera Austral—you can pack the Patagonian adventures of a lifetime into a two-week journey. Here are our tips for the perfect road trip at the bottom of the world.

Before you go

Much of the 770-mile, north-to-south route connecting Puerto Montt and Villa O’Higgins is unpaved, so prepare for a bumpy drive. Though it’s possible to navigate the Carretera via public transportation or mountain bike, it’s best to rent a car and drive yourself during the summer (November to March), when more accommodations are available and it’s less likely that extreme weather will affect the roads.

Brush up on your Spanish skills (or download a translation app) and pack your bags with gear suited for Patagonia’s notoriously windy days. Then head to Puerto Montt to stock up on food, repellent for mosquitoes and horseflies, sunscreen, and plenty of cash. While it’s possible to find groceries and ATMs along the way, you won’t meet another big town until 16 hours south in Coyhaique.

The first leg: volcanoes and rainforests

From Puerto Montt, drive eight hours south to Chaitén, a volcano dormant for 9,000 years until a recent eruption in 2008 buried the nearby town in ash. The townspeople...

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