Roadtrip through Patagonia from Puerto Montt to Cochrane

“First day back in S. America. 24+ hours of traveling. Lost baggage. No rest. No clothes.”

This was the first few lines of my new journal when I arrived back in South America for my solo 6 week journey. Traveling alone was something I needed to do–and wanted to do. But thankfully, I got to spend a wild ten or so days with Emilio and his dad tromping through Chile.

We drove north past Viña del Mar and Valparaíso where Argentinians, Chileans, and gringos alike flock to for the New Year. This was December 30. The beginning of my travels during my break in between two semesters abroad in Buenos Aires. We visited a small island supposedly home to a community of penguins (hence its name Penguins’ Island). Didn’t manage to see any penguins, but while walking over these rocks, out of nowhere a sea lion sprang up out of the cracks from its nap to flop down by the water.

Clearly loving the camera in this moment.

01_maitencillo near penguin island in chile
Penguins Island, Chile

Looking over the bridge into the water where we learned how to river kayak for the first time.

Futaleufú is known for some of the best rapids in the world, which means it’s a great place for rafting and kayaking. We took a lesson on a duckie–which is like the river kayak but your legs aren’t covered. It’s great for beginners like me who are trying to learn how to kayak because with the duckies, you don’t have to learn how to flip upside down underwater for your first go. And, in general, it’s easier to balance and navigate.
After quitting the swim team, I’m drawn to learning all the other water sports I can and beginning to learn river kayaking is just that. The beginning.

The major rapids are on Futaleufú River. We kayaked an offshoot of that with the more tame rapids. We cut through the mountains on the clearest, bluest water in the world.
Despite the clearness, it isn’t as spotless as it used to be 30 years ago. A species of algae called didymo has taken over, covering several parts of the riverbed with a brown, slimy mess. It’s other common name is rock snot–but that’s according to Wikipedia so take with that what you will.

It spread to Argentina and Chile from Australia and New Zealand from fly fishing equipment. Moral of the story: wash and disinfect your outdoor gear to avoid spreading invasive species!

05_futalefue playing with light and ISO
Futalefu, Chile

Ventisquero Colgante — the hanging glacier.

You can see where it gets its name, as it literally hangs between two mountains. Beneath, a massive waterfall leads to a lagoon. The hike to get to this viewpoint was only a couple of hours, but it’s possible to get a boat tour from a different viewpoint as well.

Near the trailhead, there was an small museum showing some historical photos of the glacier. I was shocked to find that the photos from the 1940s showed a glacier which rose about the mountains and covered the front crawling all the way through a majority of the lagoon.

We all know glaciers are melting. But seeing this one in real life, being amazed by it, then looking at the photos of a glacier several kilometers larger was like watching climate change happen before you in an instant.

06_hanging glacier
Quelat National Park
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Puerto Cisnes, Chile

From Puerto Tranquilo, Chile, we took a small boat to these beautiful marble caves on Lago General Carrera. The colors went on and on like this, and you could see straight to the bottom of the lake since the water was so clear.

We were surrounded by these caves, some which dug deeper into the mountains around the lake than others. The dirt road to get to the small town of Puerto Tranquilo was, for me, the bumpiest and toughest part of the dirt road journey.

Views like this make it worth it, though I recommend four wheel drive if you’re going to drive here on your own.

09_marble caves near puerto tranquillo
Marble caves near Puerto Tranquilo, Chile

One more shot from the marble caves.

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Marble caves near Puerto Tranquilo, Chile

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the concept of “once in a lifetime opportunities.”

If something is so great as to be once in a lifetime, then why would we ever do it once? Why would we accept that lifetime chance or opportunity as a one time thing, a one time round trip ticket, one shot at something greater.

We claim that this one time was the time of our lives. Why would we not claw our way, push and pull to make “once” plural. Greater than one. Do it again. And again. And again.

14_go where the wind blows waterfall in patagonia
Near Puerto Bertrand, Chile

In the Chacabuco Valley in southern Chile, hundreds of guanacos graze in the Patagonia Park.

The park is working on becoming an official national park by rebuilding,or perhaps “rewilding,” the valley. Before it was established as a park, sheep and cattle took over the grasslands pushing the guanacos up higher and higher. The conservation group Conservacion Patagonica sold off livestock, took down fences, and restored grasslands and forests to recreate what the valley once was.

This photo shows just a few of the hundreds of guanacos we saw in this growing and changing park. Other animals you can see in the park include pumas, Andean condor, black-necked swan, Chilean flamingo, and more.

16_guanaco sillouhette action daddy aint happy
Chacabuco Valley, Chile

A lone guanaco at sunset.

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Chacabuco Valley, Chile

We were driving along this dirt road in between Chile and Argentina for hours. It was where Patagonia Park (where the guanacos roamed) ended and a strange, barren land began.

All that was around were thousands of sheep and occasional herds of cows until we came across a flock of at least 40 condors. It was shocking. I didn’t know they ever fed in groups like that.

The flock was feeding on a small horse, who had clearly been dead for a while. I wondered how it died. When we stopped the car and got out to watch, groups of them flew away.

Luckily, I captured a photo of one in flight just over the distant mountains.

Paso Roballos — a long dirt road connecting Argentina and Chile

Below is the Mars like land near this border crossing. Or at least this is how I would picture Mars. This dirt road was so dead, empty, and barren, it made me wonder what would happen if our car broke down in the middle of this strange place.

There were scattered streams, like the one in this photo, which sometimes provided an instant oasis for plant growth–an out of place explosion of green.

19_mars land no mans land a peek of water
Paso Roballos — or what I like to call the Mars land

We crossed the border of Argentina once again (we were crossing back and forth more than I’ve made clear in this set of photos).

This was near the end of the Patagonia roadtrip, but not quite. Our roadtrip from this far down south back to Santiago was a wild ride. More on that in another post.

17_entering home again mmm mars land and argentina las pampas await
Crossing the border into Argentina

6 thoughts on “Roadtrip through Patagonia from Puerto Montt to Cochrane

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