Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Chile related Travel issues, where to go and not to go, what it cost, and anything else to get you there and back in ALL OF CHILE.
Post Reply
Thomas
Rank: Chile Forum Citizen
Posts: 53
Joined: Tue Dec 15, 2009 6:16 am

Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by Thomas » Tue Dec 15, 2009 7:31 am

Hi all
Just discovered this great site a couple of days ago and have some questions.

I am travelling to Chile, 2 adults and 2 kids (4 and 6 years) from mid january 2010 for about 6 weeks. We are renting a car for most of our stay and are (among other plans) thinking about driving down south (our current plans takes us to Puerto Montt) either to Punta Arenas/Torres del Paine or maybe driving down Carretera Austral to visit some of the nature parks/experience the landscape there.

My main question is about car rental. I am planning on renting a Toyota Yaris sedan/Corolla type which will be the most comfortable (and economic) for most of our trip. But is it ok to drive on the CA or to Punta Arenas in this car.(I realize that a jeep/pickup type would be optimal, but is it possible in a "normal" car or is it mission impossible (insane :shock: ?))

How about driving on CA. I have read that roads are closed near Chaiten due to the volcanic outbreak in 2008, is that still the case?

Any general thoughts about driving/staying so far south: safety/security, preparations etc.?

We plan on using maximum 2 weeks for this part of the trip: is that ok for both ideas or is Punta Arenas to far away (what is a realistic time to go from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas by car?)

Finally: We are not really hiking/"camping in tent" types. We generally prefer staying in cabanas/B&b/hotels. Will that work/be possible or do we have to get a tent etc. as backup (we usually dont make reservations in advance, but will if necessary)

User avatar
admin
Site Admin
Posts: 22966
Joined: Sat Aug 26, 2006 11:02 pm
Location: Frutillar, Chile
Contact:

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by admin » Tue Dec 15, 2009 1:47 pm

First, you understand that there are no roads directly linking everything you are talking about?

You have to take a ferry in many places (12-36 hours in most cases), and they can be unpredictable and often only leave from Puerto Montt direct to your destination in the Patagonia.

Second, a sedan could drive down the Austral, but chances are it will not come back. I would say 8-12 inch clearance is about the minimum you want (more is better). A yaras would likly be fairly quickly eaten alive by the Austral as it rides too low, depending on the time of year. It is a wash board in the summer months, with oil pan killing rocks. It can be narrow with soft shoulders at places, and you will be forced on to the shoulders at points because of the big trucks. A two wheel drive vehicle, unless you are very experienced with driving off-road with them, will go off the road and you may not be able to get yourself back on as they will tend to high center on the road side slopes and grator ridges.

There are no tow trucks in the Patagonia. You do have teams of ox normally within short walking distance of almost any point, no matter how remote. They can unstick things most tow trucks would have trouble with.

Third, if you rent you will need need to drive in to Argentina at various points (again because there are not direct roads). You will need to request a power of attorney from the owner in advance to enter Argentina. It is fairly common in the south with rental agencies, they just need time in advance to arrange the documents.

Finally, do not rent anything American made. Rent Japanese for the Patagonia, so you have a chance to of finding parts. They are most common in the Patagonia.

Safety and security are not an issue in the Patagonia, other than just being remote. People are honest and friendly. No one is going to rob you for example. The only real danger is that you will end up getting so relaxed down there, when you get back to say some place like Santiago it makes you an easy target. It has happened to some of our clients after being in the Patagonia too long.
Spencer Global Chile: Legal, relocation, and Investment assistance in Chile.
For more information visit: https://www.spencerglobal.com

From USA and outside Chile dial 1-917-727-5985 (U.S.), in Chile dial 65 2 42 1024 or by cell 747 97974.

susiedillon
Rank: Chile Forum Citizen
Posts: 250
Joined: Wed Jun 10, 2009 11:05 am
Location: In El Campo, Region VII

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by susiedillon » Tue Dec 15, 2009 5:47 pm

My husband and I and two like-minded (ie. hard-travelled) friends made this trip in Jan 2008. It took us 3 weeks of very hard driving to go there and back. We were lucky to have experienced a Patagonian heatwave - low 30's everyday. It made for spectacular views, no clouds or rain, and supremely pleasant camping - we hardly even needed to wear fleeces at night and our department store sleeping bags were more than warm enough. But these kinds of conditions are very unusual - and more likely you will experience wind, rain and cold temperatures, at least occasionally.

BUT, we were 4 adults in a late-model 4-wheel drive Nissan Pathfinder with 6 brand-new TOYO tires. The vehicle was full-to-bustin' with camping gear, cold weather clothing, the extra tire and food in coolers. All four of us had driven the Karakorum Highway between Pakistan and China - recognized as one of the most challenging driving experiences in the world. Well, we all agreed that the CA is right up there. We had numerous punctures ... far too many to count and shredded one tire the first day . It was a write-off, but fortunately it was replaced under warranty after we returned home. Great incentive to always keep those receipts!!!

We avoided the ferry part by driving in from Argentina. Nice trip from The Chilean Lake District through the mountains and back in to Chile (and the CA) at Futu. But all this to say, we did not even make it to the end of the road at Bernardo O'Higgins - almost - but not quite. Why? Because the four of us felt we had used up all our luck with having only the umpteen flat tires and no other problems and that final 400 km round-trip to B.O'H. with no gas stations and few gomerias (tire repair places) just seemed to be pushing our luck a bit too far. And in places like that and times like that you'ld be foolish not to listen to those "inner voices".

All in all, it was a fantastic experience - probably never to be repeated though! There are so many other amazing scenic journeys in Chile that are not quite so remote and "infra-structure-free". With small children in a small car - it could be a harrowing journey even if nothing did go wrong. But as Admin said, this is a ripio road - usually translated as a gravel road but in many places more accurately described as a "rock road".

If you do decide to go, as Admin said, you will need to have Seguro Obligatorio - obligatory insurance for the car, and other documents to say that you have the right to leave/enter Chile with the car. You absolutely need 6 tires, - 2 spares in good shape. Obviously the car should be in good shape too, and should have as high a ground clearance as possible - many 4x4's have steel panels underneath to prevent oil pan and other vital damage from flying rocks. But most of all check out the weather forecast before you commit - It is probably worth noting that there had been no rain even before we got to the CA - so there was no mud to deal with. These mud holes can swallow a car when "provoked", we've been told. And camping with little ones in the rain and the ever-present howling wind down there could be less than fun.

I am usually an optimist by nature, but this is one journey where it is not always an asset to assume the "best" will be the case. Plan for the worst and then you will be covered when something happens. But whatever you choose to do - have fun! Chile is full of other equally glorious places.

User avatar
admin
Site Admin
Posts: 22966
Joined: Sat Aug 26, 2006 11:02 pm
Location: Frutillar, Chile
Contact:

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by admin » Tue Dec 15, 2009 8:31 pm

You know my advice would be for your family to fly in to the city of Coyhaique (jet flights several times a day). You can rent cars there. The roads out of there are mostly paved for several hundred kilometers in all directions. Drive around, go as far as you feel comfortable, and then when ready fly more south.

The Austral highway is something that I think you can do with a family, it is just that you need to go there first and get an idea of what you are dealing with. It is not really explainable in words.
Spencer Global Chile: Legal, relocation, and Investment assistance in Chile.
For more information visit: https://www.spencerglobal.com

From USA and outside Chile dial 1-917-727-5985 (U.S.), in Chile dial 65 2 42 1024 or by cell 747 97974.

User avatar
nwdiver
Rank: Chile Forum Citizen
Posts: 3146
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2009 8:45 pm
Location: Vancouver, BC and Chile where ever it's Summer
Contact:

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by nwdiver » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:55 pm

I see cars down there but most are just driving locally, I use diesel powered 4X4 double cabin pickups. I don’t go through tires often, but I don’t overload either. I have allot of rough road travel here in Canada and would compare it to some of the logging roads on Northern Vancouver Island for roughness. I wouldn’t make the trip with small kids unless you are prepared to camp out due to a break down, you don’t sound that experienced so I’d give it a pass and enjoy exploring the Lakes District and go over to Isla Chiloe.
It's all about the wine.

User avatar
admin
Site Admin
Posts: 22966
Joined: Sat Aug 26, 2006 11:02 pm
Location: Frutillar, Chile
Contact:

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by admin » Tue Dec 15, 2009 11:54 pm

It really is a once in a lifetime trip. You just need to have your brain around just how exposed you are.

In the Patagonia, you can drive around and mistakenly get the impression that it is a rural area, but with infrastructure because there are roads, schools, people, electric lines, etc. Something similar perhaps to the western United States or Canada.

However, when you spend some time there and get to know the area you suddenly realized how on your own you are. How exposed you are.

For example. Say you stop on the highway. Go hiking with your kids just even an hour or two. Say a KM, a mile, or 10 km. Your kid, being a kid, slips and hits their head in a serious way that requires a real trauma center (not a regional hospital like a broken leg). You are now between 24 hours and 3 days to a place that can do serious surgery (cat scans and so on). Your next closes place for moderate levels of routine trauma is Temuco or for extreme cases Santiago.

No matter how much money you have, it will not fix that physical limitation of the Patagonia. Figure 3-6 hours just to reach a place where a cell phone works, find the fire fighters and police, organize and get back to where the person that is hurt is at. Now figure another 6 hours to get them out of there alive (there is no flight for life b.s. when the cloud ceiling can be touched with your hand on the ground), if all goes well even just an hour or two off a main road (much of the Patagonia is horse only access because of the small rivers). Figure another driving to a hospital for stabilization is about 2-4 hours (road conditions are bad always), under the best circumstances because of the roads. Even if you hire a bush pilot to land on the dirt roads (they do that there, and we keep their numbers on hand for clients and really anyone that calls us in an emergency for help), it is all about the weather. It might be 4-5 days before anything can fly in the winter.

Let me put it in more clear terms. Two years ago a plane went down on take off near la Junta. Experience pilot in the Patagonia went down with engine trouble (caused by the volcanic ash, and most will not fly there anymore). They were only a few miles from the town of La Junta, had all the military and people in the area with all the resources that could be mustered looking night and day, but because of the terrain and weather it took 4 days to locate the survivors. A few miles from town. they basically crashed at what we would consider the end of the runway (went over the austral highway, turned, and crashed in less than 5 mins flight time), but took 3 days to find them and another day to get them out.
Spencer Global Chile: Legal, relocation, and Investment assistance in Chile.
For more information visit: https://www.spencerglobal.com

From USA and outside Chile dial 1-917-727-5985 (U.S.), in Chile dial 65 2 42 1024 or by cell 747 97974.

User avatar
fraggle092
Rank: Chile Forum Citizen
Posts: 2197
Joined: Fri Mar 28, 2008 6:35 pm
Location: In Chile

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by fraggle092 » Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:34 am

I spent nearly a year working in Tierra del Fuego recently, and saw a lot of serious accidents, Summer and Winter. The main cause - driving too fast for the road conditions. In the Summer an additional problem is East/West driving. The sun spends a lot of time at the horizon so if you're headed in the "wrong" direction, you will be driving virtually blind without good sunglasses and a clean (and non-pitted) windscreen, especially on dirt roads behind other vehicles.
Bienvenidos a Chaqueteo City.

Après moi, le déluge

Thomas
Rank: Chile Forum Citizen
Posts: 53
Joined: Tue Dec 15, 2009 6:16 am

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by Thomas » Wed Dec 16, 2009 10:38 am

Hi guys
Thanks for the input.
I may have underestimated the challenges of the CA. My plan was to go to Chiloe and then take the ferry to Chaiten and then drive a bit (not he full length of the CA) from there.
But point taken, we will propably still keep the trip in mind, but will definately think about changing to a SUV/4x4 + other preparations before going. But considering the rough ride, we might postpone the CA part a bit, at least until the kids gets a little older.

But thanks again, great forum/advice (will definately be back with other questions :D )!!

bones
Rank: Chile Forum Citizen
Posts: 123
Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:03 pm
Location: San Pedro de la Paz

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by bones » Wed Dec 16, 2009 11:07 am

Why not just do it on a bike? Get yourself a lightweight steel frame, a nice leather saddle (break it in first), some racks and panniers and you're ready! I saw two couples last year with a toddler in tow! One of the couples started in Vancouver BC. That's pretty hard core though.

Admin is right about the washboards and loose gravel. You need a 4wd with good clearance. The paved sections as os when I went are a few KM south of Puerto Montt, before and after Coihaique for a good bit. There could be more now but probably not much more. I guess the most interesting stuff is between Chaiten and Puerto Rio Tranquilo. You could go down to Puerto Rio Tranquilo and then head east along Lago General Carrera and cross to Argentina.

User avatar
admin
Site Admin
Posts: 22966
Joined: Sat Aug 26, 2006 11:02 pm
Location: Frutillar, Chile
Contact:

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by admin » Wed Dec 16, 2009 11:19 am

They have made some very serious progress with the pavement around Coyahique. I think it now extends north almost to the turn-off for puerto cisnes, which is just south of La Junta.

Stay out of Chaiten (get in and get out) unless you are able to do serious hard core provide everything for yourself type traveling. The ferry between Chaiten and Chiloe was sporadic at best before the volcano erupted (the volcano is still active by the way), and the town is still designated an official disaster zone by the government. Living there is technically illegal, in spite of the 300 people that are trying to repopulate it. There is no gas station, electricity, running water, fire department, and so on. Everything is trucked in and all electricity is by generator. The next gas station is La Junta, about 4-5 hours away. The resources that are in the town are there for the people living there. It is not a tourism destination. Be aware also that the ash in the area will eat a motor alive (I would not mention to the rental company you intend to go there, if you do go). You need to clean your air-filters regularly.

That said, visiting a town destroyed by and active volcano would sure give your kids something to talk about with their friends back home.
Spencer Global Chile: Legal, relocation, and Investment assistance in Chile.
For more information visit: https://www.spencerglobal.com

From USA and outside Chile dial 1-917-727-5985 (U.S.), in Chile dial 65 2 42 1024 or by cell 747 97974.

User avatar
admin
Site Admin
Posts: 22966
Joined: Sat Aug 26, 2006 11:02 pm
Location: Frutillar, Chile
Contact:

Re: Advice/car type for Carretera Austral/Punta Arenas

Post by admin » Thu Dec 17, 2009 1:03 am

El P, you have been MIA. Are you back in the country? We need to do ribs and wine at Lola.

I once talked to my brother about modifying a 4x4 for driving life on the Austral (like the off-road race trucks), after seeing truck after truck just disintegrate after a year or two in that neighborhood. My brother is a big hobby customizer of 4x4. He just laughed and said, those off-road race trucks you see on TV get replaced top to bottom after every race. They would not handle it any better than a stock 4x4. I tease him about his 4x4 bronco project that cost more than a new porche (we did the math at around $80,000+ with customize parts bought on ebay and flown in to the country ), but he can not leave Los condes in Santiago because he will never find replacement parts if something goes wrong with it in the rest of Chile.

Find out what they have locally, and do as the Romans do. Especially in the Pata.
Spencer Global Chile: Legal, relocation, and Investment assistance in Chile.
For more information visit: https://www.spencerglobal.com

From USA and outside Chile dial 1-917-727-5985 (U.S.), in Chile dial 65 2 42 1024 or by cell 747 97974.

Post Reply