We continue west and join the Carretera Austral. This isolated road winds its way from Puerto Montt in the north to its southerly limit at Villa O'Higgins, carving its way through a variety of breath-taking landscapes, fording rivers and almost slicing glaciers in two. In the early 20th century there were attempts to colonise this rugged region, however the road was only constructed much later by General Pinochet in a bid to increase the population and to safeguard Chilean territory.
Nowadays, in the Chilean summer months (January and February), more adventurous Chilean families may come here, but otherwise tourists are confined to adventure-seekers, back-packers and enthusiastic, curious travellers like us. Public transport along the road is still very scarce and so you'll travel by private minibus. We'll be able to stop along the way to drink in the views of the awe-inspiring scenery.
The northern part of the road (predominantly unpaved) passes settlements nestled in the thick temperate rainforest, fast flowing rivers and lakes. We stop in one such village, Puerto Puyuhuapi sitting at the head of a fjord. There are thermal springs nearby which you can visit in the evening and soak your rattled bones while enjoying the peaceful setting.
A short distance from the village of Puerto Puyuhuapi is the Queulat National Park, famed for the hanging glacier beyond. There is a 3 hour return walk through the forest to a vantage point of the glacier, where you can watch glacial waterfalls tumble onto the rocks below and form a river which meanders through the valley.