The best motorcycle routes of Chile, part 1 – Carretera Austral
MotoBirds is going to give you a selection of some of the most incredible motorcycle adventure roads in Chile. Some routes may be known by some riders, others are hidden jewels. Our first story covers the forgotten sections of the famous Ruta 7.
COVID19 Killed Travel…
Sadly, it has not been possible to go to South America since the outbreak of the pandemic: borders have closed, tourism has stopped and most long-distance travel almost ground to a halt. We’ve all suffered.
A silver lining…
This is also the very best time to travel to Southern Chile on a motorbike. It is right in the middle of the austral summer – and in the darkest days of our European winter.
Those prepared to go on such an epic ride can expect incredible natural wonders, wildly different flora and a above all, a once in a lifetime adventure of different dimensions: the colors are more vivid, the landscape is different and the weather is an experience in itself.
Before you pop the champagne thinking you’ll head all the way to the end of the earth, bear in mind that riding to Ushuaia requires crossing into Argentina. And, that still looks impossible… Although we have many talents at MotoBirds, we don’t have yet a corona travel restriction crystal ball to forecast border reopening’s. We’re making an educated guess.
Overlooked but not Less of an Adventure at Carretera Austral
So, what we’ll do is present you a truly amazing alternative. That alternative is not a plan B – it is a terrific adventure in itself. Even more interesting is that this ride unfortunately (or fortunately) gets overlooked by the majority of travellers.
Adventure riders are often pulled by the big Ushuaia magnet, and miss one of the very best motorcycle adventures to be had in Southern Chile. A whole stretch of Ruta 7, and a number of amazing side-roads and loops get bypassed and totally forgotten. It is a shame: the landscapes are wonderful, fuel and accommodation are available, and it is accessible on most motorbikes.
The only downside to this ride, is the obligation to ride back up the other way, after reaching Villa O’Higgins. But the same applies to Ushuaia. What do riders do upon reaching the end of the world? Turn around and head the other way…
However, there is an option to take a ferry between Chaiten and Puerto Montt to shorten the ride back North. Our view is that it’s better to ride back. After all, the scenery is different when you go the other way – and riding is why we’re here!
What to Expect?
The Big Picture
The MotoBirds team’s already been there a couple of years back. You’ll need about 3 weeks to experience this motorcycle adventure that will take you to the most beautiful sights and tracks of Southern Chile.
Below’s what Google Maps will give you. In principle, Google’s your friend (sometimes)… However, it only tells a small part of the story.
The basic route of Ruta 7 runs as shown on the map. If you want to travel this route, we can offer you motorcycle transport to / from Chile with all customs formalities so that you can experience your motorcycle adventure of a lifetime. You can find the transport schedule of motorcycles on our website.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us! We are happy to answer and share our knowledge.
Let’s first start with some practical details.
Stays along the Ruta 7 are mostly in Cabanas. There are a number of choices depending on your budget. Nothing special comes to mind in terms of recommendation. It is cheaper if you can spread the cost between several travellers. Typically, the cabanas are paid by unit, not based on the number of guests. It is usually better to book a couple of days ahead (booking.com or directly) to make sure you end up without a bed. Your best bet for booking is via a platform such as booking.com. At least things are traceable and you can get your money back if there is a problem.
You can forget camping along most of Ruta 7. Firstly, the weather is unforgiving. Secondly, most areas are fenced off. You can certainly take a tent, but our guess you won’t use it at all. Some towns have formal camp grounds. They are all referenced on Google maps and Mapsme.
Chile is not a cheap destination. Southern Chile is comparatively more expensive than the rest of Chile: everything is trucked in, and that has a cost. Also, a number of communities rely on tourism for a living. The season is short, and they do make up for it… Expect prices to be higher than in most European countries. Closer to Swiss prices ☹
There are shops and restaurants in every settlement. There is no need to pack too much food.
Fuel can be found all along Ruta 7. Unless you have a fuel autonomy below 300km, there is no need to bring extra fuel along. Fuel stations are called Copec in most locations. It would be useless to give you the Copec locations in all of Southern Chile. They are easy to find.
Some of the Northern portions of Ruta 7 are paved. The Southern sections are almost all gravel. Most of it is in good or excellent condition.
A word of warning about the numerous bridges. Many are made of wood – wet wood is extremely slippery!
This is a topic that is discussed extensively. Our two-cents worth of wisdom on this. Yes, it rains. Usually not very long. However, make sure to pack your rain gear close by and enough thermal under-layers to keep warm. The times we went riding over there, we hardly ever were completely wet.
The weather can change very fast and it is not unusual to have all 4 seasons in a matter of minutes. Be prepared and make sure you pack 2 pairs of gloves.
Parts & Service:
If you need a part, you’re out of luck… There are essentially no motorcycle service locations after Puerto Montt on this ride. This does not mean you won’t find a motorcycle mechanic or an electrician, but there are no dedicated service points.
Dealers in Chile typically only accept payment for parts (online orders) from a Chilean account. This is an additional complication. If you need more information, feel free to reach out to MotoBirds.
If you happen to need roadside assistance, rest assured you won’t die somewhere by the track waiting for assistance! There is regular traffic on all these tracks. For sure, you’ll be able to hail a helpful soul to get you out of trouble.
Everyone has a favorite tire. We’re not going to go into lengthy tire discussions in this blog. Our personal favourite for this (and many other rides) is the Michelin Anakee Wild: It has a life of close to 8,000 km (unless you slide out of every turn), has acceptable grip on most surfaces and is a good compromise between asphalt and gravel. Regardless what you chose, a mixed terrain tire is your best option.
This ride, to and from Puerto Montt is close to 4,000 km, provided you leave with a new set of tires, you will not need to replace tires.
There are ATM’s only in bigger cities. Make sure you change money before leaving Puerto Montt, or have US Dollars of the latest design with you. The bills must be undamaged, should you need to exchange money along the way. In most places you can pay with “plastic”, including at fuel stations.
Once you are well prepared for your southern Chile tour, you can start your journey! We are not going to give you a day-by-day proposal here. Rather, we’ll highlight what options you have. You can then decide where to stay, and where to have a rest day.
If you’d like us to prepare the entire itinerary for you, with or without accommodation, we’ll be happy to do that: just send us an email with your inquiry!
The starting point of the famous Ruta 7 is in Puerto Montt
Puerto Montt is not really a city you’ll remember. It just happens to be the start of Ruta 7. Hotels are expensive in Chile and especially so in the South. Your best choice for a good hotel that will not be too expensive (and has a guarded parking) is the Diego de Almagro Hotel. Alternatively, if you prefer not to stay in a hotel, there are a couple of good cabañas choices as well. Cabañas are usually a more economical option if you can share the cost of the cabin with others – Cabañas del Puerto for example.
An interesting choice, if you intend to rest a couple of days in the area and are in a small group, would be to book the cabañas at the sea side along the Carretera Austral. All can be found in booking.com.
The central square of Puerto Montt has some restaurants and bars that are worth a visit.
Puerto Montt to Hornopiren
You have two options: 138 km / 106 km
1. First option: following the coast line, along the road V-875, to join with the Ruta 7 later and arrive in Hornopiren. We prefer that option, which is far less travelled. The views on the ocean are nice and there are a number of fishing villages on the way.
2. Second option: stay on Ruta 7 and join Hornopiren. Here you’ll see mostly green on the left and right side of the track. As there’s plenty of that later, again, we prefer option 1.
TIP: do make sure to book in advance and be there about one hour before ferry departure. Some travellers have been known not to be able to get a place for their vehicle!
From Hornopiren, there are two ferries per day. This is an unpaved section, and the wooden bridges are very slippery when wet! Tires on wet wood have about the same traction as on a soaped rubber mat! However, the tracks are well maintained, and even if you have limited off-road experience and happen to be on a loaded bike with a pillion, it is not especially challenging.
On this day, you will be riding in the artic rain forest. It is a unique sight with furs several meters high, enormous leaves and weird vegetation all around. Our impression was always that a dinosaur could cross the track at any moment.
There is a really nice hike to do on the way at (-42.659570, -72.580821): Sendero los Alceres i Sendero Cascadas Escondidas. These two short walking trails give you a fantastic opportunity to walk inside the rain forest and experience it from close by. We highly recommend taking some time for one of these walks.
In Chaiten, the cabanas Volcanes Patagonicos are some of the best around. Or Yelcho en La Patagonia which is a bit out of town.
The next choices to make are here: Chaiten to Futaleufu – 152 km / 340 km
We suggest you take the time to go to Futaleufu. This day is not a long ride, but there are plenty of photo opportunities around. In Futaleufu, there is a fuel station. The laguna Espejo is very beautiful, and well worth the detour. Also, it is a really nice experience to ride to the very end of the track, as shown below on the map. It will give you a good feel of the conditions the local farmers work in, and the views are beautiful with a number of great photo opportunities.
You have two options: overnight in Futaleufu, or ride back (same track to Ruta 7).
If you head back towards Ruta 7, a good place to stop is Puyuhuapi. This is a ride of 340 km, including the detour to Futaleufu. There is also a fuel station in Puyuhapi.
It would be a shame not to spend some time in Futaleufu. It is a famous white-water rafting location and the Laguna Espejo is worth the detour. There aren’t many choices for accommodation – make sure to book.
From Futaleufu, or from Ruta 7, depending what you chose. There is a nice opportunity to leave Ruta 7 and take the X-11 and X-13 tracks. That will lead around Lago Claro Solar, Lago Negro and Lago Rosselot. The views are much better than on Ruta 7 and you’ll be glad you’ve taken this small detour!
You can choose one of three options for your onward journey:
1. Stick to Ruta 7.
2. Follow the track that is along the Rio Manihuales as shown below.
3. From Ruta 7, you have two opportunities for out-of-way loops, as shown on the map.
Pick what suits you, but keep an eye on your fuel autonomy! None of these options will disappoint you, and the stunning views are worth the ride! After doing the detour you picked, you can continue towards Puerto Chacabuco.
From Puerto Chacabuco, we recommend following the road 240 to reach Coyhaique. This is a bigger town, where you’ll be able to refresh, walk around and see more people.
It is quite a touristic town that offers a gateway to many attractions in the area. It’s a good place to have a rest day, recover and have a bigger restaurant choice. If you get to Coyhaique early, or after your rest day, a really interesting ride is possible (157 km), all on gravel. It will take you past lakes, forests and overall is a really amazing loop to finish off the day.
Our next stop is Puerto Rio Tranquilo (216 km from Coyhaique). Close by Puerto Rio Tranquilo are the marble caves. It is well worth a visit. If you want to know more, Google’s your friend! To visit you need to get on a boat ride. There are a lot of operators just by the roadside. Parking is easy, and there are restaurants everywhere. There is usually no need to book in advance.
Your next major stopover could be in Cochrane, 115 km away. The very lats stop is the end of Ruta 7 at Villa O’Higgings. This is also – almost the end of the road 😉
We’re suggesting that you continue from Villa O’Higgings to the real end of the road. It is another 57 km further. It will take you very close to the Argentinian border and it worth the 3 hours this will take you to hit the physical end of the road and return to Villa O’Higgins. The scenery is great and the feeling of being at the end of Ruta 7 is absolutely priceless!
It is advisable to book ahead for Villa O’Higgins. There’s a fuel station, but few accommodation options.
And this is Villa O’Higging! Ushuaia is great, but reaching the end of Ruta 7 is no less of an achievement – especially if you take the time to ride along those detours we’ve highlighted.
Subscribe to our Newsletter not to miss the news and updates!