Bikepacking Patagonia – day 15

Jan 28, 2019 – wild camp to La Junta (80km)

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12-13 | 14

It was another overcast / drizzly day.

I ended up cycling all day with only 1 major stop. I didn’t see any hiking trailheads through this section.

It’s difficult and costly to build & maintain trails in this impenetrable foliage.

The further I go south, the less the traffic.

The only memorable part of the day was visiting Villa Santa Lucia.

The town was devastated by a flood and mudslide on December 16, 2017. High tourist season.

21 people killed. 

The cause was heavy rainfall plus the detachment of a glacier.

Click PLAY or watch some of the mudslide on YouTube.

Here’s one house that has not yet been repaired in January 2019.


But people are still rebuilding.

As it happens, a lot of cyclists stop at Villa Santa Lucia taking refuge from the rain by setting up tents under tarps.

I was happy to finally reach pretty La Junta (pop.914).

As rain and wind were still getting worse, I decided to get a room.

Lonely Planet and the tourist information kiosk recommended Hospedaje Tia Lety. It’s a homely, friendly place. But I left disappointed: wifi didn’t work; showers alternating from freezing to boiling.

As I couldn’t use the kitchen and was starving, I decided on the most decent looking restaurant in town.

I was the only customer at 8pm during high season. 🙄

Food was … OK.

But I did make some miles over the past 2 days.


Bikepacking Patagonia – day 14

Jan 27, 2019 – Chaitén to wild camp 70km

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11 | 12-13

I hung around the hosteltaking advantage of wifi — in Chaitén until about noon before finally heading south.

The road was paved all day. 🙂

This is the flattest, most open Carretera Austral, so far.

I stopped in Amarillo for a hot, fresh empanada. Surprisingly it’s my first empanada this time to Chile. Some I find boring and doughy. This one was great.

In Amarillo you can buy an old airplane. A true crash pad.

I diverted into the El Amarillo sector of Pumalín Park. There are 3 hikes here the longest (20 hours) taking you to the glacier in the distance.

I decided to do the closest, Darwin’s Frog trail.

An interpretive walk, you get information at the kiosk near the park gate.

This land had been cleared for agriculture. The Foundation bought it back from the owners and are now letting it return to wilderness. And that’s good for the endangered Darwin’s Frog.

I rode 8km return of gravel through this pretty landscape to get to the trailhead.

As everything Pumalín, the hike is very well done.

Continuing south there was less traffic. Few people. Wide open spaces.

Big mountains. Huge lakes. Big rivers.

Having had a big breakfast, I stopped only one other time for a snack. Ham pate on boring bread. Riding a bike all day, you need the alcohol disinfectant close at all times.

I set up the tent next to a river by 8pm.

Here’s my vista.


Bikepacking Patagonia – days 12-13

Jan 25-26, 2019 – Caleta Gonzalo to Chaitén 70km

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11

It’s been a year since Pumalín became an official National Park. One of the world’s great conservation stories.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Pumalín gets around 6 meters of rain / year!

Though it had been lovely weather for me so far in January, here it started raining hard in the morning.

I had a C$22 breakfast at the only restaurant in the park, hiding from the downpour.

Happily it cleared up about Noon and I began my return to Chaitén, hiking en route.

First stop was the Laguna Tronador trail. Physically demanding. Gorgeous.

Next the very popular, short Alerce trail. This park protects the Alerce trees, the largest in South America. They grow to more than 70m with up to 5m trunk diameter. Charles Darwin reported finding a specimen 12.6 m in diameter.

They had been heavily logged before conservationists weighed in.

One is 3622 years old, the second oldest fully verified (by counting growth rings) age for any living tree species, after the bristlecone pine.

Weather was now excellent for riding. The only annoyance pesky horseflies.

My third hike of the day was Cascadas Escondidas trail. I’d actually planned to camp there as well, but it was too crowded.

Late in the day I pushed on to Lago Blanco campground.

I love sites which keep my tent under roof. If it does rain, no worries.

Fantastic as they are, these sites are not inexpensive. This one is C$32 / night. The Park guys didn’t collect this night, however. Perhaps I arrived later than they had made the rounds.

A beautiful, calm night. Superb morning.

Next morning I stopped at Volcano campground for the bathroom. Gorgeous. The best of about a dozen camps in this part of Pumalín, I’d say.

It’s alongside the Park airstrip.

I walked their excellent interpretive trail.

My only major hike of the day was Chaitén Volcano trail. Fantastic. And very popular.

I arrived back to the hostel in Chaitén about 3:30pm. Rene from Germany and Victoria from the States were just heading off to Amarillo Hotsprings about 30km away. I hopped aboard the shuttle van with them. A long soak is the best way to remove dust from nails and pores.

Another big meal at the hostel.

Another glass of wine at sunset.

This trip is going well. 😎

Bikepacking Patagonia – day 11

Jan 24, 2019 – Chaitén to Caleta Gonzalo 60km

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8 | 9/10 | 11

I ate a half kilo of frozen vegetables. And drank a half litre of wine the night before heading to hike Pumalín Park.

The hostel in Chaitén was friendly. AND had fast wifi.

One of my main goals for this trip is to hike Pumalín.

Steep forest-covered fiords, lush temperate rainforests, glacial-topped volcanoes, and gushing waterfalls everywhere.

Pumalín protects 715,000 acres of flora-rich Valdivian temperate rainforest, home to many endemic species including some of the planet’s last stands of the endangered, enormous, millennia-old Alerce trees.

Parque Pumalín is split into two sectors – north (norte) and south (sur):

Most of Pumalín Norte can only be explored by water. Normally by kayak or boat cruise.

Pumalín Sur is then split into two sections with … Chaiten sitting in the middle. As you head south, the first part of Pumalín Sur that you encounter is between Caleta Gonzalo and Chatien – here you find the hikes to waterfalls and the Michimahuda and Chaiten Volcanoes.

Swoop Patagonia

The highway is paved leaving Chaitén, but quickly changes to dusty, narrow gravel.

No cyclist enjoys eating the dust of big trucks.

You can see Chaitén volcano still steaming. And some of the damage from the 2008 eruption.

It seemed a long cycling day to reach Caleta Gonzalo, the main park headquarters. It’s expanded a lot since I was here 15 years ago.

They now have an expensive restaurant, cabins and an impressive visitor’s centre.

I jumped off the bike and immediately set off on the fantastic Caleta Gonzalo Cascada trail.

It’s a rough, adventurously dangerous, scramble up to this waterfall.

I camped at Caleta Gonzalo.

It’s a huge, impressive campground, very popular in January. Here’s the staff vegetable garden.

It was starting to get darkish by the time I finished dinner on the creek. About 10pm. I love the long days in Patagonia.

Bikepacking Patagonia – days 9/10

Jan 22-23, 2019 – Parque Tantauco to Quellón, ferry to Chaitén

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6 |7/8

Plan is to catch the ferry over to Chaitén where I’ll rejoin the Carretera Austral (highway 7).

Departing my campsite in Tantauco, I was in great spirits.

I had only 38km of rough gravel park road. Then 14km of highway to make Quellón, Chile. An easy cycling day.

The following morning I’d be catching the ferry.

I was in no rush to get to town. Lonely Planet is normally fond of weird, remote places. Yet they call Quellón a ‘drunken-sailor‘ kind of a place. A ‘get-in, get-out sort of town‘.

For one thing there are no hostels. ☹️ I stayed in an unfriendly hotel called El Chico Leo.

Quellón did seem to live up to billing. A rough port town. Plenty of daytime drunks with nothing better to do. Rundown and weather beaten buildings.

I did my last shopping in Chiloe before heading back to the wild Carretera Austral.

Taking maximum advantage of (perhaps) my last speedy internet, I slept only about 4 hours.

Weather was brilliant next day. So fine that even Quellón looked appealing.

Ladies and girls sell / swap used clothing in the park.

This is a fishing port.

Surprisingly I was the only cyclist making the crossing Quellón to Chaitén on the ferry this day. In either direction. This route is only offered a few times a week. And only during summer.

The volcanoes are gorgeous, of course. Especially Corcovado. And And many are active.

Chaitén is a travel hub with a population of about 3500. When I was here 15 years ago, it wasn’t much to see.

The town was evacuated in May 2008 when the Chaitén volcano erupted for the first time in more than 9,000 years.


The government wanted to rebuild 10km north. But citizens decided to stay … even though the volcano is still smoking in the distance. 🙄

As a result, Chaitén has a fresh, exciting vibe.

I’m shocked, in fact. It has speedy internet. Decent grocery stores. OK restaurants.

I’ll be backtracking tomorrow to Pumalín Park. That visit is my #1 goal on this cycling trip.

Bikepacking Patagonia – day 7/8

Jan 20-21, 2019 – 98km Castro to Parque Tantauco

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5/6

I’d gotten all the information I needed at the Castro office for Parque Tantauco. I anticipated a first class operation. 🙂

For some reason cycling felt easy today.  Perhaps the rest in Castro helped.

The ride was 80km of minor highway. Then 18km up a hilly gravel road. I didn’t stop for photos.


About 7pm I rolled up to the Park gates. Staff was playing with a family of foxes!

Too late in the day to make it to the first campground, friendly Rangers recommended I camp just outside the gates. For free.

Next morning I enjoyed a leisurely 20km ride stopping frequently to enjoy the sights. 😀

flush toilets!
800 years old
Lake Yaldad

It’s not crowded. There are only about 8000 visitors a year. This is considered a remote part of Chile.

I didn’t think the 38km road to Lake Chaiguata was particularly difficult in dry weather. Apparently you need a 4-wheel-drive when it’s wet.

I carried up only what I needed for one night. Stashed the rest of my kit back by the Park gates.

Tantauco Park is an attractive ecotourist destination due to the remarkable biodiversity of its nearly untouched Valdivian temperate rainforest.

Chaiguata is one of two campsites. The other is accessible only by floatplane, boat  … or 5-day walk.

Lake Chaiguata campsite

The billionaire President of Chile developed this Park privately. I have to say it’s MUCH grander than if the government of Chile developed it.

Park entrance is C$7.

The campsites are fantastic. As good as anywhere in the world. At C$30 / night each, they are expensive for Chile. It was raining as I set up.

Unique are these domes available for rent.

There are hot tubs for rent too.

My favourite spot was the expensive restaurant.

I highly recommend visiting unique Parque Tantauco. It’s a memorable experience.

Bikepacking Patagonia – day 5/6

Jan 18/19, 2019 – 85km to Castro

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

After the relative ease of my previous leg I was overconfident for Ancud to Castro.

It didn’t start well. My front tire was low. … A slow leak?

I had to stop at a hardware store to buy more bungee cords. For some reason my ugly load wasn’t stable today.

And — though the day was atypically lovely again, there simply wasn’t anything unique on the ride. I took only these 3 photos.

Though the highway shoulder was mostly good, I still struggled to make more than 10km / hour into a slight headwind.

I was happy to return to Castro (pop 40,000), however. Tourists love the bustling capital of Chiloe island.

One big problem. Looking for my Hostal … Google Maps offline sent me to the wrong address. It was another accommodation with slightly different spelling.

Happily my cellular data saved the day. I telephoned my host for the night and he directed me up the STEEPEST hill in Chiloe. I could only barely push the bike up this monster end-of-day.

I decided to take a zero day 6. Castro is a great place to hang out and recover.

Despite the hill, Hostal Altos de Gamboa turned out to be a terrific, relaxing and friendly overnight. I got my own room even though I’d booked a cheaper dorm bed online.

It’s more of a homestay than hostel.

For my day off highest priority was to get my ferry booked from the island back to the Carretera Austral … where my fellow cyclists are no doubt suffering more than my good self. 😀

The ticket office in Castro was open on Saturday. Was super efficient. And super helpful. All of those were a happy surprise for this tourist. Having gone a week unable to buy a paper map, this office gave me one for free.

Last year when I was here researching this option for accessing the Carretera Austral I thought Castro was remote. I realize now that almost everything is available in Castro. The mall looks like Santiago.

The only bike shop in town was closed. That was a minor disappointment.

But I got over it by going site-seeing.

Everything is made of wood here. Buildings burn down all the time.

Boats are everywhere. Some sunk and/or abandoned after big storms.

With my groceries I bought a half kilo of flash frozen vegetables. And cooked them up with grilled chicken. This might be the last vegetables I see for a while.

Tomorrow I’ve got a big cycling day to reach a northern trailhead of Parque Tantauco . One of the world’s 25 Biodiversity Hotspots, it’s a private natural reserve created by business magnate and President of Chile Sebastián Piñera in 2005 in order to protect 118,000 hectares of the region’s unique ecosystem.

Tantauco doesn’t see many visitors in a year. The southern half is accessed only by boat or floatplane.

I’ll start hiking in on Jan 21st. How far I get depends on the quality of the trail and the huge, annoying horseflies (tabanos) which start to disappear end of this month.