At the southern end of the Carretera Austral, a visit to Caleta Tortel and Villa O’Higgins, two of the most charming towns with many activities to do in the surrounding area, is a must.
🔎 Check here the quide to travel the Carretera Austral.
Located between the Southern Ice Field and the Northern Ice Field, the towns of Caleta Tortel and Villa O’Higgins have been attracting more and more visitors in recent times.
Visit Caleta Tortel and immerse yourself in one of the most charming towns on the Carretera Austral, where the cypress timber industry is the main activity and this is reflected in the small town.
Villa O’Higgins marks the end of the Carretera Austral, to the south it is no longer possible to drive because of the Southern Ice Field and the lakes. Let’s discover what to see in Caleta Tortel and Villa O’Higgins.
🔎 Check here the Top 5 things to do in Carretera Austral.
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Location to visit Caleta Tortel and Villa O’Higgins (map)
Visit Caleta Tortel, the picturesque village on the Carretera Austral
Caleta Tortel is a small town located at the mouth of the Baker River, the most important on the Carretera Austral.
Although it is a very small place, with few stable inhabitants throughout the year, its particularity and charm is found in the almost seven kilometres of footbridges and stairways with ascents and descents made of cypress wood, very abundant in the area.
These footbridges not only give a different and magical aspect to the village. It also serve to avoid the mud and swamps on the ground, as a result of the heavy rains that occur all year round, and to connect the local people’s houses with the different wharfs.
Therefore, Caleta Tortel has no streets. The wooden footbridges are the link between the urban area. If you arrive by car, you have to leave it in the car park and then walk down the walkways.
It is worth visiting Caleta Tortel for at least one day, although there are several activities that can be done from Caleta Tortel, among them are the following:
- Navigating to the Jorge Montt Glacier: this is one of the first glaciers of the Southern Ice Field starting from Caleta Tortel. It is reached after a few hours of navigation in the middle of a spectacular landscape with fjords and ice floes.
- Isla de los Muertos (Island of the Dead): right at the mouth of the Crochane River, this island attracts attention because of the 33 wooden crosses that date back to the beginning of the 20th century. There are many theories about these tombs, but what is certain is that you will find yourself surrounded by forests of great beauty.
Visiting Villa O’Higgins
After travelling some 1,200 kilometres from Puerto Montt, Villa O’Higgins marks the end of the Carretera Austral and the gateway to visit the glaciers of the Southern Ice Field.
Villa O’Higgins is a small town without much else to do, but where every traveller wants to arrive to have their photo taken next to the sign marking the end of the road, located at Bahamondes Port about seven kilometres south of the town.
From the town you can retrace the Carretera Austral through Chile to the starting point in Puerto Montt or take a plane from Balmaceda airport some 540 kilometres away.
Some travellers cross into Argentina on a journey that includes sailing across the lake to the Chilean customs at Candelario Mancilla, trekking or horseback riding to Laguna del Desierto, sailing from the north end to the south end of Laguna del Desierto, and finally by bus to El Chaltén. An experience worth living if you have the time.
🔎 Take a look at the guide to visit El Chaltén and do some of its trekking.
📷 Take a look at these tours to do the Trek between Villa O’Higgins and El Chaltén with a local agency. Book your place!
– Excursion to the O’Higgins Glacier
From Villa O’Higgins the main excursion is to visit the O’Higgins Glacier, a huge wall of ice three kilometres wide and almost 80 metres high, imposing in front of your eyes.
The excursion starts from Bahamondes harbour and takes about 12 hours. First you sail to Candelario Mancilla, where the people disembark and continue on to El Chaltén, and then you sail to the wall of the O’Higgins glacier among the enormous ice floes that float on the lake.
The excursion to visit the O’Higgins glacier takes place from September to April inclusive.