The Chile Adventure – Part 3: Lago Gral Carrera to Coyhaique
By Emily Meyer
We had finally made it to Chile Chico and had crossed the border before they closed so we could make the ferry on time in the morning, everything seemed like it was going to work out perfectly. Since we had been so lucky thus far we decided to chance it again and skip the ferry to drive the scenic route around Lago Gral Carrera instead. In our defense, the ferry was going to take 2 hours and 45 minutes plus another hour and a half of driving and the scenic route around the lake was only 381 km (236 miles) so we figured it would end up being about the same amount of time even though the map said it would take 8 hours. Yet again we were wrong.
This is the story of the day we learned that Google knows more than we do.
We drove away from Chile Chico that morning feeling pretty content with our choice to take the lake road, and it didn’t take long for the road to open to beautiful views of the lake. This place is truly stunning, the lake is actually shared by Chile and Argentina and even has 2 separate names; “Lago Gral Carrera” in Chile and “Lago Buenos Aires” in Argentina. It is the largest lake in Chile and the fourth largest in Argentina, with a surface area of 1,850 km2 (710 sq mi) of stunning turquoise waters. The road itself was a whole other story, it was mostly a dirt path cut into the hillsides surrounding the lake, but the slow pace allowed us to really take in the beauty of the landscape. This is still one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, if money was no object I would probably build a house on one of the islands in the Lake.
After about 3 hours of skirting the lake, we stopped in Puerto Río Tranquilo to refuel and stretch our legs a bit. Puerto Río Tranquilo is a small village on the western shore of the lake, in the summer season it is a jumping-off point for tourists to visit the marble caves of Capilla de Mármol. Since we were traveling in the off-season nothing was open so we grabbed fuel and a coffee at the gas station and went for a walk on the beach. It is stunning in the winter so I can only imagine what it must be like in spring and summer, it is definitely on the list of places to return.
After about an hour out of the truck we decided we should probably get back on the road, we had already taken longer than we expected since we had been driving slow and stopping for numerous photos.
According to the map we still had 200km to get to Coyhaique, our destination for the evening. As we pulled out of Puerto Río Tranquilo the road turned away from the lake and we started to head north on the CH-7 towards the Cerro Castillo national park. The road was in a bit better condition as we moved inland, some sections were even wide enough for two cars.
As we began to climb into the national park the weather also began to change, within about 45 minutes we were driving into snow! It was really surreal to be in the snow so quickly after standing on a sunny beach, but it wasn’t too bad so we weren’t overly concerned. With every kilometer that we drove the thicker the snow became, eventually we found ourselves looking at the tire tracks of the cars in front of us to see the road. We carried on, not knowing how bad this was going to be and now realizing why Google Maps had said this would be an 8-hour trip.
We came upon a line of cars stopped on the snow-covered road, we realized that everyone was stopped to let the cars coming from the opposite direction pass because the road had begun to narrow again. When we came to a stop and we could see the cars ahead of us trying to get further and further off the road, whatever was coming was a bigger vehicle. We maneuvered the truck to the side of the road but as we got close the back end of the truck slid off the road into deeper snow. We tried to get back on the road but we just kept spinning in the snow. We grabbed the tire chains that the rental company had given us to install them, unfortunately, we didn’t have any chain tighteners so we were struggling to get them on tight enough. At that moment a man pulled up in a truck, and after a bit of a lecture on being more prepared offered us some string to help hold the chains on. We graciously accepted and were finally able to pull ourselves out of the snow. We carried on single file through the snow for about an hour, then as quickly as it came it disappeared.
After a bit of driving on the dirt, we stopped to take the chains off, strangely the man that had lent us the string was there waiting to get his string back, we thanked him again as he gave us one last speech about preparedness.
At this point, it was starting to get dark and the road was a combination of dirt, ice, and patches of snow. There were no other cars on the road so we just stuck to the middle and drove/slid our way out of the Cerro Castillo National Park. We finally reached Coyhaique and were exhausted, we just wanted to get to the campground and sleep, but the day had one last thing in store for us! We arrived outside the camping ground to a bridge that was too low for our truck to fit under. We ended up sleeping in a parking lot.
All in all, Google Maps was correct. It did take us 8 hours to drive 381 km (236 miles), but it was one of the most memorable days of the whole trip!
Published in Collaboration with Next Stop Awesome