The 1240km Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) is the only way in and out of Aysén by land. It stretches from the fishing hub of Puerto Montt in the north all the way down until it peters out in the frontier gaucho town of Villa O’Higgins in the south. Bumbling down the Carretera Austral’s bumpy terrain past rainforested hills and foggy fjords has become one of the most iconic road trips in South America. But it’s a journey you’ll want to do sooner rather than later.
Now is the time to visit the glaciers that shaped this dramatic landscape before they disappear. Sandwiched between the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields (collectively the world’s third-largest source of fresh water), Aysén is rightfully known as the epicenter of Chilean glacier country. Half of its land is protected in public and private parks (including the newly opened Patagonia Park, created by the late North Face founder Doug Tompkins), and the region is home to a fair chunk of Chile’s 24,133 glaciers.
Many of these magnificent cascades of fast-flowing ice are receding at alarming rates of up to 15 meters per year. But there is a bit of good news: It’s never been easier to see them thanks to new routes developed by local tour operators in recent years to help increase awareness of what we stand to lose.
Here’s how you can explore five of the most impressive glaciers within Chile’s little-visited Aysén region using the Carretera Austral as an artery through Northern Patagonia.