Carretera Austral; segunda parte.

La Junta-Puyuhuapi-Villa Amengual-Villa Mañihueles-Ñiregua-Coyhaique

Lest my writing fall too far behind my cycling, here’s another collection of photos from the Carretera Austral (more of an introduction can be found in the primera parte). This latest instalment covers the stretch from La Junta to Coyhaique – the most sizeable town on the route, and one that marks the Carretera’s approximate midway point.

I’m now joined by Daniel and Jorge, both from San Francisco, and both aboard Pugsley fat bikes – surely the ultimate riding machines for the Carretera Austral. With pressures running well below 10psi, their gargantuan tyres help smooths out corrugation, and positively hover over deep gravel – taking most of the backache out of the terrain.

If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog posts, I try and keep my While Out Riding facebook page regularly updated, along with posting extra photos. You can find it here


Sad news for dirt road enthusiasts. Sizeable chunks of the Carretera are in the throws of ‘improvement.’ Change is slow going, but eventually the whole road will be paved. In the meantime, egg-sized stones slow standard touring tyres to a crawl. No problems for fat bikes, which eat eggs for breakfast, and spit out gravel like a bad taste.


Jorge, running a lightweight setup on his Pugs.


I’ll admit it. I have Pugs envy. Daniel’s Rohloff’ed machine, with Porcelain rocket and Ortlieb bags. A day on the bike did nothing to help quell my thoughts.


The previous owners of Jorge’s first generation purple Pugs were Rivendell Bicycle Works – they’d given it the drop handlebar treatment.


Both sport Knard 3.8s, positively dwarfing my Ardent 2.4s, shod as they are to 65mm rims. Not that I’m displeased with my setup. The aggressive Ardents are a great tyre for the ride – I’ve heard of several cyclists loosing control on the ripio’s loose gravel corners, and even breaking collar bones.


Regular settlements, like Puyuhuapi,  provide a chance to dry out water-logged gear.


It’s those fishscales again.


Rain brings vibrant colours.


There’s no shortage of bike love on the Carretera, with a dozen or so riders tackling it each day.


Eventually, the rain abates and the sun hats are out.


Then it’s time for the first of the big stuff…


… where treeline merges into glaciers.


A thousand shades of green.


… cupping us to either side.


Wander off to either side of the main road, and there’s a sense of pristine, lush, wholesomeness.


Dropping down towards Villa Amengual. Rugged scenery abounds.


As do roadside flowers…


… adding a dash of colour to Jorge’s getup. They match the purple Pugs too.


Nearing Villa Mañihuales, we venture off Ruta 7 onto what looks like a dirt road alternative, on the other side of the river.


Perfect. Until it ends in a locked gate, forcing us to backtrack. Still, these are the kind of tracks we’re looking out for.


Mañihueles brings bountiful empanadas – one meat, the other apple, on this occasion.


Behind the scenes empanada action.


And, the small settlement is home to one of Latin America’s most welcome institutions – a Casa de Ciclisatas.


This one was set up by accountant Jorge, who in his spare time runs a small community bike shop. Like most of the Casas, accommodation is free for touring cyclists, or by donation.


Duly, everyone signs the visitors book. Sunshine and rainfall – that’s what it’s all about in Patagonia…


Leafing through past entries makes for entertaining reading too.


Keen to avoid any further pavement, we head off for a detour towards Ñiregua,  joined by Axel, a young German who’s ridden down from Northern California.


Sporting skinny tyres and all his load balanced precariously on a rear rack, steep inclines require some heavy duty pushing. But he perseveres regardless. A non-operative rear brake makes descents a little dicey too.


No problems for the Pugsley twins.


Here, the road is our own.


Which was is the wind blowing today?


Bus stops provide perfect shelter from the elements.


A Chilean family invite us to camp in their yard that evening, overlooking the Valle de la Luna. The land they work on is owned by a Coloradan, who visits occasionally.


Together, we share a few rounds of mate, the traditional South American infusion that’s passed round like a peace pipe.  Later they invite us in for soup and homemade cherry jam.


Mountain Man Daniel, whose beard grows in both volume and lustre with each passing day.


And the inimitable Axel.


A late afternoon wander around Ñiregua reveals plenty of photogenic clutter.


Batten down the hatches, or else…


Round here, tails serve as door handles.


Axel and Jorge chew the cud.


Our views…


The Valle de la Luna.


Can’t get enough of that Patagonian light…

For pictures of the last day’s ride to Coyhaique, have a look over here.

Top Tips:

The Casa de Ciclista is easy to find in Villa Mañihueles – just head for the main square. There’s one in Coyhaique too, though it’s trickier to find. Look up Boris on for details.

If you’re escaping a downpour, La Sirena campsite (4000 pesos) in Puyuhuapi has covered camping, internet (from the tent!) and a room with a wood oven stove – perfect for endless cups of tea, and drying clothes. Puyuhuapi has a fine selection of empanadas, fresh bread, and denatured alcohol.

Coyhaique has everything you could need, including a very well stocked bike shop (with 29×2.2 Geax Saguaros for $28, amongst other finds), an outdoor gear store, a well stocked supermarket (peanut butter, yeah!) and plenty more.

Figon Bicicletas:, Fonofax: 234616, Simpson 805, Coyhaique. Later, when my bottom bracket suffered an untimely death, I was able to ring them up, pay electronically, and have a replacement sent on the bus to Cochrane.

Dirt road detours:

There’s a sizeable section of pavement south of Puente Queulat, so to whittle it down, we detoured out to Ñiregua from Villa Mañihueles, via the X-421 and X-445. A few steep hills make it a challenging ride in places, though it later mellows out – wind aside. Just 30km from the Argentine border, the region is known in tourist literature for its Valle de la Luna (not to be confused with the moonscape of the same name in the north of the country). There’s very little traffic, and it makes a pleasant change from the main road. There’s a longer detour, via the X-421, but we wanted to check out the Casa de Ciclistas at Villa Mañihueles. 

Also: Too late, I spotted a 21km detour through a parallel valley south of Villa Amengual. This would be another way to cut down on pavement miles. I was gutted to miss it, as it looked lovely, flanking some white-capped mountains. It emerges 10km north of Villa Mañihueles.


Now that’s a nice surprise. Geax Sauguaros and Akas for $28, at Figon Biclicletas. There were folding versions too, and I noticed 26x3in inner tubes for fat bike riders.

14 thoughts on “Carretera Austral; segunda parte.

  1. Mike Howarth

    Lovely stuff Cass!

    I’m battling my way up from Ushuaia after a last minute trip to Antarctica.

    Currently resting up in Porvenir for a day. The wind is fierce down here, I’m looking forward to hitting El Chalten and the start of the Carretera and some apparent relief from the wind!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Good to hear from you, Mike. I should be in El Chalten before too long. Catching up with some work in Cochrane at the moment, then will cross the border.

      Yes, I’ve heard it’s a little blustery down there… and those cycling north have a bit of a battle on their hands. I’d wish you tailwinds, except that would be headwinds for me (-;

  2. Simon G

    Your killing me with the photos! This is right up my street but I doubt the double trailer is up the ripio…or even if it was I think I would send the boys insane with the vibration. One for a separate negotiated trip 🙂

    Looking forward to seeing the pictures further south. If you end up going through northern Tierra del Fuego I’ll happily send a message to my friends at Estancia Despedida…they are fantastic and it would be a great place to rest up and grab an as ado. Catch you soon and stay safe.

  3. ANdi

    Lovely indeed! Landscape is almost as sweet as it can get I would assert. Uh .. and would you please just do the Pugs deal .. Daumen hoch und Grüße an den Axel! Teach him some bikepacking methods 😉

  4. Vik

    Hey Cass,

    If you were to buy a new smaller format interchangeable lens camera for documenting bikey activities with low light action shots as a priority mission which one would you suggest and what two lenses would you carry?

    My Canon S90 cannot handle this mission and my quandery is spend the $$ on a new lens for my Canon T2I currently with stock lens or buy a new smaller format camera so my rides don’t involve carrying a small baby on my back each time! 😉

    I mostly want to document technical BC day mountain bike rides which feature speed + dark forest.

    Any insight you may have would be appreciated.

    All the best!


    1. Mark_BC

      If I may hijack Vik’s question, I’d say that the new Fujifilm X-T1 would be great for that. Apparently it has a great focus system that’s predictive (it calculates where the subject is going and pre-focuses in anticipation). How that focus system works in low light I’m not sure but I would guess as good as any since it has a sensor roughly the size of the Canon APS-C cameras so the images are good in low light. And Fuji seems to be aggressively coming out with a nice lens set. The X-E2 is the XT-1’s predecessor (less $) and is similar.

      Other smaller interchangeable systems are the m4/3 from Panasonic and Olympus. I believe that the Olympus system is not the best at focus, especially moving subjects. Apparently Panasonic doesn’t excel at that either.

      The Nikon 1 system cameras have great focus tracking but they have small sensors and don’t do well in low light. Plus Nikon seems to have abandoned the whole 1 system, I would consider it risky investing in it.

      There’s also Sony but I don’t know much about them.

      Interested to hear what Cass has to say because I am also thinking of getting something like this.

      1. Cass Gilbert Post author

        I guess a lot boils down to what you want to spend…

        As Mark says, the X-T1 looks like a fantastic camera. I’ve only a little hands on experience with the Fujis, and found them to be excellent in low light, but a little laggy to focus for action shots. The X-T1 is supposed to improve on that. Worth bearing in mind is that all fast Fuji lenses are pretty darn expensive.

        I played around with the EM-1 in the store, and that thing is blazing quick to focus. Not too small, not too big. I think it would make a good action shot camera. The low light capabilities aren’t quite as good as the Fuji (relatively speaking), but clearly it’s going to be head and shoulders above your Canon S90. There’s some beautiful lenses too, but again, the fast ones (which you’re going to want for low light, forest stuff) aren’t cheap. I’d go check out both of those cameras in the store, if you get the chance, and see how they feel. I was certainly tempted by the EM-1. Or, a second hand EM-5? Not quite as nice to use, button placement-wise, but a lot cheaper.

        The advantage to sticking with your Canon is that there’s a far bigger second hand market for lenses. Certainly, it will work out a lot cheaper than investing in a whole new camera system. I’m not too familiar with the crop format lenses, but the 17-40 f4 is nice, and not too big – lots of deals to be had. The 85mm 1.8 is another good one. Moving up from the stock lens is going to make a massive difference.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      If ever you find yourself leaning back to a point and shoot – check out the Sony RX100/s.

      If packability is a real issue, the Lumix GM1 gets great reviews too. It’s tiny!

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  8. Ivan

    Helllo I want to do this in February. I am doing lots of trekking so I have my hiking boots, trekking poles etc with me. Do you know if most people load all the gear on the back of their bike or do they send it to their finish? In my case that would be El Chalten. I would either rent a bike or buy a used one in Puerto montt. Any ideas? Thx. ivan

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Hi Ivan,

      Not sure of the rental opportunities in Puerto Montt. Perhaps best to track one down in the bike district of Santiago.

      I expect most people carry what they need with them, and hire anything extra in El Chalten – plenty of gear/trekking shops there.


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