Cycling Chile's Lakes and Islands,
Volcanoes, Wildlife and Fascinating Towns

The next stage of our journey was cycling Chile's lakes and Islands.  We crossed the Andes and the Argentine border descending into an altogether different environment to the one that we had left behind us. Much greener with more farming, both arable and dairy. There was a significant German influence here as evidenced by the food in some of the restaurants and the style of housing.  Our ride took us across the width of the country skirting around beautiful lakes and the amazing Orsono volcano, onward to the city of Puerto Montt, then crossing the Canal de Chacao to Pargua on the island of Chiloe. From there we traveled 200km south on Highway to Quellon from where we tookt an overnight ferry back to the mainland and the start of our Carretera Austral stage.

Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.

Cycling Chile - Day 1 - Brazo Rincon, Argentina  to Camping Olvides, Chile

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Cycling Chile - Day 1 

A long 88km day, leaving Argentina and entering Chile for a spectacular downhill to Lake Puyehue, but first we had to contend with a 500m climb in hot sun and the dreaded "tuberos".

Ride Description

Our Cycling Chile ride started at the Argentine custom control  which was less than 1km from the campsite and we arrived about 9.30. There were already a lot of cars queuing but we rode past them and joined the line at passport control. It was not long before the passports were stamped and we set off to climb the mountain.

It is a relatively easy climb, 500m in 17km to the Cardinal Antonio Samore Pass and the actual border at 1321m. It could have been a pleasant ride. The sun was shining, the views were lovely and the traffic, having been held up at customs, was light and well spaced out. Even the gradient was fine in bottom gear.

Climbing to the borderClimbing to the border

But to the blood sucking insect population these two, slow moving, sweaty cyclists were breakfast lunch and dinner. They attacked us in groups, some approaching at the front to distract you while the others went to the back to bite through t-shirt and shorts. The smaller ones would land on the back of your hands and bite through the glove mesh. More energy was expending swatting and avoiding them than in the climbing.

Pesky BitersPesky Biters

At the border sign we snapped a couple of quick pics before starting the descent so they could no longer keep up with us. On this side of the Andes the forest was lush, broad-leaf with ferns and many flowers.

Argentina- Chile BorderArgentina- Chile Border

Twenty kilometers down the hill, we arrived at Chile customs control. Getting into Chile was a much more onerous affair. The queue was long and slow moving, with only one passport desk out of eight open. Not only did we need the entry visa stamps but they also required the bicycles to be registered as they are counted as 'vehicles'. All that remained was for all our panniers to be unpacked and searched by an immigration official with a torch!

Andean descentAndean descent

After this three hour delay we continued the descent to Lake Puyehue, turning west to ride the roller coaster road along it's shore. 

Lake PuyehueLake Puyehue

We were both a bit tired and cranky from the delays but as we breasted yet another long slow climb the amazing view of the Osorno Volcano with its snow covered cone made it all worthwhile.

Osorno VolcanoeOsorno Volcanoe

From there it was an easy flat ride to the campsite, a neat and tidy place with shady trees on the shore of Lake Puyehue. The toilets and showers were good too. Unfortunately the restaurant was shut by the time we were ready to eat. With no shop nearby we had to beg the campsite owner to sell us something for dinner. The two tender steaks and vegetables were very tasty!

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Cycling Chile - Day 2 - Camping Olvides to Las Cascadas

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Cycling Chile -  Day 2 

A 78km easy ride, partly off-road, but mostly on tarmac always in view of Mount Osorno.

Ride Description

The most pressing task of our Cycling Chile ride today was to get Chilean Pesos, the first ATM being at Entre Lagos, about 20km from the campsite. With money, food supplies and a cafe stop ticked off, we headed south on the U 51. We feared it would be ripio, but in fact it was smooth tarmac all the way. The road rolled through very English looking countryside, with cows grazing on lush green pasture and many broad leaf trees.

Like EnglandLike England

At the head of Lake Rupanco there was a lookout which promised views of five volcanic cones. With everything obliterated by low cloud, Steve had to add interest to the photo!

No views todayNo views today

Beyond the lake the road was flat and straight, the only other traffic was the many articulated lorries carrying tanks of fish to the fish farms. Lunch was empanadas and while we ate the tent dried a little, hung over a gate.

The afternoon was mostly downhill towards Lake Llangiuhue. Las Cascadas is a touristy village with a small campsite. There were two other English speaking couples there and we enjoyed an evening sharing our traveling experiences. As it was a Friday night, most of the other campers were there to party, so we got little sleep.

Typical churchTypical church

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Cycling Chile - Day 3 - Las Cascadas to Ensanada

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Cycling Chile - Day 3 

A short, easy 29km  ride along the lake side from one noisy camp site to an even noisier one.

Ride Description

After such a bad night we abandoned the plan to stay longer and, on the recommendation of another traveler, continued southwards along the lake to Ensanada. Before leaving we rode up to see the waterfall for which the town is famous; 3km uphill on a rough track and 1.5km on foot but worth all the effort.

Las CascadasLas Cascadas
Well tended gardenWell tended garden

The short ride down the lake shore was on a dedicated cycle lane, separate from the road which was busy with weekend traffic. As we arrived in town it was obvious that this place was not going to be the quiet haven of peace that others had experienced mid-week.

First we found a campsite that was thronged with motorcyclists where a stage was being erected for a concert. Further down the lane was another site, already packed with tents so close together there was hardly space to walk. The site owner pointed us to a small vacant space under an apple tree.

Steam enginesSteam engines

That evening we met up with Alexis and Paul, who we had met the night before, for dinner. Returning to our tent at 10.30pm we discovered a group of eight setting up their tent about 1m from ours. They then lit the barbecue, suffocating us with the smoke, and partied for the next six hours. The concert down the road continued until 5am.

Alexis and PaulAlexis and Paul

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Cycling Chile - Day 4 - Ensanada to Puerto Varas

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Cycling Chile - Day 4

An easy 38km along the lake side with wonderful views, time for a swim and cafe stops.

Ride Description

There was a return of those bad tempered cyclists this morning, as we queued with the masses of other campers to use one of the three toilets and four sinks on the campsite. We said good bye to Alexis and Paul who were waiting for a lift at the roadside and continued on the bike lane along the southern edge of the lake.

Ensanada? RubbishEnsanada? Rubbish

It was a hot and sunny Sunday, with lots of families out for the day together. At lunchtime we stopped to eat our picnic at a small lakeside beach. A family were pitching a gazebo and came over to insist we sat in its shade to eat.

Planning to camp again, we stopped to enquire at two campsites, the first was full and the second one wanted to charge the equivalent of £25 for the night. With an urgent need for quality sleep we carried on into the town and booked into a hostel, paying £35 for a comfy quiet double bedroom.

On the road along the lake was this most amazing building. A former pumping station, it has been converted into a novel museum/gallery by a local artist who likes collecting unusual things

Puerto Varas MuseumPuerto Varas Museum

Beer, wine and a fabulous meal in a restaurant with views of the red sunset on the Osorno volcano were the ideal antidote to two disturbed nights.

We retired to the lovely old Hostel Klein for a good nights sleep.

Orsono sunsetOrsono sunset

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Cycling Chile - Day 5 - Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt

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Cycling Chile - Day 5

An 18km jaunt down to Puerto Montt. Initally nice countryisde but busy road becoming more industrial as we approached Puerto Montt.

Ride Description

Thinking we could avoid the heavy traffic on Route 5 highway, we set off on the more minor V505, but this was still busy with lots of heavy traffic. Approaching Puerto Montt there are lots of industrial areas with fast, unforgiving traffic and no hard shoulder.

We had booked the Hostal Lagunitas for three nights on the outskirts of the city. It was a lovely, friendly place but we hadn't realised that the center of town was down a very steep hill. So cycling there was easy, but the return trip was not!

Once the gear was unpacked, we cycled down into town to the Tourist Information office to get up to date information about the closure of route 7, following a mud-slide in December. The road was still closed just south of Chaiten, so that meant booking a different ferry to a more southerly port.

Next task was to get more cash so we went to an ATM. It had run out of cash (a common problem in Chile). Pushing the bikes on the busy pavement, past the cathedral, we went 100m to the next bank. Steve went into his pocket for his wallet and it wasn't there! Assuming he had dropped it we retraced our steps at least twice until reality hit. It must have been stolen.

Quickly we returned to tourist Information to get directions to the police station. It wasn't far away, but no-one there spoke any English. After a 30 minute wait a young trainee who spoke a little English arrived and it was decided we must go to the International Police office (Interpol) as we were foreigners. They took us across town in a mini/bus, with a driver and three police officers.

The officer in charge there was like somebody out of Hawaii 5-0, with slicked back hair in a pony tail, immaculate uniform and an enormous police badge hanging round his neck on a chain. He thought we had had our passports stolen but lost interest when we explained it was just a wallet. 'We have the best pickpockets in the World' he informed us.

After almost an hour we got back in the mini bus with its four officers and returned to the first station where we had left the bikes. Once inside a policeman came out of the office dangling Steve's lost wallet, which had just been handed in minus the small amount of cash but with all the cards still in it.

Puerto Montt CathedralPuerto Montt Cathedral

There was now a massive need for medicinal alcohol and a good meal, but afterwards a long drunken bike push back up the hill to the hostel. Next morning we returned to town to purchase our ferry tickets from Quellon on Chiloe Island to Raul Marim Balmacedor on the mainland.

We got a taxi into town to avoid the steep return cycle. The ferry office was easy to find and we purchased two tickets. We had been warned to buy the tickets as soon as possible by the tourist office but that meant having to decide how long it would take to get to Quellon, in the south of Chiloe island.

Puerto Montt shopsPuerto Montt shops
Fish MarketFish Market

Once we had the tickets we could do some sightseeing but it was a bit disappointing. Rows of stalls selling typical tourist tat and a renovated old fishing quay with a variety of seafood, all teeming with bus-loads of tourists. At least our little hostel was warm and homely.

Puerto Montt boatsPuerto Montt boats

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Cycling Chile - Day 6 - Puerto Montt to Colaco

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Cycling Chile - Day 6

Finally escaping Puerto Montt, a hard day's riding. First negotiating our way out of the City and on to the Calbuco road. Rain, punctures and traffic in the morning. For the afternoon, more rain and a rough washboarded road, to arrive in Colaco on the coast.

Ride Description

As we continued our Cycling Chile ride, we couldn't wait to leave Puerto Montt, but little did we guess how difficult the day would be. First Karen tripped on the stairs while carrying all her panniers and sprained her foot.

Our plan was to cycle down the westerly pan-American highway 5 to Pargua then get the ferry to Chiloe island. On the Google map the road was classified as a dual carriageway. As we approached and observed the road signage it was obvious it was a motorway. On the far side was a service road so we set off down that. After about 7km it crossed to the opposite side where there was a tarmac cycle track. It went exactly 250m and stopped in the undergrowth.

The only alternative was a dirt track which took us onto the Chacobuco Harbour road, a long detour from our original plan. Then it started to rain and over the next couple of hours we stopped to don and then take off our rain gear four times. A puncture from a glass shard caused another delay. The detour was going to add another 20km to a 90km day.

Old engineOld engine

Things looked up at lunchtime when we found a small roadside shack serving good food. As we departed we asked another customer about the road we planned to ride to the harbour. He assured us it was tarmac.

And he was right! For the first 10km it was smooth and fairly flat, we made good progress. At the first steep uphill the tarmac ended, the loose rough grit began, and the speed dropped to a crawl. It also started raining again so we decided to rent a cabana for the night. The owner lit the stove for us and we cooked dinner while our wet gear dried.

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Cycling Chile - Day 7 - Colaco to Caulin

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Cycling Chile - Day 7

An easy ride to the ferry over to Chiloe and then an equally pleasant ride to the beautiful tranquil bay at Caulin.

Ride Description

The family who we rented the cabana from were all still in bed at 9.45am, so we left the rental money on an outside table. After another 7km we were back onto tarmac and soon came back onto Highway 5. It was still motorway, but as there was no alternative we rode on the hard shoulder for the last 8 km to the ferry.

Pargua SculpturePargua Sculpture
Pargua FerryPargua Ferry

We didn't have to wait as the ferry was just loading for the 15 min hop onto Chiloe Island. Chacao was the first town after the ferry port, with a cafe for coffee and cake. From there  a minor unsurfaced road goes to Caulin on the north coast.

Caulin Bay boatCaulin Bay boat

It is a tiny place in a large sheltered bay with hardly any people, hundreds of black necked swans and perfect peace. We were the only campers on the small peaceful campsite and the sea was flat calm. In the evening, as we sat near the tent a humming bird came to the flowers just above our heads and we sat transfixed for 20mins as it hovered next to us drinking the nectar.

Blackneck SwansBlackneck Swans

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Cycling Chile - Day 8 - Caulin to Ancud

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Cycling Chile - Day 8

A fairly easy 33km ride with a few hills along the coast to Ancud.

Ride Description

The sea was flat again as we rode on the sand along the bay. Hundreds of sea birds sitting on the beach and floating on the calm sea. The grit road back to Highway 5 was quite busy with traffic that flew past us, spitting loose grit onto us and the bags.

Road on a beachRoad on a beach

It was on a terraced hillside, and each camping place had a  roof to pitch the tent under. The toilets were pretty basic and the showers were cold. It was Saturday, so once again sleep was impossible until the early hours of the morning.

Ancud HarbourAncud Harbour

From where the road joined highway 5 again, it was only a short distance to Ancud, the main town in the north of the island. The town, though not particularly scenic, was teeming with tourists. Once we had shopped for food we made a hasty escape, cycling up the coast a little to a campsite.

Campsite catCampsite cat

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Cycling Chile - Day 9 - Ancud to Pumillahue circular

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Cycling Chile - Day 9

A short 44km return ride to Pumillahue from our campsite near Ancud to see the penguins. 

Ride Description

Next day we left the tent and rode to the north west coast to see the penguins and other seabirds in a small coastal sanctuary. It was a pleasant ride through open countryside. Pumilahue is a very popular place, and there were many cars parked along the beach and boats cruising back and forth from the beach to the rocky headland.

Pumillahue CliffPumillahue Cliff
Cattle on the roadCattle on the road

We expected to have to wait some time, but as soon as our fare was paid we were ushered onto a boat and, because we were foreigners, were allocated our own, English speaking, guide. The boat got close in to the shore to view Magellanic and Humboltd penguins, cormorants, kelp geese and sea lions.


Returning to the campsite we were pretty sweaty so decided to brave the cold water showers. The shower block was unfinished, with just a bare concrete floor and unfinished pipework. As Karen was putting her clothes back on her watch slipped onto the floor and fell down an open 5cm plastic pipe in the floor. Steve had to resort to his fishing line to retrieve it.

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Cycling Chile - Day 10 - Ancud to Dalachue

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Cycling Chile - Day 10

Today's 72 km ride was tedious but straightforward, mostly along the main highway 5 which was busy with traffic and road works.

Ride Description

Our plan was to go to the next campsite marked on the Google map, about 35km. The highway was extremely busy with nose to tail traffic, a mix of heavy lorries, and 4WD vehicles. There was a hard shoulder so we didn't feel too vulnerable, but the noise of the traffic rushing past was wearing and the scenery unremarkable.


There was no evidence of either of the first two campsites so we had to continue all the way to Dalcahue. It was a rush to get the tent pitched and cook dinner before it got dark. .

Breakfast visitorBreakfast visitor

Then we reached the roadworks. The dual carriageway was being rebuilt and resurfaced so there was only one carriageway open and several sets of long phase traffic lights. The queues of vehicles were long but we just rode past them and continued, making our way around the bulldozers and workers. Between each change of lights there was about 10 minutes with no traffic, lovely and peaceful. Then the vehicles would start rushing past again, nose to tail.

Dalachue twilightDalachue twilight

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Cycling Chile - Day 11 - Dalachue to Castro

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Cycling Chile - Day 10

An easy ride today, just 19km, through pretty countryside to Castro

Ride Description

The morning started with a tough climb out of town, then a pleasant cycle through countryside that looked Italian. As we approached Castro we stopped to take a photo and a couple of people jumped off a bus and ran up to greet us. It was Alexis and Paul who we had met in Las Cascadas. We spent a pleasant hour eating lunch with them before they departed to join their cruise ship along the Chile coast and on to Antarctica.

Castro wooden housesCastro wooden houses
Castro ConventCastro Convent

Finding accommodation here was not easy on a budget, but eventually we found a decent hostel down a side street. The room was small, not much bigger than the bed, but it had a private bathroom. There was a sign up in the reception advising that washing of clothes was not allowed! We incurred the wrath of the owner by ignoring it.

Decorated boatsDecorated boats
Castro CathedralCastro Cathedral

Quite a few of the old traditional wooden house remain, painted in bright colours. There was also a little harbour-side restaurant which served us the best food yet in Chile.

We actually fell in love with this bustling little city. The main Route 5 runs right through the centre, with enormous freight carrying lorries and tourist buses driving through, but it had an attractive park next to possibly the oddest church in Chile. Built in wood, it is painted yellow and purple and has hammered metal coverings on the pillars to make them look like stone. Built originally in the 1600's it has been rebuilt at least 4 times following fires and earthquakes.

Best food in ChiloeBest food in Chiloe

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Cycling Chile - Day 12 - Castro to Lake Natri

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Cycling Chile - Day 12

A 45km ride along the main route 5 and fairly easy.

Ride Description

Highway 5 south of Castro was a much quieter affair, with only a few coaches and lorries carrying live fish to the fish farms. Once the early morning mist had lifted the sun shone and with fewer hills it was an enjoyable ride. The only town of any size on the route was Conchi so we made a slight detour there but after shopping we decided against going down the hill into the old town and carried on south.

Harbour engineHarbour engine
Castro old harbourCastro old harbour

The campsite on the shore of Lake Natri had wooden cooking shelters for each pitch, and ours had a gazebo which we pitched the tent under. A large pile of free firewood cooked the meal and kept us warm while eating it.

Camp ChefCamp Chef
Lake Natri CampingLake Natri Camping

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Cycling Chile - Day 13 - Lake Natri to Quellon

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Cycling Chile - Day 13 

Rain, rain, rain for 44km to Quellon.

Ride Description

Waking up to rain is always depressing, but at least the gazebo had kept most of it off the tent. Setting off, we expected the rain would stop once the tide changed but it just go worse and continued for most of the day.

At 11.30am it  even heavier so we stopped at a cafe to shelter, hoping to get an early lunch. The waitress at first told us it was too early, but then took pity on the two drowned rats dripping water across the floor and offered to cook us some salmon with potato salad. As we finished our meal, two more cyclist came in, just as wet and depressed. They had cycled from Ushuaia in the south, heading for Puerto Montt and they both looked gaunt and completely exhausted!

Lake NitreLake Nitre

From here we had to catch a ferry back to the Chile mainland with the tickets we had previously purchased in Puerto Montt. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 2am the next morning, so we arranged to leave our bags at the hotel for the day.

At the ferry office we were told that it was delayed, but would leave at 5. We assumed he meant 5am so decided to spent the evening at a local tapas bar which stayed open until 3am. With nothing much else to do in this town after dark we got there at 7.30pm. So there was just 5 hours to fill with eating and drinking!

Quellon boatsQuellon boats

Making our way to the ferry pier, it was obvious that there was no ferry due, so it dawned on us that in fact it wouldn't be departing until 5pm. Luckily there was a small hotel/bar place across the road with lights still on so we got a room for the rest of the night. The ferry arrived at 5.45pm. After a lengthy unloading and even longer loading it was 11pm when we finally departed.

Dancing in the streetDancing in the street

Following lunch we continued in the rain, up a couple of steep climbs and stopped to watch a farmer and his wife bringing wood up a hill on a wooden sledge, pulled by two oxen. It was raining so hard it was too wet to get the camera out. We arrived at Quellon, soaking wet and cold and saw a sign on a lamp-post to 'Ciclo Nomade Cafe'.

The owner saw us arrive and rushed out to show us where we could put the bikes under cover before ushering us into a lovely, warm, modern cafe. He then fed us sandwiches, cake, beer and coffee until we were revived enough to continue into Quellon and find a hotel, needless to say, there was no way we were going to camp.

Eventually we found the Hostal El Parque which had great warm rooms and space to dry our gear.

Traffic light unicyclistTraffic light unicyclist
Farry arrivingFerry arriving
Ferry QueueFerry Queue

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