In Chile, a Gorgeous, Very Rainy and Sometimes Lonely Journey

The “Route of Parks” should be emblazoned in your mind: “Road trip!” Technically, the “route” is a rebranding of a portion of Chile’s epic Southern Highway, or Carretera Austral, which stretches from the industrial city of Puerto Montt in the north to the skinny tip of the country in the south.

As part of that, this January, the Chilean government signed an accord with the nonprofit Tompkins Conservation to place an additional 10 million acres of combined public and private parkland under its protection. The goal is to create a 1,500-mile adventure-tourism trail that would be unmatched in the world.

Right now, though, it’s a road with a hodgepodge of opportunities to fend for oneself in all kinds of wilderness. And that, of course, is the appeal. Large swaths of it are unpaved and under construction and full of potholes from intense, constant dumps of rain. Gas, cell signal and fellow humans are sparse as it snakes between beaches and the Andes, across fjords and through rain forests.

Most international backpackers start in the far south at the Route’s famed, glacier-filled Torres del Paine. You may choose to head the opposite way (as do many Chileans traveling from Santiago) and maximize your time in Pumalín — a former private park that the government recently took over as part of the Tompkins accord. It’s also relatively accessible from Puerto Montt via the Carretera Austral.

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