After being closed for more than 21 months due to the COVID pandemic, Chile finally re-opened its land borders with Argentina in January of 2022 and we were free to hit the road. After so much idle time, we were excited to put some miles on our truck and we did well, gobbling up 11,606 miles (18,678 km) in total in 2022. That road tally included comprehensive exploration of Patagonia and the very southern reaches of South America for the second time, eating our way through our favorite South American city (Buenos Aires), and finally digging into Chile’s famous Carretera Austral. Before we recap our entire 2022 road trip, here’s a look at our road trip driving route and highlights for the month of December 2022.
South American Road Trip Driving Route for December 2020 in ArgentinaAt the end of November 2022, we were wrapping up nearly three months of exploration and eating in Buenos Aires. We tore ourselves away from that great city and hit the road on December 1, 2022. After several long days of driving south across Buenos Aires Province and then across Argentina’s Northern Patagonia region, we crossed into Chile and headed to Chiloé Island. The only stop we made in Argentina during that intense 1,400-mile (2,253 km) gallop south was in Balneario El Cóndor to see the world’s largest parrot colony which inhabits sandstone cliffs facing the Atlantic Ocean. We spent much of December 2022 exploring Chiloé Grande (often referred to as Chiloé Island) which is the fourth-largest island in South America. This beautiful island, part of a large archipelago of islands, is sandwiched between the Andes/Gulf of Corcovado and the Pacific Ocean. The area has a unique climate (read rainy) and unique culture influenced by indigenous communities and heritage and a wide array of European immigrants who settled in Chiloé in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chiloé is most famous for distinct wooden churches built by the Jesuits in the 17th century. There were once hundreds of these churches in the archipelago. Today, roughly 60 still stand and 16 of them have been listed as a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site. After leaving Chiloé, we spent 10 days exploring the very northern area of the Carretera Austral. After zipping by the picturesque Osorno Volcano (where we’d spent time earlier in the year), we headed to the Cochamó Valley which is often described as the Yosemite of Chile (we had our doubts since these kinds of comparisons tend to be wild exaggerations). After hiking eight miles (12 km) into the valley, we spent four nights camping over Christmas and, to our surprise, the Cochamó Valley actually lives up to the lofty comparison to Yosemite with granite domes, old-growth forests, rushing clear rivers and streams, and hiking trails.
We then continued south, working our way down to Hornopiren where we passed a very non-event New Year’s Eve before taking a ferry to Caleta Gonzalo in Pumalin National Park on New Year’s Day.
See what we saw during our December 2022 South American road trip in Argentina and Chile in our drive-lapse video, below, shot by our dash-mounted Brinno time-lapse camera.
And check out our South American road trip driving route for December 2020, below.
South American road trip driving route 2022 recap in Argentina and Chile
First, the Chilean government announced that it would re-open land borders in November of 2021. That quickly bumped to December before sliding into January. On January 10th land borders between Argentina and Chile finally officially re-opened so we jumped into our truck on January 11, crossed the Los Libertadores border pass from Mendoza into Chile, and suddenly we were free to travel outside of Argentina for the first time in nearly two years.We planned to spend January and February exploring the beaches, temperate rainforests, volcanoes, lakes, and Andean mountains south of Santiago and north of the Carretera Austral. However, unbeknownst to us, February in Chile is like August in Europe: everyone is on vacation. And after two years of frustration from pandemic lockdowns, with a fear of traveling outside of Chile, and armed with a bit of saved-up money in their pockets it seemed like everyone in Chile was on the move at the same time.
The result was a kind of travel apocalypse with coastal hotels, restaurants, beaches, and roads bursting with people. So we abandoned the coast and headed for the volcanoes and lakes of the Los Rios and Los Lagos areas further south. But the Lake District area was even more packed with vacationers and the surge meant almost everything was booked and what wasn’t booked was going for jacked-up prices. Just in time, we met Rodolfo who let us hang out in his cabin outside of Pucon, one of the most famous and most crowded destinations of all, where we hid from the February madness.
With February safely behind us, we ventured forth to explore the Carretera Austral in earnest (our time on this iconic road in Southern Chile was cut short in March of 2020 as we hustled into Argentina before the pandemic closed borders). But first, we had to make a decision: Should we drive down the length of the Carretera Austral and back north again, or should we drive a bit further south and revisit the spectacular and wild Torres del Paine National Park which we loved so much the first time around?Of course, we chose to go all the way down for a return visit to Torres del Paine, but we didn’t want to drive all the way down to the southern end of Chile again because it’s a very long way on very bad roads. Solution: we booked passage for us and our truck on the Navimag ferry which spends four days cruising about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) through beautiful fjords off the Chilean coast between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales without the need to drive a single mile. Our time in Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine got substantially extended for a very good reason: we kept seeing pumas. We ultimately saw 22 individual pumas over the course of near-daily sightings. This compelled us to stay in the region to meet experts and ask questions for our story about why puma sightings are so frequent in Torres del Paine right now.
All of that reporting meant that we didn’t leave the Torres del Paine area until early April as Patagonian winter was approaching and many parks and hostels along the Carretera Austral were closing for the season. Yet again, the Carretera Austral would have to wait…
Instead, we headed back to Argentina where we checked into the new Explora hotel in El Chalten, Argentina on assignment, then hit a few other spots in Argentinean Patagonia before returning to Chile to enjoy the Lake District without the February crowds.
By late May, winter was truly settling in, the snow line was getting lower, and most businesses were closed or closing forcing us out of Patagonia.
We decided to ditch South American winter for a brief trip back to the US to visit family and friends, then we returned to our truck and drove to Buenos Aires where we enjoyed an indulgent three months of exploring, eating, and drinking our way through the city until December arrived and we were able to begin finally exploring the places in southern Chile that we missed on our previous two trips down that way.
Third time’s a charm.
Check out our South American road trip driving route for all of 2022 in our map, below.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about travel in Chile
Here’s more about Patagonia Travel