Puerto Guadal is a small town on the Carretera Austral in southern Chile that makes the most of its location on Lago General Carrera with a host of outdoor adventures, floating hotel rooms, and the most high-octane glacier boat tour in Patagonia.
What to do around Puerto Guadal
Activities around Puerto Guadal revolve around Lago General Carrera (the largest lake in Chile and up to 2,000 feet/586 meters deep) and other natural wonders in the Laguna San Rafael National Park including easy shoreline kayaking, hiking to a glacier, Marble Caves tours, and one of the fastest and most adrenaline-filled boat tours in Chile.French adventurer Philippe Reuter got into the Guinness World Records book in 1992 after skiing down the 10th highest volcanos on earth. He got in again for kayaking on Lake Licancabur, a crater lake at 19,356 feet (5,900 meters) atop the Lincancabur Volcano. In 2001, he summited 29,032 foot (8,848 meter), Mount Everest. Philippe is a badass. When Philippe settled in the Puerto Guadal area, he brought his sense of adventure with him and currently runs an outdoor adventure and mountaineering company called Azimut 360 and offers adrenaline-filled outings in Puerto Guadal that no one else can offer including helicopter tours. We didn’t take a helicopter tour. Instead, we hopped onto a jet boat with Philippe and a few other unsuspecting travelers and headed to Leones Glacier in Lago San Rafael National Park (which is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve). We spent about 1.5 hours crossing a section of vast and scenic Lago General Carrera, then the jet boat turned into the Rio Leones toward the lake which forms in front of the Leones Glacier and we zoomed up the Rio Leones as far as the water level allowed (the jet boat can get further upriver when the water levels are higher). Philippe and his staff have done a lot of work to groom the river, removing large boulders and creating passages for the jet boat. Still, there were many times when it really didn’t look like there was enough water in the river to get us over the rocks, yet we continued to rocket forward. Often the trip felt like drift racing on water and Karen admits that her eyes were squished closed at times as we swooped and swerved around rocks and tight corners over mere inches of water. Once we’d traveled as far upriver as the water level allowed, we got out of the jet boat and hiked for an hour to cover the 2-mile (3.2 km) trail to Lago Leones (this hike is shorter when water levels allow the boat to go further up river) which the Leones Glacier calves into. Our guides raced ahead to prepare two different boats (NOT jet boats) which we got into for an hour-long cruise around Lago Leones until we ended up very close to the face of the Leones Glacier which forms as the Fiero Glacier, the Soler Glacier, and the Leonoes Glacier flow together to form the Leones Glacier. When we were at the Leones Glacier, the glacier was very active and we heard plenty of rumbling, cracking, and scraping noises and saw quite a few calvings. We got off the boats near the face of the glacier and found spots on a sunny exposed rock next to its face where we ate our packed lunch (tuna sandwich, fruit, chocolate bar, small bag of cookies, small bag of nuts and raisins, a granola bar, and a small box of peach nectar) and listened to the glacier talk before returning across the lake and hiking back to the jet boat for the return trip. Heading out we traveled downstream which meant that we moved even faster than we had on the way upriver. This exciting day trip (US$200 pp if there are four people or more, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, tours do not go in high wind or low water) covers about 70 miles (112 km) across the lake and up the river and delivers a very up-close experience with the Leones Glacier. Bring lots of water and wear high-SPF sunscreen (you’ll be exposed to the sun all day).
Get a taste of the excitement during a jet boat ride to the Leones Glacier in our video, below.
You can also get to the Leones Glacier via a very long full-day tour that includes a 4X4 journey followed by a 10-mile (17.5 km) round trip in-and-out hike to Lago Leones and back.
The famous Marble Caves area of the Lago General Carrera lakeshore is another popular day trip destination for travelers with boat and kayak tours offered (unless the winds are too strong). See why this destination is so famous in our photo essay about Chile’s Marble Caves.
Where to sleep around Puerto Guadal
The small town of Puerto Guadal has a number of hostels and guesthouses along with small restaurants and a few shops where you’ll find supplies for self-catering. Around Lago General Carrera, travelers will find a number of more upscale hotels and lodges with restaurants and fuller facilities and services.We stayed at Terra Luna Lodge where Philippe the Adventurer has created a rambling, slightly cobbled-together establishment on the shore of Lago General Carrera. Here you’ll find quirky wood cabins, stylish dome rooms with patios facing the lake and 13,314 foot (4,058 meter) San Valentin (the highest mountain in the Patagonia region of Chile and something we caught Philippe gazing at frequently), a treehouse room, a full family house, a Jacuzzi room with a private hot tub, and surprisingly good food in the onsite restaurant. Not to mention that this is the place for those who want to experience the jet boat adventure to the Leones Glacier. Philippe also has a Terra Luna hotel in the Atacama Desert. We also stayed at Hacienda Tres Lagos which opened in 1995 and offers 22 rooms including spacious rooms in two-story buildings facing Lago Negro featuring wood floors, wood-burning stoves, large bathrooms, minifridges, and patios with chairs and tables (2nd-floor rooms have the best views). There are also a range of larger standalone rooms suitable for families and two rooms that float on Lago Negro. Created by placing pre-fab buildings on a floating dock, these rooms have a wall of windows onto the lake, a minifridge, electric wall heaters (no wood stoves), and a wrap-around deck with lounge chairs from which we saw ringed kingfishers, black-neck swans, and other water birds. Hacienda Tierra Luna also offers a lakeside sauna, kayaks, and telescopes for star gazing.
Getting to Puerto Guadal
Heading south out of Rio Tranquilo, the Carretera Austral follows the western shoreline of Lago General Carrera.About 27 miles (43 km) south of Rio Tranquilo, we crossed the General Carrera Bridge (pictured above, top), one of seven suspension bridges along the Carretera Austral, passing over the outlet where Lago General Carrera drains into Lago Bertrand before that water ultimately becomes the mighty Rio Baker.
Just a few miles beyond General Carrera Bridge is Hacienda Tres Lagos and just beyond that is the junction with Ruta 265 which leads to Puerto Guadal 5.5 miles to the west. Ruta 265 continues past Puerto Guadal, following the southern shoreline of Lago General Carrera to Chile Chico and the Paso Jeinimeni border crossing between Chile and Argentina.Leaving Puerto Guadal, we continued south on the Carretera Austral. About 18 miles (29 km) past the Ruta 265 junction we reached the Baker-Nef Confluencia. Here, a short mostly flat trail took us to a viewpoint where we could see the spot where the two rivers descend dramatically before the raging blue Rio Baker (the largest river in Chile by volume) consumes the raging milky turquoise water of glacier-fed Rio Nef. See the action in our photo essay (with video) of the Rio Baker and the Rio Nef.
Continue south on the Carretera Austral for 12 miles (20 km) and you’ll find yourself at the main entrance to the hiking paradise that is Patagonia National Park.
Here’s more about travel in Chile
Here’s more about Carretera Austral Travel
Here’s more about Patagonia Travel