This post is part 16 of 18 in the series Carretera Austral Travel

The famous Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) in southern Chile runs right past Queulat National Park where the big draw is the chance to see the Ventisquero Colgante hanging glacier and the waterfall and lagoon formed by its run-off. Here’s what it’s like to hike up to the Ventisquero Colgante Glacier viewpoint in Queulat National Park.

Queulat National Park hanging glacier

This hanging glacier is the centerpiece of Queulat National Park along the Carretera Austral in southern Chile.

The word queulat means “sound of waterfall” in the Indigenous Chono language. This name is fitting because the centerpiece of this national park is a glacier with waterfalls running off of it.

Created in 1983, Queulat National Park is easily accessed via the Carretera Austral south of the town of Puyahuapi in southern Chile. The park protects Valdivian rainforest which provides habitat for a wide range of birds and mammals including woodpeckers and pudu, the world’s tiniest deer.

glaciers queulat national park

Our very dirty truck in Queulat National Park in southern Chile.

Queulat National Park is also home to two icefields including the Queulat ice cap and its Ventisquero Colgante Glacier (sometimes called the Queulat Hanging Glacier). Colgante means “hanging” in Spanish and this glacier is, indeed, a hanging glacier which is defined as a glacier that flows forward off a mountain but does not reach the valley or body of water below it. The Ventisquero Colgante Glacier did once reach the Tempanos Lagoon below it but, like most glaciers, this one is receding.

The highlight of a visit to Queulat National Park is the chance to get close to the Venitsquero Colgante Glacier on foot or by boat.

Queulat national park

Welcome to Queulat National Park along the Carretera Austral in southern Chile.

Hiking to the Ventisquero Colgante Hanging Glacier in Queulat National Park

The 4.5 mile (7 km) round trip in-and-out trail up to a viewpoint on the Vetisquero Colgante Glacier begins with the crossing of a long and very well-made hanging bridge over the raging milky blue Ventisquero River which flows out of the lagoon below the hanging glacier. This bridge is limited to four people at a time, so it can get backed up when the park is crowded.

hanging bridge ventisquero river

Karen crossing the hanging bridge over the Ventisquero River on our way to the trailhead up to the Ventisquero Glacier Viewpoint.

The trail begins with an easy undulating climb but quickly turns steep. The first mile is steepest, but this trail constantly climbs gaining about 1,000 feet (300 meters) in total. Along the way, there are two small rest areas with benches. These are the best places to take a breather because stopping on the busy narrow trail is tricky. The trail passes through Valdivian rainforest and is almost entirely shaded.

The trail itself is fairly narrow with sections where tree roots present slippery obstacles. There were also some muddy patches and the entire trail would be muddy and slippery if there’d been any recent rain which is possible since this area gets 135-160 inches (3,429 mm to 4,064 mm) of precipitation per year. We recommend wearing hiking boots and using trekking poles.

At the top of the trail, hikers gather in a small flat area for snacks and views of the glacier before descending down the same trail. Allow 1.5 hours each way at a moderate pace.

Ventisquero River queulat national park

The Ventisquero River flows out of the lagoon below the Ventisquero Glacier in Queulat National Park.

If you don’t have the time or the inclination to hike up to the Ventisquero Colgante Glacier viewpoint, you can take a boat trip across the Tempanos Lagoon to see the glacier.

Leaving Queulat National Park, we took the Carretera Austral south rising up over the Queulat Slope to the Queulat Cuesta via 33 switchbacks. Near the city of Coyhaique, the landscape abruptly changes leaving the verdant forests behind in favor of arid grasslands.

Lago Las Torres National Reserve carretera austral

The Carretera Austral passes through spectacular sections of Valdivian rainforest within the Lago Las Torres National Reserve between Queulat National Park and the city of Coyhaique where the forest disappears.

Queulat National Park travel tips

To enter Queuelat National Park you must reserve ahead of time here. If you show up at the park entrance without an online reservation, you will have to drive back out of the park to a nearby campground where the owners will charge you 1,000 CLP (about US$1) per person to use their Wi-Fi to make a reservation before driving back to the park entrance. Foreigners pay 9,000 CLP (about US$10) per person to enter Queulat National Park. We visited on a Sunday in January and it was very busy and this park is probably even busier in February when many Chilenos travel. We recommend entering this park early to account for crowds and delays. We arrived around 10:30 am but by the time we stood in line to pay our entrance fee and then found a parking spot, we didn’t get to the trailhead until about 12:30 pm and hikers must be on the trail to the glacier viewpoint by 1:30 pm or park officials will turn you back. At the time of writing, the campgrounds in Queulat National Park were closed.

Carretera Austral

You get glimpses of glaciers in Queulat National Park at various points along the Carretera Austral.

Two nearby townsmake good basecamps before or after your visit to Queulat National Park.

Puerto Cisnes travel tips

The fishing village/port town of Puerto Cisne is located 41 miles (66 km) south of the turn-off for Queulat National Park and then 19 miles (31 km) off of the Carretera Austral down a spur road. This laid-back town offers hostels, guesthouses (some of them pretty old and dirty), and mid-range hotels. We looked at several options before choosing the extremely clean Enrique Hostal & Cabanas which was also a bit more economical than other mid-range places we saw at 20,000 CLP (about US$22) per person for our large room with a great shower plus parking, Wi-Fi, and a good breakfast including eggs. Enrique Hostal & Cabins is located across the street from the much more famous (and pricier) Bellavista Hotel. You’ll know you’re there when you see garden gnomes and an enormous Pehuen tree out front. Cash only when we were there.

puerto cisnes chile

The town of Puerto Cisnes makes a good basecamp before or after your exploration of Queulat National Park.

In Cisnes, head to La Perla restaurant on the waterfront for simple but delicious food for lunch or dinner at reasonable prices. Expect plenty of locals also attracted by fish, chicken, and pasta dishes. Our lunch included a large piece of merluza (a common flaky white fish called Hake in English) served with sautéed vegetables, terrific rustic roasted potatoes, and homemade rolls (10,000 CLP/US$11 per plate). The brewpub for a large regional craft beer maker is also in Puerto Cisnes, but Cerveza Artisanal Finisterra was not open when we were in town.

puerto cisnes library

The local library in Puerto Cisnes (left) and the shingled church.

If you have time, check out the local library (above left), which looks like a Greek temple rendered in wood, and is adorned with carved swans (cisne means swan in Spanish).  The wooden church in town (above right) was built in 1959 (nothing is very old in southern Chile). And you can take a short walk up to a hillside gazebo with a Virgin Mary statue for views over town and the port. There’s also a pleasant waterfront walkway, finished in 2022, that snakes around the port and bay. There are also a few day hikes and hot springs around Puerto Cisnes and boat trips take visitors to nearby Isla Magdalena National Park.

A note to those traveling with an RV: there’s a (very rare) RV dump station at the waterfront water treatment plant in Puerto Cisnes with instructions in English and in Spanish.

Puyuhuapi travel tips

The town of Puyuhuapi, 13 miles (21 km) north of the turn-off for Queulat National Park, has a central area facing a scenic bay that’s pretty jam-packed with hotels and restaurants in a way that feels a bit like a much-visited fishing town in Alaska.

Comuy Huapi restaurant Puyahuapi

The Comuy Huapi restaurant in the town of Puyahuapi is a good (if pricey) place for a meal.

In Puyuhuapi we stayed at the spic and span Hostal Doña Nury where 40,000 CLP (about US$45) got us a private room with a private bathroom, Wi-Fi, parking, and breakfast. We had dinner at the Comuy Huapi Restaurant located right on the fjord with a dining room, bar, and patio seating. Our meal of seafood with some regional craft beers was good, but pricey. There are hot springs along the highway heading south out of Puyahuapi on the way to the park.

 

Here’s more about travel in Chile

Here’s more about Carretera Austral Travel

Here’s more about Patagonia Travel

 


Series Navigation:<< End of the Road on the Carretera Austral – Villa O’Higgins, ChileA Dirtbag Must-Stop on the Carretera Austral – Villa Cerro Castillo, Chile >>

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