Documenting (and advocating for) the Carretera Austral, a window into Chilean Patagonia

The Carretera Austral, Chile’s spectacular Southern Highway

You might think that advocates for wild places would oppose all road construction or improvement.  Certainly, most road construction is a curse to natural systems: disrupting habitat, permitting exploitative development, and promoting fossil fuel consumption.  Yet here in south Chile, our team has started a campaign for the Carretera Austral, the “Southern Highway.”  The goal: the designation of this rugged 700-mile road as a Scenic Highway, establishing legal standards for signage, road maintenance, and roadside development.  Blessed with endless glorious vistas, the Carretera Austral should become one of the world’s great road trips, jumpstarting the growth of ecotourism along its length.

For decades, The Conservation Land Trust has pushed for more ecological, aesthetic road development through conservation areas: the road through Pumalin became Chile’s first Scenic Route in 1997, and the road through the future Patagonia National Park (Paso Roballos) is under consideration for that status.  But the Carretera Austral campaign represents the largest and most community-oriented project to date.

Left: Poster for the Scenic Highway project at the future Patagonia National Park
Right: Scenic Highway through Pumalin Park

During November 2012, we published a new photo-format book, La Carretera Austral: El Camino Más Espectacular de Sudamérica (“The Southern Highway: the Most Spectacular Road in South America”).  With help from other team members, Ingrid Espinoza and Jose Suarez are leading the charge in organizing community book launches in towns along the road, to raise awareness for the initiative, discuss its implications for local economies, and give supporters a tool for sharing the Scenic Highway concept.  During the summer months, we plan to hold nine launch events and distribute over 1,000 copies of the book to government officials, business owners, civic leaders, journalists, and other stakeholders.

The book showcases the landscape photography of Linde Waidhofer, who spent months exploring the length of the route along with her partner Lito Tejada-Flores, who wrote the accompanying descriptions of the landscapes.  Accompanying essays explore the history of the Carretera Austral and of the Scenic Highway concept globally, as well as the significance, current and potential, of the road for the region at large.

The Carretera Austral serves as the sole north-south highway through the Palena Province and the Aysen Region of south Chile. Running from the bustling city of Puerto Montt in the north to the remote town of Villa O’Higgins in the far south, the Carretera Austral represents one of the major accomplishments of Pinochet’s dictatorship.  Before the 1980s, these remote and sparsely populated remained disconnected, by road at least, from the rest of the country.

Yet as Rolando Toloza, the engineer overseeing the road, asserts, the Carretera Austral accomplishes more than connecting this region to central Chile.  This spectacular route is:

the main window through which the traveler experiences a territory of pristine and geomorphologically diverse ecosystems, replete with lakes, mountains, valleys, forests, rivers, ice fields, and volcanoes.

For better or worse, most tourists gain their first impressions of a place while driving.  Dramatic vistas in the background may serve as the chief inspiration for sightseeing, but the conditions of roadsides in the foreground shape an image of the cultural landscape.  Whether dotted with wildflowers or trash, roads signal a community’s care for place and occupy a prime position in travelers’ perception of landscape.

The Carretera Austral passing through the town of La Junta, in the north of the Aysen Region

As Toloza points out, landscapes are a cultural and economic product, which Chilean Patagonia has ample opportunities to develop.  Relatively small investments in signage, lookout areas, and landscaping should more than repay themself, as the Carretera Austral becomes an internationally recognized wild adventure.  We hope that the publication and launching of La Carretera Austral will advance the project of transforming this unusual route into a vehicle for ecologically sound local development throughout Chilean Patagonia.

The lush northern stretches of the Carretera Austral, bordering the sea.

Mighty Alerce trees, millennia old, along the route

The distinctive Cerro Castillo (with wildflowers in the foreground)

Wild geography at its most extreme!


Filed under Activism

25 Responses to Documenting (and advocating for) the Carretera Austral, a window into Chilean Patagonia

  1. Antonio Oliveira

    How can I buy the book?

  2. liz

    can we buy the book stateside?

  3. Mario Brigando

    buona sera from Italy,
    today I also received by mail the brochure of Patagonia National Park 2012 !!
    I am interested on the book about the Carretera Austral, especially because I make conferences and expositions about Patagonia here in Italy. I had the privilege to meet padre Alberto de Agostini when my family was in Punta Arenas. Part of my pictures and materials are originals from padre Alberto.
    If you have some photo or movie material about your work, I’ll be honored to show during my presentations.
    Congratulations and thanks.
    Mario Brigando
    Italo-Chilean Cultural Assoc. (Turin)
    CIRCOLOPOLARE Cultural Assoc. (Milan)
    Adriantartica Cultural Assoc. (Trieste)

    • Maximo De Paoli Lyrio

      Dear Signore Brigando,

      I will be in Milano and Torino early next year and I would like to know where I can visit to see some of Alberto de Agostini´s material about Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego besides Museo Nazionale della Montagna in Torino.


  4. ijw

    Is there a way to buy the book or the poster?

  5. marilyn j walter

    I copy Liz; can we purchase the book in the US? Would like to share it with those who would one day drive the carretera?

  6. Matt Ressler

    Very well put together. Definitely on my list for my next trip to Patagonia. How can I get a copy of the book?

  7. Maximo De Paoli Lyrio


    Is it possible to buy the book by mail? I live in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil and I have already been at Parque Pumalín, in the future Parque Patagonia in Valle Chacabuco and traveled all the way to Caleta Tortel so I understand exactly which is the book´s purpose and I would like to be part of it somehow. Thank you.

  8. Frerk

    I would like to buy the book aswell – is there any shipment to Germany?
    Lately I spent some wonderful weeks on the carretera, even in Parque Pumalin where I saw the book in the restaurant, but unfortunately it was not available. Thank you!

  9. Jan Vozak

    I am also one of many people who are asking where this magnificient book could be bought.
    Please, give me some answer, the publishing house (ocholibros) did not even respond to my request for info.

  10. This proactive approach to roads is certainly on target. It looks spectatcular, and sorel needs criteria for keeping impact to a minimum and benefits to maximum.. Congratulations

  11. Your proactive approach is right on target with this important road. Developing criteria and promoting them as benefits is certainly the best way of minimizing adverse impacts and obtaining better practices. May you have success, and may I some day travel it.

  12. judy wenban

    please advise how i can buy this beautiful book from you. thanks i’m in australia and have recently riden this route on a push bike. it was fantastic and one of the best experiences of my life.

  13. judy wenban

    i’m in australia and have recently riden this route on a push bike. it was fantastic and one of the best experiences of my life. please advise how i can buy this beautiful book from you. thanks

  14. Eckehard Rogge

    Last year we saw during our youney on carretera austral the book:
    La Carretera Austral, Editionores: Ocho Libros editores, Photos: Linde Waidhofer, September 2012.
    Are you able to give me price and adress, where I can buy the book.
    Thank you in advance, kindly regards Eckehard Rogge

  15. Lamore

    I want to drive the carretera Austral this next summer. Can I buy the book?

  16. Lut

    Late February we left wonderful PUMALIN Park, to Hornopiren. At the visitor centre, I fell in love with ‘The Carretera Austral’, English edition by Linde Waidhofer for Ocho libros editores. But it was too heavy, too large to carry around. I thought we would find a copy later .. Can we order the English edition by internet?Thanks a lot
    Lut (Belgium)

  17. Lut

    Please where can I buy the English version of ‘La Carretera Austral’?
    Thanks a lot

  18. Diana

    Hi, how can I buy the book? Thank you in advance.

  19. karoline

    How can I buy this book? I live in Austria.

  20. John

    Just so everybody that reads this page is warned up front: the book is NOT for sale online anywhere. If you’re in the region and are able to get your hands on the book, please buy it directly.

    We figured we didn’t want to buy the book while in Chile and buy it back home instead, but after inquiring at Deep Ecology, it seems to book is NOT for sale to the general public anywhere so the only place (I know of) you can get it, is in Chile itself.


    • Thank you for this clarification John!
      The book was so popular that we, unfortunately, have none left to give other than the few available at the Patagonia Park store in Aysen, Chile.
      Thank you for your interest in our work!
      – TC Team

Leave a Reply to Diana Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

captcha * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>