I am kind of sure that this was the roughest and the longest part of our Patagonian road trip. This section of the Carretera Austral consists of 3 ferry rides and you have to be on time at the first ferry otherwise you are stuck on this side for a day. We purchased the Caleta Gonzalo – Hornopiren ferry tickets back in Coyhaique in the ferry office as none of my cards were working when I wanted to purchase the same online. Knowing what I know now, I would have purchased the Chaiten – Puerto Montt tickets instead, even if that ferry ride takes 9hrs it drops you straight in Puerto Montt, no ferry hopping, no driving on crap roads anymore.
We left from Puyuhuapi at 6am to make sure that we get to Caleta Gonzalo by 12.00pm. Even though the ferry leaves at 1.00pm we were told to get there by 12.00pm. The road all the way to Chaiten is quite good, there is only one or two unpaved sections, but those are very short and you can make quite a good time.
We actually got to Chaiten quite early. We have seen the Chaiten – Puerto Montt Ferry still at port and played around with the idea to board that instead, but we finally decided to stick to the original plan. It was a bad idea and here is why…
We filled up at the local gas station, purchased food, topped up my Entel sim card and left for Caleta Gonzalo. The road all the way to Caleta Gonzalo is unpaved from Chaiten with very bad sections and the usual roadworks. The only reason why it was worth driving it for was the scenery. There was a volcanic eruption in the area a few years ago and you can still see signs of it like burned down hillsides, dead forests and so on. Due to the road conditions and the constant roadworks we got to Caleta Gonzalo right at 12pm.
I was very surprised to learn that the Caleta Gonzalo ferry started boarding straight away and left at 12.20pm while our tickets showed it leaves at 1pm. I learned later that there are actually 2 ferries taking cars across on the first short 30 minutes section as the second Ferry has a much larger capacity and the small one has to make two trips to fill up the space on the large one. There are no services on this ferry so if you want to buy food or drinks it will not happen here.
Once we got to the Foirdo Largo we had to drive an additional 30 minutes to get to the second ferry port in Leptepu. That ferry was boarding much later so we were waiting in our car for about an hour to get boarded.
Once we were on the second ferry we walked upstairs, this ship had a bar with drinks and snacks like empanadas. I started working on video editing straight away while others were watching movies played on the big screen in the resting area. I even managed to get about half an hour rest before we arrived to Hornopiren. The whole ferry ride took 3 hours and 30 minutes and I was pleased to learn that for some reason our line of cars were the first to leave the ferry.
I started driving like a lunatic to make sure that we are among the first to board on the third ferry only to find out that paved sections followed unpaved ones and vica versa so even this section of the trip was riddled with roadworks, unpaved sections and crap road quality.
After about 1 hour of driving we go to the last ferry port and we just missed the next ferry by 2 cars. From this port ferries are leaving every half an hour and it works on a first come first serve basis. We were third in line, I thought yes we made it to the next ferry.
Well it turned out differently as the port staff has boarded a fuel truck instead of everyone else and sent that across. It seems that the fuel trucks must travel alone so nobody else was allowed to board.
At this point I was fecking furious, and since I had very little trust in ferries and operators, I turned around and took the long way around to get to Puerto Varas. Now, this was an extremely bad decision. The road from Caleta Puelche to Puerto Varas is extremely bad, every steep and curvy section is gravel road only straight section are paved and it started to get dark. It took us one hour longer to get to Puerto Varas getting there by 10:30pm instead of 9pm as it was originally planned. So even if there is a huge line of cars in front of you DO NOT take that long way around as it will definitely be longer and much more demanding and dangerous driving-wise.