Ride Adventures prepared a detailed itinerary for our trip.
We booked a self guided tour so we were on our own. Ride Adventures gave us ride maps, a list of roads and turns, key points to get fuel, and made our hotel reservations in advance. There was a little pressure because if we didn’t make the destination all of our hotels would be a day off. Ride Adventures did a great job but the daily ride schedule was ambitious and as Jon says, “Not for the weak!” In general we rode hard almost every day, meaning about 6-8 hours of riding each day. This is really a full day by the time you add to that pit stops and a quick lunch. Vicky barely had any time for photo shoots!. We flew from Sacramento California to Santiago Chile, landing in Santiago about 8 AM. After checking in at the Holiday Inn Santiago, located in the Airport Terminal, we walked around Santiago, had breakfast and relaxed. We tried to visit the Parque Metropolitano but due to a labor strike the park was closed. Vicky wanted to walk up to the San Cristobal Hill. We thought perhaps on the return trip the strike would end and we could then see the area. But, unfortunantely on our return the park was still closed this time due to a wildfire.
After our first night abroad we headed out to Temuco, Chile via Latin American Airlines and then a 45 minute bus ride to Pucon, Chile. We spent the afternoon settling into our hotel and exploring the town.
In the afternoOn of our second day in Pucon, Jon arranged for delivery of our motorcycle. Upon his inspection and test ride it was clear revisions were necessary. He was faced with taking either his planned luggage or his wife, but both could not go on the motorcycle without some repacking. Luckily Ride Adventures exchanged the pannier system and the hotel agreed to store excess bags. All was made ready to depart for day one of our motorcycle adventure of Northern Patagonia by morning of the 4th day of travel.
Pucon to Corraico Mountain Ski Resort, Reserva Nacional Forestal, Malalcahuello, Chile. This journey was described in the Ride Adventure pamplet as approximately 255 km, 7-9 hours riding time, 30% gravel, 70% asphalt. All I remember was gravel, lots of it, twisty switchbacks, some steep down hills. Try as I might, I cannot remember much pavement. We got lost only once briefly. Much of the ride is remote, rural farmland, grazing land, mountainous forrest, not very populated, spectacularly beautiful. Jon brought his Garmin loaded with the South American map and it was very useful! We did have one mechanical snafu wherein the rear brake locked up on a downhill gravel section of the road. Lucky girl I am to have a handy husband who brings his own tools everywhere. Jon had us fixed and back on the road in just a few minutes. Good thing because our location was isolated, no cell, no help–gotta be self sufficient.
Corralco Ski Resort to Lago Alumine, Argentina: approximately 200 km, 5-7 hours riding time, mostly gravel. This was a very interesting day of exploring volcanoes and lava fields. Immediately leaving the Hotel Resort Jon noticed a service road winding up the volcano. We followed it until the gravel became like sand and got deeper and deeper. Finally Vicky said stop, I want off. Jon tried to carry on up the road alone but within a few yards decided to be safe rather than sorry. Wise man! It was interesting to see this ski resort in late spring, abandoned of skiers, still lifts, melting snow, isolation. Then we headed on to explore the region’s volcanoes.
One highlight of the day was our first border crossing. We missed the official exit point in Chile and travelled at least 10 miles past it to the barricade leading into Argentina. They turned us around and back to Chile we went to get our stamps. We learned the importance of the POI document; the Point of Immigration. It was that tiny slip of paper, like a cash register receipt that a lot of people give no mind to and throw away. Please don’t do this. You do want to be able to exit at some point so keep up with the POI documents! Also, we should have exchanged money before entering Argentina. We had to rely on the hospitality of the Inn Keeper at La Balconada to change a small amount of Chilean pesos to Argentine money to buy gas. The La Balconada was nestled in a hillside of upscale homes surrounded by waters of a crystal clear lake with spectacular views. Breakfast and dinner was included and both served in a dining room surrounded by windows and views of the lake. The village was quaint, unique and meant for skiers. As we were traveling in spring many businesses were closed and the place was sparsely populated. That was a plus in my book as I don’t care for crowds.
Lago Alumine to Bariloche, Argentina, approximately 350 km total, only 120 km of it gravel, otherwise nice asphalt highway. Riding time was estimated at 6-8 hours and we arrived at a 5 star hotel just before dusk. We had a room on the ground floor with a spectacular view. Dinner was at a restaurant of our choice and we got lucky. We strolled along the streets until we found what looked good and it was an EXCELLENT Argentine beef steak with Chilean wine.
Day 4 and 5
Bariloche, Argentina to Futaleufu, Chile, 360 km total with 160 km through the National Park Los Alerces. Total ride time this day was 9 hours because we took the optional route to include the park. The beauty we witnessed made the added time on the road well worthwhile. The road was fun to ride and we were mostly alone, rarely meeting another vehicle.
We spent 2 nights in Futaleufu and took a day off scheduled riding to do our laundry and relax. We went for a short ride with no map or plan, and we discovered a trail to a beautiful green river adorned with colorful flowers. Vicky had fun taking pictures of the surrounding beauty with no worries to keep on schedule. The countryside was beautiful and the people, especially the inn keeper, were friendly and hospitable. However, the hotel in Futaleufu would not be the best choice for future travelers planning their only 2 night stay.
Futaleufu to Hornopiren, according to our Ride Adventures pamphlet, was expected to be approximately 270 km, mostly gravel with large pot holes and in poor condition. The estimated ride time was up to 7 to 9 hours. Again this is RIDE time, not including fuel stops, coffee, lunch, photos–nothing else just ride. We generally love that but this time we cannot make a mistake because there was a ferry to catch at 1:45 PM. Miss the ferry and we miss our hotel reservation schedule by 1 day. Plus, there is no place to stay for maybe 35 gravel miles from the ferry launch. Ride Adventures sent us an email the evening before warning that the roads were exceptionally poor and warned us to get an early departure. We left before 7 AM, barely daylight, no hot water for shower, Vicky got NO Coffee, and it was the coldest day of the ride. It was low 40s I believe. Our motorcycle gauge said it was 8 degrees (C). Initially I was not distressed but after a few miles in the cold I really, really wanted the coffee. However, we were in the middle of nowhere. There were no shops, restaurants, gas stations — only hills, isolated roads, and animals wandering off and on the road. As we travelled further the road deteriorated. Once in a while we would come upon some asphalt and I would think, “Great, now we can speed up and cover some distance quickly.” Not to mention that every turn and sign of civilization invited the idea of a hot cup of coffee. I even dreamed of offering to buy a cup for $10 when I spotted a farmer’s hut with smoke billowing out the roof pipes. However, as quick as it appeared, civilization and the asphalt would disappear–no warning just vanished leaving gravel and pot holes. Jon did an amazing job of slowing and controlling the heavy bike and still making the best of our travel time. This day involved VERY challenging and technical motorcycle riding. The road was constantly changing and much of it was under construction. This involved riding through mud, rocks, sand. The saving grace was that the sand was wet. I’m sad that I have no pictures but there was just no time to stop and get the camera out. We had a glitch with the Go Pro wherein the battery life seemed only seconds so there is nothing to show you this terrain.
We made the first (there were 2 for the day) Ferry launch on time. A little disconcerting at first, we realized the only place to buy a ferry ticket was 45 minutes back on the gravel road we had just traveled from Chaiten. If we turned around and went back we would miss the ferry. However, for motorcycles having a ticket is not a problem. They just squeeze you on to park someplace and you pay the ferry captain your fare. **Update, since first publication of this article—I read from another motorcycle travel blog recently that the Ferry no longer allows motorcyclist without a ticket as of January 2017. Apparently, the Ferry Operations received fines for violations and ALL passengers MUST have a ticket to board any ferry**.We waited for about 30 minutes at a lovely, modern coffee shop/restaurant and the ferry appeared around the bend so on to the next adventure of watching the ferry loading. The first of the ferry rides was a smaller boat and a short ride across the bay where we unloaded and followed a string of vehicles along a gravel dusty road for about 40 minutes. We followed, eating dust, until the caravan stopped and a long line formed. We sat on the bike for a while waiting for the line to move forward but I noticed people getting out of their vehicles and milling about. Finally asking about the schedule, I was told the next ferry would arrive at 3-4 PM, almost 3 hours wait. I got off and walked to the front of the line (about a mile) and discovered a lonely ferry launch, no coffee shops, no bathrooms, no drinking water. Fellow travelers unloaded their picnic supplies and embarked on the 3 hour wait with pleasure. I was constantly scanning the terrain for the best “bathroom spot,” but finding nothing suitable, I eventually found a flat piece of concrete in the shade. Using my helmet for a pillow, I laid down and took a nap.
Ferry number 2 was much larger. I watched in amazement as huge busses, loaded with passengers and commercial trucks hauling heavy equipment, unloaded and others reloaded the ferry. Motorcycles are loaded last so we got to just sit around and watch the ferry crew use lumber attached to chains to customize the ramp to each vehicle. One bus and one truck bashed their bumper but loaded up unperturbed by the event.
The ferry ride was nearly 3 hours but a very comfortable ride. The ferry had a well stocked galley and plenty of restrooms. There was a movie playing in one corner of the main cabin. Tables, booths, cushioned benches filled the main cabin. Many passengers slept, others played with electronics, some conducted business meetings. We arrived to Hornopiren at 7 PM. It was a sparsely populated coastal town of little affluence. We wandered around looking for food but were coming up empty-handed. Jon spotted a man working on his house and inquired about open restaurants. The man invited us back at 9 PM when he would open his restaurant and serve us dinner. We took him up on the offer and were pleased with our evening meal. We had fresh salmon and he made me a margarita. Can’t go wrong with that in my book! Margaritas are not common in South America but this guy did a good job.
Hornopiren to Puerto Varas, Chile, approximately 260 km, 100 km of it on gravel taking between 7 and 9 hours of riding. Ride Adventures offered two routes for today so we took the long way around and were so rewarded by striking views of ocean inlets, snow-capped volcanic mountains, and rushing waterfalls. Our hotel was top-notch with striking views of lakes and volcanoes. The walkway along the lake was lined with restaurants, shops, ice cream parlors, and parks. The town was bustling with people, music, food, and a park festival were in full swing.
Puerta Varas, Chile to Pucon, Chile, approximately 360 km asphalt riding taking 7-9 hours to reach the final destination. This was a day of easy, high speed riding along interstate like roadways, including the Panamericanan Hwy. We arrived in mid afternoon with plenty of time to unpack and return the motorcycle to Ride Adventures.