As is the case with most of Patagonia’s treasures, this road demands maximum effort and in return, provides you with incredible rewards. The effort involves maneuvering through the steep and narrow road that winds its way around the southwest border of General Carrera Lake, through the Paso de las Llaves (Keyhole Pass). And the prize? Spectacular views, dominated by huge expanses of blue and turquoise, which sparkle and change with each passing cloud, along the drive from Chile Chico to Puerto Guadal.
Early inhabitants of this sector of Patagonia called their tremendous lake, Chelenko, which means Troubled Waters.
Its enormous size (the second largest in South America) is fed by snow melt and the waters of a million glacial streams. On warm days, the cold waters are brought to life by the heat of the sun’s rays across the magnitude of its surface. When the fierce Patagonia winds begin to blow, waves of up to 3 meters are produced. This lake is anything BUT sweet and serene; providing technical challenges that beckon expert kayakers and delight landscape photographers. The near constant movement of the winds and clouds, combined with the dramatic intensity of light, convert into a dazzling show of sparkling blues and turquoises across the canvas of this lake. It might be cloudy where you are standing, but as you gaze across this lake’s horizon, a powerful beam of light sneaks through the clouds, highlighting the waters below it, as if they were sacred. The landscape of Chelenko is never still – wait one minute and that ray of light will be resting over you!
This photographer’s adventure begins along the southern shore of the lake, in Chile Chico.
Head west along the main street past the entrance to the Cerro Las Banderas Scenic Overlook, where the road becomes Route X-265. In the first few kilometers you’ll note how the foothills of the mountains rise up over the steppe, producing dramatic opening shots, especially in those points where you catch glimpses of the lake. (Did you remembered to clear the memory card in your camera?)
In kilometer five, you’ll spot an intersection and a small shrine at the side of the road, with hundreds of plastic bottles of water lined up all around. This shrine honors the Difunta Correa, a popular patron saint of the roads in Chile and Argentina who, according to legend, died of thirst wandering the pampas of Argentina, but, miraculously, was able to save the life of her baby by protecting it with her own body. The Difunta Correa is an icon in Patagonia, with many devotees, as you will note when you see the collection of plastic bottles in front, left to quench this heroine’s thirst. The intersection presents the choice to take a 12 kilometer detour to the Bahia Jara Sector, where there are beautiful white-sand beaches, camping, and cherry groves, along with several local farms that sell fresh produce. This sector, as well as the Fachinal Sector, located four kilometers further along Route X-265, are excellent places to stop along your journey, for walks along the beaches, photos and picnics.
After leaving the lowland sector near Bahia Jara and Fachinal, you will begin to climb high above the shoreline of the lake toward the tiny community of Mallín Grande. The road becomes more complicated during this part of the drive, passing through an area called the Paso de las Llaves (Keyhole Pass.) The road is narrow and follows along the cliffs through hairpin curves. It can be a challenge for those who suffer from vertigo, but the scenery along the way is unsurpassed. Just go slow, take your time and, if you’re a cyclist, take extra precaution with the wind.
This adventure portion of the route continues for approximately 32 kilometers, when you will arrive in Mallín Grande, a small and quiet village where you can stop for a brief walk around, visit the local shops, and buy a snack before continuing on towards Puerto Guadal. Mallín Grande is the starting point for the trail that leads to Cerro Tronador, an excellent horse trek that offers spectacular panoramic shots of Chelenko and the surrounding valleys. We recommend doing this trip in autumn when the native forest takes on intense shades of red and yellow.
In the final 64.5 km stretch between Mallín Grande and Puerto Guadal, Route X-265 winds through native forests and farmlands that border the lake and the drive is much more relaxing, with plenty of opportunities to stop for photos beside waterfalls and streams, at scenic overlooks of the lake, and at strategic points where you can observe the mountains on the horizon, like Monte San Valentin (4058 m), the highest in Patagonia, which you’ll see toward the northwest.
Puerto Guadal is the perfect place for a refreshing dip in the lake with all of the amenities you’ll need: a supermarket, gas station, restaurants and a selection of accommodations that meet the needs of all travelers and all budgets. The range includes options for tent-camping, luxury lodges, and everything in-between, making it hard to go wrong: no matter where you decide to relax in this sector, Chelenko will offer you tremendous panoramas of its beautiful colors and turbulent waters.