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Self-drive Chile: Lake district and Torres del Paine

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This holiday grants you the opportunity to self-drive through the exquisite lake district in the heart of the Chilean Andes then fly south to explore (again in your own car) the glacier scoured mountains of Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Patagonia.

Begin your holiday in cosmopolitan Santiago situated at the foot of the snow-draped Andes. It's a lively and dynamic city full of history and innovation.

Your self-drive adventure begins when you fly to the Lake District and collect your car. Here, meadows and pasture are dotted with pine forest-fringed, sapphire lakes overlooked by imperious, snowy volcanic cones. The roads here lead you to isolated settlements and soothing hot springs. Drive from north to south, leaving the pleasant resort of Pucón and visiting the river port Valdivia before reaching Puerto Varas in the shadow of Chile's most dominant volcano, Osorno.

Fly south from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas in deepest Patagonia to pick up another car to explore the primeval landscapes of glaciers, scoured valleys and needle-sharp mountain peaks, jacketed in ancient ice. This is real wilderness country but the roads are generally good quality and you can relax to enjoy the magnificent scenery.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel in the capital. Afternoon tour of the historic centre.

Day 2

Fly to Temuco in the Lake District; collect car; drive to Pucón.

Day 3

Explore the Pucón area by car.

Day 4

Drive south to Valdivia.

Day 5

At leisure to explore the Valdivia region.

Day 6

Drive to Petrohué with views of the gigantic volcano Osorno.

Day 7

Drive to Puerto Varas, the southern lake district's principal town.

Day 8

Drive to Puerto Montt, drop off car; fly to Punta Arenas in southern Patagonia.

Day 9

Drive from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 10

Explore the area around Las Torres.

Days 11-12

Drive to Lago Grey. Explore the area around the lake, glacier and River Grey.

Day 13

Drop off car at airport and fly to Santiago.

Day 14

Return to the airport for international flight home.

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What our experts say

This really is ideal territory for self-guided exploration. You can stop where you like for photos (and you'll be spoilt for choice in this picturesque landscape), the roads are in good condition and well-signed on the whole. Local people are friendly and above all this tranquil environment is safe, you'll be able to relax

David

David Nichols

Product and Marketing

Places visited on this holiday

Self-drive Chile: Lake district and Torres del Paine

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Santiago and the vineyards
Santiago and the vineyards
With a backdrop of snow-draped Andean peaks in a sunny fertile valley, Chile’s huge capital lies at the heart of the country. A multi-layered place of contrasting neighbourhoods it is worth getting to know.

There’s a tiny colonial heart which displays an often poignant history, offset by the glittering malls, skyscrapers and shady boulevards of a modern economy. Interspersed are European-style centres for shopping and eating out such as Italianate Bellavista and newly vibrant, villagey localities among which is trendy Lastarría. The surrounding Mediterranean landscape is the perfect setting for vineyards and wineries producing Chile’s well respected wines.
When's the best time to visit Santiago and the vineyards?
Santiago has a hot dry summer and cool winters with some rain and even snow. Spring and autumn (Sep-Oct and Apr-May) are pleasant times for a city visit. The vineyards are at their prettiest in spring (Sep-Oct) but a visit may be most interesting at harvest time (Mar-Apr).
What is the official language in Santiago and the vineyards?

Spanish.

How can I get local currency in Santiago and the vineyards?
Chilean Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) where you can exchange US dollars cash; rates for euros and sterling are harder to find and frequently poor.
What's the time difference between Santiago and the vineyards and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, from Sep/Oct to early Mar. 

What places combine with Santiago and the vineyards?

Valparaiso, colourful Pacific port growing in popularity among visitors, 106km (2hours by road); a beach wind-down in Chile’s principal resort, Viña del Mar (100km, 2 hours); a few days on Polynesian Easter island (5 hours direct by air); winter skiing in the family resort of Valle Nevado (65km, 1 hour 40mins by road).

How do I get to Santiago and the vineyards?

There are no direct flights from the UK, average flight time is 16 hours; a change of plane is required in Europe, Brazil or the USA.

What are the festivals and cultural events in Santiago and the vineyards?

Feria Internacional de Artesania: Nov; Parque General Bustamente, Centro, Santiago, the city’s best craft festival.

Feria Internacional del Libro: Nov, Machopo station, Santiago. A Hay Festival is imminent for Santiago – watch this space!

Fiesta de la Vendimia: Santa Cruz, Colchagua Valley, An annual grape harvest festival in early Mar. 

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Chilean Lake District (north)
Lake District North

It seems that each of the royal blue lakes in this region of chocolate-box prettiness is overlooked by its own snow-dipped volcano. On the lake shores are resort towns with an Alpine flavour and traditional villages of neat wooden cottages. The region is carpeted with pine forests and studded with youthful streams.

The north is dominated by the snowy peak of the volcano Villarrica towering over the lake of the same name. Pucón is a lively outdoor lakeside resort, a base for adventure activities. To the south there is a necklet of seven exquisite, sinuous lakes reached by a network of scenic roads. To the west, the watery river port Valdivia sits at the confluence of three rivers which debouch into the Pacific half way between Temuco and Puerto Montt. Oft isolated by geography, conflict and earthquakes, its hinterland is still best explored by boat. A lively university city, it has a multitude of cultural events celebrating its diversity.

When's the best time to go to Chile north Lake District?
The northern lake district has a temperate climate, with plenty of warm sun but also showers in summer, while winters can be cool and very rainy. Dec-Mar is very crowded with local holiday-makers. If you prefer a less lively atmosphere, spring and autumn (Mar-Apr, Oct-Nov) are good choices.
What's the official language of Chile north Lake District?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Chile north Lake District?
Chilean Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in Pucón and Villarrica using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) where you can exchange US dollars cash at a lower rate; rates for euros and sterling are harder to find and also frequently poor.
What's the time difference between Chile north Lake District and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, from Sep - Oct to early Mar. 

What places combine well with Chile north Lake District?

The southern lake district, centred on Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, 322 km (5-6 hours by car); the Argentine lake district via the Lake Crossing from Bariloche in Argentina’s lake district to Puerto Varas; continue north by road.

How do I get to Chile north Lake District?

There are flights from Santiago to Temuco (75mins). Drive north from Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas in 5-6 hours (322 km).

What are the festivals, cultural and sport events in Chile north Lake District?

Festival Cultural Mapuche: Villarrica, mid Feb. This celebrates the culture of the indigenous Mapuche Indians. There are many other summer events in the city, including music, rodeos and regattas.

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Chilean Lake District (south)
Lake District

Chile’s lake district is a picturesque region of ancient forests straddling rugged hills lorded over by snow-capped volcanoes, hot springs and crystalline streams, interspersed by flowery meadows and cattle pasture.

The southern part of the region includes the Bavarian-style resort Puerto Varas on the shores of the vast lake Llanquihue, overlooked by the perfect cone of the Osorno volcano. Not far from here are the Petrohue Falls, a popular break in the journey for visitors on the Lakes Crossing route to Argentina. Puerto Montt is a large town with a busy fishing port from where it’s a short ferry ride to the deeply traditional island of Chiloe.

When's the best time to visit Chile south Lake District?
The southern lake district has a temperate climate, with plenty of warm sun but also showers in summer, while winters (May-Aug/Sep) can be cool and very rainy. Dec-Mar is very crowded with local holiday-makers. If you prefer a less lively atmosphere, spring and autumn (Mar-Apr, Oct-Nov) are good choices.
What's the official language of Chile south Lake District?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Chile south Lake District?
Chilean Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) where you can exchange US dollars cash at a lower rate; rates for euros and sterling are harder to find and also frequently poor.
What's the time difference between Chile south Lake District and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, from Sep-Oct to early Mar.

What places combine well with Chile south Lake District?

The northern lake district, centred on Pucón or Villarrica (5-6 hours by car); the Argentine lake district via the Lake Crossing from Bariloche in Argentina’s lake district to Puerto Varas; the wilderness Aisén region of glaciers, fjords and islands to the south (drive from Puerto Montt down the Carretera Austral or fly to Coyhaique from Puerto Montt (1 hour 47mins); Torres del Paine in Patagonia (fly from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, 2 hours 12mins). 

How do I get to Chile south Lake District?

There are flights from Santiago to Puerto Montt (1 hour 40mins). Drive south from Pucón or Villarrica in 5-6 hours (322km).

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Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine

 

Torres del Paine National Park in southern Patagonia is the pinnacle of Chile’s natural landscapes, fast becoming one of the world’s most popular places for walking holidays. Cuernos del Paine is a granite massif which has been sliced apart into needle-sharp spires by glaciers. Beyond are the vertical triple towers of the Torres del Paine. Wind-battered grasslands lead up to sheltered glacial valleys with flowery meadows; torrential rivers surging with ice are interlaced with glassy lagoons. Wildlife abounds everywhere, from geese to guanaco; condors and puma may be spotted, especially in the low winter season from April to October.

When's the best time to visit Torres del Paine NP?
The best months for hiking are Mar-Apr. Many hikers also visit in summer (Dec - Jan) along with non-trekkers so it can be very busy at that time. Days are long and mild then but it can be windy, as in spring (Sep - Oct). For non-hikers, a visit at any time is recommended outside the winter months Jun - Aug when it can be very cold and access routes can be blocked by snow. On the other hand, it is frequently less windy in winter and you have a better chance of spotting wildlife as there are few tourists around. Many facilities are closed then; however, each year, a few more stay open to cater for this off-season traffic.
What's the official language in Torres del Paine NP?

Spanish.

How canI get local currency in Torres del Paine NP?

Chilean Peso. Bring sufficient pesos for your needs from a previous larger destination.

What's the time difference between Torres del Paine NP and UK?

GMT -4 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer.
What other places combine with Torres del Paine NP?

Puerto Natales, picturesquely located town on Last Hope Sound which still has a frontier feel, famous for its black-necked swans, 3 hours by roadEl Calafate in the Parque Nacional de los Glaciares, Argentina (to visit the Perito Moreno glacier), 425km (7 hours scenic drive); the Aisén Region, a wilderness of little-visited forests and rivers north of the park, 4.5 hours drive to Punta Arenas then 1.5 hours by air the Chilean lake district (2 hours away by air from Punta Arenas).

How do I get to Torres del Paine NP?

Daily flights from Santiago take 3 hours 50mins to Punta Arenas, thence it is 3-5 hours by road to Torres del Paine.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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