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Self-drive Chile: Lake district and Torres del Paine

Day 1

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

Transfer from Santiago airport to your hotel in the up-and-coming Bellas Artes quarter, within walking distance of the Plaza de Armas and the bohemian neighbourhood of Lastarria. The Chilean capital is set in a broad valley between the snow-capped ranges of the Andes and a smaller coastal range with a distinctly Mediterranean feel. It’s a huge metropolis: a mix of the old and the contemporary, with districts of tree-lined avenues and affluent tranquillity and others full of commercial bustle.

Your guided tour showcases the city's multi-faceted character, contrasting the bustling historic centre, leafy residential neighbourhoods and swish, ultra-modern El Golf, the high-rise business district. In the University district you will see the elegant 19th century mansions of the old aristocracy and, around the Plaza de Armas (Main Square), a number of historic municipal and cultural buildings. Nearby is the presidential palace, which was attacked in the 1973 coup. Continue to the Italian-influenced neighbourhood Bellavista with its cobbled streets, cafés and gift shops. From there, visit San Cristóbal Hill - which has a cable car, swimming pool and other family friendly amenities - for a panorama of the city and the snow-capped Andean mountains beyond.

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Santiago Chile

Day 2

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

Transfer to the airport and fly to Temuco in the Lake District, a divinely picturesque region often compared with Switzerland. Collect your 4WD vehicle at the airport and drive to Pucón on the shores of Lake Villarrica.  The pleasant little resort, with its sandy volcanic beaches, is a major Lake District destination for Chilean holidaymakers during their high summer.

The town is crammed with small shops, bars and restaurants. Towering above Pucón is one of the region's most dominant landmarks - Villarrica Volcano (2,840m).  The resort's surroundings, besides being extremely photogenic, are an adventure playground offering white-water rafting on the Trancura River, volcano climbing and hiking trails. The region is famous for its many hot springs.

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Villarica volcano

Day 3

Explore the Pucón area by car.
driving around pucon

The winding country roads of the Lake District offer a scenic surprise around every corner - a sapphire lake, snow-crispened volcanic cone, whispering forest. Stop off at little villages, pause to ogle tumbling waterfalls, picnic beside crystal streams, bathe in thermal pools. The region is criss-crossed with a network of scenic routes linking the lakes.The Bavarian influence of German immigrants is quite evident in the region, with alpine-style architecture and tea shops serving küchen.

The way you travel is largely up to you, such is the flexibility of self-drive. However, for your peace of mind all your hotels are pre-booked and we will suggest routes to help you get the most out of this magnificent region.

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driving around pucon

Day 4

Drive south to Valdivia.
lake district chile

It’s a drive of about 2 hours 15 minutes southwest to the coast and the pleasant river port Valdivia, or a little longer if you travel along the infinitely more picturesque country roads south of Lake Villarrica, turning off the main road to loop around Lake Calafquen to visit the quirky little towns of Licanray, Coñaripe and Panguipulli, each dwarfed by the scale of the lake and mountain scenery in which they nestle.  

On a clear day this journey showcases some of the finest scenery of the Chilean lake district, with glorious views of the lakes and volcanoes. You’ll be constantly tempted to pull over for numerous photo stops or just to enjoy the views and breathe in the crisp fresh air.  

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lake district chile

Day 5

At leisure to explore the Valdivia region.

Valdivia is an attractive river port brimming with students which in itself is well worth a look around, with architecture reflecting its Spanish and German heritage. Further afield there is a string of colonial forts guarding the peaceful estuaries, lakes and native forests. You can explore by boat: trips depart from the Muelle Fluvial,  where there is also a pleasant riverside walk. If you’d like to explore by car you can drive to isolated villages at the mouth of the river Valdivia such as Niebla, 18km, which has seafood restaurants, and a little further on Los Molinos, a seaside resort.

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Day 6

Drive to Petrohué with views of the gigantic volcano Osorno.
Lake Llanquihue

Today's drive takes you very close to the base of Osorno volcano, which dominates the skyline. If you travel direct this is a three-hour drive heading due south - a journey of around 200km. The route includes a 28km stretch along the shores of sapphire-blue Lago Llanquihue, following a road running between the towering, conical giant of snow-stifled volcano Osorno which dominates the southern lake district and the waters of this huge lake, around which are studded many of the region’s most important towns  (Puerto Varas, Frutillar and Puerto Octay) summer resorts and water sports.

However, again it's worth taking the day to do it, allowing for a stop for lunch at Puerto Octay, and meandering slowly along the lakeshore towards Ensenada. If the sun's out and the sky is blue there will be superb views across the lake towards Calbuco volcano on the other side. Reaching Ensenada, you branch off towards Petrohué where you’ll be spending the night.

Petrohué, on the western shores of Lake Todos Los Santos, consists of little more than a post office a few boats and a couple of hotels but it is a good place from which to stretch your legs for a countryside walk, such as the two-hour trail up to the lookout point on the top of Cerro Picada, with expansive views.

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Lake Llanquihue

Day 7

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

It's only 55km from Petrohué to Puerto Varas. Don't miss visiting the picturesque Petrohué waterfalls along the way, with their backdrop of the Osorno volcano. Puerto Varas is set amid lush, green, rolling countryside on the shores of Lago Llanquihue. The town was colonised by Germans at the turn of the 20th century and its architecture and sedate style reflects this, but it is now a fast-growing tourist resort where the main attraction is an alpine green lake framed by tree-clad hills and, beyond, Osorno.

If you're lucky enough to be in Puerto Varas on a clear and still evening, the sunsets over Osorno's snowy mantle can be magical, best appreciated from the lakeshore promenade which offers fabulous lake views.

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puerto varas

Day 8

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

It's just a 20km drive to Puerto Montt airport, where you'll drop off your car and fly to Punta Arenas in southern Patagonia (2 hours).  The substantial city is an atmospheric and often blustery Patagonian outpost. Its centre is lined with elegant mansions (built on the wealth of sheep farming and mining during the late 19th century) and buildings with colourful corrugated iron roofs. It also has some interesting museums and several penguin colonies nearby (Oct-Mar).

Collect your car at the airport and drive for 3-4 hours to Puerto Natales.(You could pop in to look at Punta Arenas although it is a half-hour drive in the other direction). The roads in the far south are lonelier and less crowded than in the Lake District. This road you will follow is paved, but cuts through a relentless wind-buffeted wilderness of hardy grassland, populated by a surprisingly large wildlife population: you may spot guanacos, ñandu (ostriches), hares and foxes, in addition to many hardy species of bird.

Situated on the eastern shore of Last Hope Sound, the remote town of Puerto Natales looks out over icy sea and snow-capped peaks. The grids of one-storey wooden houses and small shops still have a frontier-town feel. It's a convenient stopover for visitors en route to Torres del Paine National Park.

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Puerto Natales

Day 9

Drive from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park.
Torres del Paine Chile

It’s an increasingly scenic drive to Torres del Paine National Park (150km – 3 hours). The park is dominated by a granite massif of smooth rock towers and icy pinnacles. Milky blue and gem-sharp emerald lakes, sinuous rivers, glaciers and wind-scoured steppes have created a remarkable and unique environment.

Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the area is a natural habitat of over 150 species of birds (flamingos, condors, eagles and ostriches) and 25 species of mammal (including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas).

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Torres del Paine Chile

Days 10

Explore the area around Las Torres.
Torres del Paine

Spend a full day in the shadow of the soaring, vertical granite slabs known as the “Towers of Paine”, exploring the lakes and valleys, glaciers and steppes.

The staff and guides at your accommodation, Hotel Las Torres, can organise optional activities within the park on foot or on horseback, payable locally. If you are in good shape the key attraction here is the all-day hike to the base of the Paine towers but there are shorter options too.

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Torres del Paine

Days 11-12

Drive to Lago Grey. Explore the area around the lake, glacier and River Grey.
Lago Grey
Drive to Lago Grey. Your hotel has fabulous views across the lake. Here you can survey the steep walls of the Grey Glacier, from which blue-tinged icebergs the size of motor launches break off and drift around in the icy waters. You have two days to explore the national park’s attractions in this vicinity.
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Lago Grey

Day 13

Drop off car at airport and fly to Santiago.
Road Punta Arenas - Puerto Natales
Transfer back to Punta Arenas airport (350km - 5 hours), drop off your car and fly to Santiago (4 hours). Overnight at an airport hotel.
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Road Punta Arenas - Puerto Natales

Day 14

Return to the airport for international flight home.

Enjoyed your driving? For a completely different experience in a contrasting environment, you may well be tempted to add on a few days to your holiday and take our extension to drive around the vineyards close to the capital - the scenery is lyrically bucolic, and you can visit the wineries where your passengers can sample some of the country's best regarded wines.  

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

Tailor-made holiday

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We would be delighted to create a truly personalised trip which perfectly matches your wishes and requirements.

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Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today. Self-drive Chile: Lake district and Torres del Paine

  • Vineyards of the Chilean Andes self-drive 5 days from £961pp

    Chile’s heartland close to Santiago enjoys an agreeable Mediterranean climate and its fertile soil supports orchards, fields of succulent vegetables and, with increasing economic importance, vineyards. If you relish the freedom to explore independently, the Colchagua Valley is a rewarding region to discover by self-drive hire car.

    Some of Chile's finest wines are produced in these pretty, sunlit slopes, and many of the wineries welcome visitors - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Carménère are local varieties with a growing international reputation.  

    A distant snow-frosted Andean backdrop, sweeping views over the battalions of vines and picturesque small towns add to the pleasure of discovering the Ruta del Viño independently.

    Day 1:  It’s a drive of a couple of hours to Santa Cruz in the heart of the wine-producing region. You’ll be spending three nights at Santa Cruz Plaza hotel overlooking the central main square in the centre of town, opposite the interesting Colchagua museum.

    Days 2,3:  You are free to explore the area at your leisure for the next two days. There are numerous wineries you can stop at and visit which are particularly known for the calibre of their red varietals. There are several attractive small villages to stop along the way, such as Lolol, and an abundance of good restaurants to sample. 

    Day 4: Drop off your car back at Santiago airport. You then have a night booked at the Holiday Inn close by.

    Day 5: Take your flight to return home or continue with your holiday in Latin America. 

    Breakfast daily.


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