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Self-drive Chile: Off the beaten track

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This holiday goes off the beaten track to discover some of the more sparsely populated corners of this wildly beautiful country, including the Carretera Austral, only completed in the early 1980s and the first proper road to negotiate this fractured region of fjords, glaciers and rivers.

A 4,000km long, skinny coastal strip backed by the Andes mountain range, Chile has a variety of climate and landscape to match its changing latitudes. This holiday explores a little visited part of Patagonia. First, we take you exploring the back-roads of the deeply traditional island of Chiloé and intact, ancient forests in the lake district. The most rewarding way to explore your next destination, Aisén (Chile’s Region XI), is in your own hire vehicle. An area of staggering natural beauty, Aisén was for centuries neglected: its fractured landscape of fjords and glaciers hard to negotiate, its agricultural potential meagre, its natural resources hidden away. Political dissidents were sent into exile here, and immigrants from persecution also found peace among the pines. Now the region is opening up to visitors. The Austral Road offers one of South America’s great iconic road trips with scenery of almost unimaginable beauty. To help you on your way, all your hotels are pre-booked and we have suggested a route to help you get the most out of this magnificent region.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel in an arty up-and-coming district of the capital.

Day 2

Transfer to airport and fly to Chiloé Island. Visit Dalcahue port and Castro, the capital.

Day 3

Guided tour of the surrounding area.

Day 4

Take a ferry to Quinchao island. Onward ferry to the mainland, continue to Puerto Varas.

Day 5

Guided excursion to Alerce Andino National Park.

Day 6

Fly to Balmaceda in Patagonia, collect hire vehicle, and drive to Puerto Rio Tranquilo.

Day 7

At leisure to explore the region.

Day 8

Drive to Caleta Tortel, a village on the Carretera Austral.

Day 9

At leisure to explore the area.

Day 10

Drive to Puerto Guadal on the shores of Lake General Carrera.

Day 11

At leisure to discover local highlights.

Day 12

Drop off car at Balmaceda airport and fly to Santiago.

Day 13

At leisure to explore the capital.

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

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What our experts say

A trip with a pioneering spirit: driving on the Austral Road can be unpredictable, but that's the essence of travel off the beaten track. The scenery is fabulous - you'll find some of Patagonia's most beautiful territory here and chances are you'll have the views, the walks - and the roads - almost to yourself. 

David

David Nichols

Product and Marketing

Places visited on this holiday

Self-drive Chile: Off the beaten track

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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 (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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Aisen and the Carretera Austral
Cycling along the Carreterra Austral in Chile

South of the lake district lies the remote Aisén region, crossed by the Carretera Austral (‘Southern Highway’), a tremendous feat of engineering which opened up this fractured wilderness area in the 1980s. This lonely road negotiates a shattered landscape of felled and standing forests, mountain passes and glaciers, and crosses dozens of icy rivers, lakes and fjords as it weaves south from Puerto Montt to where the land runs out. This beautiful region is frequently unjustly overlooked by visitors to the lakes and southern Patagonia, although is popular with fishing enthusiasts and horse-riders. Nowadays new lodges mean that the area is at last beginning to open up.

When's the best time to visit Aisen and Carretera Austral?
The Aisén region has a cool temperate climate, in places close to the coast it rains up to 300 days a year but in others, such as the area around Coyhaique, a rain shadow effect reduces precipitation. It can be very cold in winter, when roads may be blocked, so a summer visit - when some warm sunshine is likely - is advisable.
What's the official language of Aisen and Carretera Austral?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Aisen and Carretera Austral?
Chilean Peso. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in Coyhaique using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also some 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 Carretera Austral and UK?

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

What places combine well with Aisen and Carretera Austral?

The lake district, eg Puerto Varas or Pucón (3-6 hours by car); or fly between Coyhaique and Puerto Montt (1 hour 45 mins); Torres del Paine in Patagonia (fly from Coyhaique to Punta Arenas, 1.5 hours). 

How do I get to Aisen and Carretera Austral?

There are flights from Santiago to Balmaceda (for Coyhaique) (2.5 hours); from Puerto Montt (1 hour 7mins); from Punta Arenas take 1.5 hours). Drive south from Puerto Montt on the Carretera Austral (1,200 km on ripio unpaved roads). 

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

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