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Self-drive Chile: Off the beaten track

Day 1

Arrive in Santiago. Transfer to hotel in an arty up-and-coming district of the capital.
 
Santiago Chile
Transfer from Santiago airport to your hotel in Lastarria, an up-and-coming, arty residential district. The capital is set in a broad valley between 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. Poorer districts sprawl on the outskirts. 
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Santiago Chile

Day 2

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

Transfer to the airport and fly to Chiloé, an island of mists and mysteries with a strong rural tradition, unique wood-shingled churches and fishermen’s houses on stilts.Upon arrival in Chiloé you have a guided visit by road to Dalcahue, a thriving fishing port on the east coast of the island.

The harbour is usually busy with colourfully-painted wooden fishing boats, while the town's market is a good place to stop for lunch. Visit Dalcahue's quaint 19th century wooden church, one of a staggering 16 Unesco World Heritage sites on the island.

Continue to the island's busy capital Castro, about 10km south of Dalcahue. Castro is nowadays a busy, modern commercial centre but retains a small-town feel and has an evocative setting, straddling a bay enveloped by mist-shrouded, velvety-green hills. Castro's soaring gothic-style wooden cathedral is among Chiloé's most impressive attractions. A wonderfully photogenic row of traditional palafito stilt houses survives along its waterfront.  In the evening you will have the opportunity to savour Chiloé's culinary treat, the curanto, a meat and fish stew.

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Chiloe

Day 3

Guided tour of the surrounding area.
 
Chiloe Church

Guided visit to Castro's produce market, where the displays of seaweed, smoked shellfish, jumbo-sized fresh vegetables and hand-made cheeses showcase the island's traditional agricultural and fishing-based economy.

Later you are driven north to the coastal hamlet of Qemchi, and cross by a rickety 500m wooden footbridge to tiny Isla Aucar. Its small botanical garden is a sanctuary of native Chilote flora, planted by a priest who managed the island's 19th century chapel. Continue driving along the coast, with its small fishing communities and a bucolic backdrop of rolling hills, velvety pastures and quaint wooden churches. Stops will be made en route, including lunch with a local family or at a traditional restaurant.

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Chiloe Church

Day 4

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

By road and ferry back to the mainland and Puerto Varas in the south of the lake district. This verdant region is criss-crossed with a network of scenic roads linking lakes - most of which seems to have a snow-capped volcanic cone dominating their cobalt waters and sleepy small towns and villages along the shoreline.

Puerto Varas is on the shores of Lake 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. The town's main attraction is an alpine green lake framed by tree-clad hills. Beyond is Osorno, one of the most perfectly shaped snow-capped volcanoes in the world. 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.

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Osorno

Day 5

Guided excursion to Alerce Andino National Park.
 
Alerce Andino national park

Guided day excursion to Alerce Andino National Park, created to protect the temperate rainforest of alerce (larch) trees, the largest in Chile. The alerce is a towering, magnificent, majestic tree; it can grow to 60m high with a diameter of up to 5m.

Although numbers were depleted by logging in the 19th and 20th century, there are individual specimens up to 3,000 years old, protected as national monuments. In their natural setting, together with other Patagonian species, they create a magical sylvan environment.

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Alerce Andino national park

Day 6

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

Transfer to Puerto Montt airport and fly to Balmaceda in the Aisén region. Collect your hire vehicle and set off on your exploration of the Carretera Austral and its link roads.

The 1,240km Austral Road (Carretera Austral) cuts a lonely swathe through some of Patagonia's most pristine territory. Much of the highway is unpaved, a bumpy gravel track winding its way through craggy mountains and temperate rainforests, fording streams and skirting lakes. Glimpses of remote farmsteads, wood-shingle churches and sheepskin-clad horsemen are a reminder of the traditional way of life which survives here.

This self-drive route begins at Balmaceda (Coyhaique) airport and follows the southern section of the Austral Road for some 450km towards Caleta Tortel.  Based at rustic but cosy lodges, you can wander on mountain trails, explore native forests, sail on beautiful lakes and hike to glaciers. The scenery seems to change with every turn and the flexibility of being able to stop whenever you please to take in the views - and to take pictures - is part of the beauty of self-drive.

Today you’ll drive to Puerto Rio Tranquilo for 2 nights. Dry Pampa will gradually give way to green forests, mountains and glacial valleys as you cross the pass at the National Reserve of Cerro Castillo.  The journey is approximately 195 kilometres, taking around 5 hours to drive, of which 3-4 hours will be on unpaved road.

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Austral Road

Day 7

At leisure to explore the region.
 
Marble caves

At leisure to explore the area. You might hire a boat and guide in Lake General Carrera to reach the Marble Cathedral, an impressive eroded marble boulder the size of a large house just off marble cliffs with substantial caves. The stippled surface would do a sculptor proud and the turquoise waters over white marble look positively tropical.

You could alternatively drive along the extremely scenic side road from town which runs 58 km toward the Exploradores glacier, quite breathtaking scenery (4-wheel drive may be needed).

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Marble caves

Day 8

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

Drive to Caleta Tortel via the town Cochrane.  The road is unpaved all the way and, although there are stretches where you travel in a straight line, much is along winding roads, going up and down the mountains with vertiginous drops. The road passes through exquisite landscapes – ancient woodland clinging to near vertical cliffs, deep emerald foliage, mirror-clear glacial lakes of different shapes and colours, spikey mountains rising behind – everywhere is a good photo opportunity. The drive takes around 8 hours including stops.

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Tortel

Day 9

At leisure to explore the area.
 
Caleta Tortel
At leisure to enjoy this gorgeous scenery. The extraordinary village of Tortel was founded in 1955 to exploit the cypress wood that was (and still is) abundant in the area and for most of its history the only access was by air and boat – the road was only built in 2003. Occupying a creek, it has wooden walkways instead of streets, set on in different levels and connecting houses which, in turn, are all on stilts. The village is very tranquil with just a few shops and a couple of simple restaurants. 
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Caleta Tortel

Day 10

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

Retrace your route 198 kilometres back up north today to Puerto Guadal. En route you could visit the Tamango National Reserve (30mins from Cochrane) or explore the Chacabuco valley. The scenery from this perspective is as stunning as before, the journey takes about 6hrs.

Puerto Guadal is back on Lake General Carrera, this time on the southwest corner. You stay on the shores of the lake across from the village, with magnificent views across the water. Blessed with a micro-climate that virtually guarantees the best weather in the region (and more days of sunshine than most other lakeside communities) Puerto Guadal is fast becoming a destination of choice for visitors. In spring and summer the meadows are ablaze with colour as thousands of lupins and other plants come into flower. In February the village stages a week-long fiesta where one can watch Chilean-style horse racing and traditional games like La Taba.  There’s plenty of traditional Patagonian food to sample.

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Lake General Carrera

Day 11

At leisure to discover local highlights.
 
Huaso, Aisen

At leisure. Your accommodation hosts may suggest some adventures in the vicinity, such as a walk to a waterfall on the Maquis river, just east of town on the road to Chile Chico. There are multiple cascades as the river tumbles over steep cliffs and through dense coigüe and ñire forests as it empties into the lake.

Alternatively you might drive to a mine, abandoned in 1986 by a French mining company. The old mining installations and machinery used to mine deposits of lead, zinc and copper are still in place.

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Huaso, Aisen

Day 12

Drop off car at Balmaceda airport and fly to Santiago.
 
Aisen, Chile
Drive back to Balmaceda airport (6 hrs); drop off your vehicle. Fly to Santiago; transfer to your hotel.
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Aisen, Chile

Day 13

At leisure to explore the capital.
 
Lastarria

At leisure to explore Santiago. A mixture of chic, residential areas and smart office towers surround the compact colonial centre.If you set off from the University district, you will see the elegant 19th century mansions of the old aristocracy en route to the Plaza de Armas (Main Square) and historic municipal and cultural buildings. 

We suggest you continue to the Italian-influenced neighbourhood Bellavista with its cobbled streets, cafés and gift shops. There’s a panoramic view of the city from Cerro Santa Lucía, a hilltop park. If you have time, a funicular tram or cable car can take you to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. There’s a swimming pool and other family friendly amenities, and you have a panoramic view of the city and the snow-draped Andean mountains beyond.

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Lastarria

Day 14

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

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Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today. Self-drive Chile: Off the beaten track

  • Atacama 4 days from £1,215pp

    The Atacama’s inhospitable desert landscape is harsh and rugged, but it echoes the legacy of its pre-Columbian inhabitants, while the volcanoes and geysers hiss into life. Oases splash the tawny landscape with vigorous vegetation. A few days here will give you a surprisingly varied experience of desert life.

    Day 1: Fly from Santiago to Calama (2hrs) and on to the Andean town of San Pedro de Atacama (2,450m). The town is easy-going, with adobe houses and an accent on outdoor activities. You’ll be staying at Hotel Altiplánico on the edge of town. Here you can take advantage of an outdoor pool, Jacuzzi and terrace.

    In the late afternoon drive past spectacular rock formations to the Valle De la Luna (Moon Valley) where the lunar landscape is astonishingly photogenic. Huge sand dunes sweep across a panorama of salt-encrusted canyons, gullies and eroded rock sculptures. Walk up to the top of one to watch the valley at sunset - a dazzling palette of gold and reds. 

    Day 2: Today’s adventure takes you past Licancabur volcano to the village of Toconao, typical of the small oasis settlements of the area. Continue south, entering the Atacama salt flats, a national reserve. Pink flamingoes haunt the lagoons of the featureless white salt flats, and cacti stride towards the horizon.

    Day 3: Depart before dawn for a guided trip to Tatio geysers, at 4,300m the highest geyser field in the world. The geysers are a surreal sight at sunrise – blow-holes send jets of water and steam into a cloudless sky and, as the sun rises, the pools of water turn to shimmering silver. Later, you have time for a soak in hot springs (40°C). Please note that these can be closed for essential maintenence work.

    Day 4: Return to Calama airport to fly to Santiago to continue your holiday or connect with your international flight. (An overnight stay in Santiago may be required).
    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    Breakfast daily

  • Easter Island in depth 6 days from £2,274pp

    Polynesian Easter Island (Rapa Nui) lies 3,790km off the Chilean coast in the remote sub-tropical South Pacific. Windswept and grassy on one side, lushly vegetated on the other, and with a benign climate, it is famous for the clusters of huge enigmatic stone heads standing starkly against an azure skyline. Experience the unique atmosphere and friendly welcome.

    These few days on the island, with private excursions guided by enthusiastic experts in the field, will give you an insight-filled experience to satisfy your curiosity about the unique Rapa Nui culture. Triangular in shape, Easter Island measures no more than 8 miles at its widest point - with a huge, extinct volcanic crater at each of its extremes.

    Day 1: Fly from Santiago to Easter Island and continue to the secluded Hotel Altiplánico.  At 3km from the main town, Hanga Roa, it’s just a stone's throw from the ocean. Guest rooms resembling traditional boat houses are scattered over its tropical gardens. Facilities include a terrace and small pool.

    Day 2:  Full-day tour to introduce Easter Island's most iconic moai statues and intriguing archaeological heritage, encompassing the highlights of the island's north and east coast. There’s time to inspect the statues, explore a volcano and its extinct crater, and swim off a white-sand beach.

    Day 3: Explore geological and historic highlights in the south of the island. View 6 toppled statues, with admirable close-fitting Rapa Nui stonework. Continue to the quarry of the topknots, or 'hats', which adorned many of the moai, and on to view a 1km long collapsed lava tube used by early Easter Islanders as a dwelling. Next stop is the inland ahu (ceremonial platform) of Akivi, one of Easter Island's iconic and most photographed sites.

    Later visit Rano Kau, an extinct volcanic crater 1.6km across and 200m deep.  It is Easter Island's most spectacular natural attraction. Continue to Orongo, dramatically perched between the cliffs and the crater's edge, the site of the historic Birdman competition.

    Day 4: At leisure. You might take an optional 11km cliff-top walk which showcases the gloriously rugged coastline and volcanic landscape, with sweeping vistas across the Pacific Ocean. The hike ends at Anakena, a white coral beach.

    Day 5: Witness the citrus-hued sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. This vivid display of an artist's palette of colour can be especially memorable between October and April when the sun rises directly behind the 15-moai platform.Transfer to the airport and fly back to Santiago.

    Breakfast daily.

    You will need a positioning night in Santiago at either the beginning or end of your visit to Easter Island, depending on your itinerary. A stay at an airport hotel has been included in the cost.

  • Easter Island overview 5 days from £1,389pp

    Polynesian Easter Island (Rapa Nui) lies 3,790km off the Chilean coast in the remote sub-tropical South Pacific. Windswept and grassy on one side, lushly vegetated on the other, and with a benign climate, it is famous for the clusters of huge enigmatic stone heads standing starkly against an azure skyline. Experience the unique atmosphere and friendly welcome.

    These few days on the island, with group excursions led by local guides, will give you an overview of the wilderness landscapes and the unique Rapa Nui culture. Triangular in shape, Easter Island is about the size of greater London - each point of the triangle marked by a huge extinct volcanic crater.

    Day 1: Fly from Santiago to Easter Island and continue to your hotel, the O'Tai, a guesthouse in the centre of Hanga Roa, the main town on the island. It is a pleasant place set in large well-kept gardens, with a view of the sea in the distance.

    Day 2: Visit Vaihu, where many of the massive carved maoi heads lie before heading off to Akahanga, where a dozen standing moais - backs turned to the ocean - stand on a massive plinth. Move on to the Rano Raraku volcanic crater and Poike quarry where hundreds of Cyclopean heads litter the hillside, some finished others half-carved. It's an easy uphill walk to get to the crater of the volcano. Continue to the pink-sand beach of Anakena, where you can swim and enjoy your packed lunch, returning to your hotel late afternoon.

    Day 3: A bus takes you to the rim of the Rano Kao crater, where you go on foot to the ceremonial village of Orongo. It is here than the annual ceremony of the Bird Man or Tangata Manu would take place here among its stone-built houses and food stores. The object of the ceremony - or quest - was to find and bring back the first egg laid by the seabird manutara, a type of tern. Continue to the caverns of Ana Kai Tangata, where the islanders took refuge during times of war and where there are some pre-historic paintings.

    Day 4: Transfer to the airport and fly back to Santiago.

    Breakfast daily, picnic lunch day 2.

    You will need a positioning night in Santiago at either the beginning or end of your visit to Easter Island, depending on your itinerary. A stay at an airport hotel has been included in the cost.

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Self-drive Chile: Off the beaten track

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