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Self-drive Patagonia: The open road to Torres del Paine

20 days from £5,396pp

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Self-drive Patagonia: The open road to Torres del Paine

20 days from £5,396pp
 

Private Journey

 

Day 1

Arrive in Buenos Aires. Transfer to hotel close to colonial centre and commercial district of the capital.
 

You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel on the edge of the arty district of San Telmo by one of our local representatives.

Buenos Aires is an elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan city famed for its interesting museums and the fascinating port district of La Boca, with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills. The centre of town is home to the colonial heartland, government buildings and churches, as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic Parisian feel. The bohemian quarter of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and classy restaurants. Slightly further out of the centre is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of French or Italian influences, where Evita Perón was laid to rest.

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La boca

Day 2

Walking tour along the Avenida de Mayo.
 

Take a guided walking tour along Avenida del Mayo, one of Buenos Aires' principal stately arteries, linking the capital's colonial and political heart at Plaza de Mayo with the Plaza de Congreso, crossing the even more grandiose Avenida 9 de Julio. Built in the 1880s and often compared with similar boulevards in European capitals, it has a definite Old World ambiance, with art deco, art nouveau and neo-classical façades, shaded by leafy trees, lining the route.

The guided walk includes a stop at the world famous Café Tortoni, crammed with memorabilia, the barber's shop attached, and one of the first metro stations outside the USA and Europe, preserved in its original state as a museum. Visit the very ornate Barolo Palace, designed in accordance with the cosmology of Dante's Divine Comedy with floors representing heaven, purgatory and hell.

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El Cabildo, Buenos Aires

Day 3

Fly to Bariloche in the lake district. Collect your hire car.
 

Transfer to the airport and fly to Bariloche in the lake district. San Carlos de Bariloche is the main town in Argentina's lake district, on the southern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi. The town, a centre for skiing in winter (July and August), and walking in summer, is set against a stunning backdrop of glacial green-blue lakes framed by the mountains of the Andes.

Depending on when you arrive in Bariloche, you will either be taken to pick up your rental car on the way to the hotel, or you will pick it up the following day. You will receive a Fly and Drive kit with maps and useful information about the area and highlights to visit. The vehicle is a Chevrolet Corsa 4-door 4X2 (or similar) and includes an allowance of 1,200 km travel, but not fuel. A tax of around US$10-15 will be payable locally upon collection.

Your hotel is on the outskirts of town on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi.Fly to Bariloche in the lake district. Collect your hire car.

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Bariloche

Day 4

Explore the Bariloche area.
 

Day at leisure to explore the chocolate-box pretty region. We recommend a visit to either the Cerro Campanario view point or Cerro Catedral ski resort for panoramas over the lakes and mountains.

Bariloche is also a good base for scenic lakeshore drives.  Just 40 mins’ drive away is the Llao Llao peninsula with walking trails and picturesque drives around Lago Moreno. Alternatively, a boat departs daily from Puerto Panuelo for Puerto Blest, one of the area’s best day-trips.

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Bariloche

Day 5

Self-drive to San Martín de los Andes.
 

Today’s drive is perhaps the finest in the lake district, showcasing 7 beautiful lakes and 2 national parks along its journey between Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes.

Leaving Bariloche, the paved highway hugs the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi as far as Villa La Angostura where it crosses the Correntoso river before striking a more winding route though forests and glades in the heart of the lake district. The road emerges at a scenic pass with fabulous views of Lago Lacar during the descent to San Martin.  Start out early: it’s around 200km (4 hrs) of driving and roughly two-thirds is by paved road, but allow plenty of time if you intend to detour via Villa Traful or make the most of the numerous photo opportunities en route.

You have 2 nights in a quaint little hotel, La Casa de Eugenia, close to the lakeshore.

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Bariloche

Day 6

Explore the San Martín lakes area.
 

Spend the day relaxing in this laid-back, low-rise lakeshore resort in Lanin National Park. Boat trips depart from the jetty for Lago Nonthué, visiting Chachin Falls and Hua Hum. You may opt to drive instead to the border crossing at Hua Hum along a picturesque 50km gravel road along the north shore of Lago Lacar.

With an early start (and a 4WD is best for this drive), it’s possible to do the rewarding trip to remote Lago Huechulafquen in the northern section of the Park. Half the 100km drive is on a rough gravel road and it takes 2-3 hrs. On a clear day you’ll be treated to views of Lanin volcano, just shy of 3,800m.

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Lanin National Park

Day 7

Self-drive to Villa la Angostura.
 

Drive to Villa La Angostura. This is a 110km drive back along the gorgeous Seven Lakes route (2hrs). Villa La Angostura is a picturesque mountain village set on the northern shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi. It has evolved since its early development in the 1920s into a small, upmarket resort with plenty of good restaurants and shops.The border with Chile is just 20 mins' drive away.

Your accommodation for 2 nights, Hotel Correntoso, is set in the foothills of the Andes, at the mouth of the Correntoso river where it enters Lake Nahuel Huapi.

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Seven lakes sefl drive

Day 8

Explore the area independently.
 

Villa La Angostura is a fitting place in which to relax after the last few days’ driving. If you wish to explore, Los Arrayanes National Park, just outside Villa La Angostura is famous for its centuries-old forests of arrayán (Chilean myrtle) trees, in an idyllic setting on the Quetrihué peninsula. You can hike there (12km / 3hrs each way) or visit by boat from Villa La Angostura’s port of Bahia Mansa from where it is a 45min sailing.

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Argentina's idyllic lake district

Day 9

Drop off car in Bariloche; fly to El Calafate, collect car, self-drive to estancia.
 

Drive to Bariloche airport. The airport is conveniently located on the near side of Bariloche as you approach from Villa La Angostura, so there is no need to go into the city.

However, we recommend you depart in good time and allow a couple of hours for the 90km drive to the airport and vehicle handover.

Fly to El Calafate, gateway to Los Glaciares National Park in southern Patagonia.  The town is on the southern shore of Lago Argentino. Tourism in the last 20 years has transformed it into a bustling entrepôt for access to the nearby scenery of glaciers, lakes and impossibly steep peaks. You will be met and taken to pick up your hire car from the rental car office. You will receive a Fly and Drive kit with maps and useful information about the area and highlights to visit. The vehicle is a compact VW Gol 2WD (or similar) and includes unlimited kilometres' travel, but not fuel. A tax of around US$10-15 will be payable locally upon collection.

The self-drive adventure in the south explores one of Patagonia’s finest national parks: Los Glaciares, featuring Mount Fitz Roy. Besides scenic drives all round, each offers uniquely different experiences once you’ve parked the car. If the sun shines, Fitz Roy’s walking trails which offer glimpses of glistening glaciers and turquoise lagoons are an unforgettable highlight. Meanwhile, the walkways which face the Perito Moreno glacier offer ample opportunity to linger and observe a spectacle which, in itself, rewards the long journey to Patagonia. There’s about 700km of driving. Much of this is on paved stretches of the Ruta 40 highway but there are also some journeys on ripio (gravel) road.

Today, it’s 100km (2 hrs) to the south-eastern shore of Lago Viedma and your first overnight stop at Estancia la Estela, which has homely, if simple, rooms and great views towards the lake.

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El Calafare

Day 10

Self-drive to El Chaltén in southern Patagonia.
 

Drive to El Chalten (115km – 2 hrs), travelling along a recently paved road which skirts the entire length of Lago Viedma. On a clear day, on approaching El Chaltén the granite peaks of Fitz Roy massif come into view - a majestic sight. Your hotel, Estancia La Quinta is 5km outside town in the Los Glaciares National Park, which embraces the towering Fitz Roy massif.

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Road to El Chalten

Day 11

Explore the area around the Fitz Roy massif.
 

A full day at leisure to explore Los Glaciares National Park. We recommend the magnificent 8hr hike along the Rio Blanco valley and through ancient lenga (sub-antarctic beech) forest, passing the Piedras Blancas glacier and the massif along the way.  It includes a steep 1hr climb to the beautiful turquoise Laguna de los Tres, situated beneath Mount Fitzroy, returning to El Chaltén via a more gentle path through the heart of the national park.

You’ll need help with transport to the trail head and the help of a guide is advisable for this trail (we can organise this in advance if you wish).

Shorter, easier options are also possible, such as Laguna Torre (6hr round-trip), and if you are less inclined to hike, the 38km drive to Lago del Desierto is a viable side-trip with the option of a boat ride on the lake or short, scenic walks.

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Mount Fitzroy

Day 12

Self-drive to estancia close to El Calafate.
 

Drive to Estancia Nibepo Aike (270km). Today’s route takes you back to El Calafate (215km – 3hrs), along the shores of Lago Viedma. With any luck, you’ll be treated to stunning glimpses of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in your rear view mirror as you drive across the steppe, leaving the Fitz Roy massif behind.

Continue through El Calafate and into Los Glaciares National Park. In contrast to the soaring granite peaks of Fitz Roy or the bleak steppes around El Calafate, Los Glaciares is a sanctuary of glittering lakes fed by vast glaciers against a backdrop of velvet-green forests and bleak, frozen mountain ridges. It’s a further drive of 56km from El Calafate to your accommodation at the Nibepo Aike ranch, and the journey should take another hour by gravel road.

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Guanacos, Patagonia

Day 13

Opportunity to visit Perito Moreno glacier independently.
 

We highly recommend a visit to the Perito Moreno glacier, 40km from Estancia Nibepo Aike. It’s an hour’s drive on a mixture of gravel roads and paved highway to the walkways and viewing platform overlooking the glacier. The thundering shards of falling ice are a breathtaking spectacle as you pass at a safe distance along the walkway in front of the Canal de los Tempanos, which separates Brazo Rico from the main part of the lake.

The Glacier has a surface area roughly the size of Hampshire's New Forest in the UK and is 5km wide, standing 60m above the surface of the lake. Its ice masses are fed by the southern continental ice field from the west, and from other smaller surrounding glaciers. To stand and stare is the only way to appreciate its magnitude. You may opt to board a sightseeing boat for an hour-long cruise on the lake beneath the glacier.

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Perito Moreno

Day 14

Drop off car at El Calafate; transfer to Puerto Natales in Chile, overnight.
 

Drive to El Calafate and drop off your car at the rental office. You will then be transferred by road across the border into Chile, arriving at Puerto Natales on the shores of Last Hope Sound.

The single road carves a lonely path, passing the Straits of Magellan and across flat, ferociously wind-buffeted grasslands. Although you might spot a ñandu (rhea, or ostrich) the overall impression is of a bleakness that challenges the survival of any life form. As you approach Puerto Natales, a small town nowadays dedicated to tourism, the sight of the silvery waters of Last Hope Sound, from the shores of which tower jagged ice sculptured peaks and glaciers and where black-necked swans glide and cormorants dip will gladden the heart.

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Last Hope Sound

Day 15

Collect car, drive to Torres del Paine National Park. 2 nights at a lodge.
 

Collect your Chilean vehicle from the rental office and continue your journey to Torres del Paine National Park (3 hrs – approx. 150km), travelling via the desolate frontier settlement of Cerro Castillo and passing sheep-rearing estancias amid the windswept, tawny steppe.

Beyond Cerro Castillo the paved highway peters out into a gravel track and views unfold of the lakes Toro and Sarmiento as you approach the boundary of the park. At these turbulent, southern latitudes the clouds can part within minutes to reveal magnificent views of the iconic granite massifs of Torres del Paine. Arriving at the Laguna Amarga gate to the Park you will need to pay an entrance fee. From there, it’s another 30mins to Hotel Las Torres.

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Las Torres

Day 16

Explore the area around Las Torres (the towers).
 

The staff and guides at 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

Day 17

Self-drive to Lago Grey, 2 nights’ accommodation on the lake shore.
 

This is perhaps the most scenic road trip of all. The 60km (2 hrs) gravel road meanders through the heart of the national park, skirts the shores of the finger-shaped lakes Nordenskjold and Sarmiento, Lago Pehoe with its cobalt waters and backdrop of the Cuernos del Paine and offers a grand finale: arrival at your hotel overlooking the iceberg-dotted shores of Lago Grey.

With regular stops to absorb the exhilarating scenery (there are a number of viewpoints en route), you could easily spend much of the day enjoying the journey.

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Torres del Paine

Day 18

Explore the area around the Cuernos del Paine and Grey glacier.
 

Hosteria Lago Grey is a good base for walking through native Patagonian forest and along the Rio Pingo: you can spend anything from a couple of hours to a full day exploring on foot. The highlight here is a boat trip across the 11km long lake to the foot of the magnificent Grey glacier which should not be missed.

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Riverside walk near Lago Grey

Day 19

Drive to Punta Arenas: drop off car, fly to Santiago, overnight at airport hotel.
 

Leaving the national park along a different route, you’ll drive south via the Serrano gate and take the recently built gravel road (the Cueva Milodon route: if you have time you can visit the cave where remains of the prehistoric creatures were found: nowadays there is a life-sized plastic replica there) which skirts the western shore of lake Toro.

From Lago Grey it takes about 1½ hours to reach Puerto Natales (108km). It’s another 4 hours (250km) to the city of Punta Arenas (18km / 30mins beyond the airport) where you’ll need to fill up the car before returning to the airport to drop it off. Your hotel is at the airport.

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Road Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales

Day 20

Transfer to airport.

20 days from £5,396pp

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