Private Journeys

Self-drive Chile: Lake district and Torres del Paine

14 days from £3,730pp

Chile / Patagonia


map marker Map

Day 1

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

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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Day 2

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

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.


Day 3

Explore the Pucón area by car.

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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Day 4

Drive south to Valdivia.

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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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.

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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Day 7

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

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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Day 8

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

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.


Day 9

Drive from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park.

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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Days 10

Explore the area around Las Torres.

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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Days 11-12

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


Day 13

Drop off car at airport and fly to Santiago.

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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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.  

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


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Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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