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Self-drive Chile: Vineyards, lake district and Patagonia

18 days from £4448pp

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Self-drive Chile: Vineyards, lake district and Patagonia:
Trip Dossier

For travellers who 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 valleys, and many of the wineries welcome visitors. A distant Andean backdrop, sweeping views of vineyards and picturesque small towns add to the pleasure of discovering the Ruta del Vino independently. 

Continue by air to the lake district and collect your next car. You’ll immediately notice the difference in vegetation and topography: here meadows and pasture are dotted with pine forest-fringed, sapphire lakes overlooked by snowy volcanic cones. The roads here lead you to isolated settlements and soothing hot springs.

Head further south into deepest Patagonia to explore the primeval landscapes of glaciers, scoured valleys and needle-sharp mountain peaks, jacketing in ancient ice. This is real wilderness country but the roads are generally good quality and you can relax to enjoy the magnificent scenery.
 

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

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

Day 2

Transfer to Santa Rita Vineyard; collect your car; drive to Santa Cruz.

Days 3-4

Explore the Colchagua Valley wine route by car.

Day 5

Drop off car, transfer back to Santiago.

Day 6

Fly to Temuco in the lake district; collect car; drive to Pucón.

Days 7-8

Explore the Pucón area by car.

Day 9

Drive to Huilo Huilo.

Day 10

Explore Huilo Huilo area.

Day 11

Drive to Puerto Varas in the shadow of Osorno volcano.

Day 12

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

Day 13

Drive from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park.

Days 14

Explore the area around Las Torres.

Days 15-16

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

Day 17

Drop off car at airport and fly to Santiago.

Day 18

Transfer to airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

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 Providencia, a pleasant residential and commercial quarter. 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.

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. Beginning in 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. 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-draped Andean mountains beyond.

Santiago Chile

Day 2

Transfer to Santa Rita Vineyard; collect your car; drive to Santa Cruz.
 

Unless you have opted to collect your vehicle in Santiago, this journey is done as a private transfer to the Santa Rita vineyard (1 hr) where you'll enjoy a guided tour and lunch prior to collecting your rental car. Santa Rita is at the foot of the Andes in the Maipo Valley, a beautiful and peaceful spot just 40km from Santiago.

It is one of Chile's best-known vineyards (established in 1880) which has gained a reputation among experts for the quality of its wines. Centuries-old trees and lavender-filled gardens add to the charm and atmosphere of the hacienda's buildings. Its cellars, long since declared a National Monument, combine traditional French and American oak casks with the most modern systems, giving a unique aroma and body to its wines. You will have the opportunity to sample two of the vineyard's Medalla Real wines. Also on the vineyard and well worth a visit is the Museo Andino, an impressive private collection of 1,800 pre-Columbian artefacts.

From Santa Rita vineyard, drive south to Santa Cruz (2 hrs) for 3 nights.

Santa Rita

Days 3-4

Explore the Colchagua Valley wine route by car.
 

Explore the area at your leisure. There are numerous wineries you can visit which are particularly known for the calibre of their reds.  There are several attractive small villages to stop at along the way, such as Lolol, and an abundance of good restaurants.

Within the Colchagua Valley almost all roads are paved single carriageway and driving conditions are relatively straightforward, with good signposting, and fuel available in main towns.  Overall, the roads are very scenic with views of the Andes and vineyards along the way. Most vineyards and wineries in the Colchagua Valley welcome visitors and offer winery tours. This usually includes a short tasting session (Designated driver please note: Chile has zero-alcohol tolerance laws). One or two vineyards offer restaurants.

Viu Manent winery (6.5km from Santa Cruz) founded in 1935, is one of our favourites. You could easily while away an afternoon in charming surroundings. Casa Lapostolle winery is a large estate just outside Santa Cruz where prestigious Clos Apalta wine is produced. The winery is an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art operation and well worth a visit. Its setting, with a fabulous panorama over the vineyards, is especially memorable.

Santa Cruz winery, 25km from Santa Cruz, is different again. With its cable car, observatory and a museum whose exhibits include replica Easter Island moai heads, its more light-hearted approach makes it a good choice for novices. Malbec, Cabernet and Carmenère are made here.

Colchagua Valley

Day 5

Drop off car, transfer back to Santiago.
 
Leave your car at the hotel. You will be driven back to Santiago; overnight there.

Day 6

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 the region's most famous landmark - 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.

Villarica volcano

Days 7-8

Explore the Pucón area by car.
 
With your car you can easily explore the area, which 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. The Bavarian influence of German immigrants is quite evident in the region, with alpine-style architecture and tea shops serving küchen.
driving around pucon

Day 9

Drive to Huilo Huilo.
 

Depart towards the Panguipulli region and the Huilo Huilo reserve (4 hrs along the shorter route), characterised by native forest, lagoons, waterfalls, hot springs and a volcano.

For a scenic detour between the Pucón area and Huilo Huilo we highly recommend taking the route via Coñaripe and around the lakes. It's a total journey of around 200km which can take the best of part of the day. On a clear day it showcases some of the finest scenery of the Chilean lake district with glorious views of the lakes and volcanoes. Unforgettable. At Coñaripe, you'll have the opportunity to turn off and visit the fabulous Termas Geometricas hot springs.

Huilo Huilo

Day 10

Explore Huilo Huilo area.
 
Explore this remote, sparsely populated and pristine area.
Huilo Huilo

Day 11

Drive to Puerto Varas in the shadow of Osorno volcano.
 

Return to Panguipulli and head south to Puerto Varas, a total journey of some 350 Km. The town, in the south of the lake district, is a rapidly growing holiday resort with Alpine overtones.

If you have time today or tomorrow morning, visit the Osorno volcano and Petrohue falls, From Puerto Varas the road takes you east along the edge of Lake Llanquihue, to the small and picturesque village of Ensenada, set in the shadows of the Osorno volcano, and surrounded on 3 sides by forest and overlooking the lake.

Lake Llanquihue

Day 12

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

Return to Puerto Montt airport, drop off your car and fly to Punta Arenas in southern Patagonia (2hrs).  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 to Puerto Natales (3-4hrs).  The roads in the far south are lonelier and less crowded than in the lake district. The 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, ostriches (ñandu), hares and foxes, in addition to many hardy species of bird.

Situated on the eastern shore of Last Hope Sound 230km north of Punta Arenas, 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 used as a stopover for visitors en route to Torres del Paine National Park.

Last Hope Sound sunset

Day 13

Drive from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park.
 

It’s an increasingly scenic drive to Torres del Paine National Park (150km – 3hrs).  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).

Hotel Las Torres

Days 14

Explore the area around Las Torres.
 
Spend 2 nights in the shadow of the soaring, vertical granite slabs known as the “Towers of Paine”, exploring the lakes and valleys, glaciers and steppes.
Torres del Paine

Days 15-16

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 2 days to explore the national park’s attractions in this vicinity.
Lago Grey

Day 17

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

Day 18

Transfer to airport for international flight home.
 

Essential information

Insurance and documents

Travel insurance is essential.
Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Your vehicle hire includes limited CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance with an excess payable of between US$300 and US$1,200 in the event of loss or damage. Limits and certain exclusions do apply. Please contact us for further details.  

Transport

3 flights (longest 4hrs); self-drive car routes.

Accommodation

Here in towns we use a mix of hotel standards, choosing accommodation we think is comfortable and well located for exploration of the area. They all have well-equipped rooms, private bathrooms and heating. 

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 2.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• City tour of Santiago.
• Excursion to Santa Rita vineyard.

Summary of nights

18 days, 17 nights: Santiago 1, Santa Cruz 3, Santiago 1, Pucón 3, Huilo Huilo 2, Puerto Varas 1, Puerto Natales 1, Las Torres area 2; Lago Grey area 2, Santiago 1. 

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Vehicle hire with limited insurance for Wine region, Lake District and Torres del Paine sections.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• International flights to Latin America
• Airport taxes where not included on your tickets
• Insurance
• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions

Currency

The unit of currency in Chile is the peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$50 per person per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.  

A budget of approx US$250 should be sufficient to cover fuel costs for the self drive sections.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This predominantly self-driving holiday is for independent-minded clients seeking the freedom to explore without the support of local guides and drivers but with the security of pre-booked accommodation. You should be confident to navigate along roads outside the UK, driving on the right. Some Spanish as well as mechanical knowledge, for example the ability to change a tyre is highly recommended.  Routes travelled in Patagonia include some stretches on gravel roads for which 4-wheel drive may be necessary. We advise you to let us know if you have a strong preference for automatic or manual transmission as vehicles supplied can vary. GPS equipment is not normally available but you will receive basic written directions and we will send you our Rules of the Road document with helpful tips specific to driving in Chile. 

Climate

In the Santiago area expect a Mediterranean type climate though it can snow in winter (June-August). In October, November, March and April  temperatures range between 15°C  and 25°C and there’s a good deal of sunshine. January and February are hot, around 30°C or higher. 

The lake district has a weather pattern not dissimilar to that of the UK, though summers tend to be hotter and sunnier and winters wetter.

The weather in Patagonia is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. During the southern hemisphere summer (October to March), be prepared for everything from a blizzard to a heat wave. Strong winds and rain are possible at any time but especially in spring and autumn, and it can get cold with snow in winter, but seldom much below freezing. 

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both clothing for both hot and cold conditions including sun hat a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex (or similar) outer shell. Trousers, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials work well. If you plan to eat in smart restaurants, although clothing is not formal (no need for jacket and tie), something quite smart would be appropriate. Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring umbrella, insect repellent, sun block and sun glasses. You might take swimwear for the odd dip in a natural pool.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - If flying to the US or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online.
This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.
Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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