Where should I visit on a self-drive holiday in Chile?
Recently I took one of the best trips I've ever done throughout many years of travel in Latin America, in a big 4WD, whizzing over both paved and unpaved roads in the northern part of the Chilean and Argentine lake districts, beneath the snowy presence of majestic volcanoes and ancient, deep-green trees, the landscape dotted with pristine lakes and the odd cow here and there to remind you that you aren't in a fairytale. If I had to recommend one route for a self-drive holiday, it would have to be this one.
Hiring a car abroad can be a bit daunting, but don’t allow nerves to get the better of you; driving in Chile and Argentina is easy – as long as you steer clear of the capital cities – and you will be rewarded with breathtaking scenery at every turn.
First, you fly from Santiago to Temuco, where you pick up your car and drive down to the scenic town of Pucón on the shores of the lake Villarrica, with its perfectly cone-shaped volcano of the same name looming over. On the other side of the town, there are glassy rivers perfect for a bit of rafting, as well as mountains galore, offering both long and short trails through the Villarrica and Huerquehue National Parks. Hot springs, such as Huife or Geometricas, invite you to soak your tired muscles after the day's activities.
Continuing further south, you make your way towards Huilo Huilo, a vast private reserve of temperate Valdivian rainforest and roaring rivers in a storybook setting beneath the slopes of the snow-draped summit of Mocho Choshuenco volcano.
A few minutes’ drive from Huilo Huilo, you get to Puerto Fuy on the shores of the Lake Pirihueico where you board a ferry for an idyllic 90-minute glide across the lake's pastel waters to the port on the Argentine side of the intriguingly named Hua Hum Pass. En route, you'll be able to appreciate the views over one of the world's last true wildernesses, with ancient woodland clinging to steep mountain cliffs and a rim of snow-draped volcanoes beyond. After another hour and a half or so you arrive at San Martín de los Andes, on the shores of lake Lacar and already on the borders of the Lanin National Park. Here you can start sampling the juicy beef cuts in a typical parrillada, all washed down with a good Malbec just to get you in the Argentinian mood.