Experience the freedom of the open road on one of South America’s five most exhilarating journeys.
Driving around the Chilean lake district is an unforgettable road experience, according to Group Tours Manager Sarah. “In the northern part of the Lake District there are seven interlinked lakes, an area aptly named the Siete Lagos. The road winds in, around and between the lakes, with fabulous views of the temperate rainforest and the snow-capped volcanoes which dominate the skyline. Along the way little villages offer lakeside tables for a cup of coffee, and farmhouses along the route will sell you their local produce, ranging from homemade cheese, smoked salmon or jam to handicrafts. To take a break from the driving, there are plenty of walking opportunities and thermal baths to soothe stiff limbs. I recommend starting in the north in Temuco or Pucón and driving south towards Panguipulli and the vast private reserve of Huilo Huilo, where you can have a comfortable night’s stay in the unusually designed Montaña Magica or Baobab hotels.” Either before or after your trip to the lakes, explore the Colchagua Valley and its marvellous vineyards by road from Santiago to complete the ultimate Chilean road trip.
The route down from the Ecuadorian highlands to the port of Guayaquil is one that many visitors must travel. With international flights arriving in the high-altitude capital of Quito and most Galápagos flights departing from lowland Guayaquil, it’s very fortunate that the journey also happens to be one of South America’s most scenic, passing through Cajas national park along the way. Tailor-made Holidays Manager Diego describes it as “an amazing drop of 4000 metres which takes you from the cold high plateau right down into the tropics. All of a sudden you are surrounded by palm trees and banana plantations, and you’ll notice that the temperature has risen by twenty or thirty degrees in just a matter of hours.”
Argentina is the perfect setting for a freewheeling, awe-inspiring driving holiday. Not only do the landscapes make for an eye-popping backdrop, prompting you to stop the car every few minutes to take photographs (or just pinch yourself), but there is also an excellent network of roads and plenty of great hotel options to make sure it’s a smooth ride all the way.
The relentlessly scenic surroundings make it tough to choose just one route, but if you twisted our arms we’d have to say the country’s best drive is between Salta and the red-hued foothills and gorges of the Humahuaca region. As Group Tours Consultant Joana says, it’s a “truly amazing lunar landscape that changes from Andean plateau to cactus-riddled wilderness and multicoloured mountainside as you drive along mesmerised.” Product Manager David agrees: “Follow the Train to the Clouds railway line from Salta up into the province of Jujuy to see a superb cross section of the region’s incredible scenery and rustic Andean culture. Once the road diverges from the rail tracks, you cross enormous salt flats and descend into gorges, passing adobe homesteads and roaming guanacos.” If you have time, we also highly recommend continuing on to Chile, or looping through the glorious Calchaquíes Valley.
Joana also recommends the journey between Trujillo and Huaraz in relatively unexplored northern Peru, which takes you through the spectacular Cañon del Pato. “You travel through unspoiled scenery, vividly experiencing the transition from desert to the snow-capped Andes. I remember passing through more than 40 tunnels carved into the rock.” And if you’re a bit of a daredevil you could start the above road trip further north in remote but stunning Chachapoyas, as Ben suggests: “The journey between Chachapoyas and Cajamarca covers ten hours of nail-biting Peruvian road… It’s not for the faint-hearted, but definitely one of the best road trips I’ve ever done!”
Explore some of Mexico’s most iconic highlights at your own pace by hiring a car in Cancún. As in Argentina and Chile, the infrastructure here is very good so it’s an easy and enjoyable option as well as an affordable one. As you’ll discover, away from the resorts there are enormous stretches of pristine Caribbean coast where having your own transport will allow you to find deserted beaches and hidden cenotes (sinkholes that were sacred to the Maya – perfect for a dip with a difference), before the colossal pyramids and temples of the ancient Maya finally tempt you back from the beach.