Chile self drive holiday, Patagonia, Torres del Paine & lakes
Description of Chile self drive holiday, Patagonia, Torres del Paine & lakes
By taking a couple of internal flights, and with a car at your disposal, you can cover great chunks of Chile on this two week tailor-made tour. Explore Chile’s Lake District, Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas, in all their glacial glory.
Driving is a really nice way to explore Chile’s national parks under your own steam. The roads are generally good quality – even in wildernesses like Punta Arenas, and you can get to places beyond the tourist trail, up country roads around Lake Calafquen and Lago Llanquihue in the Lake District. You’ll be given two vehicles – one for exploring the Lake District, and a second once you fly to Punta Arenas.
Though you’ll be able to admire a variety of vistas through your windshield, there are ample opportunities to park up and explore on foot – from a guided tour of Santiago, to hikes around the Towers of Paine in Torres del Paine national park and boat trips from Valdivia. Once you get to Lago Grey, sit at your lakeshore hotel and look out across to the Grey Glacier; it could calve its next sheath of ice at any moment.
You’ll start your trip in Santiago with a city tour, before flying to Temuco in the Lake District to pick up your car. From here you’ll lake-hop at your leisure, driving to the Valdivia region. Skirt the dramatic Osorno volcano and Puerto Varas, the main town in the southern lake district. Drop off your first car in Puerto Montt, it’s time to head into Patagonia.
Punta Arenas is your starting point in Patagonia. Pick up your new car. From here, lonely roads stretch onwards through the windswept grassland towards Torres del Paine, the jewel in Patagonia’s crown. Once you’ve explored this extraordinary national park, it’s time for the Grey Glacier at Lago Grey, before flying back to Santiago. You could extend your trip for a few days in the Santiago wine regions. You’ve earnt it.
PlanetYour holiday starts in the Chilean capital Santiago, a dynamic, multi-layered city at the foot of the snow-capped Andes, with a tight colonial core surrounded by elegant riverside suburbs, well-tended parks, dilapidated low-income quarters and industrial complexes.
While it is true that car hire is not the most responsible use of natural resources, it gives you freedom to travel independently, engage and interact with local people, get away from heavily trodden routes to stop and support local business such as artisan shops and smaller restaurants - all in all it can mean a smaller impact on the environment than that which you’d have travelling in a large group. With a few words of Spanish it can be an incredibly rewarding way to travel.
In the northern lake district you will have the privilege of visiting some of the most immaculate virgin landscapes in the country. The rugged, temperate rainforest-smothered hills, diverse flora and fauna, rivers and emerald lagoons constitute the attractions of visits to the area. Much of the region you’ll have the chance to explore has national park status.
In the south, this self-drive holiday visits the Torres del Paine National Park. The administrative body of this protected wilderness area of outstanding beauty, with its glacier-stubbed cobalt lakes, needle-sharp mountain peaks and wind-buffeted grassy plains, takes management of tourist visits extremely seriously. Torres del Paine gained national park status in 1959, and in 1978 was declared a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Simply by paying the entrance fee to visit these parks you are helping contribute towards the preservation and conservation of these fragile regions.
PeopleAs is the case with all our private journeys, we adopt the services of locally recruited guides and drivers in each location in order to promote local employment. This also ensures that you have face to face contact with people who are intimately familiar with their environment and community, and have a vested interest in protecting it so as to ensure the future of tourism in their region. This will help to put a brake on the current tendency for people to leave their homes to seek work in the large urban centres, which harms the socio-economic viability of the countryside and smaller settlements and puts pressure on the infrastructure of the larger cities.
Where possible, your accommodation is in locally owned and operated properties, where the income filters through to the local community.
The majority of hotels used in this holiday are constructed in keeping with local architecture traditions. Your hotel in Santiago, Altiplanico Bellas Artes, was one of the first properties to open during the regeneration of the Lastarria neighbourhood of Chile’s capital city, occupying a restored mansion. Your hotel in Pucon is a family-run property. In Valdivia, enjoy a couple of nights in a simple but characterful riverside hotel faithful to the Germanic architectural heritage of the city.
You’ll stay for several days within Torres del Paine National Park itself. Low-rise Hotel Las Torres is one of the original pioneers of tourism in the Park its own organic garden, providing ingredients for the restaurant. Meat is also provided from their own livestock. The use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides on the property is not permitted.
Hotel Las Torres was founded by Croatian immigrant cattle farmers, and has retained its traditional ranch roots. The property has a declared principle “to share the warmth of the people and customs of Patagonia”. A number of baqueanos (cowboys) are employed locally to care for the horses, continuing the Patagonian traditions of horse and livestock raising. They accompany guests on riding excursions, wearing their traditional costumes. Locally recruited guides are trained by scientists and others employed by the hotel to increase their knowledge.