The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Chile

Atacama | © Danielle Pereira /Flickr
Lucy Pierce

This long, thin country stretches 2,670 miles (4,300 kilometers) north to south, with the Pacific Coast to the west, the Andes mountain range to the east, and many jaw-dropping landscapes in between. The country’s diverse landscapes span from the hot, arid Atacama Desert that is the driest non-polar desert in the world, to the cool, glaciar-adorned fjords and temperate rainforests of Patagonia, which all makes for the most epic road trips.

San Pedro de Atacama: 2–5 days

Begin the epic journey through Chile in the arid plains of San Pedro Atacama, home to the dramatic landscapes of Valle de la Luna. Geysers spurt out boiling water, salt flats stretch out for miles, volcanoes bubble away and hot springs lure you in. Spoil yourself at the Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, where you can watch the sun descend over the desert from the pool. As you drive south through the desert, observe the Mano del Desierto – a 36-foot sculpture of a hand emerging out of the desert – and an abundance of copper mines. As the desert rolls on and on, you may observe the loneliness of the never ending landscapes, as seen in the Chilean film, De Jueves a Domingo.

San Pedro de Atacama

Valle de Elqui: 2–4 days

Along Route 5 from Antofagasta to La Serena is the Pan de Azúcar National Park and Punta de Choros, where colonies of Humboldt penguins can be spotted, and with dolphins swimming off the coast. Notice how the landscape transforms into luscious green valleys the nearer you are to Valle de Elqui, which is east of La Serena, a large city by the coast that has beautiful colonial and neo-colonial architecture. Fall asleep under the celestial sky at the Elqui Domos – these eco domes and observatory rooms are perfect for stargazing, romantics and astronomy enthusiasts, who can also visit the Tololo Observatory. It wouldn’t be a trip to “Pisco Elqui,” so-called for its pisco distilleries, without a tour and tasting at Destilería Pisco Mistral.

Pisco Elqui

Santiago: 2–7 days

From the vast open terrain to the hubbub of commercial and lively Santiago. Stay at the chic The Singular, located in the romantic Barrio Lastarria. Discover the quaint neighborhood that boasts numerous cafés and a wonderful array of popular restaurants and bars. From Santiago, you can take a jaunt up the Andes and spend the morning skiing, followed by an afternoon by the coast delving into the colorful street art of Valparaíso. Taste some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere in one of the many vineyards in the Maipo Valley and go hiking in Cajón del Maipo.

Santiago by night

Valdivia & Pucon: 2–5 days

Continue your journey down south towards Valdivia. Surfers should check the swell in the surf capital, Pichilemu, while skiers and adventurists should head to Chillán. Valdivia is best known for the Kunstmann Brewery, the Chilean favorite beer that is produced there. From here, drive to Pucón, where you can climb the Villarrica Volcano and trek through Huerquehue National Park and Santuario el Cani. After a long day, soothe your aching muscles in the natural hot waters of Termas Geometricas, and get an early night at Hotel Antumalal in preparation for another day filled with activities.

Villarrica Volcano

Chiloé & The Carretera Austral: 2–5 days

Stop off at Castro, Chiloé’s capital, where colorful houses on stilts line the waterfront, before delving into the dense forests of Chiloé National Park. Next, is the scenic drive through Northern Patagonia’s Aysén region. The Carretera Austral Highway is the 775-mile (1,250-kilometer) Route 7 from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Chasing the Chilean coastline, meandering through fjords, narrow valleys, dipping in and out of fast flowing rivers and gawping at the dramatic waterfalls. This road is extremely romantic and photo-perfect as well as peaceful, but at times can be lonely.

Colourful palafitos in Castro, Chile

Torres del Paine: 2–6 days

Finishing your road trip in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the purity and nature of Torres del Paine is outstanding. Spot guanacos strolling across the roads, hawks circling above you and the fauna growing to its heart’s content. The Lago Grey Glacier is magnificent and sprawls uncontrollably out over the grey lake, while the electric blue of Lago Pehoé catches the eye, rather postcard perfect. The climax is the towering peaks of the Torres del Paine, which you can see from the Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa.

Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine

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