Chile is one of the most beautiful countries in the world for a journey by car. The landscapes are extremely varied and in a relatively short time, you can see the landscape change completely. We have listed 7 beautiful car routes through Chile for you.
Chile is no less than 4,500 kilometres long. The Andes Mountains rise like a gigantic defence wall over the entire eastern border of the country. On the west side, Chile disappears into the Pacific Ocean. You will find the driest desert and some of the last temperate rainforests on earth in this country. You can also find snow-capped volcanoes and mountains, and you can drive over desolate plateaus. In the south, Chile shares the southern Patagonian ice field with neighbouring Argentina which, outside the Arctic, is the largest ice field on earth. The infrastructure is excellent, even in the most remote areas. Above all, it is a safe country to drive through with friendly inhabitants who will lovingly help you if need it.
Route 1: Arica - Lauca National Park
Ruta 11 runs from Arica, in the north of Chile, through the Lauca National Park to the Bolivian border. From the coastal town of Arica, you first drive through the Lluta Valley. Because of the river of the same name that flows through the Lluta Valley it is a green oasis surrounded by desert-like landscape. Lovers of driving can enjoy themselves here because you will come across very nice turns.
The route starts climbing, and when you reach the town of Putre, you will have passed the 3,300-meter mark. Putre is situated on the edge of the Lauca National Park. This protected natural area is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. With 140 different bird species that occur here, this area is a paradise for bird lovers. From the Lauca National Park, you can follow a dirt track to the Las Vicuñas nature reserve. This reserve is named after the many Vicuñas that roam around here. Please note that there are no refuelling facilities here. So bring enough fuel and do not visit this place during the rainy season; January, February and March. It can rain so hard that you may get stuck.
Route 2: San Pedro de Atacama - Argentine border post Paso da Jama
If you are looking for nice routes to drive, then many border passes in Chile are worthwhile. You drive through the Andes which makes the route mountainous and varied. Johan wrote about his favourite border crossings in an earlier blog.
A route that leads to the border, is Ruta 27 from San Pedro de Atacama to the Argentine border post Paso da Jama. San Pedro is located in the Atacama Desert. It is an attractive tourist town with adobe buildings and unpaved streets. It is a beautiful place from where you can discover the Atacama Desert; the El Tatio geysers, the Valley of the Moon and the Atacama salt plain.
After a few days in San Pedro de Atacama, you will continue your journey. For example, drive your car to Salta in Argentina. The route via the border crossing at Paso da Jama at an altitude of 5,000 metres is highly recommended. The route has been completely paved since 2005 and is in a good condition. You will pass a salt plain, cloud forest, volcano peaks and the nature reserve Los Flamencos.
Route 3: Chilean Lake District
In the Chilean Lake District, there are endless beautiful routes to drive. If you love nature and being active outdoors, a visit to the town of Pucón and its surroundings is an absolute must. Pucón, situated on the shores of Lake Villarrica, is the base for a visit to the national nature parks of Villarrica and Huerquehue. In these areas, you will find so-called temperate rainforests. These ecosystems are not as well-known as the tropical rainforests. They only occur on the South Island of New Zealand, in Alaska, a few other places in the United States, Japan and in Chile. The areas are characterised by mosses, ferns and shrubs. You will also find tree species in this region that are found nowhere else in the world, such as the Araucaria, also known as the Monkey Tree.
One route you can take is from Pucón via Licanray to Coñaripe. It is a short route and wonderful to drive. You drive a large part of the route along lakes. At Coñaripe you can find thermal baths, the Termas Geometricas. This is a very nice place to take a beneficial bath in the middle of nature in a natural hot spring. If you would like to see even more of the Lake District, you can continue after Coñaripe to Los Lagos or the town of Futrono on Lake Rancome.
Route 4: Carretera Austral
The Carretera Austral is without a doubt one of the most beautiful car routes in the world. The road runs through the Aisén region, one of the most untouched and rugged natural areas of South America. The beauty of the route is that the variety of landscapes is enormous. Even though not many people live there, you will occasionally pass a village with mainly wooden houses. Moreover, the road is still 60% unpaved, which makes it attractive for the adventurous rider. Although we always provide an SUV on this route, you rarely need the four-wheel drive. Finally, it is important to know that several side roads of the Carretera Austral are also worthwhile. The road to the town of Futaleufú, the road in the south through the Chacabuco Valley, for example. Or the route to Chilechico, which runs through the southern side of Lake General Carrera.
The best way to drive the route is from the north to the south. You will start in Puerto Varas at the Llanquihue lake. Drive around the lake to Ensenada where you can visit the waterfalls of Petrohue. If you drive further south, the paved road becomes a gravel road. Here you also leave the inhabited world behind you.
More about the Carretera Austral
Route 5: Chiloé
The island of Chiloé is located south of Puerto Montt. It is a very special destination. To reach this island take the Ruta 5 from Puerto Montt to the south. With a ferry, you cross the Chacao canal. As soon as you arrive on the island, it looks like you have gone 50 years back in time. The population of Chiloé lives mainly from fishing and the island is known for its myths and sagas. The Ruta 5 runs on the island through a green and hilly landscape. Along the way, you will pass the fishing village of Dalcahue, where you should take a look at the local fish market. You can also eat delicious fresh fish dishes here. For special animal life, you drive to Puñihuil. This small group of islands is home to many bird species. There is a colony of Magellanic penguins and a colony of Humboldt penguins.
The most important place on the island is Castro. Castro is known for its typical wooden houses and churches. For beautiful walks, the national park Chiloé is a must. In the south of the island is the town of Quellon. From here ferries sail a few days a week to the mainland. If you make a longer trip with a rental car, this is a nice way to continue the Carretera Austral.
Tip: Want to know more about the island of Chiloé? The novel ‘Maya’s Notebook’ by Isabel Allende is set on this special island.
Just south of this place on a small bay, you will find the most beautiful hotel on the island: Tierra Chiloe. This hotel is beautifully designed and built with local materials. You will stay here on a full board basis, which also includes all excursions. With the fantastic guides of this place, you will learn a lot about the special culture of this island and get to know the most beautiful natural areas of Chiloe.
If you only want to stay based on bed and breakfast, the Quiquico hotel across the bay is an excellent choice.
Route 6: Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is seen as the heart of Chilean Patagonia. This area with its spectacular and characteristic granite massif is considered one of the most beautiful natural areas in the world and is listed by UNESCO. If you make a round trip by car, you can visit this nature reserve from the town of Puerto Natales. On the way, you can make a stop at Cueva de Milodon where the remains of a prehistoric bear can be found.
Then follow an unpaved road and enter the Torres del Paine national park on the west side. The route runs along the western shores of Lago Porteno and Lago del Toro, where you can see the granite horns of Torres del Paine in the distance when the weather is clear. After entering the national park, you can visit the Grey Glacier and then follow the route through the park to the east side of the park. Along the way, you can make several stops for walking. The walking routes are very well signposted including the level of difficulty of the walk and the expected duration.
Route 7: Santiago - Mendoza
Last but not least, a beautiful route from Santiago to Mendoza. Here you will first drive across the Ruta 57 in the direction of Los Andes. This part of the route is still very green. From Los Andes, you follow Ruta 60, the road that runs in the direction of the Chilean-Argentinian border. If you follow this road you will pass Reserva Nacional Río Blanco. Here you can spot the condor, for example. Furthermore, this reserve is a perfect place for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. One of the reasons for this is the beautiful mountain Muela del Diablo with an altitude of 2,600 metres.
The so-called 'Los Caracoles' is one of the most beautiful and spectacular points on Ruta 60. This is a mountain pass full of hairpin bends. At the top, there is a panoramic viewpoint called Rio Juncalillo, the perfect place to see Los Caracoles from afar. Meanwhile, the landscape has changed enormously. No green areas, but an area with enormous rocks and stones. The cornering takes place mainly in Chile. When you cross the border and drive into Argentina, Ruta 60 changes to Ruta 7, and the road becomes sloping. On the way, you will pass the Aconcagua, which at almost 7,000 metres is the highest mountain in South America. Ruta 7 runs along the picturesque mountain village of Uspallata, which is a perfect base for climbers. From here you can continue to Mendoza, Argentina's most important wine region.
Would you like to make a journey through Chile by car? We are happy to help you organise a trip that meets your wishes. For more travel inspiration, take a look on our page about Chile.
Do you have a question? Feel free to contact us. Call +31 73 610 62 04 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to help.