2 September 2015 by Rachel Mostyn
Fun, flexibility, freedom and the chance to take things at your own pace are all reasons why a self-drive holiday is such popular and rewarding choice. You'll have the chance to get away from the well-worn tourist trail, see the things you want to see and stop at the places you want to stop, creating your own unique holiday experiences and memories as you go.
Independent self-drive holidays in South America are not always the easiest thing in the world though, even for experienced independent travellers, because of undeveloped roads, a lack of 'road etiquette' and sparse road signs.
Chile, however, is an exception and offers fantastic opportunities to explore under your own steam. The country is developed, relatively affluent and is, without doubt, one of the safest and most relaxing places to visit within South America.
Top Chile self-drive holidays
This long, thin country - 4,350 kilometres long but never more than 180 kilometres wide – clings to the edge of the continent. Seen in an atlas the outline looks fantastical but on the ground the shape make sense. The Andes, the great mountain range that forms its eastern border, are a formidable barrier of rock and ice that cuts the country off from Argentina and Bolivia. The Atacama Desert, a 1000km stretch of parched wasteland, separates it from Peru to the north. And to the west, only a few islands dotted in the Pacific Ocean break the waves that roll onto Chile's coast from Australasia.
All this has created a country distinct from the rest of South America and one that defies many people's expectations of an Andean country. It is also a land of tremendous contrasts and adventures. The romantic notion of driving from top to bottom of the country is an impossibility though, as the Southern Patagonia Ice Field bisects the country, and the roads cannot cross it.
Chile Self-Drive Holidays
Combine guided touring in the awe-inspiring Torres del Paine National Park with a seven-day self-drive along the southern section of the Carretera Austral, a rough highway from Balmaceda to Lago General Carrera and on to Tortel, a picturesque town set on the shores of a glacier-fed fjord in the majestic Laguna San Rafael National Park, which takes in some of Chile's remotest areas.
A mostly dirt road stretching from Puerto Montt in the Chilean Lake District to the remote town of Villa O'Higgins on the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the Carretera Austral passes through some of Chile's - and indeed South America's - most spectacular scenery. From the vast expanse of Lago General Carrera - the deepest lake in South America - to the towering peaks of the snow-capped Andes, a drive along the Carretera Austral is an unforgettable way to discover the diverse nature and breathtaking landscapes of this remote and beautiful region of southern Chile.
Explore Patagonia at your own pace along some of the most adventurous, scenic roads in South America: Chile's Carretera Austral and Argentina's Ruta 40.
This vast and sparsely populated plateau covers much of southern Argentina and Chile, and is a hugely popular destination for trekking, watching wildlife and luxury cruises. Much of Patagonia is treeless, flat and windswept, but as you travel south and west the terrain becomes far more dramatic. Here the landscape is blessed with towering Andean peaks, fjords and glaciers, and straits and sounds frequented by penguins, whales and seabirds.
The driving concludes in the wildlife-rich Torres del Paine National Park, after which you'll get to follow in the footsteps of Darwin on a four-day cruise through the Chilean fjords.