From the driest desert in the world to some of the most incredible glaciers you’ll ever see, Chile has it all. And, what’s more, you can drive your way down it, along a single never-ending road, from north to south. We’re talking about 4,270 km from tip to tip, passing through 14 different climates and an incredible array of things to do along the way, making Chile one of the most diverse countries in the world. Could there be a better country to drive through?
Begin in the desert
The first of many volcanoes in Chile (there are in fact around 2,000 and around 500 are said to be potentially active) sits on the Bolivian border, in the dry Andean high plains of the north. Its name is Lauca. From here, coastal mountains and desert pave the way down to Iquique, one of the country’s major ports, where the beaches are fairly busy throughout the year and where paragliding is a must.
If there’s one thing that a road trip down through Chile promises, it’s a broad spectrum of terrain, which is why it would be a good idea to invest in a sturdy truck for the purposes of your trip. You’ll definitely require a strong vehicle if you plan on visiting the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world, and staying in the famous town of San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro is a great base from which to explore the amazing surrounding sites and discover the incredible native fauna: the flamingos, the salt flats, the lakes, and the unbelievably starry skies.
Enjoy the central beaches
Once you get closer to the country’s central region, you should take some time to explore Chile’s many beach locations: Reñaca, Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Pichilemu, Algarrobo, Papudo, Las Cruces, and El Tabo, to name just a few. Beach hop your way from one small town to the next, dining on incredible seafood dishes, grilled fish fillets, and prawn and cheese pasties (locally referred to as “empanadas de camarón queso”) and taking in the beautiful sites of the Pacific Ocean along the way. Chile’s waters may well be cold, wherever and whenever you choose to visit, but there’s nothing more relaxing than the sounds and smells of fresh, sea air.
Breeze through the central vineyards
Whizz your way through the capital city of Santiago and make a few detours off of the main road and head toward Chile’s central vineyards. If there’s one thing Chile does extremely well, it’s wine! A golden Chardonnay, a spicy Carmenere, a fruity Merlot, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a well-rounded Malbec, a deep Syrah, a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon, or even a delicate Pinot. Take a break from the road and let your taste buds roam free for a few days.
Visit the lakes and volcanoes
As you move into the southern half of the country, the terrain changes once again. No more desert, no more vineyards. The south offers fresh lakes, lush forests, relaxing thermal baths, and even more volcanoes. The Carretera Austral, or the Southern Highway, is the name given to Chile’s Route 7. It’s a road that runs for about 1,240 kilometers, beginning in Puerto Montt and finishing in Villa O’Higgins. It winds its way through rural Patagonia and connects no less than 17 national parks in the process. It is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtaking road trips you’ll ever have the pleasure of taking.
Finish with the glaciers
The further south you drive, the colder it will get and the icier the terrain will become. Grey, Balmaceda, and Serrano are just three of the glaciers you can visit in the south of Chile. Depending on the season and the weather conditions at the time, it is possible to walk on some of Chile’s glaciers. So, be prepared. You might find that you want to leave the car and go exploring again for a while.
The beauty of taking a road trip through Chile is that the country really only ever has two directions on offer: up or down. To avoid rushing your way through the county, reserve at least a month for your road trip, and even longer if you intend to take advantage of the many stopovers available. Chile… it’s the land of contrasts and it’s just waiting for you to get driving and see just how incredibly diverse if truly is.