The Pan-American Highway is one of the longest freeways in the world. It’s most extensive stretch in Chile covers approximately 3363 kilometers and is completely paved. It’s a journey that you really mustn’t miss, where changes in weather and landscape can be enjoyed by simply gazing out of the car window.
With this in mind, there’s little to consider before heading out to discover spectacular scenic routes that take you from the Atacama Desert and through the Patagonia, until you reach Tierra del Fuego – one of the most unexplored destinations on the planet. All Chilean airports offer car rental services that facilitate the planning of any kind of trip.
Here we highlight five routes in Chile that you simply must travel along and which can be enjoyed by car, at any time of year:
1) From Calama to Visviri. The great highlands route.
This is a five-day journey that crosses most of the Chilean highlands, departing from Calama, following the route towards Ollagüe – in a northerly direction – in order to arrive to Visviri before returning to Putre and then moving quickly on to Arica, the final Chilean port before the border crossing with Peru.
Distance: 800 kilometers
Best time of year: from October to January
2) From Tal Tal to Paranal. Sea and Desert.
This is an excellent alternative to Route 5 (Pan-American Highway) that takes you to the city of Antofagasta. The road snakes its way along the stretch between Tal Tal and Paposo and then plunges deep within the Atacama Desert before finally arriving to the Paranal Observatory, one of the largest in the world.
Distance: 211 kilometers
Best time of year: from September to March
3) From Concepción to Valdivia. Travel through history.
This spectacular coastal route passes by a series of villages, characteristic to the south of Chile, including Lota, Lebu, Cañete, Puerto Saavedra and Lake Budi, where tourist activities within the Mapuche community can be organized. It’s also possible to appreciate the beauty of Nahuelbuta’s mountainous landscape.
Distance: 435 kilometers
Best time of year: from September to June
4) From Llanquihue to Puerto Octay. Harmonious landscapes.
This is a route full of superb natural landscapes. Lake Llanquihue is the second largest in Chile and from the village of the same name to Puerto Octay the green hills seem to disappear along the horizon, alongside panoramic views of the lake, against a backdrop of volcanoes. Along the route there are beautiful houses, cemeteries and churches, clearly influenced by German architectural design.
Distance: 50 kilometers
Best time of year: from September to May
5) From Porvenir to Lago Fagnano. The route to the end of world.
Tierra del Fuego is Chile’s largest island, covering 29.484 km2. Its rich cultural heritage, together with the remote geographical nature of its location, has converted it into an exotic destination. In the central-south area of Tierra del Fuego, hidden between a labyrinth of valleys, mountains and lenga forests, is Lake Deseado – the best kept secret of the region. It’s one of the last Chilean territories to remain wild and unspoilt. This route is the only one on this list that isn’t paved in concrete, which is why a 4×4 vehicle is recommended.
Distance: 350 kilometers, approximately
Best time of year: from October to September