Roads. Lets be honest they are mostly dreadfully boring. Highways, freeways and interstates, traffic, billboards, gas stations and fast food stops. When you're on em' you spend most of your time thinking about where you're going, rather than where you are. Occasionally though, you find yourself on a little track in the woods, or a quiet stretch of pavement by the beach. Then maybe the clouds clear from a mountain peak just right, maybe the light is dancing off the waves. A song comes on and it's perfect and all of a sudden you're in the moment. All of a sudden its epic.
Here is our list of the roads you're most likely to have these experiences on. For us, they're the best roads in South America.
Torres Del Paine National Park
Most of the visitors to Torres Del Paine National Park are there to do one of the famous treks: the W or the O. And yeah they are absolutely fantastic (though a bit busy). After doing the O trek, we spent a further 6 days exploring the 46km stretch of bumpy, guanaco lined dirt road that links the parks 2 main entrances.
We found that most of the pictures you would have seen on instagram and the internet are from miradors and little walks along this stretch of road. Impossibly blue lakes, the world famous Torres Del Paine Massif and beautiful wind swept vegetation. It's these views that I still dream of, and that I will forever associate my time in the park with. If you ever find yourself down at the Southern tip of Patagonia, rent a car or a bike and take a look for yourself.
The Salar de Uyuni & The Lagunas Route
The Altiplano, Bolivia
We weren't exactly breaking any trails with this one. The Salar de Uyuni is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of South America. But we can confirm that its popularity is well and truly justified. The Salar itself is our second favourite place in South America. It's a moonscape and a place that really needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. In the dry season any old car would be able to tackle the salar, in the wet a bit of caution is highly recommended.
Less widely known, though only slightly less visited, is Eduardo Avaroa National Park. Its a route so nice we did it twice. First, with one of the 4wd tours and again with our overlanding friends in Pegasus 2. We were blown away more times than I can remember. Deserts, volcanoes, geysers, flamingos, green, white, pink and red lakes, don't miss it folks.
Chile Chico - Puerto Tranquillo
Carretera Austral, Chile
If you find ever find yourself driving to Southern Patagonia you'll face the "decision" of whether to travel through Argentina or Chile. Never has there been a more obvious reminder of how screwed over Argentina are in regards to border locations. On the Argentine side stretches the mind numbing, soul destroying Ruta 40 which cuts a swathe across the endless steppe. Running parallel on the Chilean side is the Carretera Austral. This road takes you through brilliant green rainforest, beneath hanging glaciers and their waterfalls, alongside raging rivers and over high mountain passes.
The highlight of the Carretera Austral for us was the stretch from Chile Chico to Puerto Tranquillo. Cut into the cliffs rising out of the lake, the road offers amazing, if not hair raising views of the lake and the surrounding peaks.
Nevado De Tres Cruces National Park
Atacama Region, Chile
Admittedly when I used to hear the word desert it conjured up images of flat and barren nothingness stretching out as far as the eye could see and then some. Never had that image been more unjustified than in Nevado de Tres Cruces. Leaving the mining city of Copiapo in central Chile a semi-paved road climbs up high into the Andes. There is no one here save a couple of mining vehicles, yet the landscapes are fit for the eyes of kings.
This 'desert' is dotted by rainbow colored mountains, snow capped volcanoes, thermal springs, green lakes and beautiful salt flats. The Ojos Del Salado is the worlds highest active volcano and is the crown of the area but don't worry, you won't have to share it with anyone. Make sure this place is on your list and get there soon, I'm sure it won't be like this much longer.
Conguillo National Park
Lakes District, Chile
A few hours north of the tourist mecca of Pucon and Parque Nacional Villarica lies the significantly quieter Parque Nacional Conguillo. It's worth noting this place would be pretty difficult to reach without a car of your own, but the rewards for those that do make the journey are well worth it. The park itself is quite small but is jam packed with bizarre and beautiful spots. There is only one road that traverses the park. It's mostly a single lane dirt track (kudos CONAF) that is only just passable for a creative 2WD vehicle driver with a low-medium regard for the well-being of his/her car.
The highlights of the park are twofold. Number one is the enormous volcano and the even more enormous lava fields that surround it. Second are the 'Monkey Puzzle' trees that are probably magical. The two combined give the feeling of entering Jurassic Park, so keep an eye out for Brontosaurus. I'm sure they aren't too far away.