Whether shrouded in clouds or illuminated by incandescent sunlight, Chile provides the perfect backdrop for a thrilling road trip. We go exploring in an all-wheel drive CX-5

Story by Anna Muggeridge, Photography by Rama Knight

Wedged for 4,300 kilometres between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes to the east, Chile’s dramatic environments draw thousands of global visitors every year. And for many, it’s the Lake District in the south of the country that offers the maximum opportunity for adventure – it’s the perfect location for days and days of epic drives. Keen to put some of the key facets of the Mazda CX-5 to the test, Mazda Stories takes the SUV to explore this beautiful region, which spectacularly offers up all the classical elements of fire, earth, water and air.

FIRE, VILLARRICA VOLCANO

For many visitors to Chile, the country’s most active volcano is an undisputed highlight. The asphalt road leading to Villarrica climbs steadily at first before it turns to gravel and road conditions become noticeably trickier. Our Mazda, with its i-Activ all-wheel-drive, makes light work of it, however, practically skipping over the stones, allowing us to enjoy the view of the snow-capped volcano that looms ahead.

The higher we climb, the more the road twists and turns, and blind corners become standard. We note the admiring glances thrown our way by the locals in their utes and continue as far as we can until we reach a plateau. It takes at least eight hours to climb the 2,847 metres up and back. It’s a gruelling hike. Once you reach the snow, crampons and ice axes are essential and so is a mask to protect you from the sulphurous fumes emitted from the volcanic smoke.

EARTH, VILLARRICA NATIONAL PARK

Whether you are on road or off, the driving in this part of Chile is to be savoured. There’s a bewitching mix of smooth, asphalt roads and gravel surfaces, and the numerous volcanos and Andes are never far away, providing a limitless supply of fantastic day trips.

The views in front and in our rearview mirror offer breathtaking scenery everywhere we go, and we drive spiritedly up and down the ascending and descending roads we encounter; the Mazda CX-5 hungrily eats up each switchback. Mazda’s typically agile handling is aided by G-Vectoring Control, which adjusts power delivery and shifts vehicle weight when cornering, giving a reassuring feeling of control. It means that these twisty roads are always relished rather than feared.

WATER, LAKE CABURGUA

Pucón is the gateway to the Chilean Lake District and the perfect place from which to explore the southern region. There’s so much you can do here: mountain climbing, hiking, whitewater rafting, volcanic-heated thermal springs, kayaking… We load up the CX-5 with our backpacks, water bottles, coats and sunscreen, and hit the road – the practicality of the car is such that there is more than enough space for plenty of gear. Luscious green hills and wisps of clouds rise up from the moisture of the forest. It is no wonder that most of the locals tell us they would never dream of leaving the area.

In fact, many of them say they came here on holiday or as students from Santiago or other cities and then didn’t go back. Paula Carrasco and Andres Bozzolo Openshaw are two such people. The two friends met through a shared passion for outdoor sports. Neither is originally from Pucón, but fresh air, a healthy lifestyle and meeting their respective partners ensured they were never going to return to their hectic urban lives. Standing on the empty black sandy beach on the shores of Lake Caburgua we watch them take their kayaks out on the perfectly still water amid the early morning mist.

AIR, LAKE VILLARRICA

Whether high up on a mountain or volcanic peak or on the coast, the wind makes its presence felt. Some, like Andres, make the most of it. We follow him along a winding dirt track and drive through a shallow river until we arrive at a beautifully quiet corner of Lake Villarrica. It’s another stunning place with uninterrupted views of Villarrica Volcano in the background, puffing away. Andres likes to come here to windsurf and effortlessly gets on his board at the confluence of two rivers. We watch him tame the wind before we get back into the calm quiet of our CX-5. Safe and warm, we drive back along the route until we hit the open road.