Chile Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
Chile Road Rules
Chile drives on the right and you can use the photo licence of any country to drive here, providing it’s written in Roman alphabet. Drivers from other countries need their own licence plus an international driving permit. Speed limits are 120kmh on highways, 100km on rural roads and 50/60kmh in urban areas.
Roads in Chile
Chile has a good network of paved main roads linking main urban areas. The country has around 80,000km of roads, half of which are paved and of which around 3000km are classed as freeways or Autopistas.These are usually sections of main National roads which are prefixed ‘CH’. Other main roads are prefixed by a letter relating to their province eg. Arica and Parinacota Region- Roads prefixed A, Antofagasta Region Prefixed B.
Main routes in Chile include-
CH5 / Ruta 5 is Chile’s longest route at 3,364 kilometres and is part of the Pan-American Highway. It starts in the North at Arica near the Peru border and heads South past Antofagasta and through Santiago as the Autopista Central and continues south to Puerto Montt. It has a number of motorway sections and some toll sections.
Ch7- Carretera Austral – runs from the end of the CH5 at Puerto Montt for 1,240 kilometers through Patagonia to Villa O’Higgins. The route includes three ferry crossings including a 5-hour crossing from Hornopiren south of Puerto Montt to Caleta Gonzalo. More details can be found here .
Toll roads in Chile are -Autopista Central and Costanera Norte in Santiago area and Autopista del Sol from Santiago to San Antonio. Payment is made electronically via a transpondr which should be fitted to all hire cars, or by purchsing a daily pass. More details can be found here, though the website is in Spanish only.
Main roads in Chile are paved and are generally in good condition. However, you may wish to consider a four-wheel drive vehicle for driving in the countryside. Driving in Chile means experiencing a whole range of driving conditions, from snow and ice to hot sandy deserts. Between June and September, winter weather sometimes temporarily closes Chilean/Argentine border crossings high up in the Andes, including the main Los Libertadores crossing between Santiago and Mendoza, which is a spectacular roller coaster of a road.
Driving in Chile
The city of Santiago has been experimenting with pollution reducing restrictions on vehicles in the winter months of May to Augiust. Restrictions generally apply within the Vespucio ring road. And ban any pre-2011 cars from entering on Monday to Friday 7.30-21.00. Other cars are restricted depending on the last digit of their licence plate. Check with the rental company on latest rules to see if this will affect you. Driving in urban areas is much less stressful than in other South American cities in my experience, though expect teh usual rush hour congestion in the capital, particularly in downtown, Providencia and Las Condes. Drivers generally abide by traffic regualtions and standards are relatively high for South America.
Driving in Patagonia
Many visitors to Chile opt for an adventurous self drive tour of the Patagonia region, which is shared with Argentina. The roads in Patagonia are isolated, often with few other vehicles and may pass through areas of desert. You may also find that mobile phone coverage is patchy, so if you’re not mechanically minded you may need to call upon other drivers for assistance in the event of a breakdown. Some Spanish would therefore be useful. You also need to be aware that most of the time you will be driving on gravel/rubble roads. In Argentina, only Route 3, some segments of Route 40, Routes 22 and 237 to and past Neuquen and the road connecting Esquel with the coast, are paved.In Chile, only Route 9 from Punta Arenas and Route 5 North from Quellon are paved. The main dangers driving on gravel roads are the obvious potential for flat tyres and damage to the underside of the vehicle. Also the potential for stones to be thrown up by passing cars. If a car is approaching from the other direction, you should slow right down when passing to minimise the risk of stones being thrown up. You should always drive with both hands on the steering wheel so you remain in control in the event of a blown tyre. There is also the possibility for the wind to create grooves in the road which are difficult to see and which could damage your car if you hit them at speed. You should always proceed with caution therefore on gravel roads.
Distances between towns can be huge in Patagonia and you should always take the opportunity to fill up at every gas station- you never know how far it will be to the next one. You’ll be out of range of radio stations, and the often monotonous, flat landscape can get boring so check whether your rental car will have a CD player and stock up on tunes if so.
Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.
Chile Car Rental –
Sixt , Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National,Avis,Budget, Thrifty, Dollar and South American company Localiza have branches here.
We currently have no local car rental partners in Chile. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on DriverAbroad.com please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on ADriverAbroad@Outlook.com
Chile Self Driving Rules –
Most of the big companies will allow the car to be driven into Argentina for an additional charge but you should request this at the time you make the booking. If you rent in Punta Arenas you may need to return the car there.
For rentals in Patagonia most companies will allow you to take cars between Chile and Argentina though I’ve been unable to find a company offering one way rental between the two countries. To take the car across the border you will need to pay for additional insurance and generally book the car in advance (ie not a ‘walk in’) .Different companies seem to have different rules- for instance Hertz don’t allow Argentinian nationals to rent a car in Chile and take it into Argentina. Budget require the driver to have an International Driving Permit to cross the border with one of their cars. My advice would be to check out the specific rules used by the company you plan to use at the time of booking your car.