Chile Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
The research for this website was carried out mainly in 2011 and 2012. Therefore there is a good chance that much of the information may now be out of date. This is particularly true of countries in the developing world, especially Asia and Africa where conditions can change often. Also, the political climate in many countries has changed a lot in recent years. Therefore the information on this website should be treated with caution. You should always check with your Government’s website or the UK Foreign office travel advice website before finalising plans to drive abroad.
Driving In Chile
To drive abroad in Chile, you will require a valid international driving permit or new European format driving licence (with a photograph). If hiring a car on Easter Island, please be aware that there is no car insurance available on the island. Main roads in Chile are paved and are generally in pretty good condition. However, you may wish to consider a four-wheel drive vehicle for driving in the countryside. Chile contains a complete range of driving conditions, from snow and ice to hot sandy deserts. Road tolls are common on motorways. Between June and September, winter weather sometimes temporarily closes Chilean/Argentine border crossings high up in the Andes, including the main Los Libertadores one between Santiago and Mendoza, which is a spectacular roller coaster of a road . Santiago can be smoggy and vehicles may be restricted from driving in the centre at certain times due to smog levels, but I found it an Ok City to drive in –there are certainly a lot worse in South America!
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.
This website provides useful route planning info for all countries in South America including Chile.
Chile Car Rental –
Sixt , Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National,Avis,Budget, Thrifty, Dollar,have branches here.Also usually features on Car rental broker sites such as Argus Car Hire and Web discount sites such as LastMinute.com
These local websites offer all manner of cars and campers for rent
This company act as an agent for some of the big multinationals so may be a halfway house if you’d like to be able to email someone in the country before you go.
This company offer trips with self drive itineraries –
In Patagonia, this website allows you to find car rental companies by region, and town in both Argentina and Chile. Select the region you want to rent in, then the town, and choose the car rental option from the left hand menu
There are a large number of local rental options in Patagonia plus most of the big international companies-
In Punta Arenas-
Budget and Hertz have outlets plus-
In Puerto Montt-
Europcar and Avis have outlets plus
In Puerto Natales/Torres del Paine-
Avis have an outlet plus-
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.