About Chile (CL)
The ribbon-shaped country of Chile (CL) spans over 3,000 miles (5,000 km) on South American coastline, with a varied climate moderated by the Pacific Ocean and framed by the dynamic topography of the Andes Mountains, which define the eastern boundaries. Chile is bordered by Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, and its geography ranges from arid high desert in the north, to mild Mediterranean in the mid-central region, to low-lying wetlands in the south, which extends to the southern tip of the continent. The majority of destinations and attractions are separated by cultural and physical distance, with the main population centers found in the central regions. The southern third of the island is sparsely inhabited and dedicated national park and wildlife reserves. The capital city of Santiago is the primary gate way to Easter Island (Hanga Roa), located 3,500 km west.
Chile’s unusual, long narrow shape gives rise to a prominent north-south orientation, and navigation generally takes place up and down the coast. As cities and towns are spread far apart, most visitors will find it necessary to rent a car. Generally speaking, central Chile is well connected by a motorway network in good condition, and most long-distance travel will involve the Pan-American Highway (Route 5). Driving in Chile is a mix of North and South American influence. Road signs are in Spanish, but use American formatting. Unlike some neighboring countries, Chilean drivers are known for good behavior on the roads, and driving at night is considered safe. The greatest challenge of getting around the country is conquering the distances, and getting familiar with some of the peculiarities of Chilean traffic controls and regulations, for example, reversible lanes on highways, and bus only lanes on city streets.
Choosing your car
You’ll find cheap car rentals in Chile from Avis, Thrifty, Sixt, Enterprise, and Budget. Choose from minicars, compact hatchbacks, economy, standard, and intermediate sedans, premium and luxury 4-door cars, estate wagons, midsize, fullsize, and standard SUVs, and 7-12 seater minivans.
Tips and advice
Rental cars in Chile are usually equipped with automatic GPS transponders that report back to the car hire company. This is to insure that you don’t take the car out of the country without signing a waiver, paying a fee, and acquiring a clearance in writing from the vendor.
Inner city streets and regular roads are generally narrow, while highways are more spacious. Compact cars are recommended for primarily city driving, while fullsize sedans and above are best for long-haul road trips. Smaller vehicles are great for squeezing into tight parking spots, but more difficult to control on highway roads by the exceptionally strong winds coming off the ocean and down from the mountains.
Most car rentals in Chile — including people carriers (7-12 seater minivans) are equipped with manual transmission, in part due to Chilean conservation efforts to save on fuel. Vehicles with automatic transmissions are significantly more expensive to rent.
All traffic signs and controls are in Spanish. All but a few include self-explanatory pictograms, but there are several signs unique to Chile. For example, their version of Do Not Enter will not be familiar to drivers from most English-speaking countries. It’s a good idea to educate yourself on the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel.
Stop signs are not common in Chile. Instead, they use Yield or Give Way.
The majority of highways and including major roads in Santiago are toll roads. It’s almost impossible to get around Chile without paying tolls. Your car hire will most likely be equipped with a toll transponder.