Driving in Chile
The speed limit in towns and cities is 60 km/h and sometimes only 50 km/h. 100 km/h is permitted on rural roads, if not indicated otherwise. The speed limit on highways throughout Chile is 120 km/h. It is recommended to follow these limits, since Chilean “Carabineros” (police) often control with radar, especially on highways.
The Pan Americana highway between La Serena and Puerto Montt, and other highways as well, are quite modern and well developed. Besides a few exceptions, they are tarred properly and have emergency lanes on the right side. Chileans are used to driving on the left hand side of the road and only rarely make room for faster cars. Be prepared that you may need to pass on the right hand side. Please also be aware that you might encounter bikers, pedestrians or horse-drawn carriages on Chilean highways!
The Pan Americana highway between La Serena and Arica only has one lane, except some sections with very high traffic that have been extended to two lanes.
The famous Carretera Austral in Patagonia is one of the most popular routes for national and international tourists. It has a length of about 1,250 km, however driving fast is not possible and you will need plenty of time to drive the whole route (or even just sections). The landscape of the Carretera Austral is beautiful and quite impressive. Due to the rather poor road conditions, the car rental companies only allow driving the Carretera Austral with a Pick-Up or Jeep. All of our campers are suitable for driving the Carretera Austral.
In Chile, the use of highways is charged with a toll. The rates differ according to distance and section. Outside Santiago, the toll has to be paid at tollgates in cash (Chilean Pesos).
In Santiago, the toll is automatically charged via the TAG-system. It consists of a little sensor that is fixed to the windshield of each car. The use is mandatory for driving on Santiago’s city highways and it reacts with a “beep” every time you pass by an antenna mast that is linked to the TAG. All of our rental cars and campers are equipped with this TAG-system.
Many of Chile’s rural roads are beautiful in terms of landscape, but some of them are not tarred, and are simply dirt roads, especially in remote areas. You will find the streets are in very different conditions. If you are planning a longer trip on these roads, we recommend renting a pick-up or 4×4 vehicles. It is also recommended to take along a spare tire.
In many parts of Chile, a roadmap is definitely necessary. Traffic signs are very rare in remote areas and can be just as bad in tourist areas. Do not trust there will be traffic signs and always check your route and destination with a reliable road map. Good road maps can be purchased for about 15 USD at the Copec Gas Stations throughout Chile.
If you are traveling to remote regions, the tank should always be filled. By Chilean law, additional gas canisters are only allowed to be carried in the loading space of a Pick-up-Truck, never inside the car. Gas stations are rare and help might be far away in the event of a car breakdown. Ask about the frequency of gas stations at the local police station before your departure to remote areas. There are gas stations in regular distances on highways. As a reference, in Santiago, one liter of gasoline costs approximately 1.60 USD (93, 95 and 97 Octane), while the cost is approximately 1.3 USD for one liter of Diesel (subject to change and currency fluctuations). Generally spoken, prices raise the further you get from the capital of Chile
Please inform yourself when receiving our rental car about the kind of gasoline you will have to purchase!
Fueling in Chile is very convenient; filling station attendants work at almost every gas station. They refuel your car, clean your car windows and control the oil and water level if desired. The gas can easily be paid with credit card and you will not even have to leave your car during the whole tanking process. The attendants expect a small tip for their help and assistance.
Please be careful to ensure you are not tricked. Unfortunately, it often happens that the gas station attendants try to charge you a wrong amount. Ensure that the tank counter registers your tank charge to 0, and then check the amount to be paid on the tank counter of the gas station.
Particularly during high season (summer and long weekends), the Chilean Carabineros (police) control traffic and speed limits. Additionally, they check car documents, drivers’ license and passports quite frequently. Please have these documents at hand and up-to date. Since 2012, the 0 per mill rule is valid, which is often and very strictly controlled by the Carabineros. Please never drive under the influence of alcohol! Since mid-2007, it is mandatory to drive on Chile’s highways and country roads with the dipped-beam headlamps. Non-compliance will be punished with a fine.
Always lock your car properly and never leave the windows open. To be on the very safe side, you should also lock your car while driving to avoid being robbed at red traffic lights. Please follow this advice especially when you are driving through poorer urban areas.
Please keep an eye on what happens around your car while you are waiting at red traffic lights. It has occurred that thieves have broken car windows to rob handbags (especially women who travel alone!) If possible, take the CD player/audio equipment with you when you leave the car and do not store valuables inside. They should not be viewable from outside!
In the event of an accident – it does not matter how serious – you must always call the police (Carabineros: 133). They have to register the accident so that your car insurance accepts the damage. You will receive a document from the police which has to be submitted to the insurance company. Please notify the car rental agency as well.
When driving a car in Santiago, you will recognize immediately that you are in a several million-metropolis. Drivers honk, push, bluster and swear. The Chileans seem to be quite aggressive drivers, but international traffic rules are much more respected than in many other Latin American countries.
Nevertheless, the streets of Santiago are always crowded and this might create a chaotic impression at the beginning. A few years ago, the Transantiago – a “re-launch” of the public bus and metro system – was introduced. For car drivers, it is important to know that one, respectively two lanes, on each of Santiago’s main roads, are provided for buses and taxis only. They are separated by a yellow median and may not be used by normal cars. However, you will probably see a lot of cars using the bus lanes anyway. We advise caution, since the lanes are sometimes controlled by video cameras and the police will stop and fine you in case of noncompliance.
The quality of streets in Santiago in general is good; however, some parts are in bad condition. Be careful with potholes! The Chilean government makes efforts to improve the pavement little by little.
Be particularly cautious during rush hour. Some of the main roads change their driving direction during peak hours and traffic only runs in one direction on all lanes. Avenida Andrés Bello / Costanera, for example, only run from East to West between 7.30 am and 10 am and from West to East between 5 pm to 9 pm. The same applies to Avenida Presidente Riesco: between 7.30 am and 12 pm, traffic flows westwards and between 5 pm to 9 pm only eastwards. The street Salvador is another example of a major road that changes its driving direction.
Santiago has plenty of one-way-streets. You can recognize them by arrows on street signs indicating the driving direction. Please pay attention to this, before you turn onto a street.
Generally speaking, signage is satisfactory in Santiago. The further you get to the East of the city, the easier you’ll find your way. In Santiago’s poorer neighborhoods and in the city center, many of the traffic signs are sprayed with graffiti. Sometimes sign-postings do not even exist or stop before the destination is reached. In case of any doubt, try to orientate yourself by the Andes or the next larger street.
Speed-limit in Santiago is mostly 60 km/h if not indicated otherwise and should be followed, since it is controlled by local policemen.
You will meet so-called “parking assistants“ in Santiago and all over Chile. Some of them are employed by the municipality, while many are not. They assist drivers in parking their cars – no matter whether it’s necessary or not – and watch your car while you are gone. Those, who are officially employed, receive a specified parking tax that is determined by the municipality. “Freelancers” usually work during the evening and night and expect a tip for their service. Depending on the duration of your stay, it is common practice to pay between 300 and 1,000 Chilean Pesos.
Santiago’s beltways and express highways are equipped with a very modern automatic toll-system, which was introduced in 2004 and is consistently enlarged. Every car has to have a TAG (small electronic device on the windshield inside the car) that is synchronized with the transmission masts along the highways, which automatically register the amount of toll. Our rental cars are also equipped with this device and the fees are already included in the rental tariffs.