Driving in Chile

Things you should know before you turn the key ...

Speed limit and Overtaking

The maximum speed in towns and cities is 50 km/h. Unless stated otherwise, on paved highways 100 km/h are allowed, while the maximum speed on highways it 120 km/h. These speed limits should be respected for your own safety, even if the road conditions and the often empty roads may encourage to faster driving and many locals do not stick to the rules. There are speed controls, and the police rarely ever turns a blind eye, even on tourists. Always expect to be overtaken on the right as well! This maneuver is quite common, especially on three- or multi-lane highways. Although not allowed on two-lane roads, it is still often done, so please be cautious and always have an eye on both exterior mirrors.

Right of Way

The right-before-left rule is largely unknown in Chile. Therefore, be very careful at crossings. Anyone who is on the side street is usually informed by a stop sign ("PARE") or a priority sign, as well as stop lines on the ground. In very remote areas, intersections may not be signposted at all. If another vehicle is approaching at the same time, it is best to give it the right of way with a hand signal.

Panamericana and other Highways

The Panamericana 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 rarely make room for faster cars, so please be prepared to be overtaken on the right and always have an eye on both exterior mirrors. Please, be also aware, that you occasionally might encounter animals like horses or cows, cyclists and even pedestrians on Chilean highways.

Between La Serena and Arica, the Panamericana is only one lane, apart from a few two-lane sections. This can lead to delays, especially in the areas where there are many trucks traveling to the mining sites (Atacama Region around Vallenar, Copiapó, etc.). In urban areas, the word LENTO (“slow”) often is painted on the road in front of schools and public buildings. Please drive particularly careful and slow there. Always expect to be overtaken on the right as well! This maneuver is quite common, especially on two- or multi-lane highways. Although not allowed on two-lane roads, it is still often done, so please be cautious and always have an eye on both exterior mirrors.

Highway Toll

In Chile, the use of highways is charged with a toll. The rates vary between 700 and 4.000 Chilean Pesos, according to distance, section and day of the week. Outside Santiago, the toll must be paid at tollgates in cash (Chilean Pesos). Please, remember to always have enough cash at hand. Keep the receipt, so you might be able to avoid the additional toll due when leaving the highway.

In Santiago, the toll is automatically charged via the TAG-system. It consists of a little sensor 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 our rental cars are equipped with this TAG-system. The fees are already included in your rental price.

Carretera Austral

The famous Carretera Austral in Patagonia is one of the most popular routes for national and international tourists. The landscapes along its approximately 1,250 km are just indescribably beautiful and impressive.
The Carretera Austral is partially asphalted, but in large parts a gravel road, with quite narrow parts. So, driving fast is not possible and you will need plenty of time to drive the whole route (or even just sections). Please, calculate your travel times accordingly. In general: 100 km over asphalt = 1 hour drive, but on gravel about 2 hours. Due to the rather poor road conditions, the car rental companies only allow driving the Carretera Austral with a Pick-Up or a Jeep/SUV.

Rural Roads / Gravel Roads

Many of Chile’s rural roads are beautiful in terms of landscape, but some of them are not paved, and are simply gravel roads, especially in remote areas. They may or may not be in a good condition. This includes virtually all the access roads to Chile’s beautiful national parks. If you are planning a longer trip on these roads, we recommend renting a Pick-Up or a SUV with or without 4WD. Please, calculate your travel time accordingly. In general: 100 km over asphalt = 1 hour drive, on gravel about 2 hours.

Road Maps and Orientation

Due to its geography, it is quite easy to be roughly oriented in Chile. Nevertheless, in many parts of Chile, a roadmap is 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 at the COPEC Gas Stations throughout Chile.

If you use the application “Waze” on your mobile phone, switch it on in Chile. The Chilean road network is well represented there and is constantly updated. Especially in Santiago, the application can be a good help.

Gas Stations

When picking up your rental car, please ask which kind of fuel the car needs. When traveling to remote areas, make sure your tank is always filled and refill it on every occasion. In some regions, 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 or at your accommodation or check it on the internet before leaving to remote areas. 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.

Fueling in Chile is very convenient; filling station attendants work at almost every gas station. They refuel your car, clean your car windows in the meantime 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 process. The service is free, but attendants expect a tip for their assistance.

Please be careful to ensure that you are not tricked. Unfortunately, it might happen that an attendant tries to charge you a wrong amount. Make sure, the counter it set to 0, and later check the amount to be paid on the counter.

Parking

In streets with many shops and restaurants, at events etc. and in public parking lots, there are people who earn their money by guarding cars and as parking aids. It is common practice to pay them about 300-1000 pesos for their services, necessary or not, depending on the duration of the parking.

Please pay attention to the painting of the curb: Where the curb is painted YELLOW, PARKING is FORBIDDEN. This applies nationwide.

Police Control

The Chilean Police (Carabineros) control traffic and speed limits, particularly during high season (summer and long weekends). Additionally, they check car documents, driving license and passports quite frequently. Please have these documents at hand and up-to date.

Since 2012, there is a 0 per mill rule with zero tolerance, which is very strictly controlled by the Carabineros. Please never drive under the influence of alcohol!

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.

Safety

Although Chile is a safe country for travelling, we recommend you follow the below mentioned safety advice:

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. It has occurred that thieves have broken car windows to rob handbags (especially women who travel alone!). When you leave the car do not keep valuables inside. Whatever you leave in the car, should not be visible from outside!

Please follow this advice especially when you drive through poorer urban areas in the Greater Santiago or other bigger cities.

When driving to national parks or very remote areas, please always inform the national park guards or the street police, where you are going.

Border Crossing to Argentina

Border crossing with your the rental to Argentina is only allowed with a comprehensive collision insurance and liability insurance, valid in Argentina, as well as a special permission. Spontaneous trips to Argentina without these papers are not possible. Please remember to ask for the Argentina permit when booking your rental car. When picking up the car, make sure you also get the Argentina permit.

Car rental return must always be in Chile!

Please be aware, that in Argentina, the gas station network is not as good as in Chile and in Patagonia, not all gas stations always have gasoline (“Nafta”) available. Furthermore, some gas stations only accept cash.

In Argentina, the speed limit is 40 km/h on smaller roads and 60 km/h on larger roads. On country roads, the speed limit is 110 km/h and on the highway 130 km/h.

Car Breakdown

In the case of an accident, calling the police is mandatory, so that the damage can be reported, regardless of the severity of the damage. Your car rental insurance will only cover with the police report. In addition, you must promptly notify your car rental company about the accident/damage.

Emergency numbers are in Chile: Ambulance: 131, Fire Department: 132, Police: 133

Equipment

In remote areas you should always have enough water, food, sunscreen and warm clothes or a blanket in your car, so you are prepared for any event.

Driving in Santiago

When driving your rental car in Santiago, you will realize immediately that you are in a million-metropolis. Drivers honk, push, bluster and curse. Yet, although Chileans might seem quite aggressive drivers to you, international traffic rules are much more respected here than in many other Latin American countries. However, the streets of Santiago are almost always crowded, and this might create a chaotic impression at the beginning.

It is important to know that one, respectively two lanes, on each of Santiago’s main roads, are exclusive for buses and taxis. They are separated from the other lanes by a yellow median and must not be used by other cars. However, you will probably see a lot of cars using them anyway. We advise to stick to the rules to avoid trouble, 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 varies, 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 runs from East to West between 7.30 am and 10 am and from West to East from 5 pm to 9 pm. The same applies to Avenida Presidente Riesco: between 7.30 am and 12 pm, traffic flows only westwards and between 5 pm and 9 pm, only eastwards. Avenida Salvador is another example of a major road that changes its driving direction, from North to South. These are just a few examples. Pay close attention to the signposts and try to avoid the rush hour.

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. Due to the many one-way streets, it might occasionally be quite difficult to turn left and if you missed a possibility, you may have to drive a large detour.

Signposting in Santiago is generally good. 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, you might find traffic signs sprayed with graffiti. Sometimes signposting do not exist or stop before the destination is reached. In case of any doubt, try to orientate yourself by the Andes or try to stay on the larger streets.