Car Rental in Calama
Cheapest Car Rental Rates
Most Popular Car Rental Deals
Why rent a car in Calama?
The Atacama desert, where Calama Airport is located, is a fascinating place to visit. Home to otherworldly landscapes, salt lakes, boiling geysers, natural hot springs, flamingos, and the beautiful Los Flamencos National Reserve, this is a magical place to visit in Chile. Contrary to popular belief, you can explore the Atacama with a rental car, providing you the freedom to explore Northern Chile at your own pace and discover everything from Incan sites to surf towns on the Pacific coast.
One-Way Car Rentals in Calama
The most popular one-way rental options for pick up in Calama and drop off in another city include:
- From Calama to Arica - 2 offers from $117.65 per day
- From Calama to Antofagasta - 2 offers from $101.35 per day
- From Calama to Santiago - 2 offers from $144.51 per day
Top ways to enter Calama
- El Loa Airport: Located in the city of Calama, but serving all of the surrounding region, El Loa is the international airport that’s closest to the Atacama Desert. The airport mainly provides domestic connections but also hosts a flight to and from Lima, the capital of neighboring Peru. El Loa Airport is 6 km (4 miles) south of Calama city center and 100 km (62 miles) from San Pedro de Atacama, the main gateway to the desert and its natural attractions; the latter can be reached in just over one hour.
- Antofagasta Airport: Also known as Andrés Sabella Gálvez Airport and Cerro Moreno Airport, it serves Antofagasta, the largest city in northern Chile. Like El Loa Airport, it offers flights to and from other destinations in Chile as well as in Peru. Located 330 km (205 miles) from San Pedro de Atacama, the airport can be reached in about 3 hours and 20 minutes.
- Iquique Airport: Iquique Diego Aracena Airport, located even farther north than Antofagasta, handled over 1.3 million travelers in 2018. The airport hosts many domestic flights and also provides connections with Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay. About 440 km (273 miles) northwest of San Pedro de Atacama, this airport can be reached in about 5 hours and 10 minutes.
- Santiago Airport: Serving the Chilean capital, Santiago Arturo Merino Benitez Airport handled more than 23 million travelers in 2018. In addition to domestic and South American connections, it also offers flights to and from North America, Europe, and Australia. By far the busiest airport in the country, it is the first point of entry for many travelers coming to Chile. Although it is possible to drive from Santiago all the way north to San Pedro de Atacama, the distance is almost 1,700 km (1,055 miles) and would take some 20 hours. While the road would take you through many spectacular places and you can also break it up the trip into three to four days, an easier option can be to catch one of the many daily flights from Santiago to Calama.
- Located at the height of 2,400 m (8,000 ft), San Pedro de Atacama has a cold and arid desert climate. Days are warm year-round, with an average high temperature of 19°C (66°F) in June, the coolest month. The temperature at night, however, can get very cold and the temperature does get significantly below 0°C (32°F) every winter.
- Receiving practically no precipitation, Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on the planet. Organizations like NASA, the European Space Exploration Program, and others have used the area for research as it is the most similar habitat to Mars found on Earth. NASA’s High Lakes project also conducts research in the area to understand how different life forms adapt to survival in extreme weather conditions.
- The Atacama Desert is the driest nonpolar desert and second to Antarctica. It is also the only desert to receive less precipitation than polar deserts. Lastly, it is the largest fog desert in the world.
- Despite the extreme weather conditions, the Atacama Desert has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. The ancient Chinchorro culture, although primarily based in coastal areas, did venture inland (they are known for their unique mummification practices and some of the mummies can be observed in different Chilean museums). Later, the Atacameño people were based in the desert and altiplano of Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. The area eventually became a part of the Incan Empire, then the Spanish Empire, and finally independent Chile (and its neighboring countries). Today, the Antofagasta Region (where most of the Atacama is located), has a population density of 4.8 people per square kilometer, comparable to that of Mongolia and lower than Australia’s.
- Important: With many sites in the area located 4,000-5,500 m (13,000-18,000 ft) above sea level, altitude sickness is a very real danger that can affect any traveler. Try to avoid steep ascents, do not travel to remote areas without a trustworthy guide, and keep the contact information and address of a local medic in San Pedro de Atacama at hand.
Top destinations and activities
- Valle de la Luna. The Moon Valley is an awesome place to visit. The area is home to many impressive hikes and observation points such as Duna Mayor, Victoria Mine, and Tres Marías. The visitor center is only 4 km (2.5 miles) west of San Pedro de Atacama, the Valle de la Luna visitor center can be reached in just 6 minutes by car. Currently, you must reserve your ticket online beforehand, so make sure you plan ahead of time.
- Geyser del Tatio. This is the highest geyser field in the world. Instead of a single geyser, you’ll find a field of geysers ranging in size with plumes of smoke rising, water gurgling, and water shooting into the sky. The best time to visit is in the morning, right at sunrise.
- Termas de Puritama. The Atacama Desert is also a place of relaxation. At this natural hot spring, you’ll find eight pools nestled in a valley. Soak to your heart’s delight here. Reservations are required, so make sure you book these before the start of your trip.
- Laguna Chaxa. There are numerous salt lakes, but if you’re looking to see flamingos in the wild, there’s a high chance that you’ll see many of them here feasting on the brine-rich waters.
- Cejar. a high-altitude salt lake, known locally as the Dead Sea due to its similarities to the actual Dead Sea, Cejar overlooks the Andes and the salt flat of the Atacama and offers amazing views of them both. It is possible to swim in this lake in which one can't drown because of the incredibly high concentration of salt, in addition to a couple of freshwater lakes nearby. Located about 22 km (13.6 miles) south of San Pedro, Cejar takes 30 minutes to reach.
- Star Tour. Due to its high altitude, clear skies, low humidity, and the fact that there are no large settlements in the area, the Atacama Desert is one of the best spots on earth for stargazing. There are several operators that offer stargazing experiences from San Pedro de Atacama, and you can learn more about one of them here.
- Chuquicamata Mine. For decades, mining has been the most important industry around Calama. Visiting Chuquicamata, the largest open-pit copper mine in the world can feel as otherworldly as enjoying the natural landscapes of the area. The tours to the mine are free and take place in both Spanish and English, but you need to visit the local tourism office to book in advance — or write to email@example.com.
Traffic and parking
- Chile drives on the right-hand side of the road.
- The speed limits in Chile are 100-120 km/h (62-75 mph) on highways (depending on each highway), 80-100 km/h (50-62 mph) on most other intercity roads, and 60 km/h (36 mph) inside urban and built-up areas.
- When driving In the Atacama Desert, you’ll have to pay extra attention to the road conditions as much of it will be off-road with a mix of loose to hard-packed but bumpy gravel. For these conditions, make sure your tires have the correct pressure and pay for coverage in case something happens.
- Many cities in Chile have special bus-only lanes. Many have video surveillance, so even if you are not caught using one, your rental car provider might receive a fine afterward that you will have to pay.
- Chile has, on average, some of the best road conditions in South America. Nonetheless, some rural roads remain in poor condition, so it is best to drive cautiously outside cities. Cattle crossing the road can also be an issue in the countryside.
- Although Chile has a large number of gas stations, the huge distances and the many remote areas means that it is still quite possible to run out of gas in an uninhabited area. Because of this, it is important to plan out your route and to calculate the distances in advance.
- Self-service in Chilean gas stations is forbidden by law - you will have to ask the employee of the gas station.
- The legal alcohol limit is 0.03% for experienced drivers and 0.00% for novice drivers. Exceeding the limit can lead to large fines and even imprisonment of 60 to 300 days.
- Proof of insurance and the car’s documentation needs to be in the car whenever you’re driving.
- Officially, an international driver’s license is required even though many car rental suppliers do not check if you have one. That said, the police will check for it, so it’s best that you acquire one from your home country.
- When you are driving, you need to have your passport or ID card with you at all times.
- The emergency numbers in Chile are 131 for an ambulance, 132 for the fire brigade, and 133 for the police.
There are no toll roads in the Atacama Desert.
Ideas for day trips
- Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons. These are twin high-altitude lakes that overlook a series of surreal mountains and rest at 4,200 m (13,780 ft) high. Most travelers combine this with the attraction Piedras Rojas since they can be purchased on one ticket. Some 115 km (71 miles) south of San Pedro, Miscanti and Miñiques take 90 minutes to reach. Note that you have to purchase tickets and select time slots online. Some 115 km (71 miles) south of San Pedro, Miscanti takes 90 minutes to reach.
- Geyser del Tatio. Located at a height of about 4,320 m (14,173 ft), the geyser of El Tatio (another name for the area) is one of the largest and the highest in the world. Of all the landscapes and sites in the area, El Tatio might be the most impressive one. There are many tour companies offering to take you to the geyser, but it’s also possible to drive there with your own rental car. Located some 80 km (50 miles) north of San Pedro, El Tatio takes about 90 minutes to reach.
- Baltinach Lagoons. There are seven hidden salt lakes located in the middle of the desert here, and you can enter two of them. Due to their extremely high salinity, your body floats when you’re in the water, a similar experience to the Dead Sea. Take care in driving here as it’s a rough hour and 15-minute drive on B-241. Alternatively, there are tours that can take you to these lagoons.
- Los Flamencos National Reserve. Although some of the aforementioned sites are technically a part of Los Flamencos, the reserve deserves special mention in its own right. This is the place where you can escape the larger tour groups, appreciate the local flora and fauna, and truly take in the incredible nature of the area. The reserve is not only home to different sub-species of flamingos which give it its name, but also to other unique wildlife like the southern viscacha (a colorful rodent resembling a rabbit), Andean zorro fox, Andean condor, and puna tinamou bird. Located about 100 km (62 miles) east of San Pedro, Los Flamencos takes some 90 minutes to reach.
- Memorial for '73 Disappeared. Like everywhere else in the country, many people in the north of Chile were affected by the terror of the Pinochet regime in the 1970s (more than 1,200 people were “disappeared” by the secret police of the military dictatorship). While much smaller than its equivalent in Santiago, this memorial in the desert between Calama and San Pedro honors their memory.
Most popular cars
The most popular rental car in Chile is the Nissan Kicks, closely followed by the Subaru Forester and the Chevrolet D-Max. The most popular rental car types are full size, standard, and compact.
- Antofagasta. Located at the point where the Atacama Desert meets the Pacific Ocean, Antofagasta is one of the largest cities in northern Chile. Although not usually thought of as a tourist destination, it has plenty for a visitor to enjoy, including beautiful beaches (and animals like sea lions and pelicans which can occasionally be observed on them) and a museum of a former silver refinery. From here, many beach towns and coastal nature can also be reached by going up or down the coast. Located about 310 km (192 miles) from San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta takes 3 hours and 40 minutes to reach.
- Bolivia. Located right on the other side of the border is Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat and a famous travel destination. Many landscapes are similar to those found on the Chilean side, but some, of course, are totally unique. After seeing the desert, you can drive to the legendary mining town of Potosi or perhaps even make your way all the way up to Lake Titicaca. Important: Most rental car providers do not permit crossing the Chile-Bolivia border. However, it is possible to go with public transportation (or a hired local driver) and to pick up a new rental car after arriving in Bolivia. It’s also important to see if you need a visa to enter either Chile or Bolivia and each country has its own visa policy.
- Argentina. With delicious local food and wine, many mountain villages, opportunities for adventure sports, and even higher Andean peaks than on the Chilean side of the border, Argentina is an awesome travel destination. Jujuy, the first large city if coming from Chile which is located at the edge of the Calilegua National Park, is 475 km (295 miles) southeast of San Pedro and can be reached in about six hours. As with Bolivia, ask your rental car provider in advance if they permit you crossing the border and check to see if you need a visa to enter Argentina.
- Arica. The northernmost city in Chile, Arica is often seen as a gateway to Peru but can be a fascinating destination in its own right. The city is best known for its beaches which offer not just tanning, but also some of the best surfing waves in all of the country. Other attractions include ancient petroglyphs (located next to the Archaeological Museum), as well as the stunning Lauca National Park some 150 km (93 miles) to the east. The drive from Calama to Arica takes about seven hours.
Car Rental Prices in Calama
- Large cars - from $58 per day
- SUVs - from $44 per day
Increase your chances of landing a great rental car by following these tips:
- Compare the rates of different rental car providers
- Book your rental car well in advance
- Plan your route before you go
- Know your fuel and mileage requirements
- Visit during the month when the rental prices are the cheapest. According to our data, visiting Calama is the cheapest in August when renting a car is about 37% cheaper than the yearly average and a whole 51% cheaper than renting a car in May.
Top 12 Cities near Calama
Antofagasta Car Rentals from $31.41 per day189.4 km / 117.7 miles away
Iquique Car Rentals from $44.92 per day254.5 km / 158.1 miles away
Arica Car Rentals from $27.76 per day484.4 km / 301.0 miles away
La Serena Car Rentals from $25.72 per day856.4 km / 532.1 miles away
Viña del Mar Car Rentals from $25.72 per day1189.5 km / 739.1 miles away
1202.7 km / 747.3 miles away
Santiago Car Rentals from $55.47 per day1225.8 km / 761.7 miles away
1262.1 km / 784.2 miles away
Temuco Car Rentals from $25.72 per day1861.3 km / 1156.6 miles away
Puerto Montt Car Rentals from $33.00 per day2142.3 km / 1331.2 miles away
Coyhaique Car Rentals from $51.02 per day2584.7 km / 1606.1 miles away
Punta Arenas Car Rentals from $89.92 per day3396.5 km / 2110.5 miles away
Top 9 Locations near Calama
Calama El Loa Airport Car Rentals from $85.39 per day
Arica Chacalluta Airport Car Rentals from $27.76 per day484.4 km / 301.0 miles away
La Serena La Florida Airport Car Rentals from $49.00 per day856.4 km / 532.1 miles away
Santiago International Airport Car Rentals from $59.49 per day1225.8 km / 761.7 miles away
La Araucania Airport Car Rentals from $49.00 per day1861.3 km / 1156.6 miles away
Puerto Montt Airport Car Rentals from $33.00 per day2142.3 km / 1331.2 miles away
Balmaceda Airport Car Rentals from $114.37 per day2584.7 km / 1606.1 miles away
Punta Arenas Airport Car Rentals from $89.92 per day3396.5 km / 2110.5 miles away
6593.1 km / 4096.8 miles away
Map of Car Rental Locations
What is the cheapest month to rent a car in Calama?
This information can help you identify the low season. But these are only average numbers. How much your car rental will cost will depend on the type of vehicle you rent, how long you’ll rent it for, and how far ahead you book. Simply enter your dates in the form at the top of the page to see the exact prices.
What’s the usual rental length in Calama?
What's the most popular month to rent a car in Calama?
Car Rental Information
|Car rental locations||2|
|Popular car categories||Large cars|
|Lowest price||$44 per day|
Most Popular Car Models of Rental Suppliers
|Avis||Nissan Versa||2||3||Large cars|
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