Car Rental in Chile
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Why rent a car in Chile?
Chile, ever-growing in popularity amongst tourists, is a country of vast variety. The country has a total of 41 national parks stretching from Lauca National Park in the very north of the country to Cabos de Hornos National Park, the world’s most southern national park (the distance as the crow flies between the two is more than 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles).
Almost six million foreign tourists visited Chile in 2019. From the incredible scenery of Patagonia, including Torres del Paine National Park, to the otherworldly desert landscapes of the Atacama in the north, the thousands of kilometers of Chile’s roads beg to be explored. If there was ever a country that was made for a road trip, Chile would be it. It would be a shame to not explore as much as possible at your own pace and reach the remote corners of the country.
Southern Chile is not connected by road to the northern part of the country, though a road connection is planned in the future. This leaves travelers needing to either transit through Argentina (details of which or explained below) or to fly to Punta Arenas where rental cars are available.
Top ways to enter Chile
Any information you may find indicating that Australian, Canadian, and American citizens must pay a reciprocity fee to enter Chile for the purposes of tourism is outdated. As of August 2019, this fee has been suspended for all of these nationalities.
Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) is Chile’s main international airport. It has directions to destinations in North America, Europe, Oceania, and Asia in addition to South America. In fact, the longest non-stop flights from Europe to the Americas land at the airport. The airport is located northwest of Santiago, Chile’s capital and also the center of the long country.
Diego Aracena International Airport (IQQ) serving Iquique in northern Chile has flights provided by Amazonas to and from La Paz and Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. Rental cars are available in the airport’s terminal. Iquique is convenient for exploring the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The other main airport in the Atacama Desert is El Loa Airport in Calama. Its only international destination is Lima in neighboring Peru. However, you can reach the airport with a connection in Santiago. Again, rental cars are available for pick-up in the airport’s terminal.
Tourists on their way to Patagonia may fly into El Tepual International Airport (PMC) in Puerto Montt Airport or Presidente Carlos Ibáñez International Airport in Punta Arenas after a connection in Santiago. Both airports have rental cars and four-wheel-drive vehicles available. Note that a special certificate is required to be able to drive a rental car into Argentina. You must let the local rental office know that you will need one well in advance (in addition to paying an extra fee during the rental).
The other main routes into Chile are land routes from neighboring countries. Renters can not enter Chile in a rental car from either Peru or Bolivia. In addition, if you have rented a car in Bolivia or Peru, you most likely will have to return it to the location where you picked it up. From Peru, buses run from Cusco and Lima to Tanca. From Tanca, you have to take a collectivo (a shared taxi) across the border. Direct buses take travelers from La Paz to Arica, where they can pick up rental cars to travel through Chile.
From Argentina, it is possible to take a rental car to Chile. This requires following the same procedure listed below for taking a rental car from Chile to Argentina. Alternatively, you can cross the border with a bus and rent another car once in Chile. For example, you could drop off your rental car in Mendoza, take a bus to Santiago, and then pick up another car. The same is true for Bariloche and Puerto Montt and southern Patagonia.
Top cities and places to visit
- Santiago - The capital of Chile is by far its largest city. As it is almost certainly going to be the entrance point for those arriving by air, Santiago is naturally the starting part of a tour of the country. Its museums, bars, restaurants, and culture can be the perfect introduction to the country or, alternatively, serve as a way of relaxing after spending time in Chile’s nature. The barrio of Bellavista is the bohemian quarter that is most worth checking out. Also, don’t miss the Parque Metropolitano and its lovely views of the city. It can be reached on foot or by taking the funicular.
- Valparaiso - Located on the Pacific coast about 115 (71 miles) from Santiago, Valparaiso is both an important commercial port for the country and a popular tourist destination Its historic center has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cities bohemian culture, colorful buildings are accentuated with inclines that take you up its hills, the tops of which offer stunning views to the port. If being on the coast leaves you wanting to dip in the sea, head just north to Viña del Mar.
- Viña del Mar - Just north of Valparaiso, Viña del Mar is the major beach resort of Chile hosting many Chilean and foreign vacationers. During the third week in February, the city hosts the Viña del Mar International Song Festival which is the largest music festival in Latin America. During the rest of the year, you can lounge on the city’s stunning beach, talk a walk on the pier, or gamble in one of the city’s casinos.
- Concepcion - Roughly halfway between Santiago and Puerto Montt near the coast, Concepcion is the second-largest city in the country. Though the city itself might not provide a lot to capture a tourist’s attention (except its university’s campus), its surroundings have a lot to offer. One of the highlights of the area is the Huscar in Talcahuano, a ship captured by the Chileans in the War of the Pacific in 1879. In Lota, 40km (25 miles) south of Concepcion, visitors can tour an old mine, El Chifon del Diablo (the chiffon of the devil). The Concepcion area is certainly a great place to break up the long trip on the way to Patagonia.
- The Atacama Desert - Though a traveler often recalls the stunning mountains and glaciers of Patagonia when they think of Chile, another out of the world landscape also awaits them in the northeastern part of the country. San Pedro is a small tourist town that serves as a base for activities in the surrounding desert. Attractions in the desert include the Lunar Valley, which is exactly what its name suggests, a landscape that looks like it would be on the moon. The Geysers del Tatio are also very popular as they are some of the highest in the world. Most visitors also make sure to make it to the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos for its stunning landscapes and, well, flamencos. As in other places with large sand dune, sandboarding is also a popular activity. Many also book a tour to Bolivia from the town which passes through the Altino and the salt lake of Uyuni through this is not possible with a rental car since you can not take a car from Chile or Bolivia.
- Patagonia - The region that brings the most tourists to Chile is the southernmost part of South America which is shared with Argentina. It contains the southern reaches of the Andes and Tierra del Fuego, the closest land to Antarctica. The region has long been famous for its natural wonders. While it used to only be popular with those seeking to spend significant time in the wilderness, nowadays it caters to tourists of all types. The Caretta Austral provides access to the northern parts of Chilean Patagonia including multiple national parks. The southern part of the region is only accessible via Argentina or by plane (and likewise, one must transit through Chile to reach the Argentine part of Tierra del Fuego).
- Torres del Paine National Park - Named after the Torres del Paine (three granite towers) is probably the most famous national park in Patagonia. The park is famous for the “O” trek, taking seven to nine days, and the “W” trek, a subsection of the ”O” taking only about five days. These treks are among the most famous in the world due to the natural beauty through which they pass. The park is not connected by road to the northern part of the country. It can be accessed from Puerto Nantes which is south of the park or from Argentina. Take note of the Crossing Borders below if you plan to transit to the park through Argentina.
- Aconcagua - The tallest mountain outside of Asia is 6,961 meters (22,937 feet) high and is one of the Seven Summits. Though the mountain is in Argentina, Santiago has the closest international airport. It is possible to take a rental car across the border to the town that serves as the base for climbing the mountain through advance notice is required along with an extra, hefty fee. Taking a bus may be the best idea. You can then use a rental car to explore the rest of Chile before or after your climb.
- Easter Island - Since it is one of the most isolated islands on the planet, you certainly won’t make it to Easter Island with a rental car, but you may be able to rent one there (there are no major suppliers, though). About the only way to get there is with a LATAM flight from Santiago. Many travelers make their way to the island despite its remoteness, mostly to see the Moais, human figures carved out of stone by the Rapa Nui people hundreds of years ago.
- Ojos del Salado - The highest mountain in Chile is a 6,891-meter active volcano. It lies on the border with Argentina about 250km (155 miles) east of Copiapo. The mountain is usually climbed during the warm season from December to March. A border permit is required, but a large fee is no longer charged. Mountaineering experience is necessary even though most of the ascent is nontechnical; ropes may be necessary near the peak. Even if not climbing, a drive to this area and the nearby Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces with other high desert peaks is certainly still worth it. Ruta 31 is paved and passes through some stunning scenery.
Driver license requirements
An International Driving Permit is required both to rent a car and drive in Chile. Even if your rental company does not ask you for it, it is still a good idea to have one as it is legally required and you may need to show it to a police officer at some point.
The minimum age at which you are allowed to rent a car in Chile is 18. Some rental companies have a higher minimum age. All companies charge an underage fee for those drivers that are under the age of 22.
Whether or not you are allowed to cross any borders with a rental car depends on which company you rent from. If you chose Sixt as your provider, you won’t be allowed to leave Chile with the car. However, with Alamo, Europcar, Keddy, and Nu, you can travel with the car to Argentina.
Europcar and Keddy require you to notify them at least a week before picking up the car to arrange the contract and insurance for traveling to Argentina. With Alamo and, though it is not required, you should also let them know your plans ahead of time.
With all of the companies that allow travel to Argentina, you must purchase additional insurance and pay a hefty fee (up to 357USD with Nu).
The usual method of avoiding the hassle and fees is to book separate rental cars in each country. This is a perfect strategy if you are planning to travel in the northern part of the country. For example, you can drop off one rental car in Santiago, take a bus to Mendoza, and then pick up another car.
For travel in Patagonia, though, you may want to be able to cross the border in the rental car. For example, it is impossible to reach Torres del Paine National Park or the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego by road from northern Chile without crossing into Argentina. Renting a car in Argentina and then traveling to Chile is also possible.
Chile is very isolated due to having the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andean Mountains on the other. This restricts the movement of certain agricultural pests. To keep these pests from infecting Chilean crops and forests, there is a strict quarantine as part of the customs procedure. This means that you must declare any fruits, vegetables, firewood, honey, meat, and so forth upon entering the country. If you fail to declare these goods and are caught with them, expect steep fines.
Unfortunately, you are likely to come across multiple toll roads while driving in Chile. The first toll roads most tourists will encounter are those in Santiago, the first one being the road from the airport. These are electronically tolled which means there are no toll booths. Drivers must have what is call a “TAG” to pay for the tolls. If you rent a car from the airport in Santiago, it will have a TAG already and the company will charge you an extra fee for it or include it in the price. Either way, you pay for it, so you might as well use the toll roads.
If for some reason your rental car does not have a TAG, you can purchase a one day pass at many gas stations near or in the city. You also have purchased one after you have driven on the road, though you should try to get one as soon as possible.
Many of the highways outside of Santiago are run by private companies as concessions (this is how their construction was funded). These usually have toll booths rather than relying on electronic transponders. These toll booths are usually somewhere in the middle of the road, not at the exits. So if traveling large distances, you may have to stop multiple times to pay tolls. Be sure to take enough cash in Chilean Pesos with you as many of the booths do not accept credit cards.
The prices for gasoline in Chile may see either cheap or expensive depending on where you are from. The Chilean government levies significant excise taxes on gas. Fuel also has to be transported quite a way to reach the country. This means that prices are significantly higher than in the U.S. However, prices are still not as high as in Western European countries.
Most popular types of rental car
Renters in Chile prefer two different styles of vehicles. Those planning to drive in the city prefer smaller cars. This makes compact and economy classes popular. The Peugeot 301 and Peugeot 208 are good examples of these.
Other renters plan to travel in the mountainous areas, particularly in the south of the country, prefer more rugged vehicles like standard SUVs and trucks. The Subaru Forester 4x4 and Chevrolet D- Max are the most popular of these.
Top driving routes
Note: Some of the following roads are developed but unpaved. Many rental companies will not allow their cars to be driven on such roads. Those that do allow it, only do so for four-wheel-drive vehicles. So if you plan to travel, for example, the entire Carretera Austral, be sure to choose an SUV and ask the prospective rental company if they allow it beforehand. For example, Europcar and Sixt allow travel on the road if you rent a vehicle suitable for it (a 4x4).
- Carretera Austral - Perhaps the most famous drive in Chile, the Southern Highway is a remarkable adventure. The road passes through northern Patagonia which is very sparsely populated. There are three ferry crossings along the road, two shorter ones and a five-hour crossing from Hornopiren to Leptepu which requires a reservation ahead of time. As noted above, you would need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to travel the entire road; however, the road has now been paved all the way to Villa Cerro Castillo which is a little over halfway, a section which can be driven with a normal car (given its engine can handle the mountains). This paved section brings travelers past multiple national parks and would certainly still be one of the highlights of a trip to Chile even without making it to the end of the road. For example, an overlook for the Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Snowdrift) in Queulat National Park named is a two and half hour hike from the road.
- Ruta 5 - Chile’s section of the Pan-American Highway is the longest road in the country, beginning at the Peruvian border in the north and ending on Chiloe Island south of Puerto Montt. Of course, the real reason this road makes the list is the section of it on Chiloe Island. Currently, there still is no bridge connecting the island to the mainland, so a short ferry is necessary. Chiloe National Park is, unsurprisingly, one of the top attractions. The island is also famous for its wooden churches with many World Heritage Sites. Also, make sure not to miss the fort in Ancud. The distance between the ferry to KM 0 of the Pan American Highway is about 200km (125 miles). And though the round trip could be made in about six hours, its best to leave at least a couple of days to fully enjoy the island.
- Ruta 9 - Roughly 400km (250 miles) long stretching from south of Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine, Ruta 9 is the only paved road through the Magallanes Region of Chilean Patagonia. From the town of Tores del Paine, a large section of the road to the national park is paved. A drive through the park itself (though on a gravel road) is one of the most scenic drives on the continent.
Car Rental Prices
- Large cars - from $74 per day
- Medium cars - from $48 per day
- People Carriers/Vans - from $126 per day
- Small cars - from $37 per day
- SUVs - from $65 per day
Top 10 Most Popular Cities in Chile
Car Rental in Santiago from $22.23 per day
Car Rental in Puerto Montt from $22.30 per day
Car Rental in Temuco from $22.30 per day
Car Rental in Punta Arenas from $64.07 per day
Car Rental in Antofagasta from $31.12 per day
Car Rental in Iquique from $51.00 per day
Car Rental in La Serena from $31.07 per day
Car Rental in Calama from $36.76 per day
Car Rental in Coyhaique from $83.05 per day
Car Rental in Arica from $31.07 per day
Top 12 Most Popular Locations in Chile
Car Rental at Santiago International Airport from $22.23 per day
Car Rental at Puerto Montt Airport from $22.30 per day
Car Rental at Temuco Airport from $22.30 per day
Car Rental at Punta Arenas Airport from $64.07 per day
Car Rental at Antofagasta Cerro Moreno Airport from $31.12 per day
Car Rental at Iquique Diego Aracena Airport from $51.00 per day
Car Rental at La Serena La Florida Airport from $31.07 per day
Car Rental at Calama El Loa Airport from $36.76 per day
Car Rental at Coyhaique Balmaceda Airport from $83.05 per day
Car Rental in Santiago (Downtown) from $22.23 per day
Car Rental at Arica Chacalluta Airport from $31.07 per day
Car Rental in Puerto Montt (Downtown) from $58.13 per day
Map of Car Rental Locations
Which is the cheapest month to rent a car in Chile?
What’s the average rental length in Chile?
What’s the most popular time for renting a car in Chile?
Most Popular Car Models of Rental Suppliers
|Keddy||Peugeot 208||5||2||Small cars|
|SIXT||Volkswagen New Gol Highline||5||Medium cars|
|SIXT||Chevrolet Spark||4||Small cars|
|SIXT||Toyota New RAV 4 4x2||5||1||SUVs|
|Alamo||Chevrolet Onix||4||3||Small cars|
|SIXT||Citroen C-Elysse HDI diesel||5||2||Large cars|
|Keddy||Peugeot 301||4||3||Medium cars|
|Keddy||Chevrolet D-Max||4||3||Large cars|
Top 10 Suppliers in Chile in 2020
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