Renting a car in Chile
To complete two of the stages of our trip (Puerto Natales and Santiago International Airport), car was a must. The international driving license isn’t required in Argentina, but it is in Chile. For instance, in Poland it takes several days to obtain such a licence. The document costs ~10 USD and is valid for 3 years. Nevertheless, you should check what the procedure looks like in your country. We searched through tons of forums, reports and articles about renting a car in Chile and getting a permit to cross the border with Argentina. In order to be certain of getting the right car insurance, we read tons of blogs and websites but on each of them information differed. Imagine our confusion! The only car rental office that had clear explanation of procedures when crossing the borders by car and a special insurance application on their website was Chilean Car Rental – that’s why we decided to choose them at Santiago airport. Other offices whether had prices far from reasonable, didn’t even answer to e-mails sent in English or didn’t enable travelling abroad using their cars. It was a bit more difficult to find relatively cheap car in Patagonia. Big car rental offices were too expensive so we kept searching for local travel agencies that have car rental as one of services. We hit the bull’s-eye! Our choice was Punta Alta company in Puerto Natales. Not only did they answer to e-mails in English, but they also let their customers cross borders with rented cars. What’s more, the deposit for the car paid in cash was not high (770USD or 500 000CLP) and the price was satisfying (310 000CLP for 5 days). Mentioned sums may not seem low but that’s what you should expect when staying in Patagonia during the summer holiday season. But it is certainly worth it!
What’s the fuss about cash deposit? When crossing borders to Argentina not only do we need an additional insurance, but also the deposit is much higher (up to 1 400 000CLP =~ 2200USD). Often it is not returned immediately but up to two weeks. By renting a car in Chile twice, we would have been obliged to have more dead assets on our credit card. Some problems may also occur while using Polish/European payment cards outside of EU. Even if you inform your bank about your travel, the cards may not function properly. Your transactions may get blocked as ‘suspicious’ since it is rather not usual that someone in Chile spends a few thousand USD using your card 😊 A lot of similar issues happened to us on the road.
Roads in Patagonia
There are mostly asphalt roads in central Chile. Situation is different in Patagonia. Actually it is only National Route 40 in Argentina and Chile Route 9 (also some roads in Torres Del Paine National Park) that have asphalt surface. You should expect driving on crushed stone roads, not always in good condition. Most car rental offices offer high suspension cars, for example Renault Duster with 2 or 4-wheel drive. Watch out for guanacos and ostriches as they may surprise you running unexpectedly out into the road.
Refueling in Patagonia
Patagonia is no easy-peasy when it comes to petrol stations since they are located every few hundred kilometres. For most cars you should use PB93 (Spanish ‘Super’ gasoline). The rental office provided us with a map with locations of gas stations marked, after we had been asked about our trip route. It was very useful taking into consideration that our car’s range was ~600km. In the map it was also explained, which roads should be avoided because of bad surface condition. There is no self-service on petrol stations. Apparently it is usual that the workers clean the headlights and windows which they are given tips for. It is also them who get payment for refueling.
Crossing the Chile - Argentina border with a rented car
In Patagonia, our first idea was to cross the Chile – Argentina border in Rio Turbio. Unfortunately, there was a strike on Argentinian side so we were sent to another crossing – Paso Don Gulliermo. There are queues to cross the border and you cannot get more unlucky than getting there right after a bus full of tourists and such busses are common in Patagonia. In the car rental office we were provided with a document which we needed to get stamped. At first you need to show your passport, then your car’s documents. No declaration is required on Argentinian side. Customs officer asked us if we had any fruit. He just touched our bags in the boot, looked at the inside of the car and let us drive away. We came back by the same crossing.
At the Santiago International Airport we got to know that the car rental office in Chile didn’t get the deposit for the car from our credit card. Our bank blocked transaction this big so we couldn’t obtain the permit to cross borders with Argentina ☹ Driving zigzags through Paso Internacional Los Libertadores with a view over Aconcagua stayed on our bucket list ☹