The Carretera Austral is the perfect place for a trip and there are many different ways to travel this road. Today we will talk about car rental on the Carretera Austral
For those with larger budgets, a rental car is the ideal means; for those with smaller budgets, buses can help them move between different cities. Hitchhiking, if you have enough time and patience, is another rewarding option.
You can get much more information in the car rental guide for the Carretera Austral and Patagonia.
Car rental on the Carretera Austral
Where to rent a car in Patagonia
As a privileged place for a road trip in Patagonia, many arrive at the Carretera Austral by car, as you can travel the entire route in a quiet place and enjoy its various ferry crossings.
In the north: El Tepual International Airport, the airport just outside Puerto Montt, has some of the cheapest car rentals I have found in Chile, with rental rates starting at $20,000 CLP ($30 USD) per day. I recommend booking through Rental Cars, a comparison and booking site that I have used on numerous occasions.
By the Carretera Austral: Another option is from the Balmaceda Aerodrome. Prices are much higher than in Puerto Montt and you can expect to pay at least $560,000 CLP ($768 USD) for a week’s rent. You can check updated prices with Rental Cars, the company I use when I rent cars in Chile.
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In the south: The most economical place to pick up a rental car is Punta Arenas, although there are also rental companies in Puerto Natales.
In my experience, prices are cheaper if you rent from the Chilean side rather than the Argentine side of Patagonia, but it is worth a look.
Car rental in the Carretera Austral
Rental Cars finds the best car rental deals in the region. I have used it in Chile on numerous occasions and have found that it sets the cheapest prices and sends you your insurance documents in English!
They also have many different vehicles for rent. You don’t need a 4×4 for the Carretera Austral unless you plan to drive the smaller mountain roads or cross the border into Argentina via any of the crossings not mentioned in this guide (of which there are a number, but the condition of the roads themselves is generally poor).
It is important to note that you will need additional insurance if you plan to continue your trip beyond the Carretera Austral and cross the border into Argentina with a car rental on the Carretera Austral.
This should cost around $80,000 CLP ($117 USD) and should be arranged at least 10 days before your trip; the car rental company can arrange all this for you.
One reader reported that they had trouble arranging these insurance documents when booking through Rental Cars. However, I didn’t find out exactly what happened, so if you plan to do this when thinking about a car rental on the Carretera Austral, be sure to check with your chosen rental company to find out if they can do it.
You should also consider that prices are also significantly higher if you rent from one destination and return to another.
Where to rent a camper van for the Carretera Austral – Car rental on the Carretera Austral.
Renting a camper van for the Carretera Austral is also very popular, especially because it allows you to stop whenever you want along your trip.
In the north: the best place to pick up your new wheels is from Puerto Varas (a 30 minute drive northeast of Puerto Montt) with Chile Motor Homes or Wicked Campers.
Expect to pay $ 483,000 CLP ($ 662 USD) for a one-week rental. Prices will be significantly higher if you rent from one destination and return to another.
By Carretera Austral: You can also pick one up in Coyhaique from Recasur. Prices are likely to be higher here due to the lack of competition.
In the south: Punta Arenas has several rental agencies; Chile Motor Homes, Wicked Campers and Holiday Rent have depots here. Expect to pay $ 480,000 CLP ($ 658 USD) for a one-week rental.
The best tips for a road trip along the Carretera Austral – Rent a car on the Carretera Austral.
The Carretera Austral is widely considered the best road trip in Patagonia. Part of the appeal is how beautiful the scenery is and the fact that, with your own transportation, you can stop just about anywhere you want to take a picture, have a picnic or even camp overnight.
As a route under constant construction and facing less than predictable weather, it is essential to be well prepared before setting out:
- Have a flexible itinerary. In Patagonia, things don’t always go as planned.
- Two weeks is enough time to drive and enjoy most of the Carretera Austral; three weeks is even better for a car rental on the Carretera Austral. However, due to the prohibitively high costs of one-way rentals, it makes financial sense to rent and drop off your vehicle at the same location. As a result, you could start in Puerto Montt and head south to Puerto Rio Tranquilo, before turning around and driving back to Puerto Montt. Alternatively, fly to Balmaceda (where you can rent a car with Rental Cars) and head north to Puyuhuapi, south back to Caleta Tortel, with plenty of time to explore the attractions along the way, before returning to Balmaceda to drop off the car. If you are interested in seeing those within striking distance of Coyhaique, a week is enough time to drive north to and from Puyuhuapi and south to and from Cochrane, both of which are within a day’s drive.
- A 4×4 vehicle is not essential but a high altitude vehicle and patience are indispensable.
- Approximately 90% of the road from Puerto Montt to Puyuhuapi is already paved. South of Puyuhuapi, you will find gravel roads and many construction projects. This part is less pleasant to drive, but the scenery and the feeling of remoteness are incomparable. Road construction on the sections directly south of Puyuhuapi, Coyhaique and Villa Cerro Castillo can add up to one hour of driving time and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm is the peak time for road closures. You can consult this information at the tourist offices in Puerto Montt (Oficina de Turismo, San Martín 80) or Coyhaique (SERNATUR, Bulnes 35).
- You can find updates on road conditions here to think about a car rental on the southern highway.
- This site provides information about the different border crossings along the Carretera Austral.
- Avoid driving faster than 60 kilometers per hour. Potential hazards include tire punctures, chips in the windshield due to gravel and unexpected wildlife on the road. Pack food, water and a sleeping bag in case of breakdowns. When you pick up your vehicle, double check that it has its spare tire, you may want it!
- Pack food, water and a sleeping bag in case of breakdowns.
- Refuel every time you see a gas station. While there are now many gas stations along the Carretera Austral, the general rule of thumb is to fill up whenever you see one.
- Pick up a copy of the COPEC Rutas de Chile map. This map of all of Chilean and Argentine Patagonia is a must for anyone driving in Patagonia. In theory, you can pick it up at any COPEC gas station for around $3,000 CLP ($4 USD); in practice, many places don’t have it, so you may have to visit a couple. It has all COPEC gas stations marked; as the most frequent of all the companies that sell fuel in Chile, this is useful. However, Argentine gas stations are not marked.
- Download Maps.me before you set off on a car rental on the Carretera Austral. This free app allows you to download maps of the Carretera Austral to your phone (do this while you still have a wifi connection!) which can then be used offline. Their maps use OpenStreetMap data, so they generally have accurate hiking routes marked.
- Download the ioverlander app. This free app is a multi-source guide to road conditions and camping locations compiled by overlanders. It is an indispensable resource to help you find good places to camp outdoors, as well as updated information on the status of the Carretera Austral. You need Internet to be able to access the maps in the application.
- Free camping is generally allowed.In most cases, you can camp pretty much anywhere you want along the Carretera Austral, although ioverlander should give you a good idea of where you can ‘t and where it is advisable to stay. Practice leave-no-trace principles and make sure that any trash you bring is taken out with you. If the land is clearly privately owned and there is a home nearby, be sure to show up and ask permission before settling in for the night.
- Make sure your regular SIM card is working or choose a local pay-as-you-go SIM card. If you plan to book lodging and do other logistical things along the way, don’t expect to be able to rely on the Internet along the Carretera Austral. Internet reception through my phone is invariably faster than what you can get through WIFI at most hotels and hostels, so do yourself a favor and get this fixed before you get to Patagonia. Along the Carretera Austral, Entel has the largest coverage (Claro is in second place) and can be picked up at these companies’ booths in large shopping malls in cities such as Santiago or even in some neighborhood stores. You refill it in pharmacies (don’t ask me why!).
- The Carretera Austral is still in the process of being paved. Please note that road works may result in road closures, usually between 14:00 and 17:00 during the day. This information is best found by consulting the tourist office of the city you are in and then planning accordingly.
- Consider picking up hitchhikers. The vast majority are your fellow travelers who are just looking for a friendly stranger to give them a ride. They will be very grateful if you do!
- Obtain additional insurance if you cross into Argentina at any point. See the rental car section of this article for more information.
- Make sure your car insurance covers transit on the Carretera Austral. I had a company in Coyhaique that tried to rent me a vehicle but said it was not covered for the road. Imagine.