The city of Santiago itself is one of the largest in South America, with the population of the metropolitan area now heading towards the 7 million mark.
Should you rent a car in Santiago?
Public transport in Santiago is nothing to write home about, but it is still one of a small handful of cities in South America to have a metro system, and the city also has a reasonably widespread network of rapid bus lanes, so getting around isn’t a great problem.
Yet we think that the chances are that if you have come to Santiago in the first place, you really want to head onwards and explore some of the amazing scenery that Chile has to offer, with breathtaking variety stretching from the fjords along the Pacific coast to the mountain ranges of the Andes, and then on further still to the arid landscapes of the Atacama desert. The roads in Chile are reasonably safe by South American standards, and the sheer range of open country that can be explored relatively soon after leaving the Santiago urban area makes this a great destination for a road trip.
However, don’t automatically assume that if you want to see everything that Chile has to offer, keeping a hire car for the whole period of your stay will be a wise option. For heading north, there’s no doubt about it, you need a car to have the freedom of the Atacama desert, or of greener areas as you head towards Peru.
In the south, a rental car is going to be of little use, simply because the great national parks in this part of the country – from Laguna San Rafael through Bernado O’Higgins, and then down to Torres Del Paine or even Alberto Agostini right up to Cape Horn itself all have few if any roads to drive on.
To visit the spectacular Torres Del Paine National Park, you will need to head towards Puerto Natales, one of several destinations in southern Chile that are best reached via Argentina. Taking a rental car across the border, even if you are planning on bringing it back into Chile is going to cause a lot of headache in terms of paperwork, not to mention the border queue itself.
You can fly to Puerto Natales during the summer season, although the flights are by no means cheap for the 3 hour service. From here you could pick up a rental car, or take local bus services, which will take you right up to the park gates.
Should you rent a car in Santiago? Yes.