Foreign Driver Rating: ! easy-peasy; except in Patagonia which is !! not too bad
There wasn’t much development in Chile before the automobile, which, the point of view of drivers, is a good thing; outside of a few towns (like Valparaiso), it’s a country made for the motorcar. Chile is also rich, so there are very few third world vehicles to contend with. Roads are well-maintained, the expressways are excellent, and people obey traffic laws. The underground expressway system in Santiago is a wonder of the (driving) world. Hence, while public transport is surprisingly good for such a sparsely populated country (a boon for backpackers) lots of people choose to drive – so the “catch” is that car hire in Chile is expensive.
The exception to all these rules is Patagonia, in the far south of Chile (which you can’t get to by car unless you go via Argentina). Most of the public spending in Chile has been sucked into Santiago; so although there is lots of traffic in Patagonia, many of the roads are dirt. And lots of traffic + dirt roads = enormous, car-sucking ruts and potholes – potholes that are a challenge even in a 4-wheel drive. Google Maps says it will take two hours to go 30 miles? Believe it.
Valparaiso, Chile: one of the few Chilean towns to feature lots of pre-car roads. Photo by the author.