Tips for renting a car in South America

You’re heading to South America and thinking about renting a car? That’s great. South America is a diverse continent, a melting pot of cultures, landscapes, climate, and species. Renting a car is a good idea, especially if you want to be flexible. But before you embark, you should read about driving, traffic, and habits in South America, and learn some tricks that will help you have a smooth car rental experience.

So, here are our tips on how to rent a car in South America:

Tips for renting a car in South America

Searching the web you’ll find lots of trustworthy and well-known rent a car companies. Before you rent a car I advise you to carefully read the terms and conditions of your rental car company. Here are a few tips before your trip to South America:

  • Most rental car agencies in South America won’t allow you to take the car out of the country
  • You can save on extras (bring your own GPS, child seat, etc.)
  • Don’t forget your driving license and International driving license
  • The main driver has to present a credit card on his/her name with enough limit to cover the deposit and the latest version of the voucher
  • CDW is not enough if you want to be fully covered (find an insurance or coverage that you find most suitable in your case and do not forget to check your credit card benefits, which often include rental car insurance)
  • When you pick up a car, check tires, lights, mirrors, and look for any possible scratches (take photos of the damaged part and inform your agent)
  • Always carefully read the fuel policy of the car rental agency
  • Try to return the vehicle on time, being late might result in surcharges

Tips for driving in South America

The first thing you need to know when traveling by car or renting a car in South America is that there are no roads connecting Panama and Colombia. So if you rent a car in Panama you will have to ship your rented car from Colon to Cartagena (that is if your rental agency does allow you to take the car to another country).  Maybe you will rent a car in Panama city and have it shipped to Buenaventura. The reason lays in the so-called Darien Gap – a break on the Pan-American Highway, which is a large undeveloped marshland, swampland, and forest.

South American Highway
Scenery along The South American Highway (HelloRF Zcool / Shutterstock)

The South American Highway connects the following countries:

Don’t be misled by the term highway. In some cases (countries) there’s little maintenance done and the highway is best described as a dirt-road or back-road.

Driving habits in South America can be a bit more aggressive than you are used to. Be prepared for a lot of honking; drivers will be protesting, making you notice them, all in all, they are not very patient. So it’s best to be always on the defense. If you decide to join them, always horn in short burst, never use long blasts (that’s practically a call for a declaration of war). Oh, and most of them don’t use indicators.

The traffic can be pretty bad in major cities. That’s why is best you use public transport in metropolis, as for the rest of your trip goes, rented vehicle is just fine, and it will take you to your destination as long as you use logic, get some old school maps (since there may be situations where there’s no signal and your GPS won’t work), and drive really carefully.

driving without a gps
Learn how to read and navigate using “old-school” tools like maps (Unsplash)

It will take more time than expected  to reach your destination due to the road conditions. While lots of roads are well maintained and meet the best standards, it’s still best to rent a 4×4 vehicle because you will bump into dirt and pebble roads at least once on your road trip. If you’re heading to Bolivia you’ll be crossing the most dangerous road in the world – the Yungas Road. But you have to be careful for potholes, and speed bumps that aren’t marked or painted in most of the countries.

Yungas road, Bolivia
Yungas road in Bolivia is also knows as “Road of Death” (mezzotint / Shutterstock)

About South America

South America is the wild side of America – nestled between the South Pacific, the South Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean. South America is a huge continent. It’s an area of 17.800,00 sq km (Europe has 10,180,000). Predominant languages are Spanish and Portuguese.

South America is an extremely diverse continent. Climate varies from tropical to cold and humid. Here you can find special and extraordinary creatures such as anaconda, piranha, tapir, and llama. And the same goes for culture: it’s a vibrant mix of cultures. This melting pot of religion, food, architecture, and music make South America a really unique & fascinating continent. Yes, music genres Bossa nova, Samba, Danza, and Tango are all having South America origins. And their heavenly food such as Ceviche from Peru, Empanadas, and steaks from Argentina, and coxinhas from Brasil will make you go mad.

bossa nova and samba
Bossa nova, Samba, Danza, and Tango are all having South America origins (Unsplash)

South America has it all, the longest river, wide deserts, the tallest waterfall, alluring beaches, and even icy landscapes. If you’re still considering your options, don’t.  South America is it. It’s the best place if you’re adventurous, if you enjoy freedom, and like to discover the unknown (by car).

Advantages of renting a car

If you’re seeking the excitement and freedom of self-drive holidays the best option is to rent a car. This way you’ll be more flexible when enjoying the breathtaking scenery of South America. The last thing you want to do on your trip is to worry about the bus or train schedules, and their stops. Car rental will also allow you to visit remote places and hidden gems which may be impossible to get to by bus. It’s more comfortable if you have a car waiting for you at the airport than to carry all that luggage to a bus that’s late or full. You can choose between many rental car agencies to find the best or the cheapest deal.

Featured image: Renting a car (Freedom Master / Shutterstock)

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