Panamerican Highway in Chile
Traveling Chile's Main Highway - Ruta 5
If you move to Chile (or just even visit), you will most likely travel on Ruta 5 (route 5) at some point. It is Chile's main highway and the longest highway stretching 2,090 miles. Since Chile is such a narrow country, there is really only a need for one highway. Ruta 5 cuts right through the middle of Chile making it a good access point for other towns. Ruta 5 starts at the Peruvian border and goes all the way to Puerto Montt, where it connects by ferry to the island of Chiloe. From the border of Peru to north of La Serena, Ruta 5 is a two lane paved road with a speed limit of 62 mph. This is considered a highway grade road. The 928 mile stretch from La Serena to Puerto Montt is considered "freeway grade". This is a very high quality road that is safe to travel. On this freeway stretch, it is four lanes with a 75 mile per hour speed limit. There are toll roads throughout this segment of Ruta 5. Unlike the United States, there are no road taxes in Chile, so they have tolls to pay for the upkeep of their freeway. This way you only pay if you use the road. Ruta 5 has four impressive tunnels that were built using very high technology. They are all named, with the names and lengths of El Melón, La Calavera I, La Calavera II and Angostura, which have lengths of 8,343 ft, 978 ft, 978 ft, 1,119 ft respectively.
Tolls on Ruta 5
There are many tolls on the freeway section of Ruta 5. This fee covers road costs since there aren't any road taxes in Chile. Tolls are actually quite entertaining since there are usually people all around selling snacks and other items. As a visitor, this is a very neat sight when compared to an United States toll booth. You will find that the toll booths in Chile are full of life and if you’re hungry, you can grab an empanada or other Chilean snack. For a full list of toll fees and frequencies visit: http://www.intervialchile.cl/peajes-y-tarifas/
If you are driving in Chile, then you are going to need a gas station. The gas station situation on Ruta 5 definitely has room for improvement, but it isn't terrible. Ruta 5 is one main highway with the only way to get off being exits that have reduced fee tolls, so you will want to fill up when you can. There are some gas stations that you can get to without getting off of the highway, but almost all stores and gas stations are off of the highway. The most common gas stations you will see are Copec (Chilean company), Petrobras (from Brazil), Shell (a Dutch company), and Terpel (Columbian company). Most all gas stations in Chile are full-service and have attendants that fill your tank up for you. These attendants are called bomberos (the same name as a firefighter, but different job) and they are usually dressed in brightly colored uniforms that match the company's logo. At first glance they look like they belong on a race track. When you pull into the station, the "bombero" will ask how much gas you want. You can tell him how many liters, pesos, or just say "lleno" if you want it all the way full. There are usually three options for gas - 93 unleaded, 95 unleaded, and diesel. Diesel is always considerably cheaper. Cash (only Chilean pesos) is always accepted at gas stations, and most major gas stations accept foreign credit cards. They will ask you "sin cuota or con cuota" which means without payments or with. Always choose "sin cuota". It is customary to tip the attendant and the normal amount is a few coins. Not all gas stations will have bathrooms and a store. Some just have the gas fill up facilities and nothing else.
Restaurants and Food
There are many good food options along Ruta 5. Most look like people's homes or little hole-in-the-walls, but don't let that fool you. Those are usually the best food places with good home cooked Chilean food. You will also run across the occasional winery and high end restaurant that will have good Chilean wine and good food. There are also little stands selling lots of vegetables, cheese, empanadas, copper pans, and other Chilean items.