Exploring Chile By Vehicle: Do I Need A 4x4?
It’s hard to pick out, the most frequently asked question that I get about Overlanding Chile. One of the most common, and probably the most important questions for organizing your trip that I get is; do I need a 4x4 to enjoy my Chilean Overlanding experience?
Short answer, no. You absolutely, do not need a 4x4 to enjoy the Chilean Overlanding experience. Exploring Chile by vehicle can be done, in almost any vehicle you choose. There are no “rules” that you need to follow about picking your travel vehicle. However, there are a few concepts that you will want to consider when choosing it.
Today in Chile, most of the main roads are paved (or are gravel). This facilitates your ability to enjoy much of what Chile has to offer. It’s easier than ever to get to many of the natural vistas of that Chile is famous for.
While miles and miles of asphalt roads help keep your vehicle in good running order, it also leads you to overpopulated “tourist traps”, and can make you feel like you are just another Sheeple in the flock. Unfortunately, this overcrowded sensation can take away from your overall experience. If you want to get away from these crowds, then you’ll need to get off the paved (and maintained gravel) roads, and hit the lesser beaten path.
Chile’s government has worked hard to make sure that people don’t make the coastal beaches exclusive. Meaning that beaches are “public access“. However, they never guaranteed that they would maintain the public access points. So, if you want to get to lesser visited (or lesser known beaches), especially in the winter seasons (end of May to the end of Nov.), you’ll most likely need a 4x4.
Many sectors in Chile also have small, remote, natural gems in the Andes Mountains. Some of these areas have decently maintained access routes. Others have routes that were once Ox trails. Then, one day, someone decided that driving their 4x4 up it and “blazing the trail” qualified as making the route vehicle accessible. So, you can imagine how well low clearance, 2wd vehicles will do. It’s not that they can’t make it. It’s more about how much you will tear up trying to get there and back.
Having a 4wd isn’t just about getting to the most extreme places. It’s also about how well the vehicle deals with weight, rough terrains, and extensive gravel road driving. So, in many areas, while a passenger car is capable of being driven on the local terrain/roads, the innate design dictates the need for more frequent repairs. Where as, many 4x4’s will endure these harsh conditions considerably better.
Frankly though, it’s all an averaging out of what you need, want, can afford, and what you know when selecting a vehicle. As I mentioned before, there are all kinds of vehicles that have crossed Chile in Overland fashion. Everything from VW buses to Ford Model A’s, and even a few Earth Roamer style rigs. So, do you need a 4x4…? No! However, you will have access to more unique places, and have a potentially more reliable vehicle for the travels that lay ahead!