Driving Southern Chile and Argentina along the Carretera Austral and Ruta 40 was the most ambitious road-trip we’ve done until today!
Reading Ashray’s article about this adventure, you can see that this journey took us to remote parts of South America. To enjoy the stunning landscapes of this corner of the continent we had to cross the Andes mountain range back and forth several times and drive many hours along non paved roads.
The vehicle we used during this 48 day long road-trip was a rented camper van from Wicked Campers South America, in Santiago de Chile. But now that the trip is over we can ask ourselves: was this the right choice of vehicle? Maybe not!
If you’re looking to take a similar trip and you’re wondering if a van of this sort is a good option to make the most of Carretera Austral and Ruta 40, we invite you to read this review in order to make an informed choice.
When you rent with Wicked Campers, you select the model you want, but not the actual vehicle. All their vans are decorated differently. We rented a 2 seater deluxe van (a Chevrolet N300) and got the mighty “Star Van”, a Star Wars themed vehicle. There’s no doubt that this company knows how to work the cool factor. But the truth is that we needed something more than looks during such an adventure!
Wicked Campers are adapted to be used as regular vehicles during the day, with a seating area at the back. During the night, you can detach the surfaces that make up the table, and convert the back of the van into a sleeping area, as shown in the image below. While this may sound ideal at first glance from an adventure seeking and even money saving perspective, it’s important that we focus on the details of what this experience may entail.
The Wicked Campers Driving Experience
Wicked Campers’ website does list what is and is not included with your van rental, but the main question here is to understand if this is really everything you need to make your trip smooth. While requirements obviously depend on the type of trip you are planning to take, we are basing these comments on our experience with the Star Van along the long-winding-not-always-paved-roads of Patagonia.
The main characteristics that made this vehicle not ideal for our road-trip were the lack of power steering and the poor suspension of this van. While power steering would have been great, the suspension that a 4×4 offers feels in retrospect almost imperative, for the sake of surviving such an adventure in one piece! Imagine driving hundreds of kilometers along gravel roads, shaking madly curve after curve… by the end of the day you are dead tired! For the sake of full disclosure, I must mention that the mattresses included in the van were actually firm and comfortable.
The Wicked Campers Sleeping & Living Experience
When we rented the Star Van, our idea was to spend several nights “aboard”. We would mix and match with guesthouse bookings, because we knew that we wanted the comforts of a room, a bathroom that wasn’t surrounded by bushes and, most of all, warm water to freshen up. We ended up spending way less nights than expected in the campervan and, actually, those were on camping grounds with basic facilities.
We realized that it wasn’t as easy as we thought to just park anywhere in Patagonia. A lot of the wild land is actually fenced off, so the postcard image of us parked in the middle of nowhere quickly dissolved in our minds. We wouldn’t want to park by the road-side and, much less, “go to the bathroom” right there.
Even though I see that Wicked Campers no longer come with linens, blankets or pillows, they did include at least blankets and pillows back when we rented. But the fabrics were worn out and far from clean, so we ended up having to stock up on some sleeping essentials in our first days.
The same disappointment applied to the kitchen accessories, which were functional, but definitely looked way too old and used for the price we were paying. That being said, we did like being able to stop anywhere and, after a little work, enjoy a warm beverage or a bite.
AC was also dearly missed during our days inside the Star Van. The weather in Patagonia can have dramatic variations between cold and hot. As such, temperature control is required, particularly because you sleep inside the car and it can actually get pretty chilly at night. When the weather isn’t so inviting outside, you don’t feel like re-organizing the back of the vehicle to convert it into a bed. There is also plenty of storage space under the bed, and the space is in fact divided into different segments so that you can segment your belongings. But once you are in bed, the truth is that you can’t access anything below, so you are always required to exit the vehicle, take out or lift the mattresses, followed by the wooden planks that make up the bed surface and then, only then, access your bags, your clothes, your food, the kitchen utensils, or anything else you didn’t already place in the 2 seats at the front of the car.
Wicked Campers Costs
There’s no doubt that Wicked Campers look awesome and they would shine bright in your Instagram pics. But let’s be honest: these rentals cost a bomb! Even for long(ish) rentals, you’d be looking to spend around USD80 per day for 2 people, just for the basic rental itself. When we were budgeting for our Carretera Austral road-trip this amount made sense, even after keeping in mind the petrol expenses, as we thought we’d be saving a lot on hotel stays. After all, simple guesthouses in many parts of Southern Patagonia can easily set you back around USD50 per night. But, like I mentioned earlier, we ended up paying for the van plus the hostels, as the shaky rides really made us crave a firm bed at night.
If you’re planning to zig-zag Chile and Argentina like we did, you must add up another USD100 for the respective permits and the insurance that would cover any accidents on the other side of the border. Even if you don’t, you still need to pay for the Standard Liability, which will add a few more dollars per day of trip. Add the sleeping bags you’ll need to buy, the blankets to keep you warm at night because of the lack of AC, any extras you need for the “kitchen” and, basically, the numbers keep on adding up!
On the plus side, Wicked Campers does offer a very competitive one way fee rental, at around USD500, for pick-up in Santiago de Chile, and drop-off in Punta Arenas. Because road-trips in this part of the world are always a rather megalomaniac project, chances are you won’t be doing the trip back! In this regard, we couldn’t find any other rent-a-car company that could come close to this one way rate.
Overall, we found Wicked Campers’s vans to be poor value for money. The vehicles are not so modern and the fittings are far from ideal. We would strongly recommend a 4×4 if you plan on driving along the Carretera Austral and you’re not keen on feeling every rock on the road.
The customer service experience also rubbed me the wrong way. I disliked having to clean the campervan inside out before returning it, because I feel the price we’re paying after a 48 day rental covers more than enough of the washing up efforts. You reach a new city at the so-called “end of the world” after almost 2 months on the road, and the last thing you feel like doing is searching for a place that can provide this service. You can choose to deliver the van dirty, but that would add another USD80 to your bill!
Wicked Campers seem to give more importance to aesthetics, to a certain “cool factor”, over comfort and functionality. I do admit that we aren’t the correct target customers for this company, and the fact that we committed to a 48 day rental did help our patience run out.
We would certainly recommend road-tripping in South America, and particularly along the Carretera Austral in Chile. Anyone who loves driving, enjoys majestic landscapes and adventure would enjoy such a trip! But, if you’re planning a journey similar to ours, we strongly suggest you look into other transportation and accommodation options that may suit your needs better. You’ll find some tips in our guide to the Carretera Austral below.