From the north border with Peru to north of La Serena, Ruta 5 is a two lane paved road with a speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph). Between La Serena and Puerto Montt, the road was upgraded to a 4 lane freeway with 120 kilometres per hour (75 mph) as speed limit, slightly faster than Chile's common 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) maximum speed limit. The highway ends in Puerto Montt, but it divides in two different routes, one crossing the Chacao Channel that separates Chiloé from the continent and another route named Carretera Austral (Spanish for Southern Highway) that was opened in the 80's. The southern part of Ruta 5 is extremely beautiful, crossing long extensions of native woods and important cities.
South of La Serena to Puerto Montt (1,494 kilometres or 928 miles) it is a 4 lane divided highway and toll road for the most part. It is Chile's longest freeway. The speed limit on the freeway is 120 kilometres per hour (75 mph) and as of May 2007 drivers must travel with their lights on all day long.
Four tunnels are part of Route 5, namely El Melón, La Calavera I, La Calavera II and Angostura, which have lengths of 2,543 m (8,343 ft), 298 m (978 ft), 298 m (978 ft), 341 m (1,119 ft) respectively. Each one of them carries two lanes of traffic, being El Melón Tunnel, the only that carries a lane in each direction.