Getting Around Santiago
The best ways to get around Santiago are by foot and by metro. Since the city's streets are laid out on a grid, exploring on foot is an easy way to take in the sites. The metro also serves as an efficient, inexpensive and reliable way to travel between barrios, plus its lines service the city's top attractions. That said, taking the metro means combating heavy crowds, which can lead to an uncomfortable commute and, if you're not careful, a stolen wallet. Taxis are another convenient and affordable way to get around the city; however, you'll want to be sure to flag only those with yellow tops to avoid getting scammed. Buses are another compelling option, thanks to reasonable rates as well as extensive, easily navigable routes.
Santiago's major airport, Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL), sits about 15 miles west of the city center. The airport serves many international carriers that offer direct flights daily between major American cities, such as Miami, Dallas and New York City. While you can opt to hop on a minivan transfer to downtown Santiago outside your arrival area or wait for a Tur-Bus (which runs roughly every 30 minutes between the airport and the Universidad de Santiago Metro Station on Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins or Alameda Avenue), taxis are the most hassle-free means of transportation into the city. Hailing a taxi will cost you around 14,000 CLP to 17,000 CLP (roughly $25 to $30 USD), though fares vary depending on your destination. You can also easily pick up your own set of wheels outside the airport, but with plentiful public transportation options to choose from, there's no need to rent a car unless you're planning to venture outside of the city.
Santiago's neighborhoods are easy to navigate on foot because the city's streets are organized on a grid — though you should have a map on hand, just in case. However, because Santiago is a fairly large city, you'll probably need to rely on alternate forms of transportation to get from one barrio to another.
Santiago's metro is clean, convenient and easily accessible, with five lines shuttling passengers all over the city. You can buy a single ticket, which includes bus fare for interconnected stations, for approximately 620 CLP (about $1 USD), but bear in mind prices vary according to the time of day, with rush-hour travel (7 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.) costing more. If you plan to use the metro as your primary means of transportation, consider purchasing a prepaid Bip! card instead of individual tickets. Bip! cards cost 1,400 CLP (about $2.50 USD), are usable on both metro and bus, and can be purchased from the self-service machines found in every metro station. Though the initial fare on the Bip! card is only valid for two hours, you can easily add money at any metro station. Trains operate from around 5:30 a.m. to 11:50 p.m. Monday through Friday; from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday; and from around from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Sunday. Be advised that hours of operation may vary slightly depending on the line.
Taxis are abundant in Santiago — you'll recognize them by their black exteriors and yellow roofs. But before you hop in, make sure that the cab is metered in order to ensure you pay a fair rate. Regular taxi meters start at 250 CLP (about $0.45 USD) and increase by 100 CLP (roughly $0.20) every .2 kilometers (or 656 feet). Bear in mind, some Chilean drivers have a reputation for taking unnecessarily long routes to increase the fare; carry a map with you to make sure your driver stays on track. Typical fare for a ride across the city costs approximately 2,000 to 3,000 CLP (about $3.60 to $5.50 USD). Though tipping is not essential, locals tend to leave extra change with their drivers. Some reliable taxi companies include Italia and Alborada. To schedule a pick-up, call Italia (+2 591-8900) or Alborada (+2 246-4900) directly.
Efforts in 2007 to improve Santiago's transportation system (Transantiago) included introducing new routes and upgraded buses that accept the Bip! card, allowing for bus-to-metro transfers. As a result of these changes, drivers will not accept cash payments for fares. You can purchase a Bip! card at one of the city's metro stations. Fares vary by bus zone and desired destination with prices starting at 600 CLP (about $1 USD). For maps, rates and schedules for different routes, check out the Transantiago website.
Renting a car is Santiago is an option, but it's not advisable if you expect to spend all of your time in the city. Heavy traffic can make exploring in a car a frustrating experience. That said, if you're planning to venture to the nearby slopes or vineyards, having a car will come in handy. A variety of rental agencies — including Avis, Budget and Hertz — are located outside the airport, or you can pick up a set of wheels at one of the downtown area's hotels. Just be aware that parking can be a challenge: Street parking is only available on Saturdays and Sundays. There are plenty of underground lots, known as estacionamientos, scattered across Santiago that are easily identifiable by bold blue signs marked with an "E." However, parking can be pricey (especially in Providencia).
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