Getting Around Santiago
The best ways to get around Santiago are on 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 sights. 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 only flag 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 international airport, Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL), sits about 10 miles northwest 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. You can opt to hop on a minivan transfer to downtown Santiago outside your arrival area or wait for a TurBus or Centropuerto bus, which travel between the airport and the city center. However, taxis are the most hassle-free means of transportation into the city. 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 six lines shuttling passengers all over the city. You can buy a single ticket, which includes bus fare for interconnected stations, for 700 to 800 Chilean pesos (about $1), but keep in mind that prices vary depending on the time of day, with rush-hour travel (7 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.) costing more. Reduced rates are available for seniors (people 65 and older) who purchase a Senior Adult Card.
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 each cost 1,550 Chilean pesos ($2), are usable on both the metro and buses, and can be purchased from the self-service machines found in every metro station. Although 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 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays; and from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. Be advised that when there's a political protest, select stations may close and operating hours across some or all lines may be reduced.
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 300 Chilean pesos (less than 50 cents) and increase by 150 Chilean pesos (roughly 20 cents) every .2 kilometers (or about one-tenth of a mile). But remember, 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.
Several taxi companies offer service to and from the airport, though the airport recommends using one of two companies: Vía Controlada or Taxi Oficial. To hail a taxi, you'll need to call or speak with a representative at the airport. Trips between downtown and the airport generally cost 12,000 to 30,000 Chilean pesos (or about $15.50 to $38.50), depending on the route and amount of traffic. Uber also operates in and around Santiago.
All of Santiago's Red buses are part of the city's larger Metropolitan Mobility Network, which includes the metro and commuter rail systems. Cash is not accepted on board any bus or train, so if you plan on using the bus, you'll need to purchase a Bip! card at one of the city's metro stations. Fares vary by bus zone, desired destination and time of day, with prices starting at 640 Chilean pesos (less than $1). Seniors are eligible for reduced rates when they purchase a Senior Adult Card. Schedules vary depending on the route and day of the week.
To get to and from the airport, travelers can use one of two bus services: TurBus or Centropuerto. TurBus runs every 20 minutes to every hour – exact schedules vary depending on the the day and time – and costs 1,700 Chilean pesos (approximately $2) per ride or 2,800 Chilean pesos (roughly $3.50) per round-trip journey. Meanwhile, Centropuerto buses operate every 10 minutes and cost 1,800 Chilean pesos (less than $2.50) per ride or 3,200 Chilean pesos (about $4) per round-trip journey. Both companies typically start service around 6 a.m. and end it by 11 or 11:30 p.m. TurBus is not recommended for those traveling with large luggage.
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 by car a frustrating experience. That said, if you want to visit some of Santiago's nearby slopes or vineyards, having a car will come in handy. A variety of international rental agencies are located outside of the airport, or you can pick up a set of wheels at a downtown hotel.
Street parking is available – though it may be limited at times – and there are plenty of underground lots, known as estacionamientos, scattered across Santiago. Expect to pay approximately 300 to 3,000 Chilean pesos (less than 50 cents to about $4), depending on the length of time. Keep in mind that distance is measured in kilometers and gas is sold by the liter. Americans do not need an International Driving Permit but are required to have a valid U.S. license when driving in Chile. For more driving tips, visit the U.S. Embassy in Chile website.
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