Getting around a big city that you’ve never visited can be an overwhelming task. Santiago has several options for Santiaguinos and travelers alike to move around. Let me fill you in with that you need to know about how to move around Santiago:
Transantiago is Santiago’s public bus system. It’s been fully operational since 2007 and has routes to move around the entire city. You’ll find that there are two subsystems. The first is a long white and green buses that help you travel between different zones of the city. Once you’re in these different zones, you’ll find the second subsystem, which are smaller feeder buses which have shorter and more specific routes to get you to the metro and other main bus lines.
Always try to sit as close to the driver as you can and try not to flash phones or anything fancy while on board. You won’t get robbed if you do, but it’s always a better choice to not draw any unwanted attention. During rush hour, the bus can get back and you may find yourself standing during the majority of your journey. If you’re lucky, you may even experience a few minutes of Chilean culture via street performers who sing, rap, dance, do magic tricks, tell jokes..the list goes on….
The ONLY way to pay for the bus is with a Bip! Card, a prepaid smart card. There are several locations to purchase this card but the easiest place to purchase one is at any subway station. The current price of a BIP card at the time of this post is 1.550 CLP (Approx $2.50 USD) and then you can add the amount that you want, the minimum is 500 pesos CLP. There are different prices depending on the time of day that you decided to travel. There is Low time (Horario Bajo), Regular time (Horario Valle), and Peak Time (Horario Punta)
If you’re in Santiago for a short visit, I would recommend you using Google maps. They have an added feature of how to get to your destination via public transportation. It’s super helpful and very accurate. You can also study the routes of Santiago from the Transantiago website here. Don’t be afraid to ask the driver or someone who looks friendly enough to help out if you are lost.
Metro de Santiago:
This is my favorite way to move around the city. I find it’s the fastest and most comfortable way to get around. Currently, there are five lines transporting approximately 2.5 million passengers per day and they are currently working on opening two new lines between 2017 and 2020.
This can also be paid for with the same Bip! as Transantiago but you have the option to purchase individual tickets. You can buy as many times you think you will use the metro or one at a time. Please remember that there are different prices during different times of the days just like Transantiago. If you buy an individual ticket at low-time, you won’t be able to use it during peak-time, or vice-versa.
FUN Story time:
During my first year in Santiago, I did was a volunteer with a non-profit in Santiago. I would travel three days a week to their offices, which was a 45-minute journey each way. So naturally, I had a lot of time to myself. Sometimes I would travel back with my fellow-gringa friend Sarah who lived just two stations away from me.
Over the course of a year, my friend Sarah and I would ponder of what was being said over the speaker system during each time you arrive at a station. Since the metro is pretty old, it was never really clear so we starting making it into a guessing game. Most recordings were pretty straightforward but there was one that was our favorite and it went like this in Spanish:
“6006, cierra las puertas” which in English would translate to “6006, close the doors”. We both agreed that it was the code needed to close the door
During one of our last days at the offices of the non-profit, we were traveling via metro with a friend from Costa Rica. Naturally, the “6006 code” recording came on and Sarah and I got really excited. Our Costa Rican friend busted out in laughter and the conversation went as follows:
Friend: “What do you think it says?”
Sarah and Me: “6006, cierra las puertas, duh, it’s the code to close the door”
Friend: *pauses to listen, waits for two stations to confirm what the recording said and continues to laugh. At us, not with us”
Sarah and Me: “what so funny, it’s clear as day”
Friend: “you loca gringas, it says ‘Se inicia las cierra de puertas, there is no code!’” (Which means, initiate the closing of the doors)
Sarah and I look at each other, listen a few more times, and our minds are blown. We didn’t want to believe it. We spent the past 12 months riding the subway twice a day, three times a week and never hearing that. EVER.
To this day, I get teased on the regular about this story. I also still hear the code.
Compared to other big cities in South America, riding the taxis off the street is very safe. I’ve personally never had a bad experience but I’ve heard some horror stories. If you don’t want to get a taxi from the street, a great option is SAFER TAXI and EASY TAXI. You can download these apps from your App/Play store. They have the exact same fares from the street taxis but you have the added security of being able to see who is picking you up and they come to you.
When it comes figuring out the cost of a taxi I always use Ride Guru when I want to get a fare estimate from wherever I am in the world. You can put in any address and they will calculate taxi’s and other ride sharing apps that are available in the area.
Ride Sharing Apps
There are several ride sharing apps available to use in Santiago. However, just like in other cities around the world, the taxi companies are fighting with legislation to make this against the law. If you use these apps, try and have someone sit in the front seat with the driver. It makes it less obvious in the case that there are taxi drivers looking to give your driver a hard time.
Uber and Cabify are both available in Santiago. If you’ve never heard of Cabify, it’s just a competitor in the ride-sharing app world and is currently available in Chile, Argentina, Brazil. If I can’t get Uber for whatever reason, I’ll try Cabify. If I can’t get a Cabify, then I’ll go for Safer or easy taxi. If I’m really in a rush, I just go out to the street.
Renting a car
I’ve never owned a car while living in Santiago and never felt the need to have one. I’ve only rented a car once to leave the city and it was pretty simple. They don’t ask for anything out of the ordinary. You do need to have an international drivers license so make sure you research how to get one.
The traffic in Santiago, just like any big city, can be overwhelmingly annoying and terrible to manage especially during peak hours. Cars will be parked like they are in a parking lot sometimes. Have patience and please drive carefully.
And of course, walking is always an option to move around if you’re going to be exploring a small area. Did you check out my best places in Santiago? Go here for that read.
Let me know if I’m missing something or if you have any questions…
Remember, when you give good you get good.