Even as automobiles clog the streets of Santiago and other cities, most Chileans still rely on public transportation.
Now in its fourth decade, carrying more than 200 million passengers per year, Santiago’s privately operated Metro (www.metrosantiago.cl) looks almost as good as when it opened in 1975. It’s steadily expanding service through the sprawling capital, and government expects ridership to nearly double over the next several years (for details of its four lines, see the Santiago chapter).
The Metro runs 6:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Peak “normal” hours are now 7:15–9 a.m. and 6–7:30 p.m., while all other hours, including weekends, are económico. Normal fares are about US$0.85, while económico fares are about US$0.70; rechargeable “Multivía” tickets give out bonus trips at regular intervals and may be used by more than one person, legally, by passing them back across the turnstile (no ticket is necessary to exit the system). There is a charge, however, for the initial electronic ticket that may make it less useful for one-time visitors.
The state-run Empresa de Ferrocarriles del Estado (EFE, www.efe.cl) operates a southbound commuter line to the cities of Rancagua and San Fernando. EFE’s Metro de Valparaíso (Merval) links the port city to nearby Viña del Mar and Viña’s outer suburbs; it has recently been modernized, with both new and rejuvenated stations, and undergrounded through Viña’s densely built downtown.
Santiago, other large cities, and even most small towns have local bus systems that cover their farthest extents. City buses are usually known as micros, but smaller ones carrying only about 20–25 passengers are often referred to as liebres (literally, hares). In the capital, the new Transantiago system (www.transantiago.cl) has replaced many antiquated vehicles with fewer, but larger and more comfortable, articulated buses.
Routes can and do change, but most buses are numbered and have obvious placards indicating the major streets. If in doubt, ask the driver, as identically numbered buses sometimes follow slightly different routes. Fares are about US$0.65–0.70 in Santiago, a little less elsewhere. In Santiago, authorities have mandated automatic ticket machines to spare the driver the distraction of making change, but some companies (which are private) have rebelled at the cost of installation and continue to operate as before.
Taxis are moderately priced in Santiago but more expensive in resorts and other towns. Painted black with yellow roofs, all have meters; fares start around Ch$150–200 (US$0.28–0.37) to bajar la bandera (literally, drop the flag), then cost Ch$80–90 (US$0.15–0.17) per 200 meters.
In Santiago, there’s a separate radio taxi system, and hotels and restaurants usually call these cabs for clients. Slightly cheaper than metered taxis, they offered fixed fares agreed upon in advance and look like ordinary automobiles, with no identification except that they are invariably new with large antennae.
One of public transport’s great conveniences is the taxi colectivo, which operates like a city bus on a numbered route. Slightly more expensive than buses, they are usually faster and guarantee seats. They are identifiable by the illuminated plastic signs on their roofs, which show major destinations.
Airport Buses and Shuttles
Santiago enjoys inexpensive airport bus service (US$1.50–2 pp), but getting to the bus stop can be a nuisance for those with more than a backpack. Most regional airports also have bus service; if not, a shuttle or taxi is necessary.
In Santiago and several other cities, there are inexpensive door-to-door shuttles (US$6–8 pp, depending on distance from the airport) that are ideal if your baggage is substantial. It’s best to arrange this the day before your flight, but they can often accommodate passengers on short notice.
Because of heavy traffic and uneven pavement, cycling may not be the safest way of navigating traffic, but the number of cyclists is growing rapidly. When riding around Santiago or other cities, side streets may be safer than fast-moving avenues, but they are also narrower, with less room to maneuver. Weekend traffic is milder than on weekdays, and parts of downtown Santiago are virtually deserted on Sunday. There are a handful of dedicated bike paths, mostly through city parklands, but there are plans to increase them.
Ciclistas Furiosos (Raging Cyclists, www.furiosos.cl) is a Santiago organization that promotes cycling as a partial solution to the traffic and pollution problems, lobbies strongly for new bike routes, and also leads high-profile events resembling “Critical Mass” rides in North America.
Most cities are compact enough that walking suffices for sightseeing and other activities, and in congested areas pedestrians often move faster than automobiles. Drivers generally defer to pedestrians, though the rule is not universal—Santiago bus drivers are notorious for inattention to foot traffic. Take particular care in crossing wide busy streets like Santiago’s Alameda and Avenida Providencia.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition