Getting Around Chile

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Getting Around Chile

By Plane

Chile has a rather good airport infrastructure. The main hub for flights in Chile is the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) in Santiago, from where several airlines serve even the remotest corners of the country. These airlines are the three chilean airlines: LAN Airlines, Sky Airline and Principal Airlines. Although LAN is by far the largest companies, Sky and PAL offer good services to the main cities.

When travelling within Chile, please consider reserving your tickets before entering the country: flight coupons are recommended and can be bought at LAN when you also purchase your flight to Chile with them. LAN offers a good online reservation service but in the others is not that good yet and mainly in Spanish, although it is possible to use them to compare fares.

Because of the shape of the country, many routes are subject to several time-consuming layovers. You might take this into account as you can have up to 4 stops en route to your destination! (e.g. for a flight from Punta Arenas to Arica you may have stops at Puerto Montt, Santiago, Antofagasta and Iquique). Domestic routes are served by Airbus 318, Airbus 319 and Airbus 320 when flying with LAN, and Boeing 737-200s when flying Sky Airline.

The only airline flying to Easter Island is LAN Airlines from Santiago. Other remote locations are served by regional airlines. In the Extreme South, Aerovías DAP offer daily routes from Punta Arenas to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego and Puerto Williams. Between November and March, DAP offers very limited and expensive flights to Villa Las Estrellas in Antarctica. To Robinson Crusoe Island, there are weekly flights from Santiago and Valparaíso.

By Bus

The bus system is pretty sophisticated and provides a cheap and comfortable way to get from town to town. Keep in mind that local companies will usually stop at many stations along the way, however, you can always ask if there's a non-stop or directo service. Companies that cover almost the entire country include Turbus and Pullman. In Santiago, you can find both terminals and more companies on Universidad de Santiago subway station. Be careful, bus terminals are full of thieves.

Keep in mind that prices vary on a daily basis, so are usually more expensive on weekends and holidays tickets than on weekdays. Ticket prices are also almost always negotiable - don't be shy to ask for a discount, especially if you are in a group. Always ask around in different booths and make sure the vendors see you are shopping around.

The quality of service varies quite a lot. Check if the bus is "cama" (bed), "semi-cama" (heavily inclining seats) or ejecutivo (executive - slightly inclining seat). Toilets are not always available and if available not always working - especially if you are getting on a bus at a later stage of a long journey (i.e. Arica - Santiago).

La Micro

Micro = transit / local buses. The word is the contraction of microbus. Larger cities have cross-town bus routes at very affordable prices. Only Santiago's system, called "Transantiago", have maps with all the routes, so a little bit of Spanish and the audacity to ask around can get you places effectively in other major cities. To travel by "micro" in Santiago you will need to buy before a smart contactless travel-card called "BIP" and charge it with money. You can do so in any subway station, in most supermarkets and in some smaller stores. This card also allows you to travel by subway in Santiago. Be careful! You won't be able to travel by bus without money in your BIP card. The card costs US$2.50, and a ticket costs a little over US$1.00, which allows you to make up to four transfers between metro and buses within a 2-hour time period. You only need to scan the card at the beginning of your journey and at every transfer. You should hop off the "micro" through the back doors.


A mix between a micro and a taxi. These small cars have routes and get around quicker and more comfortably. Fares are similar to those on the Micro, and depend on the hour.


A metropolitan railway system operating in Santiago and Valparaíso. A reliable way to move around in the city. You must pay the fee only once (when you enter the system) and you can ride as much as you want. There are now more stations in Santiago because of the recent construction of two new lines.

By Car

  • All traffic signs are in Spanish only and their shapes and colors can be very different from the U.S. or European standards.
  • Car Rentals are widely available throughout most major cities, but not in smaller towns.
  • Usually a credit card, a valid driver's license and a passport, all three issued to the same person, are needed to rent a car.
  • Rental rates in Santiago are very similar to those in the U.S., but prices can be much higher in other cities.
  • It's a good idea to avoid rush hours, between 7 and 9 AM and between 5 and 8 PM.
  • There are several reversible lanes and streets in Santiago and other cities.
  • Parking spaces and street lanes are narrower than in the U.S., so it's a good idea to get a small vehicle.
  • Fuel prices are about 1.5 times higher than the average U.S. price, yet cheaper than in most Western Europe.
  • Several inter-city roads are tolled and don't take credit cards, so keep some Chilean money around.
  • Most inter-city roads connecting major cities are rather well designed, almost totally sealed, and well kept.
  • Several urban roads in Santiago have electronic free-flow tolls, so make sure that your car is equipped with an electronic radio-transponder, commonly called tag, since there are no toll booths at all on those roads.
  • Many urban streets are not in good shape, so you must drive very carefully.
  • All corners are supposed to have traffic signs, and in Santiago and most major cities, actually all corners are regulated by traffic signs. If there aren't any visible traffic signs, the preference belongs to the vehicle approaching from your right hand.
  • All traffic signals and traffic lights are mandatory all of the time, there are no after-midnight concessions, such as yielding at stop signs or red lights.
  • Bribes are never acceptable. (You will get into a lot of trouble by trying to bribe someone). If you have one problem with the police (i.e: misunderstanding of some traffic sign) just be humble and explain the situation, many times a "I will be more careful" would be enough.

By Thumb

Hitchhiking in Chile is not difficult, given enough time and patience. It is seen as a common form of travel for tourists or young, adventurous Chileans. On large highways such as the Panamerican Highway, hitching is really great and easy because there are many trucks going between big cities. Smaller, more scenic roads such as the Carretera Austral in the south, can leave you waiting for half a dozen hours in the more remote sections but the rides will generally get you a long way and are worth waiting for. If you are a tourist be sure to show it with your backpack, flags attached to your backpack, etc. The locals love chatting with foreign travelers.

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