With a public transport system consisting of a metro, metro-train, buses and taxis, getting around in Santiago is relatively easy. The city has a public transport system with standardised routes and an integrated fare system allowing for transfers from one form of transport to another.
The city is also equipped with taxis, and cycling and walking are popular modes of transport among locals and expats alike.
Public transport in Santiago
Ticketing for public transport in Santiago is done through the bip! card, a contactless smart card. It allows free transfers between the different modes of public transport, including the bus, metro and MetroTren. Bip! cards can be purchased at metro stations, banks, some shops and Punto Bip! centres throughout Santiago. For more information about Bip! cards and centres, as well as maps and timetables, the website Red is very useful.
Santiago’s metro system is the easiest and fastest way of getting around the city. The trains are clean and reliable, but the metro can become extremely congested during rush hour and expats should keep a close eye on their belongings as pickpockets are known to operate on metro trains and at stations.
Santiago has a developed bus system which underwent a complete overhaul with its integration with other means of transport. Old yellow buses have been replaced with modern green-and-white buses which run around the clock on the main lines. Different-coloured feeder buses operate in each area of the city, connecting with the green-and-white buses on major routes and at metro stations. Payment for buses is through the Bip! card.
This is a subsidiary of EFE, Chile's state-owned railway services. Again, the Metrotren is part of the integrated services, allowing use of the bip! card, and offering alternative routes to buses and metros. It's a light rail system consisting of two lines, the MetroTren Nos and the MetroTren Rancagua, and 28 stations.
Taxis in Santiago
Taxis are plentiful in Santiago and are identified by their black exterior and yellow roof. Taxis can be hailed on the street or called ahead, although this option sometimes costs more.
Expats should always keep an eye on what route the driver is taking as they have been known to take passengers on unnecessarily long and winding routes to run up the meter. Drivers have also been known to quickly palm notes when being paid and then insist that they've been underpaid. Expats can avoid this by concentrating when paying drivers and being careful not to be distracted.
Colectivos are another common transport option in Santiago. These are normal sedan-type vehicles that offer shared taxi services. Colectivos normally offer set prices and run regular fixed routes that are displayed on signs on their roofs, although, at night, for an extra fee, they may drive to a specific location.
Ridesharing and ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are readily available throughout the city. These can be a good option for expats who cannot speak the local language as they lower the risk of miscommunication with drivers and allow passengers to track the vehicle's route.
Driving in Santiago
Driving in Santiago can be quite a stressful experience but, with the city’s extensive public transport options, it may be possible, and even preferable, for expats to get by without using a car.
Traffic congestion is a constant plague and parking is expensive. Another concern is crime – car theft and car break-ins are common in Santiago. Expats should never leave any valuables visible in their car when parking on the street.
Expats staying short-term may prefer to rent a car while others may buy a used car to sell on afterwards. When buying a car, expats should always ensure it's in good condition and think about investing in car insurance.
Foreigners must have an international driver's permit and a valid driver's licence from their home country. This is fairly easy and can be done at any traffic department before leaving the country. After obtaining residency, expats are required to apply for a Chilean driver's licence.
Cycling in Santiago
In recent years, Santiago has made leaps and bounds in becoming easier and safer for cyclists to navigate. A gradual increase in cycle lanes throughout the city has assisted in this but there are two main initiatives responsible for the biggest advancements: the Mapocho 42k cycle path and CicloRecreoVía.
The Mapocho 42k cycle path is still expanding. It's a 26-mile (42km) cycle path running alongside the Mapocho river in Santiago, which flows through all of the city's major neighbourhoods. It's a continually evolving project that already provides an opportunity for avid cyclists, families and anyone wanting to get out and about on two wheels.
The second major force behind the cycling boom in Santiago is CicloRecreoVía. Every Sunday, certain streets in the city are closed to all motor vehicles. Anyone wanting to use these roads must go on foot or another form of non-motorised transport. Anyone cycling can join in the fun with tens of thousands of cyclists attending weekly. The open streets also create a joyful and safe atmosphere for pedestrians, skaters, runners, children and dog walkers.
Despite the overall progress, the cycle paths in the city remain poorly connected and expats should keep their eyes open while cycling for sudden changes or obstructions in their path.
Walking in Santiago
As a relatively flat city, Santiago is ideal for walking short distances. The roads don't follow a grid structure as such but are still relatively easy to navigate. Walking the streets is a great way for new arrivals to get familiar with their surroundings and to explore attractions, shops, facilities, restaurants and amenities.
As with cycling, walking alongside the Mapocho river is an ideal way to travel from suburb to suburb on foot without being subject to the dangers of traffic.
That being said, Santiago is like any other major city and pedestrians should be vigilant, and it's best not to walk alone at night.