We just learned how to get from the airport to the city. Now, we are in Santiago but… how do we move around?
Back in the day, Santiago just had buses with different routes that crossed the city from end to end and you needed to know your destination or maybe take two or three buses (or the train), paying each driver a fare. Since 2005, Santiago has a integrated public transportation system which includes the metro lines, the main bus lines which cross several communes (municipalities) and feeder buses with shorter routes that transport people from the main streets or metro stations to their neighborhoods. This also means that you can take a trip that includes more than one means of transportation and pay a single fare.
Using the metro is the easiest way to move across the city and the tourist spots. If you plan on using public transportation (which I strongly recommend to really know the city) one tip to begin with is to find the closest metro station to your lodging in Santiago. Once you get to Santiago, get a bip! card. The only way to pay your trips in public transportation is using the bip! card. You can’t use coins to pay once you’re on the bus. Until recently you could buy tickets on the metro, but they were discontinued.
How do I get a bip! card?
Go to a metro station and either go to a bip card machine or go to a ticket office and ask for a bip! card: “Hola, una tarjeta bip por favor“. The cost of a bip! card doesn’t include balance. You can hand the ticket cashier 5.000 pesos and say “Cinco mil por favor“. You can hand a bill and top up less money, they can give you change. Bip! machines are mostly used to top up your card when the ticket office is full or you don’t wanna talk to a person xD. Machines are orange and they aren’t available in all stations but most tourist stations will have one or two. Lines 3 and 6 don’t have ticket offices, only machines. The newer machines let you use your credit card!
I have my bip! How do I use the metro?
Do you remember that I asked you to check your closest metro station? Here you’ve got the metro network map!
Metro de Santiago exists since 1975 but it’s grown vigorously in the last years to help unclogging Santiago’s traffic.
Important things to notice in this map: Most attractions are in Santiago downtown so you’ll probably be using L1 (red) and L5 (green) near downtown. All trips through Metro are worth the same and they only vary if you use the trains in different hours. So it doesn’t matter if you use it to go two stations away or from one end to the other of the city or if you transfer to another line. Thus you only have to cross the turnstile once at the beginning of your trip. Lines 3 (brown) and 6 (violet) also have turnstiles or barriers at the end but they won’t cost you more.
Also, trains move like cars above the surface, on the right track. In order to not get lost and not be confused you have to check the direction to which trains are headed in the platform. For example, “Dirección Los Domínicos” in your platform means the trains you take there end their trips in Los Domínicos station. Trains on the other side of the station (the platform in front of you) will be “Dirección San Pablo” where San Pablo is the station on the other end.
Important stations in Line 1:
- Pajaritos: Bus terminal for Valparaíso – Viña and the airport.
- Universidad de Santiago: Bus terminal for Tur Bus (Terminal Alameda) and Terminal Sur (Buses heading to the South and also buses to other countries)
- Estación Central: The train station. Also Terminal San Borja serves routes for Northern Chile.
- Los Héroes: Transfer to Line 2. Useful for Parque O’Higgins, venue for events like Lolapalooza or the Formula E, Fantasilandia theme park and the Military museum.
- La Moneda: The beautiful government palace is right here. Also, beneath the palace there’s an exhibition gallery and the “Cineteca Nacional” called Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda.
- Universidad de Chile: This is classic Santiago downtown area. An office and shopping area. The Ahumada boulevard is one of the most concurred parts of the city and ends up at Plaza de Armas. San Francisco church is also here (the oldest building of the city)
- Santa Lucía: The hill where it’s believed Santiago was founded. Today it’s a beautiful and touristy park. Also in front of the hill there’s a handicraft fair.
- Universidad Católica: It’s right next to GAM, the cultural center where you can see plays and art exhibitions. Also, the station is in the trendy Lastarria neighborhood.
- Baquedano: Where locals go to celebrate when the national soccer team wins! Also, parks, Bellavista nightlife neighborhood, but most importantly for San Cristobal hill, and a hub for everyday life in Santiago. Transfer to Line 5.
- Los Leones: Transfer to Line 6 and a nice shopping area to walk around. There are some bars here as well (check General Holley or Orrego Luco street)
- Tobalaba: Transfer to Line 4. It’s well known for Costanera Center building. Still the tallest South American skyscrapper. They have the highest viewpoint of the entire city (you have to buy a ticket, though).
Important stations in Line 5:
- Quinta Normal: The first park of the city and one of the most touristy ones. They have museums inside and a lake where you can rent boats. Also, the Memory and Human Rights museum is right in one of the exits.
- Plaza de Armas: The other end of Ahumada boulevard and the main square of the city downtown. The Catholic cathedral is right here as well as the post office and the town hall. The Santiago museum is close to the square and Precolumbine museum is a block away. Mercado Central (restaurants focused on sea food) is at a walkable distance from this point.
- Bellas Artes: The Bellas Artes (Fine Arts) museum and Parque Forestal are here. It’s a tourist area with cafés, restaurants, pubs, with hostels and hotels, near Santa Lucía hill and Lastarria neighborhood.
- Baquedano: Transfer to Line 1. I explained it before.
- Santa Isabel: If you walk towards the east you will reach Barrio Italia, another trendy neighborhood for shopping with some cafés and pubs too.
- Ñuble: It might be helpful if you go to Estadio Nacional (the National Soccer Team plays there). Also transfer to Line 6.
- San Joaquin: The university neighborhood where Universidad Católica biggest campus is at.
- Pedrero: Estadio Monumental (for Colo Colo matches) is at a walkable distance from here.
- Mirador: If you wanna go to MIM or the Aquarium you have to hop off here.
- Bellavista de La Florida: For locals it’s relevant for the shopping mall but it’s also important for the bus transfers. If you go to Cajón del Maipo area on your own, you can take the bus here (intermodal).
If you take lines 2, 4 or 5 during peak hours you need to know if your station is red or green. As you might expect, if your destination is red, you have to wait for a red train. However, if your station is marked as red and green (for instance, Baquedano or any transfer station) you can board any train.
Metro is really safe for the most part but it can get very crowded in peak hours so you have to keep an eye on your belongings. Still, you won’t see many people wearing their backpacks in front of them. Also, you can see street artists and peddlers selling water. Some people are concerned about physical contact. In the metro, people usually understand that during peak hours maybe your arm can touch yours and stuff like that. If you need to bother someone or move past a person that might be blocking you, you can excuse yourself saying “Permiso“. By the way, Metro doesn’t have “female-only trains”.
An advice: Try not to wear your backpack while you’re on the train because you might bother people in a bad way. Those camping backpacks over 50 litres that some travellers like to use can become very annoying. It’s easier to just put it in front of you until you get off the train!
You are talking about the metro but what about buses?
You have your bip! card right? If you take a bus trip, what you need to know in advance is which bus or buses you need to take and for that you need to plan your trip. A great way to do this is by using Google Maps. It will tell you which bus to take, where to stop and how long it will take. It’s also important that you know where to stop, since bus stops can be far apart from one another and the driver won’t stop in between them.
There are local apps that will also help you know what it’ll take for your bus to arrive. Some apps are Red bip!, Bus Checker (for Santiago) or Moovit. If you type ‘Transantiago‘ in the App Store (iOS) or the Play Store (Android) you’ll see lots of apps. There are even some apps that using NFC can show you the balance of your bip! card (you can also check your balance online but their data has a delay of 48 hours).
If you’re far from a metro station some stores can top up your card. You just have to look for a bip! card sign like this:
You can also check on red bip!’s website the closest top up stores. Or using the Red bip! app.