Not everyone feels as strongly as I do about public transportation. I grew up in an area where it is not widely available, and I do not like driving. Now that I can take the bus or metro (or occasionally Uber/taxis) anywhere I need to go, I am in heaven. I don’t have to fight traffic every day, and it is environmentally friendly.
Santiago, Chile has a very straightforward and easy to use public transportation system. The metro goes to all of the important places. The bus goes even further, and it runs all night. All you need is a BIP! card (approximately 1,350 CLP), which you add money to whenever you’re low (any amount between 1,000 – 25,000 CLP). Trips on the metro cost between 590 – 700 CLP depending on what time you travel (rush hour is more expensive). It is always a flat rate, though. Distance does not matter. When you transfer from the metro to the bus, there is no extra cost. When you do the opposite, it costs a mere 20 – 80 CLP. The metro stops running at around midnight every day. On weekdays, the stations open at 5:30 AM. On Saturdays, they open at 6:30 AM and on Sundays, they open at 8:00 AM.
During rush hour, the metro can get a little insane (i.e. it’s a fight just to shove your way onto the train, and once you do it’s hard to breathe). Most of the time, I am lucky enough not to have to use it during that time, and it is very manageable. Of course, you need to pay attention and give up your seat if there is an injured/elderly/pregnant person standing nearby, but that is pretty standard across the globe. You may get to see a performance of some sort, ranging from people singing/playing guitar to someone dressed as Spider-Man performing acrobatic stunts. They expect tips, of course. If you’re hungry, do not fret. It’s almost guaranteed that a chocolate bar salesman will be walking through the train cars, enthusiastically selling – you guessed it – bars of chocolate.
The bus (micro) is a whole different experience. You’ll still have chocolate and performers there, too; don’t worry! But it’s different: first of all, know where you’re going ahead of time. Secondly, when you see your bus approaching, it is a good idea to flag it down as if you are hailing a taxi. Sometimes they won’t stop if people aren’t making it very clear that they want to get on. Next, scan your BIP card and either find a seat or hang on tight cause it’ll be a bumpy ride! Bus drivers here are incredibly kind and helpful (for instance, if you have no idea where your stop is, you can ask them about it when you board the bus… many times they will remember you thirty minutes later and let you know that you’ve arrived at your stop). They do drive pretty fast, though! Every bus ride feels like an earthquake, and speed bumps are something the buses fly over. But seriously, if you hang on you’ll be just fine. Finally, when you need to get off, don’t forget to press one of the orange buttons. If you don’t you’re not getting off.
I would also like to point out that pick pocketing is extremely common in Santiago, so when you are on the bus or metro, keep your bag close to your body. Try to limit phone use, especially when the vehicle has stopped (the thief can grab your phone out of your hands and run outside quickly). If you are wearing a backpack, it’s better to take it off and hold it. I am not exaggerating; these things must be done if you don’t want to be at risk of losing some valuable items.
Metro Station bonuses:
*If you need something to read, you can check out the Biblio Metro. That’s right…. there is a library…. in the metro (more than 20 stations have a branch of Biblio Metro). If I understand correctly, you can check out books for free (with a minimal start up cost) if you show your Chilean ID or passport.
*The larger stations have tons of shops and restaurants! If you need boots, school supplies, groceries, electronics, or just a Cinnabon cinnamon roll to cheer you up on a grey day, you can find it all! I’ve noticed that prices in the metro clothing shops tend to be pretty inexpensive, too.
*ATMs are widely available in metro stations. Just be careful and watch out for thieves.