When I arrived in Chile in February, I had never ridden a public bus for transport, and only ridden the metro when visiting Washington D.C. Over three months later though, I can not just use public transport here, but actually really enjoy it!
What follows is a run-down of the public transportation info, tips, and tricks. Specifically, it’ll be tips regarding Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, and Santiago, although all the advice but the metro advice (there’s not metro lines all throughout the country) will be useful wherever you’re at in Chile!
Why public transport?
Here’s the truth: public transport in Chile is cheap, safe, and abundant. It may not always be the fastest (a private car is going to be faster than a bus in any country), but it has been a life-saver for me here. I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car once in Chile, but I’ve had no problem getting where I want to go.
What are my options?
Basically, you have three main types of public transport here: micros, colectivas, and the metro. Micro = bus, colectiva = ride-share taxi, metro = metro.
Got it? Great!
Because I am biased, I must start with my favorite method of transportation! Seriously, Metro Valparaíso has a special place in my heart.
This is the one, single line that runs from right near the port of Valaparaíso all the way to Limache, about an hour’s metro ride away. To get a metro card, just go to any metro station to buy one – they are cheap!
Besides being a smooth and comfortable ride (save for rush hour, when it does get cramped), you’ll get to see the sights and the sounds of the metro, which are many.
Among other metro characters, you’ll find musicians and food vendors. As you’ll find, in most everyone in Chile, someone is going to be trying to sell you something!
For any Santiago-goers, the metro is obviously bigger and a bit more convoluted, seeing as it’s a large city. It has six lines, is a bit more expensive (but we’re talking about $1 a trip versus 50 cents a trip, so still way cheap), and busier. I would study the map a bit before going just so you know which line(s) you need to take!
Pros: Cheap, comfortable, efficient
Cons: It has set hours and set stops
Cost: Depends how far you’re going, and what time of day. But, you’re never going to have to pay over 1000 pesos – about $1.50 USD. (My ride to school is about 200 pesos – around 30 cents!)
Micros are the buses in Chile. (Pro-tip: it’s “micro” like “me-crow” not like the “micro” in “microeconomics.”)
Each micro has its own number and route, and you’ll be able to see main destinations on the front window of each bus. While the ride may be a bit of a doozy – especially if you’ve got a bus driver with a need for speed during rush hour and the bus is so full the door can barely close – these bad boys run just about 24/7. I took one last week at 3:30 a.m. and barely had to wait 30 seconds at a bus stop for it to arrive, as an example.
Granted, it does take a little while to figure out which buses are going to take you where you want to go and which bus numbers are going to helpful. But, you can always ask the bus driver if he’s going to your destination before you get on the bus (but you’re going to want to learn how to ask in Spanish).
Another pro tip: have your money ready before entering the bus, and pay in coins! You don’t want to be caught fumbling with money both to prevent pick-pocketing and to not hold up the rest of the people trying to get on.
Pros: Darn-near 24/7, driver will drop you off wherever you want him to within his/her route, almost no wait time to get one
Cons: These can be terrifying if your bus driver is whipping it around a corner, packed during rush hour, lots of jolting
Cost: Generally between 300-500 pesos (50 cents to 80 cents, roughly)
Colectivas are basically ride-share taxis. As in, if the car can hold five people, it’ll be you, the driver, and three other people also wanting to get somewhere in the area who are in the car.
Like micros, colectivas have signs on top so you know which streets/areas of town they’ll be driving through. They’re a bit more expensive than micros, but are often a more comfortable and a quicker ride.
Like micros, colectivas are pretty darn plentiful and shouldn’t be tough to find. If you see one you want, just flag them down to get picked up!
Pro tip: Tell the driver where you are going as soon as you get in the car! This may be obvious, but I definitely did not do this and took my first colectiva over a mile in the wrong direction before being told that it wasn’t possible to go to my street, resulting in me sadly getting out of a colectiva in the dark and two miles away from my house!
Pros: Comfortable, quick way to get around,
Cons: Can be confusing to figure out, not absolutely necessary to need basic Spanish skills but highly suggested, a bit more pricey
Price: I am not a colectiva price expert, but I’d wager these are in the 500-1500 peso range ($1-3).
The fact that I can get around here and any given ride is probably going to cost me less than a dollar is great. Besides, from a cultural standpoint, public transport is a good place for people-watching and city-seeing! It may take a little while to get the hang of the system, but it’s a great one, for sure. Give it some time, and you’ll feel like a Chilean in no time (or at least pretend really well)!
Happy travels, friends!
Make sure to check out Matt’s blog!