Getting Around Chile
There are frequent services between main cities. The southern part of the country relies heavily on air links and reservations are essential. Flights are operated by LATAM (www.latam.com), and by Sky Airline (www.skyairline.cl), as well as a number of air taxi companies such as Aerovías Dap (www.aeroviasdap.cl), which flies around the Magallanes region and Antarctica.
There are regular flights with LAN from Santiago to Easter Island (journey time - 5 hours). Flights fill up quickly so it's essential to book in advance throughout the year. An air taxi runs a summer service to the Juan Fernández Islands from Santiago, run by Aerolíneas ATA (www.aerolineaata.cl). Sky Airline flies south to Punta Arenas and north to Antofagasta amongst other routes.
The Visit South America has replaced the old Visit Chile pass. It is available with LAN transatlantic flights and covers Chile as well as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Passes must be obtained outside South America and it's advisable to make reservations well in advance. Once purchased, reservations can be changed at no additional cost; but if re-routing, a charge is made for each change.
Chile has a large network of good roads, with the exception of the fjord-filled south of the country which is not always connected to central Chile by road. Crossings have to be made at times through Argentina, and water transport also plays a part there.
There is around 80,000km (50,000 miles) of highway in the country, half of which is paved. Foreign drivers should feel comfortable driving in Chile, as in general, traffic rules are obeyed here more than in other Latin American countries – although you can often find horses, bicyclists, and pedestrians on the highways, so keep aware! Most highways are well-marked.
There is a toll for using the highway, with rates differing according to distance and section. Outside Santiago, you’re expected to pay in Chilean Pesos. In Santiago, the toll is automatically charged via the TAG-system - a little sensor that is fixed onto the windscreen of each car, mandatory for driving on Santiago’s city highways.
Side of the roadRight
Chile generally has good roads and somewhat enforced speed limits. The Pan American Highway is in great shape and threads right down most of the country from north to south. It runs for over 3,455km (2,147 miles) from the Peruvian border to Puerto Montt.
Chile’s Carretera Austral, a (mostly) unpaved road running southwest down through Patagonia, covers 1,240km (771 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Although a bit of a rough road, it’s the best way to access the Aysen region and the southern part of Los Lagos.
It's advisable in more remote areas to carry plenty of water, spare petrol and an additional spare tyre; tyres should be hard-wearing. On gravel roads, the most common type of trouble is rocks hitting the windscreen, so when renting a car, it’s best to opt for the insurance which covers you for this.
Chile is composed of a good mix of paved highways, gravel highways, and rural roads, with the best roads running between Puerto Montt up as far north as La Serena.
Drivers must be over 22 years old, although some car hire companies make exceptions for drivers as young as 18 upon request. Self-drive cars are available at the airport and in major city centres. A 20% tax is added and a credit card is required as guarantee. The Automóvil Club de Chile in Santiago can supply road maps (tel: +56 600 464 4040; www.automovilclub.cl).
Taxis are black with a yellow roof and an orange licence plate. In some tourist towns, such as Viña del Mar, taxis may cost twice as much as elsewhere.
Most should have meters, but, if you can, find out roughly what the fare should be before climbing in. Fares for long journeys should be agreed beforehand. Minicabs may not bear the standard colours but still carry the orange licence plate. Tipping is not expected.
You can find quality bicycles with front suspension and decent brakes in adventure activity destinations such as the Lake District and San Pedro de Atacama. Leisurely biking around Chile’s wine regions is a great way to enjoy the countryside.
Bike Santiago (www.bikesantiago.cl) is the capital's bikeshare scheme.
Long-distance bus travel in Chile has a great reputation for punctuality, efficiency and comfort, and prices are a bargain compared to North American and European standards. Most major cities have a central bus terminal with destinations, schedules and fares prominently displayed. The majority of highways are paved (except for large parts of the Carretera Austral). Long-distance buses generally have toilet facilities and often serve coffee, tea and meals on board. Cama service means that the seat will recline greatly, semi-cama, not so much.
Chile's biggest bus company is TurBus (tel: 600 660 6600, in Chile only; www.turbus.cl), offering services throughout the country. Its main competitor is Pullman (tel: 600 320 3200, in Chile only; www.pullman.cl), which also has extensive routes.
A bus service specifically aimed at backpackers is Pachamama by Bus (tel: +56 2 688 8018; www.pachamamabybus.com). It's a hop-on, hop-off service with two long routes exploring the north and south respectively, visiting many out-of-the-way national parks and other attractions.
Seat belts are mandatory for the driver and passenger. Smoking, using a mobile phone or a personal music player with headphones is prohibited for the driver. In towns and cities the limit is generally 60kph (37mph), and up to 100kph (62mph) on rural roads, if not indicated differently. The speed limit on highway throughout Chile is 120kph (75mph). It is recommended to follow these limits, since Chilean carabineros (policemen) often patrol with radar.
Get 24-hour roadside assistance by calling +56 600 464 4040.
Drivers need to carry their passport and it's recommended that you carry an International Driving Permit, although many car hire companies don't ask for this.
Santiago has South America’s most extensive metro network (www.metrosantiago.cl). It also has bus and shared colectivo (taxis with fixed routes) services, although the modernisation of the city's transport infrastructure seems to have overcome its teething problems. Metro fares increase at peak travelling times. You can pay for the metro and buses with a pre-paid bip! card (so-called because of the sound it makes when you push it up against the orange machine).
Taxis are plentiful, and can be flagged down in the streets. It's a safe city in general in which to use public transport although usual precautions should be taken. For long-distance travel within Chile, buses in are inexpensive and actually quite comfortable. Meal service, movies, and reclining seats make the journey an easy one.
All tickets are bought from Central Station in Santiago or from the Metro Universidad de Chile. One major rail route heading south to Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and Limache is with Metro Valparaíso (tel: +56 32 252 7500; www.metro-valparaiso.cl). Fesub travels to the city of Concepción (tel: +56 41 286 8015; www.fesub.cl).
There aren’t any major rail services connecting the capital with the north of the country. A modernised system of southbound trains runs frequently from Santiago through Talca and Chillán to Temuco. Empresa de Ferrocarriles del Estado (tel: +56 225 855 050; www.efe.cl) has more information. Painfully slow services crawl to Talcahuano near Concepción and to Talco, stopping at Curicó and Parral.
From Puerto Montt there are various ferry operators that travel south. The main one is Navimag (tel: +56 2 2869 9900; www.navimag.com). The most popular routes are from Puerto Montt to Chacabuco, running inland to the spectacular San Rafael glacier, and between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales.
Cargo boat services running from Valparaíso to Robinson Crusoe Island (part of the Juan Fernández Islands) occasionally have cabins available. Enquire in Valparaíso.
To experience the fjords of Chilean Patagonia on a personalized luxury ship, Nomads of the Seas (tel: +56 2 2414 4690; www.nomads.cl) provides memorable nature and fishing expeditions.