Imagine a quick-moving, crowded, fast-pass using, wi-fi offering metro with video screens, and incorporated library and more than a small dose of public art. Then move it several thousand miles south of where you thought you’d find it, and open your eyes. You’re in Santiago, Chile, home to the continent’s cleanest, most efficient and most modern metro.
Los Dominicos Metro (end of the red line), used by permission from Bearshapedsphere
The metro in Santiago is Latin America’s finest, with five lines (numbered, somewhat mysteriously, 1, 2, 4 4a and 5) has more than 90 stations and 100 km (60 miles) of track, serving a large portion of this city of nearly 7 million people.
Metro Map courtesy of Transantiago Website
As a traveler to the city, the main lines you’ll need are likely numbers 1 and 5, or the red and green lines as they’re identified on the points of interest. Together, they serve downtown, Bellas Artes, Barrio Brasil, Providencia and Las Condes, which are the main hotspots for visitors to the city. The bus requires a little more attention to get to know, understand, and conquer.
Finding the metro
The Santiago’s metro is readily identified by a sign with three diamonds on it, like this one at Baquedano, which is also the main transfer point in the city, where the red and green lines converge.
Baquedano Metro Exterior, photo used by permission from Bearshapedsphere.
Paying for the metro
You have two options. Option one is to buy a single-ticket, which you should do right before you get on the metro, as the prices are different depending on the time of day, and with a three-tier price schedule, you are unlikely to have the right ticket on hand. It can be a bit time-consuming, as there are often long lines, but all you need to do is get up to the booth, and say “uno” (one) and hand the attendant your money.
The advanced option is to buy a bip (pronounced beep) card. A bip card (tarjeta bip) is the blue plastic card everyone waves over (or in front of, there are two different models) the turnstyle on their way into the metro. The tarjeta bip costs CLP $1250 (about two dollars and fifty cents as of today), and allows you a ride or two before it runs out. The card must be charged in increments of one thousand pesos, which will get you about two rides, depending on the time of day. To put more money on a tarjeta bip, go to the booth, hand the card and the money to the attendant, and say, con X, where X is the amount of money you want to charge.
Con dos mil
Con tres mil
Two people can use the same bip card, if you like though if you will later transfer to the bus, this becomes less economically efficient, because every train trip has a free bus transfer, but only one transfer is available per card. Many travelers will choose a combination of metro and taxis, and will skip the bus, so whether you buy one or more BIP cards for your small (or large) group is up to you.
bip card photo, used by permission from Bearshapedsphere.
What to see in the metro
Several stations have either exhibition spaces (Quinta Normal on the green line and Baquedano on the red line, for example), or art on the platform or throughout the station itself. The most famous example of this is the Universidad de Chile’s metro stop which has gigantic murals featuring the country’s history. There are also dioramas in a few of the metro stations, depicting early constructions of the city, including in Cal y Canto (yellow line) and Los Orientales (dark blue line).
During the week the metro runs from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, on Saturdays from 6:30 AM to 11:00 PM and on Sundays and holidays from 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM. After that time, you’ll have to take the bus, which you can do using your BIP card, (but not the bus tickets), but this can be a bit tricky.
The metro gets quite crowded during rush hour and holidays, so it’s not for the claustrophobic, and pickpockets make quick work of easily-accessible accessories, like cell phones. Be aware, try not to get stressed, and do what the locals do, and you’ll be fine. Oh, and despite admonitions to “let passengers deboard before boarding), there is still not a strong culture of doing this, so be prepared to have to do some wiggling to get off.
The bus system
The bus system requires a better knowlege of the city than most visitors are likely to attain, since you need to know where to get off. Almost 100% of the visitors stick to the metro and taxi combination, but for the intrepid (and Spanish speaking), you might like to check out Santiago’s metro website.