Santiago de Chile: A Brief Travel Guide

Aka, things I wish it hadn’t taken me 7 weeks to figure out. Hopefully, should you ever travel down this-a-way, a few of these tips might help you get a handle on things quickly. Here goes:


Chile is really really big!

As a westerner traveling abroad, I feel like we’re told time and time again to be wary of tourist traps. Things like live music on the bus, people selling things on the street, etc. all at first seem like things to avoid and overlook, but many of them end up being quite interesting, and often fairly good deals. People come to Chile from time to time, either to ski, or to visit the beautiful Patagonia region to the south, but it’s not nearly the same as the major cities elsewhere. However, this also means that they assume a level of knowledge of the area, and there’s less infrastructure for people who don’t really know it. One of the top things is that…

Public transportation can get you anywhere, but only if you already know how to get there:

The hardest thing to do on public transit here is to find something. There’s a website set up for traveling, complete with walking, metro and micro (bus) directions, but that’s really not all that helpful. I admit, I’m spoiled by the Santa Cruz system, with a voice and readout displaying where we are and where we’re going. Here, there is no such luck. The best thing to do is to watch out for landmarks, plazas, shops with memorable names, or street signs. Or, you can ask the driver, but keep in mind that…

Micro drivers are fucking crazy:

I have yet to figure out the true culture of the bus driver, but let me just say this. The drivers have a schedule to keep and, as a passenger, you’re standing in his way. That said, if a bus comes hurtling down the street, you need to hope that he decides to stop to pick you up. Also, be sure that you have a preloaded BIP! card, because…

You cannot pay with cash on a bus:

Public transportation is relatively cheap, around 80¢ per ride, with free connections within two hours. You can recharge your BIP! card (the card you use to enter Metro or Micros) at any Metro station and a lot of shops, for as much or as little as you’d like to put on it. If you forget, however, you’re liable to be SOL when you need to catch a bus and only have 300 pesos on your card. Still, you can probably get on without paying, given that the drivers usually wouldn’t care, or you can walk. When walking, though, keep in mind…

Don’t put too much stock in street names:

Street names change, often and without warning. I can’t tell you how lost I’ve gotten looking for a specific street, knowing that I was in the right area, just because it’s only called “Compañía de Jesus” after Plaza de Armas, and it’s called “Merced” before. Duh. If you speak Spanish, feel free to ask directions, but make sure to be careful, because…


Come on, Chile. Be a little more creative, please.

Chileans lie. A lot:

Okay, this isn’t particularly fair, but what is definitely true is that a lot of people would rather guess than admit that they don’t know, which can be utterly confusing. The most important thing to do is watch someone’s face when you ask them in the first place: if a light bulb goes off and they seem sure, they probably know. If they seem as though they’ve never heard of it, you may be better off moving to the next person. If someone does give you directions though,  you’re not quite in the clear, because you need to understand them. This can get very confusing, so keep in mind…

La Alameda and O’Higgins are the same:

The are two main streets that you’ll probably hear people talking about, “La Alameda” and the delightfully named “Avenida Libertador Bernando O’Higgins,” or “O’Higgins” for short. This was enormously confusing for me until I realized that they were one and the same, and people use the two names interchangeably. La Alameda is a big road that runs through the center of town, following the Red Line on the Metro, and it comes into play a lot. Of course, if you get lost, you could always call your friends for help, except that…

Cell phones are not reliable:

This is just based on my own personal experiences, but more than once I’ve talked to a friend and found out that we tried to call each other, with no sign on the other end. At times this seems to be more the rule than the exception, that a call or a text doesn’t go through with nary a peep, though it seems to be more common when trying to communicate cross-carrier. That said, I’ve had plans fall through because both people thought that they were being ignored by the other, and stopped calling. The only way to make sure is to keep calling until you hear the other person’s voice. Also, make sure you don’t get stranded with no money on your phone, assuming you go the prepaid route, though it’s fairly easy to find places to refill. But wait, you ask, “isn’t that really really inconvenient and irritating, not being able to trust your phone?” Yes. Yes it is. But not as annoying as the fact that…

Understanding Chileans is hard:

But possible. The key thing that I’d advise to newcomers, aside from the lists of new words that they’ll learn, is to alter their listening patterns. The two most common changes, and most confusing, at least for me, were the cutting off of the “s” sounds and/or the addiction of “ito” or “cito” on the end, to mean “a little.” As in, “would you like some tea” translates to “quieres un tecito?” That said, listen to what they say, and if a word doesn’t make sense, try either adding an “s” on the end or removing an “ito,” and see if it suddenly becomes a word that you know and love.



You should all come here!

I’m sure I’ll think of more soon, but don’t be overwhelmed. Santiago is a wonderful place, and everything is manageable. Hope to see you here!

This entry was posted in Cultural Exploration and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Santiago de Chile: A Brief Travel Guide

  1. Mombo says:

    I would run your popularity single-handedly if I knew how to register how popular with me. I loved this post, though as mother it’s painful to think of my son wandering lost around a big city. Thankfully, you used the word “wonderful” at the end, and that was reassuring. Of course, as a mother, I want you to be happy and have an amazing experience there.


  2. llegs says:

    In the clear. not out of the clear.

  3. dzarchy says:

    Duly changed, thanks fellow language nerd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>