Chile has a rather good airport infrastructure. The main hub for flights in Chile is the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport (SCL) in Santiago, from where several airlines serve even the remotest corners of the country. These airlines are the three Chilean airlines: LATAM Airlines, Sky Airline and Principal Airlines. Although LATAM is by far the largest companies, Sky and PAL offer good services to the main cities.
When travelling within Chile, please consider reserving your tickets before entering the country: flight coupons are recommended and can be bought at LATAM when you also purchase your flight to Chile with them. LATAM offers a good online reservation service but in the others is not that good yet and mainly in Spanish, although it is possible to use them to compare fares.
Because of the shape of the country, many routes are subject to several time-consuming layovers. You might take this into account as you can have up to 4 stops en route to your destination! (e.g. for a flight from Punta Arenas to Arica you may have stops at Puerto Montt, Santiago, Antofagasta and Iquique). Domestic routes are served , Airbus 319, Airbus 321 and Airbus 320 when flying with LAN, a Airbus 319/320s when flying Sky Airline.
The only airline flying to Easter Island is LATAM Airlines from Santiago. Other remote locations are served by regional airlines. In the Extreme South, Aerovías DAP offer daily routes from Punta Arenas to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego and Puerto Williams. Between November and March, DAP offers very limited and expensive flights to Villa Las Estrellas in Antarctica. To Robinson Crusoe Island, there are weekly flights from Santiago and Valparaíso.
The bus system is sophisticated and provides a cheap and comfortable way to get from town to town. Local companies will usually stop at many stations along the way, however, you can always ask if there’s a non-stop or directo service. Companies that cover almost the entire country include Turbus and Pullman (websites in Spanish only). In Santiago, you can find both terminals and more companies on Universidad de Santiago metro station. Companies that cover the North of Chile and Argentina (Salta) include Geminis.
Prices vary on a daily basis, so are usually more expensive on weekends and holidays tickets than on weekdays. Ticket prices are also almost always negotiable: don’t be shy to ask for a discount, especially if you are in a group. Always ask at different booths and make sure the vendors see you are shopping around.
The quality of service varies quite a lot. Check if the bus is “cama” (bed), “semi-cama” (heavily inclining seats) or ejecutivo (executive – slightly inclining seat). Toilets are not always available and if available not always working, especially if you are getting on a bus at a later stage of a long journey (i.e. Arica – Santiago).
Tren Central, the passenger section of the government railway company, regularly operates trains between Santiago and Chillán, as well as ocasional service between Santiago and Temuco, which occurs when holidays cause a long weekend. It also operates the last remaining ramal, or branch line, between Talca and Constitución, as well as a wine-tasting train through the central valley for tourists.
Micro = transit/local buses. The word is the contraction of microbus. Larger cities have cross-town bus routes at affordable prices. Only Santiago’s system, called “Transantiago”, have maps (Map as of October 2010) with all the routes, so a little bit of Spanish and the audacity to ask around can get you places effectively in other major cities. To travel by “micro” in Santiago you will need to buy before a smart contactless travel-card called “BIP” and charge it with money. You can do so in any subway station, in most supermarkets and in some smaller stores. This card also allows you to travel by subway in Santiago. Be careful! You won’t be able to travel by bus without money in your BIP card. The card costs US$2.50, and a ticket costs a little over US$1, which allows you to make up to four transfers between metro and buses within a 2-hour time period. You only need to scan the card at the beginning of your journey and at every transfer. You should hop off the “micro” through the back doors.
A mix between a micro and a taxi. These small cars have routes and get around quicker and more comfortably. Fares are similar to those on the Micro, and depend on the hour. Cash only.
A metropolitan railway system operating in metropolitan areas of Santiago and Valparaíso. A reliable way to move around in the city. You must pay the fee only once (when you enter the system) and you can ride as much as you want. There are now more stations in Santiago because of the construction of two new lines. Visit the website for more information.
Car rentals are widely available throughout most major cities, but not in smaller towns. Usually a credit card, a valid driver’s licence and a passport, all three issued to the same person, are needed to rent a car. If your driver’s licence is not in Spanish, you also need an International Driver Permit (IDP). Many rental car companies will not ask for an IDP, but it’s a good idea to have one, just in case you encounter the police. Rental rates in Santiago are very similar to those in the U.S., but prices can be much higher in other cities. If you want to bring rental cars across South American borders (as part of a road trip), you will need to notify the rental car company in advance, pay additional fees, and obtain extra paperwork to show that you are authorized by the company to drive its vehicles across borders. Rental cars in South America all come with hidden GPS transponders (even if there is no navigation system in the car) so the company will know if you try to take the vehicle out of the country without their knowledge or drive too many kilometres per day (if your vehicle has a per-day limit).
Parking spaces and street lanes are relatively narrower, so it’s a good idea to get a small vehicle. However, like most Latin Americans, Chileans prefer to drive vehicles with manual transmissions to conserve fuel. As a result, the smallest vehicles available for rent with automatic transmissions are usually standard-size sedans, which are more expensive. North American drivers who can only drive automatic transmissions (and would also like to obtain both required and supplemental liability insurance and to reduce personal responsibility for vehicle damage to zero) should be prepared to pay up to US$100 per day to rent such vehicles.
There are several important vehicle-related documents which you must be able to present upon demand by the police, like the permiso de circulation (proof of payment of a vehicle registration fee to the local jurisdiction in which the vehicle is regularly garaged), and proof of Chilean vehicle insurance. The rental car company will normally keep those documents somewhere in the car. For example, Avis Budget Group puts them in a portfolio folder which is small enough to fit in the glove compartment. Make sure you know where those documents are, so if you encounter the police, you will be able to present the vehicle documents promptly, along with your passport, driver’s licence, IDP and rental car contract.