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Bus Travel from Santiago, Chile

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2008 11:12:00 -0300 (CLST)

I noticed in my logs that some old posts of mine get hits from people
trying to find information about bus travel in Chile, so I thought I'd
write a more detailed summary.

First, bus travel is still an excellent way to get around - Chile is
basically one road north to south, so you can get most places by bus. 
Prices are reasonable, the services gerenally pretty reliable (arrival
times can be late, but departures from major terminals are usually on
time), and there are also "luxury" options if you want extra comfort.

Most towns will have a bus station.  Larger towns may have a couple, so
it's always worth checking exactly where you need to be.

In Santiago the three main stations are to the west of the centre on the
main Alameda road.  First, near the train station, is San Borja (that's
the name of the street along the side of the station, which is on the
corner of San Borja and Alameda - Alameda may appear on maps as
O'Higgins).  The metro station Estacion Central stops here (the metro is
the best way to travel around central Santiago, but don't try taking
luggage on during the rush hour).

San Borja/Estacion Central is currently being rebuilt.  It is the main
station for local buses (the little ones that go out to satellite towns
around Santiago) and for the smaller independent lines to the rest of the
country (who may give better prices that TurBus and Pullman).

A station further west on the metro (Univeridad de Santiago) is the
station used by TurBus and Pullman.  These are two biggest companies and
they go all over Chile (and perhaps international?).  They both have
websites and you can buy tickets online (in theory - I've not had much
success with Pullman using Linux).  Not sure what the station is called -
TurBus refer to it as "Alameda" which is the name of the main road all the
way through Santiago, so that's not very specific.

If I want a simple, one-stop solution for some trip, I typically go to
TurBus.  It's a huge company (owned in part by Iberian airlines I think)
and they go almost everywhere, regulary (if you can't find the place
listed in their web pages, they may still go there - that is true of all
bus companies).

However, when I was travelling regularly between Santiago and La Serena, I
tried to use smaller local companies.  Libac is one option, but while they
were one of the first with Platinum/Premium (more on that below), they
were unreliable.  Romani were pretty good - they were my usual choice.  I
also used Pullman/Atacama when I was trying to save money (not as nice
buses as Romani).

I said earlier that you should ask in person if you want to go somewhere
obscure.  This is easy to do because bus companies have offices all over
Santiago.  Most malls will have a TurBus office, for example.  In eastern
Santiago (the posh area) there is a collection of offices under the tower
blocks at the corner of Providencia and Miguel Claro (the western corner).
 That area is called Torres Tajamar and some buses leave from there, which
can be convenient if you are catching an overnight to La Serena - but
these days it seems many have changed to providing a shuttle service
(free, but you need to buy the ticket beforehand with your main ticket) to
one of the stations in the centre.

Bus companies also run a shipping service for packages.  You used to see
people taking all kinds of random (large) packages with them on buses (ie
they were carried in the bus "hold" as their luggage), but recently we've
noticed (at least on TurBus) that box-like items (rather than bags,
suitcases, rucsacs) are being refused as passenger luggage.  So it might
be worth checking if you want to carry a large item.

While on the subject of luggage - if you want to get off the bus at some
random place on the road you can probably get them to stop for you, but
you should take all your luggage on-board (rather than under the bus) or
at least talk to the driver beforehand (so that they can pack your bags in
an easily-accessible place).  In general, people in Chile are pretty
fexible if you are friendly and ask politely, but be flexible - many
things (like carrying boxes as luggage or stopping at odd places) may
involve breaking company rules, which isn't always possible (smaller
companies may be more flexible here).  You shouldn't need to pay extra for
anything like this (not even a tip).

(And on paying extra - there's a law about ticket refunds, which is posted
in most ticket offices.  I can't remember the details, but it's worth
reading.  At least once I was charged (by a Pullman ticket person) a
"creative" fee for changing tickets that was more than the legal limit. 
And while discussing Pullman's service - avoid the offices at Tajamar. 
For some reason they are always more expensive...)

I still haven't mentioned the third bus station.  That's a short work
further west from the TurBus/Pullman station and it's for international
travel.

There's also a bus station near the Los Heroes metro station.   That was
busier many years ago, but still has some companies running out of it. 
It's more central so may be worth checking out.  I think Libac still run
from there (at the tail end of the high season Libac can be a good choice
because they will bounce up standard class passengers into Salon Cama (see
below) if they can save a bus - at least, that has happened to me in the
past).

Finally, I should describe the types of service.  There are really just
three, but they have different names, and sub-divisions.  Lowest is normal
seats.  This is "standard" or "clasico" or "semi-cama" (semi-cama is a bit
fancier, but these days on a modern bus, the difference isn't that clear).
 Fancier is "salon cama", which have bigger more comfortable seats that
are good for sleeping in overnight (they are wider - only three across the
width of the bus, instead of four, and with more legroom).  The fanciest
of all is "platinum" or "premium" which recline completely flat (like a
bed).

Some companies now run "double decker" buses that combine different
classes of seating - often the top layer is salon cama, while the smaller
lower area is platinum.

Have a good trip,
Andrew

More Bus Notes

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 19 Oct 2008 20:33:24 -0300 (CLST)

Some more notes, having just returned from a trip north.

The smaller bus companies tend to focus on certain regions.  To the north
of Santiago, Expreso Norte seems to be growing and providing a lot of
coverage.  I've never used them, but they are probably worth checking out.

I didn't mention bloody television.  Buses have TVs, with sound over
loudspeakers that you can't control.  Paulina recently travelled on a
TurBus Salon Cama which was more like a plane - the sounds was over
headphones you had to buy - but I haven't seen that myself (although they
do mention something related on the TV at one point), and personally hate
TurBus particularly on this, because they even run an advert for their own
adverts, bragging how travellers are a captive audience that cannot turn
the damn thing off.

Anyway, during the day, TV on TurBus seems to run continually (and it
doesn't seem to vary across buses, so you see the same thing again and
again if you're doing a multi stage trip).  On Romani (incidentally, I was
on a double decker of Romani's and it was Salon Cama below, Semi-Cama
above) they showed a single film for 2 hours of a 6 hour trip with no
adverts).

If you're a gringo coming to Chile you may wonder about prices.  They vary
a lot with season (peak is Jan/Feb), but are still very reasonable
compared to, say, Europe.  It is possible someone will try to rip you off,
but so unlikely that you can detect it by asking for prices at two places,
since at most one will try to.  The flip side of that is that it's rarely
worth bargaining (it's just not done, and the only place I know that may
be inclined to take "a contribution" for a lower price is the Romani
office in Providencia, just east of Torres Tajamar - that was so unusual I
tried to avoid it by buying returns in La Serena when I was doing my
regular run back and forth).

Also, you can't buy tickets long in advance.  Especially not for peak
times.  You can often get tickets at the last minute, but if you want to
be certain a week in advance is good (perhaps two weeks in peak, if you
want to be really really safe).  You can buy open ticket for a fixed route
on any date (they have some expiry), but I don't know how they work in
detail (seem a bit pointless really - there doesn't tend to be discounts
for returns, so better just to buy as you go).

Finally, if you're looking for a "nice" place to stop between Santiago and
La Serena, we spent a night at "Hotel Salamanca" (in Salamanca).  Very new
and clean, and we got a fairly decent price, but it is a little way out of
town (Paulina managed to persuade the bus to drop us at the door...).

Andrew

Are Chilean Bus Stations Safe?

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 16 Nov 2008 15:53:24 -0300 (CLST)

Someone searched for the term above (are chilean bus stations safe) and
came to my page (I can see the search term in the logs for the site, but I
cannot identify who the person was).

In general, Chile is a very safe country.  People here worry about crime
(as I guess they do everywhere), but in my experience it's a picnic
compared to the UK or USA.  I have never felt in real personal danger
here, despite the sometimes obvious differences in wealth.

However, petty crime - robbery - is an issue.  My partner has had
jewellery stolen from luggage left in a bus station and her purse taken
from her bag while on a "micro" (local bus in town).  My mother has had
her purse stolen from a bag in a restaurant and once, when I was with my
parents in a post office, someone grabbed my her bag and tried to run away
(she held on and kept the bag, but had a ripped shirt and a nasty shock).

If you are a "gringo" (ie "white") you will, in most parts of the country,
be seen immediately as both foreign and rich (Chile is racially very
uniform - Chileans all look alike.... :o)

On the other hand, I (a gringo) have never had anything stolen and I know
my partner's brother (a Chilean) has slept with his children in a bus
station overnight at least once.

If you are a woman it's quite likely a man may whistle, make some remark,
or a "slurping noise" (I am told...) as you walk down the street.  Very,
*very* rarely, someone may inappropriately touch you.  But that is the
limit, as far as I understand things (being male).

Some twenty (plus :o) years ago now, my partner, in a group of half a
dozen teenage girls (with no adults), hitched the length of the country
for their summer holiday.  Things have no doubt changed, but that gives
you some idea of the relative level of safety.

The general Chilean culture places an emphasis on being friendly, so
public displays of aggression are rare (I have been in angry exchanges,
but they were all, as far as I can remember, started by me, and in general
the other side backed down, perhaps largely in surprise).  However (again,
as in many places), groups of drunk young men can be a problem (on the
metro before and after weekend football matches, or outside bars, discos
etc on holidays/weekends).

I hope that reassures.  Be careful with valuables and take reasonable
precautions, but Chile is probably safer than where you are coming from.

Andrew

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