Anyone who has lived in Santiago long enough has probably had a few… colorful taxi experiences here. While nowhere near as bad as some countries in South America (Bolivia, I’m looking at you…) Chile does have its fair share of problems.
Today I want to share with you some local insights into the taxis that a new foreigner might not be aware of. While nowhere near as expensive as taxis in the western world, taxi drivers in Santiago do have some tricks up their sleeve.
On the whole, Santiago taxis offer a pleasant and inexpensive service but it pays to be informed in case you stumble across a bad apple.
In this article I’ll talk about some of the most common pitfalls gringos encounter when taking a taxi in Santiago, and how to avoid them, saving valuable time and money.
I’ll also introduce you to an exclusive brand new offer in Santiago that allows you to take a FREE ride with your own personal, professional chauffeur. Scroll to the end of the article for details on that promotion.
Like most Latin America countries, drivers will often charge gringos a flat rate that is several times the normal cost, especially at night. Often you are faced with paying a higher price at night, or walking home. There is very little you can do about this because taxi drivers know they have the market sewn up.
Additionally, taxi drivers will often take advantage of a gringo’s perceived lack of knowledge of Santiago streets to take a very roundabout route. I’ve taken taxis to the same places once or twice and know how much it ‘should’ cost more or less, but instead find myself paying a few dollars more than I should. It’s only a few dollars extra, but I prefer to get a ride from an honest taxi driver and pay the fair rate.
It’s not all bad though, I have personally had experiences with several very helpful taxi drivers. Usually they are quite chatty and willing to share their knowledge about the city, even if your Spanish isn’t that great. I’ve also had a driver be extremely accommodating one time when I was moving a desk, office chairs and some other furniture, even going so far as to help me carry it up the stairs to my apartment!
I’ve heard two horror stories when it comes to taxis here. One (not so smart) friend paid for his taxi from outside the passenger door with his phone in his hand. The taxi driver snatched the phone and the cash, slammed the door and shot away, tyres squealing.
Another friend was jumped by a stranger while in a taxi and his wallet and phone were stolen from him. Perhaps the driver was in on it, who knows. It seems like taxis might be an appealing target in Santiago for opportunistic petty thieves.
Learn from these experiences, keep your valuables close by and only pay once you have arrived safely at your destination.
Old taxis vs. New taxis
Around Santiago you will find two different types of taxis. They have the 1990’s smaller size taxi which generally has around 300,000 kms or more on the meter. These taxis are a struggle to fit more than 3 people into at a time and generally are operated by a grumpy Chilean man.
Compare that to the later model Hyundai taxis which are popping up these days. The newer models tend to have a little more room, and are usually very clean.
Dealing with change
When paying a taxi driver and try pay with a 10.000 peso note, expect for the driver to reject it and ask for smaller change. They usually have a stack of change hidden somewhere though, so if you are really persistent, usually they will grumblingly accept it.
It’s better to try to pay with smaller denomination bills if you can.
A safer alternative
One great option in Santiago is an app called Safertaxi. This free app allows you to call taxis from anywhere in Santiago using your smartphone. It includes maps, GPS and driver ratings so you can be sure to choose a driver with a good track record, and not be overcharged.
Travel in style with your own personal chauffeur
Recently arriving in Santiago is an alternative to the existing local taxi service, called Uber.
Some of you might have heard of this company, or perhaps even used it before. It’s already quite well established in some of the larger cities in the US, Europe and other developed countries.
Essentially, it’s a private driver service that you call up from your smart phone. Professional drivers operate a fleet of high-end cars, usually an air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz with automatic locking, so you can ride safely in heavy traffic.
All the Uber vehicles are high end and brand new. They don’t use a taxi meter, instead the ride is tracked with your smart phone and done via GPS, so you know you are paying a fair price.
It isn’t necessary to deal with small change or even carry cash. Riders pay automatically from their phone when they get out. Drivers are professional and courteous – they will open and close your door for you, and even offer you a drink during the ride.
When I heard Uber was coming to Santiago I was really excited. This is a perfect city for Uber to operate and I know it very well after having used it many times during recent visits to the US and Europe.
However, it is a premium service, so expect to pay premium prices. It usually runs about 20-25% more expensive, but if you’re reading this before January 20th 2014 you’re in luck.
To get a FREE CLP$10.000 worth of Uber credit, sign up using this promotion code. (Full disclosure: The $10.000 bonus credit really is free to you, but because this is my referral link, I additionally receive a small bonus for every person that signs up. So we both win! If you like the content on this site, you might consider it a kind of thank you :-).
For those that don’t like the idea of affiliate links in blogs, here is the standard sign up link that has no free $10.000 bonus credit.
As an additional perk, after signing up open the Uber app on your smartphone. Go to the promotions button and enter “UBERSTGO” and you will get your first two rides free up to CLP$15.000.
So, give Uber a try this week for free and see how you like it. Share your comments below and let us know how your experience was!