Santiago's Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez Airport (SCL; tel. 2/690-1900; www.aeropuertosantiago.cl) is served by LAN, Air Comet, Aerolínea Principal, and Sky, in addition to most major international carriers. The relatively new airport has plenty of restaurants (the best dining options are to be found when you have passed through the security and immigration checks) and souvenir stands, and a Vinoteca wine shop for last-minute purchases.
Once you pass through Customs, there is a small currency exchange kiosk. To the left and right of the passenger gate there are cash machines. Men in olive jumpsuits at the arrival gate and the outdoor-departure curb work as airport bellhops, and they will assist you with your luggage for a 1,000 to 2,000 peso tip (about $1.70-$3.40/£1.15-£2.25).
Depending on traffic, your Santiago destination, and how you get there, the city can be reached in 20 to 45 minutes. Most hotels offer a private car or van pickup for about $25 (£17). An official taxi to Santiago costs between $25 and $30 (£17-£20), depending on your destination. Tip: A gauntlet of taxi drivers vie for business at the exit gate, but play it safe and buy a taxi ride at one of the official counters located just as you exit the gate, to avoid getting ripped off. More economical options are the minivan transfer shuttles TransVip (tel. 2/677-3000; www.transvip.net) and Tur Transfer (tel. 2/677-3600; www.turtransfer.cl) that charge, per person, $8 (£5.30) for downtown Santiago and $10 (£6.70) to Las Condes. Tickets can be purchased in both the domestic and international arrivals areas. For outbound passengers leaving Santiago for the airport, both companies prefer that reservations are made 1 day in advance. The drawback with this service is that you may stop at several other destinations before arriving at your own. Cheaper yet are bus services that depart from the far ends of the arrival curb and drop passengers downtown, from where they can take the Metro or a taxi. Hotels can also arrange taxis on a fixed fare basis which, depending on your hotel and negotiation skills, tends to be much cheaper, at about $23 (£15). The blue bus Centropuerto leaves every 10 minutes from 6am to 11:30pm and drops passengers at Los Héroes Metro station on the main avenue Alameda. Tur Bus leaves every 30 minutes from 6:30am to midnight, dropping passengers off at Terminal Alameda at the Universidad de Santiago Metro station. The cost is $2.50 (£1.70).
There are four bus stations in Santiago. The station for international arrivals and departures to and from destinations in southern Chile is Terminal Buses Estación Central, formerly known as the Terminal Santiago and not to be confused with the actual Estación Central train station and Metro stop; it's located at Alameda 3850 (tel. 2/376-1755; Metro: Universidad de Santiago). The Terminal Alameda next door at Alameda 3750 is the terminal for the Pullman and Tur Bus companies, two well-respected, high-quality services. For departures to northern and central Chile, you'll go to Terminal San Borja, Alameda 3250 (tel. 2/776-0645; Metro: Estación Central). The smaller Terminal Los Héroes, Tucapel Jiménez 21 (tel. 2/423-9530; Metro: Los Héroes), has service to a variety of destinations in both northern and southern Chile as well as a clutch of international destinations.
Santiago is serviced by the state owned Empresa de los Farrocarriles del Estado (EFE), which provides modern and comfortable service to Chillán, stopping first in Rancagua, San Fernando, and Talca, and passing through beautiful, pastoral landscapes. For reference, prices in 2008 from Santiago to Chillán were $13 to $15 (£8.70-£10) one-way for "salon" class, and $26 to $28 (£17-£19) one-way for "preferred" class, which has seats that recline to 140 degrees. Tickets purchased online are 10% cheaper. There is a snack and beverage service car. Call EFE or check the website for updated information (tel. 600/585-5000; www.efe.cl), or check with your travel agent or hotel for a reservation.