Santiago is the gateway between Australia and South America. All flights between the two continents arrive in Santiago, the Chilean hub of Oneworld’s LATAM Airlines. So if you’re headed to South America, chances are you’ll have a Santiago stopover at Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport.
Santiago is perhaps not the most exciting city in South America, but there’s plenty to do for a few days. It’s a relatively safe city and a good place to break up your travels after arriving in South America and before continuing to your final destination.
Whether you’re just in transit or staying for a few nights, this AFF guide will help you to make the most of your Santiago stopover!
The best Santiago Airport lounges
If you only have a few hours between flights, you’ll probably want to stay at the airport during your Santiago transit.
If you’re flying Business Class with a Oneworld airline, or have Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald status (such as Qantas Gold or Platinum) you’ll have access to the wonderful LATAM VIP Lounge. The LATAM Airlines lounge in Santiago is a very nice space with two floors, an excellent range of drinks and buffet food. There’s also a sleeping room, games room and plenty of comfortable seating with runway views.
Depending on the airline you’re flying, there are also various other lounges at Santiago Airport. Both the LATAM Airlines and the Avianca lounges are a little difficult to find. Juddles explains…
There are a few other lounges in the airport – the two old LAN/LATAM ones now are rebadged as Admirals Club and something else – I have not entered then since the change, so do not know how they are. Then there is a lounge that is the independent one taking any credit card or Priority Pass. Haven’t been there since they banned smoking a few years ago. Finally there is the Avianca lounge. That is pretty new. In the food stakes it is on par with the Latam lounge – ie they have managed to design a menu of snacks and light things equally unappetizing to me as the LATAM stuff – even though it is different. It is a small lounge with some wines and basic spirits.
It is bizarre but both LATAM and AVIANCA, independently, managed to make both their lounges hard to find. The Avianca lounge is “down a floor” from the main departures area. It is somewhere between gates 15 (the corner one) and 14 I think. And the Latam one is “up a floor”. There are stairs or two lifts from somewhere sort of in the centre of airside duty free – very close to Victoria’s Secrets and Britts shops.
Hotels near Santiago Airport
If you have a longer Santiago stopover of 6-24 hours, you may consider leaving the airport and checking into a hotel. There are numerous hotels near Santiago Airport. RooFlyer recommends the Holiday Inn, which is just a short walk from the main airport terminal.
Holiday Inn right opposite the entrance to SCL (ie across the road – few minutes walk) is very good and not expensive.
There are other airport hotels that are cheaper, but not quite within walking distance.
The other option is a cluster of hotels about 5 minutes from the airport. (No, you cannot walk – this is highway time) These are half the cost of the Holiday Inn. They are also good, but you just cannot beat the ease of a truly airport hotel like the Holiday. To get to those other ones will involve you trying to work out which “shuttle” to get, which is not clear.
Do note that a reciprocity fee is payable when entering Chile on an Australian passport (see below).
How to get from Santiago Airport to the city
If you’d prefer to venture beyond the airport during your Santiago stopover, why not take the opportunity to experience some Chilean food and culture? Santiago’s international airport is not right in the city centre, but it’s a relatively easy trip by taxi or by bus and metro.
For taxis into town after international arrival, there is an ‘official taxi’ desk on the right as you walk out of customs, before you get into the ‘landside’ public area. Between 21,000 and 24,000 pesos (A$41 and A$49) will get you to most places in the city – prices are fixed for the various districts. Works well.
If you speak Spanish, juddles recommends Uber as a cheaper alternative to taxis in Chile.
Rooflyer uses taxis, and I completely agree with that for anyone who does not speak Spanish. Uber exists in Chile, but it is still technically “illegal” and the police have continuous blitzes on it. I use it, as the fares are about half what a taxi charges (last night was 13,000 pesos ($26 AUD) airport to central Santiago, and this morning 12,000 pesos ($24 AUD) returning. The driver’s are always great and the cars very good. BUT, invariably if getting a pickup at the airport they will try to phone you to explain the pickup point, which if you don’t speak Spanish is going to be tough.
What to do in Santiago
If you have enough time, you could join a walking tour of the city or visit some of its famous museums. For a great view of the city, head up to Cerro San Cristobal. Santiago is also a foodie’s delight with lots of wonderful restaurants.
Getting around on the metro is easy. If you’re planning to take multiple trips, it’s worth getting a “Bip!” card
If you have a full day to spare, you could even travel to the beautiful coastal city of Valparaíso. The trip from Santiago to Valparaíso takes around 90 minutes.
Chilean reciprocity fee for Australians
If you wish to leave the airport in Santiago, there’s just one catch. Anyone entering Chile on an Australian passport is required to pay a “reciprocity fee” of USD117 ($158). The Chilean reciprocity fee means it’s probably not worth entering the country for just a few hours. But if you have a longer Santiago stopover, it could still be worthwhile.
The reciprocity fee is not charged if you’re just transiting through Chile to another international flight, or if you’re travelling on a non-Australian passport.
Here are RooFlyer‘s instructions for paying this reciprocity fee:
Australians need to pay a ‘reciprocity fee’ on arrival in Chile. US$117 last time I was there and lasts for about a month. They take credit cards. At SCL there is a booth on the level you arrive at, but its often closed and anyway if there is a queue, you would be best to head to the main booths. Down the escalator to the immigration hall, but at the bottom of the escalators, turn HARD LEFT (180 degrees) to get to the fee booths and ropelines. If you are first there, they may not have anyone there, but they will come soon. You pay your fee, then join the immigration queues.
As juddles explains, you will also be given a slip of paper by Chilean immigration. You must retain this piece of paper until you exit the country.
As for immigration itself, upon entry you get a little printout slip of paper – which they do not tell you, but you HAVE to hand this back to them on exiting the country! If you lose it you have to go see a special immigration area.
Do you have a great Santiago stopover tip to share? Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Santiago (SCL) Stopover Tips