As I write this entry we’re almost 7 hours into our 18-hour bus journey from Mendoza to Salta, in Argentina’s mid-north. Sitting in the front two seats on the top level, we’re well positioned to better enjoy the beautiful mountains on the horizon, as well to melt; with the sun’s reflection intensely magnified through the huge panes of glass surrounding. For a service that was previously deemed a ‘luxury’ mode of travel within Argentina, it seems air-conditioning is low priority.
Across the aisle a man is snoring, in the seat behind a child has vomited, and for the previous two hours I’ve needed to use the bathroom. However, on entering the bus some 7 hours ago to stark ungodly scents, I feel it’s best to wait. Ah, the joys of travel.
In the two months that we’ve spent in beautiful Argentina, we’ve covered off over 7,000 kilometres by bus. That’s almost twice the length of Australia! As well, saved a bit of money on accommodation with those lengthy overnight hauls. From Buenos Aires to the west coast and deep into Patagonia; north to Mendoza’s wine region and to colourful colours of the Jujuy province. It’s been some hours spent gorging at incredible (and contrasting) sceneries, listening to podcasts and laying low, as well asking ourselves ‘are we there yet’ and wishing that (at times) we flew, in moments like this.
On reading the many reviews (as well experiencing them for ourselves) about bus travel in Argentina, it’s true; you absolutely get what you pay for. Amid this incredible infrastructure that connects the country, the infinite of providers and contrasting prices can sometimes leave you overwhelmed. Wondering which service is more reliable and of best value is such a thing. Who will break down for hours-on-end in the Patagonian Desert with a non-functioning toilet, which service will encounter delays, and who won’t have air-conditioning are very worthy questions to consider. Choose with care!
So to help you out with bus travel in this stunning country, we’ve pieced together a few tips and tricks that should have you safely on your way. Riding in comfort (as best your budget allows) and fully prepped for the experience. Because sometimes they are just that, and one that you need to at least do once. Or more!
So, here we go.
More or less, for long haul adventures, there are a couple of options to consider relative to comfort and budget. Semi Cama, Cama and Ejecutivo (executive).
Semi-cama is the low end of the deal and is referred to as a ‘half bed’. Basically it reclines generously (140 degrees), more so than an aeroplane seat and you will (sometimes) get some kind of packaged snacks/meals along the way. For all lengthy journeys, this has been our go to. It’s more than fine, gets you from A > B and it doesn’t break the bank.
Cama is the mid-tier though fancy enough. Often these seats are on the bottom level of the bus and are more spacious, as well fully recline to a ‘full bed’. You still get the same delectable (said with sarcasm) treats along the way, and you will be spoiled with a USB port to charge your device. It might be worth noting that the loo is on the bottom level and the pleasant odours (that are not at all pleasant) frequently fill the air with the opening and closing of the door. Hmm, improved comfort with a scent.
Ejecutivo (executive) is the crem dela crem of long haul bus journeys in Argentina but isn’t available on all services. It’s a fully reclined seat that comes with a blanket and a pillow at a premium.
In all the operators that we’ve ridden with – El Valle, Via Tac, Balut, Flecha Bus, Panamericano, El Rapido, Via Bariloche and Andesmar, (there are a lot of providers that contribute to 7,000+ kilometres) in our opinion the following were the best value.
- Flecha Bus
- Via Bariloche
Why? Because the buses were more modern and were equipped with USB ports, we received snacks/meals and there were no delays. In saying this, particular brands operate different routes, so you sometimes just need to take your chances depending on your locale and destination.
10 Worthwhile Tips & Tricks for Bus Travel in Argentina;
- Get to the bus station(s) early to better understand which platform your ride might depart from. Retiro terminal in Buenos Aires especially is an incredible sight for organised chaos and can perhaps be overwhelming for first time visitors. Forget informative displays and just know that your bus will arrive somewhere between platforms 8 and 25.
- Bring some warm clothes on board. During the night the buses can become quite cold.
- Pack some loo paper and hand sanitiser. It’s not unusual that it runs out and it seems the toilets are impartial to soap.
- A charged power bank is a good idea to carry on board as the buses aren’t always equipped with USB charging ports.
- There is no internet connection on board. So pack a book, download some podcasts and settle in for the journey whilst watching the world go by.
- Purchasing your bus tickets direct from a counter will save you a worthwhile sum of money rather than online. As well, you will be issued a ticket on the spot that will save you needing to print the document, – which is required for boarding.
- Particularly in the north, carry a few extra Peso’s to tip the staff for loading/unloading your luggage. 5-10 Peso’s p/passenger is suffice.
- Consider that many companies operate different brands within their umbrella of services. For example, El Rapido is a derivative of Andesmar and similarly are El Valle and Via Tac for Via Bariloche. So, even though you may have booked an Andesmar coach, you may find yourself jumping on board an El Rapido bus. It’s best to just check at the service window(s) on arriving to the station to be sure.
- Ear plugs are your best friend, and snacks. Stock up on both!
- Keep an eye out the window and enjoy the journey. The landscapes are incredibly impressive and contrasting, changing within moments. From the snow-capped mountainous landscapes of Patagonia to the dry arid and colourful valleys of the Quebrada de Humahuca in Jujuy, beautiful turquoise lakes, llamas running free, salt lakes and incredible sunrises. Take it all in. This country is incredibly vast, and equally stunning in all of its corners. Enjoy!
I’ve been sitting on this post for a little while and hadn’t yet published. Hence us now being in Chile. But in doing so, racked up a few more kilometres even (and another bus experience).
I hope you find this helpful in planning your adventure(s) throughout this stunning country. It’s so full of culture, colour, delicious eats and beautiful new friends. Stay a while if you can.