With my post about the luxuriousness of Argentine bus travel, I thought it would be a good idea to let all you travelers know the real story.
While many of the Argentine buses are super posh and way better than any other mode of public transport you’ve ever been on, they are not ALL like the one described in Traveling like Royalty in Argentina.
I’m not sure about you, but I know when we were planning our time in Argentina, all we kept hearing about what was how nice the buses were, how comfortable, how cheap, and generally how much we were going to love them. While I was absolutely floored by a few of our trips (like the one described in the aforementioned post), some I was disappointed in, and some were exactly what I was expecting.
The point of this post is to dispel any rumors and get down to the nitty gritty of what bus travel in Argentina is really like. I know if I had to do it over again, I would love to have the opportunity to ask some more in depth questions instead of reading a guide book, so I have taken it upon myself to go back in time to 2008, when we first set out on our trip, and I will ask 2010 Adam to answer some of the tough questions about Argentine bus travel.
After the Q & A, I will post some questions that you should ask the bus company before purchasing tickets, with my best Spanish translation for all you non-Spanish speakers out there.
1. Are the seats really that comfortable?
Well, it depends. You have to remember that there are a lot of bus companies in Argentina, many driving the same routes, all with different options and prices. Some of the buses do indeed have very comfortable seats with plenty of legroom, some do not.
2. I heard all bus seats fold down into beds. True story?
It’s a half-truth. We heard the same thing, and our expectations were pretty high on that first Argentine bus trip. Let me walk you through your options when booking a bus, which are many and vary from company to company and region to region.
- Seat options- Most companies have three types of seats
- Servicio comun- These are just regular old seats that may or may not recline. If they do recline, it’s only slightly, like an airplane seat. Obviously these are cheapest
- Semi-cama- These seats are partially reclinable and are what we took most of the time. They are more than adequate and very comfortable, reclining just enough to give you plenty of room and get a decent night’s sleep if you’re on an overnighter.
- Cama- The best and top option, these are the fully reclinable seats that everyone talks about. While they don’t recline 100% into a laying position, it’s pretty damn close, and they are super comfy and provide as good a night’s sleep as you’re going to get on a bus. The only problem with full cama is different companies have different terms, and if you’re not fluent in Spanish, it’s difficult to decipher what’s what. Below is a list of terms that full cama seats are called
- Cama suite, tutto leto, executivo or salon real
- Cama suite, tutto leto, executivo or salon real
3. I know you guys like food, what’s the deal with food on buses?
This is true, we do like food, and this one is important. If you’re going on an overnight journey, or one that is longer than 12 hours, you will be served food most of the time. How many meals you get depends on departure and arrival time and company. Sometimes we were served hot meals, sometimes sandwiches, a very few times nothing at all. ASK before you book.
In our experience, no matter where you’re at in the world, if you value not having a grumbling tummy (I am NOT a happy man when I’m hungry, which is why you’ll never see me on Survivor. I love the show and have always thought about trying out, but the lack of food would get me in the end. I would bitch and bitch and bitch until someone sent me home. But I digress), bring your own food on the bus. At the very least bring some snacks that will tide you over. Even if you’re told you’re being fed, you have no idea about the quality of quantity of food being served, so it’s a good idea to have a backup plan. Another good thing to mention here is that you can bring alcohol on most buses, which comes in handy if you have a long ride. People may look at you funny and judge, but after a few liters of Quilmes, you’ll have a nice buzz on and won’t care what anyone thinks of you. And you’ll sleep like a baby.
4. Hold on, let me verify this, are you saying you brought liter bottles of beer on a bus?
You’re damn right I did. On more than one occasion, too. What of it? If they let me, I’m doing it. Don’t judge, just wait a few months until after you’ve been through Bolivia and have a few overnight bus and train journeys under your belt. You’ll do what you can to get a good night’s sleep. And if that means bringing a plastic bag filled with 3 large, liter bottles of Quilmes on your bus trip, you’ll do it. Trust me.
5. So much do these bad boys cost?
Ahhh, probably the most important questions a budget traveler will ask. Again, they vary. If you’ve been traveling around South America for a while, you might have a bit of sticker shock when you go to your first bus station in Argentina. But have no fear, it’s well, well worth the extra cost, and try to remember that Argentina is a really big country, so many of your trips will be overnight ones, saving you a night’s accommodation, and have meals included in the price, so it really does all even out.
Here’s a sampling of what we paid for bus trips. Remember this was in late 2008/early 2009, so prices may have gone up a touch.
- Salta to Puerto Iguazu- $108US total for two people with Andesmar–This was our longest journey, at about 28 hours. We got semi-cama, were served hot meals, and they provided entertainment (albeit horrible entertainment-more on that later). Quite comfortable and worth the money.
- Puerto Iguazu to Buenos Aires- $105US total for two with Via Bariloche- This was about a 22 hour journey, our best one by far in our entire year abroad, and the basis for my post Traveling like Royalty in Argentina. Full cama, hot meals, wine, dessert, and after dinner drinks were all served. Seriously awesome.
- Rio Gallegos to Trelew- $157/US total for two- This was another overnighter in Patagonia, taking about 17 hours. Buses in Patagonia, especially during high season, are more expensive and offer less comfort. We got semi cama for this journey, and we were not served food. The seats were quite comfortable, but it was hot as hell, and I was sweating all night and didn’t sleep very well.
- Trelew to Bariloche- $90US total for two- A 12 hour overnight journey that was just OK. Not bad, not great.
6. Is there any entertainment aboard buses in Argentina?
Like many buses in S. America, most buses in Argentina are equipped with televisions and a VCR/DVD player. Sounds great, right? Well, it turns out that this is not what you should be looking forward to on your bus journeys, so charge that ipod, load some movies on to the old laptop, or make sure you have some books. Sure, you could get lucky and get a movie in English or with English subtitles, which is great. Better yet, that movie might actually be kinda good. Those chances are low. Most of the time the movies won’t be in English. You are in a Spanish speaking country though so that’s to be expected. Sometimes the movies are dubbed over in Spanish and also have Spanish subtitles. A bit frustrating. Then there are other times when the worst movie in the history of movies is shown. One in which the very first scene is one of the most gory zombie bludgeoning scenes in the history of cinema. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about The Vanguard. The Vanguard would not have been so bad if we only had to view it once.
But after the movie ended and we ate dinner, the lights dimmed and another movie started. Cue music, cue zombie hobbling through the grass, cue man appearing from nowhere to kill zombie with dual axes, complete with blood spurting onto the camera lens. Did I mention there were children on this bus? So again, we had to sit through The Vanguard. Luckily it was time for bed after the second showing. Unluckily they chose to show this ridiculous movie yet again the next morning after breakfast. Point? You never know what you’re going to get with in-bus entertainment.
7. What companies should we look at?
There are tons of bus companies in Argentina, but you’ll continue to see some of the same ones over and over again. Andesmar, Flecha, Omnilineas, Via Bariloche, and El Pinguino were ones we saw and took most. Via Bariloche was the nicest one we took, but that could be because we bucked up for full cama. Andesmar was the one that showed The Vanguard, which was really the only negative part of the journey. You’ll be safe taking any of the above mentioned buses, and I’m sure there are many more that are more than adequate.
8. What are the regional differences between buses?
This is where things get a bit hairy. For any other parts of the country that aren’t Patagonia or the Lakes district, what I’ve described so far should be pretty accurate for any journey you’ll take. Once you get down into Patagonia though, the buses become less comfortable and more expensive. It’s just the way it is, unfortunately, and there’s not much tourists and travelers can do about it. We just have to pay the price and take it. That’s not to say the buses down south are Bolivia style buses, they just aren’t quite as nice as in the rest of the country.
9. What about bathrooms?
Every single bus we took in Argentina had a bathroom on it. In fact, the vast majority of buses we took in South America (with the exception of Bolivia), had bathrooms on them. They were usually pretty nice (as far as bus bathrooms go), and it was certainly better than not having one. If you’re taking a double decker bus, you may want to find out where on the bus the toilet is (first or second level?), and then get a seat as far away from it as possible. The constant traffic throughout the ride, especially if it’s an overnight journey, can get annoying, and the opening and closing of the door doesn’t always bring the best of smells.
What to do now that you’re at the bus station?
So you should have all the information you need to book that bus in Argentina. But wait! You don’t know very much Spanish, and once you’re at the bus station, the possibilities can be overwhelming, so what do you do now?
1. Walk around and get as much info as possible from the signs
There is typically plenty of information on signs that will tell you scheduling and price, so walk around with a notebook and pen and write down as much information as possible. This won’t require any talking, and this will give you an opportunity to narrow it down a bit. Some buses may not go where you’re going, some may be out of your budget, and some may not have the best schedules.
2. Now that it’s narrowed down, it’s time to ask some questions
This is where some Spanish will come in handy. In general, Argentinians are very nice and friendly, but like all nationalities, they have their sourpusses. But a friendly smile and an attempt to speak their language will usually be met with a smile and a helpful response. So what do you ask?
- Incuye las comidas? Does it include food (or meals)?–Then as a follow up–
- Cuantos? How many?
- Hay un bano? Does it have a bathroom?–As stated earlier, all buses we took in Argentina had bathrooms, but it never hurts to ask.
- Donde esta el bano?/Primero o segundo nivel? Where is the bathroom?/First or second level?
- Cuanto tiempo (se tarde en)? How much time (does it take)?
- Podemos obtener asientos en el (frente, medio, la parte posterior)? Can we get seats in the (front, middle, back)?
This definitive guide to Argentine bus travel should be all you need for your trip to this beautiful country. Overland travel is something we love and hold near and dear to our hearts. It offers a completely different experience than flying, and it really gives you a chance to see the countryside and interact with locals. So if you have the time, consider traveling by bus, especially in a country with a system as nice and vast as Argentina.
* Picture by Christian Haugen, Creative Commons
** Pictures by aokettun, Creative Commons