A rainy morning in Buenos Aires
We rolled into Buenos Aires’ Retiro bus terminal on a damp, grey morning, after nearly 24 full hours on a bus from Puerto Iguazu. Buenos Aires was the last stop on the South American leg of our world tour, and definitely one of the most anticipated. I couldn’t wait to start exploring the city, and truthfully, to get off the damn bus.
While in South America, we traveled by bus A LOT. On such a huge continent, flights are definitely the best option, if you plan in advance. We didn’t, and had we flown, the cost of the flights would’ve blown our budget completely out of the water. Flights in South America are seriously EXPENSIVE.
Fortunately, buses are abundant and can be booked just days or hours before the date of intended travel. It helped that online accounts of bus travel in Argentina were glowing and included mentions of wine, steak and other undreamed of luxuries.
Happier times on Cruz del Sur in Peru
We’d already experienced the impressive bus transits across Peru and were totally stoked to get ourselves onto an Argentinian bus. Argentina is more developed than Peru, right? That means, bus travel in Argentina should be even better than bus travel in Peru, right? RIGHT?!
Wrong. An uncomfortable, long, sleepless, steeply-priced, vinegary wine and tasteless meals wrong.
Of course, we didn’t take every single bus route in Argentina, nor did we travel with every single company. But out of the 4 long-distance trips we did take, not a single one matched the service or quality of the trips we took in Peru…and were 4 times the price!
On the Andesmar bus from Cordoba to Salta
Our bus from Cordoba to Salta on Andesmar cost $170. This was in the highest class of service (cama class), and included meals (no wine), but forget about blankets or pillows. Not to mention that it took almost 20 hours to travel a mere 861 kilometres. The bus stopped and started so many times, it was virtually impossible to get even 1 hour of continuous sleep.
Our second journey, again on Andesmar, from Salta to Puerto Iguazu, required not 1 bus, but 2, because no direct route existed between the 2 cities. There was wine though. Cheap, vinegary wine. And lukewarm chicken milanesa and packaged mashed potatoes. Oh and did I mention that the bus attendant stole my Apple iTouch when I left the bus for 5 minutes. Was it worth the $325 we had to pay for the tickets? I think not!
Fully flat beds on Crucero del Norte will cost you $162.50 each!
Our last trip on Crucero del Norte between Puerto Iguazu and Buenos Aires was the only journey that came close to the standard set by Cruz del Sur in Peru. For $296, we had fully flat seats, individual television screens, warm blankets, pillows and decent meals. The voyage still wasn’t very restful because like I said before, there’s no such thing as a non-stop trip in Argentina, and I’m sure the bus must’ve stopped at least 300 times.
Tips for Argentinian Bus Travel
Understand Argentinian bus classes
There are 5 different classes of seats available on Argentinian buses, with characteristics that are prescribed by law. For long distance travel, Semicama (half-bed), Cama-Ejecutivo (executive bed) and Cama Suite (bed suite) are the best options. Each class increases in comfort, and of course price. Semicama will be 4 across, have seats that recline partially, and may or may not include meals and amenities. Cama Suite will have much wider seats that recline flat, a bit of privacy with curtains, blankets, pillows and meals. Cama-Ejecutivo will fall somewhere in the middle of these.
Omnilineas has a summary of these classes on it’s website.
If you can afford it, book at least Cama-Ejecutivo class for long-distance journeys. You’ll survive a night in Semicama for sure, but you certainly won’t be comfortable or too well-rested.
Book in advance
Most of the time, you can show up at the city’s main bus terminal and get a ticket to your destination right away, especially if you’re booking in Semicama. There are a lot of bus companies and many different schedules available. Sometimes it’s even better to follow this strategy, because it allows you the opportunity to check out the different buses in person.
If you’re booking in one of the higher classes, it’s safer to book at least 1 day in advance. If you’re traveling on a popular route, like Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu, the earlier you book, the better. That way you’ll have the most choice of buses and seats available, and the seats do sell out.
We mostly used Plataforma 10 to book our bus travel in Argentina. The website compiles bus services from all over the country, is easy to search and accepts foreign credit cards.
The Andesmar bus counter in Salta
Do your research
Not all buses in Argentina are created equal, with some having a better reputation than others. Some of the major bus companies are: Via Bariloche, Crucero del Norte, Andesmar and Flechabus.
It’s wise to research the different bus routes before you plan your Argentina itinerary. We learned this the hard way, when we tried to travel from Salta to Puerto Iguazu. It’s not impossible to do it, it’s that there’s no direct route. Bad planning cost us both time and money.
We ended up taking Andesmar for most of our trips simply because it was the only company that serviced a lot of the routes, but honestly, I would’ve preferred not to. The price to quality ratio of Andesmar’s buses and services were nowhere close to Crucero del Norte’s.
Crucero del Norte: Our best bus ride in Argentina
Amenities and services vary greatly from bus to bus and from route to route. Even when you are booking in higher classes of service, don’t assume that blankets or meals will be provided. The best strategy is to ask in advance…something we really wish we’d done before our first ride.
On our first trip from Cordoba to Salta, there were no blankets provided, even though we were riding in Cama Ejecutivo class. A minor problem since the air conditioning standard on South American buses is ice-cold. Thank goodness I had a pashmina with me, or it would definitely have been a long and teeth-chattering journey.
Another quirk of bus travel in Argentina is the late dinner time. Argentinians eat late, and a meal likely won’t be served until 9:30 or 10pm. Bring snacks if you can’t make it till then.
And finally, bring something to entertain yourself with. There are usually televisions and movies on the buses, but on all our trips, the movies weren’t worth watching. I get nauseous reading in moving vehicles, but if you don’t, bring a book. You’ll definitely make good headway.
An iPod is my trusted travel companion, with music really helping to pass the time…just don’t get it stolen.
Watch your belongings
Being in the highest class of service, with only 6 other passengers and the bus attendant, didn’t protect me from theft. Argentina is going through a huge financial crisis, with 30% inflation and its citizens tapped out, and Apple products are major thief attractors.
I stupidly abandoned my iPod on my seat for 5 minutes and left the bus, with only 1 other passenger and the bus attendant in the cabin, and when I came back, my iPod was gone. At the time it didn’t occur to me that the bus attendant would’ve been the culprit, but given that the other passenger allowed me to search his bag, guess who was left?
Point being, watch your stuff.
And my final tip? If you can, fly