Argentina is HUGE! I know this might seem like an obvious statement, if you glance at a map for a moment it’s obviously a big place, but maps just don’t get the point across. Coming from a small island in the North Atlantic, it’s very hard to get my head around the distances involved in travelling Argentina. 18, 24 or 32 hour journeys are a matter of course when traversing the world’s eighth largest country. In the course of a week we’ve gone from deserts, cacti and 30°C heat to snow and -2°C on Antarctica’s doorstep. How you’re going to get around this country is one of the first things travellers are going to think about, hopefully this will help.
Buses / Coaches
Unless you’ve got limited time and lots of money then you’re going to be using buses as your mode of transport. Certainly if you come from Britain this is not a pleasant prospect, my experience of busses in the UK are either “rail replacement” or school trips. If this is your expectation then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised.
I felt writing this on a bus would ensure I could write an accurate account of what to expect. I’m currently sitting in what could be best described as a leather armchair, it reclines by 160°. I have my feet on a foot rest and someone has just brought me a glass of wine. This beverage indicates that my evening meal should be here soon, first the cold course then the hot. Sound good?
There are multiple classes of coach in Argentina from ordinary single deck with or without air conditioning to full 180° recline, WiFi, steaks and Cognac. Depending on the length of your journey it’s usually better to fork out a bit more cash for comfort, remember this is probably going to be your nights accommodation. I would always suggest that if you plan on sleeping then reserve a “Cama” seat. Usually this is a larger seat with good cushioning for the head and around a 150° recline, you’ll know straight away when you get on the bus as there are only 3 seats to a row instead of 4. In most cases you will get meals and a few drinks included with this seat. If you’re in doubt just ask when you book your ticket, most companies have pictures of their seating options at their offices.
Semi-Cama are one step down from this. 4 seats to a row, not as spacious and they don’t recline quite enough for a “good” sleep. That isn’t to say that these aren’t comfortable. For journeys during the day or short hops where you’re not trying to catch a nights sleep, they’re absolutely fine and usually a good bit cheaper. You might get offered a biscuit and coffee but not always.
The top end bus travel seems to be called different things depending on the company, so if you really want it, ask at the desk. Cama-total or Super Cama seating are the 2 that we’ve come across. As Cama-total would suggest the seat converts into a flat “bed”. Champagne and a nightcap is provided for parting with that extra cash. A word of warning for this fully reclined seat though, remember it is still a seat and not a mattress meaning you could wake up more stiff than if you were in Cama seating.
Before heading off to buy your tickets, i find its a good idea to have a clue on prices and timings. At some of the bigger bus terminals there will up to 30 companies so it’s better to know which one you’re going to before you get there.
This website is invaluable for planning your trip around Argentina. Whilst it’s possible to buy tickets direct through their website, we generally just use it as a reference tool. Whilst we’ve found a specific service isn’t always running the prices have been correct on every occasion. Upon deciding which bus you want to catch, you can head straight to the relevant booth at the bus terminal and have a hassle free experience (especially useful if you have limited Spanish).
One of the questions i researched a lot was which companies are good to travel with? They’re all fine, sure some are cleaner than others or offer newer coaches, but so far in 2 months in Argentina we haven’t had a single “bad” experience. If you’re really worried just ask other travellers who they used on a specific route. In northern Argentina we used FlechaBus almost exclusively and never had a problem, I wouldn’t say they were the best but there was nothing to complain about. Certain companies specialise in certain routes and generally therefore offer the best service on that route. For trips to Bariloche from BA for example ViaBariloche are meant to offer excellent options.
As I’ve already mentioned with Cama and above you usually get meals thrown in. If you’re counting on this to be your main form of sustenance on a 24 hour journey you might be disappointed. The food is certainly edible, we haven’t had any problems and its always nice to get a hot meal before you try and sleep. If you’ve got any dietary requirements then the safest option is to bring your own food.
We can’t say we’ve had a problem or met anyone who has whilst on the buses. Obviously bus stations are a place to be wary of your bags. If you place bags in the luggage hold then you will generally get a receipt and there’s plenty of space under and above your seat for hand luggage. As the buses are travelling such long distances and everyone is just trying to get some sleep it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any problems.
Yes the buses have toilets and they’re generally pretty clean at the start of a journey. (Lauren advises all girls carry toilet paper as after the first hour it’s usually gone!)
Prices are quite expensive for the busses. Don’t expect to travel across the country for £10. Here’s an example of average costs on some of the more popular routes (1st May 14*)
Buenos Aires – Puerto Iguazu: 850 ARS, 106 USD, 63 GBP
Buenos Aires – Bariloche: 1150 ARS, 144 USD, 85 GBP
Buenos AIres – Rosario: 200 ARS, 25 USD, 15 GBP
Buenos AIres – Mendoza: 650 ARS, 81 USD, 48 GBP
*With the current inflation in Argentina I’d expect these prices to be wrong quite fast.