Long Distance Travel in Argentina

If there’s one way of impressing somebody who has never been to South America before, it’s by saying, “Oh, I’m going to such and such tomorrow, it’s a 20 hour bus ride”. To someone who has been here before then all you’ll get is an unsympathetic nod and a change of subject, but to the uninitiated you will a short pause while their mind assimilates what you’ve just said and then a gasp of horror. “20 HOURS?!” they will squeak, while you nod with the unbearable smugness of the seasoned traveller.

So this post is intended as a guide to all those unlucky souls who have never had the pleasure of dealing with the terms Cama and Semi-Cama and to whom Andesmar and Crucero del Norte sound like beach resorts.

Andesmar, Puerto Madryn

Andesmar, Puerto Madryn

Firstly, let’s be clear about this, if you’re travelling round Argentina (let alone other South American countries) on any sort of budget, you will have the possibility of taking at least one long-distance bus trip. My definition of long-distance is 12 hours or above. 5 hours is a short hop in a country this size.

There are internal flights, which are expensive (tourists pay more than locals) and don’t always go where you want to go. Argentina’s once proud rail network is a shadow of its former self, with inter-city trains few and far between, which leaves the bus.

All long-distance buses leave Buenos Aires from the huge Retiro Terminal de Omnibus. It has two main levels, the downstairs which has 75 bays from which a seemingly constant stream of enormous double-decker, 6-wheeled buses leave to all corners of Argentina and beyond. Upstairs the bus companies have their ticket offices from where you can purchase your tickets. I would recommend buying at least a couple of days in advance – if you buy on the day of travel you may find your choices and options severely limited.

Before buying a ticket I highly recommend visiting the website Plataforma 10 as I’ve found it’s the best place to start when planning a journey. It’s in Spanish, but just use the From and To boxes near the top you should be able to figure it out. You can get timetables here, but without an Argentine National ID you can’t buy online.

So, armed with the times you can head off to Retiro to buy your ticket (there also exist agencies around town which sell tickets and Plataforma 10 themselves have booths in both the Abasto and Alto Palermo shopping malls).

Buses in Argentina have 3 classes

  • Semi-Cama – the cheapest, a comfortable seat which reclines about 30°, 4 across the bus
  • Cama – a wider seat with a better recline, 3 across the bus
  • Cama Suite / 1ra Clase – top of the class – same width as Cama, but has a fully-flat recline. It’s a bed on wheels.
1ra Clase, Via Bariloche

1ra Clase, Via Bariloche

If the listing in Plataforma 10 says “con servicio” then that means you will be fed on the bus. The food is basic, sugar-heavy and processed, but it’s edible. If there is no on-bus service then you’ll be fed in a cafe during a stop.

Prices by class are in fact the same across all companies, so a Semi-Cama service will cost the same regardless of the company. Upgrading to Cama or even 1ra Clase is usually not prohibitively expensive. Taking Retiro – Puerto Madryn (approx 20 hours) as an example the difference between Semi-Cama and 1ra Clase is only 70 pesos (around 17USD), so may be worth investigating. Of the companies I have used I would recommend Andesmar and Via Bariloche, both are excellent and the buses are generally new and very comfortable.

The end result of all these choices is that you arrive at your destination feeling remarkably fresh, if a little hopped on sugar from all those alfajores you’ve been fed. It’s hard to believe that you were on that bus for 20 whole hours, the time really does just fly by.

If you have the time, I cannot recommend highly enough travelling by bus in Argentina. As you look back on your trip you realise that the 20 hours spent on the bus was an integral part of the journey, one more unique experience in your South American adventure.

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1 Comment

  1. Ann says:

    I absolutely agree with Jonathan’s comments. As a very sceptical old age pensioner I was really doubtful about travelling all those hours – in a BUS! – But it was the best experience of long distance travel I have had.

    Jonathan’s mum !!