My year without flying (thanks to the outstanding Argentinian buses)
comment 7 Written by on February 10, 2010 – 3:51 pm

busWhen I took my trip home to England for Christmas, I realised it was the first time I boarded a plane in over a year.

I shouldn’t have been that surprised. One of the reasons I decided to base myself in South America was so I could do more overland travel and fly less. This turned out to be even easier than I thought. Last year I mangaged to travel extensively across Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Once even I hopped to Patagonia for the weekend.

It’s all down to the good, old long-distance bus. Admittedly those in Bolivia and Peru were a little lacking, but Argentina’s system is – as countless travellers in South America have discovered – outstanding.

Argentinian buses have certainly become more expensive over recent years but they still remain the best I have ever experienced. Argentinians seem surprised when I tell them this. "They are sooo much better than the buses in the US," I qualify. This really knocks them for six.

My last trip was 16 hours overnight, from Buenos Aires to San Juan with these guys (www.SanJuanMardelPlata.com.ar). For £40 each way, the "cama VIP" service provided an armchair-like leather seat that fully reclined, a hot meal, a glass of wine, onboard movies and, in an interesting new twist, wifi access. Ok, the wifi access was sporadic, the food was plain and the wine wasn’t the province’s finest, but nonetheless, six years after boarding my first Argentinian bus, I remain impressed. If you’re going to traverse this vast country overland, this is certainly the way to do it. 

The thing I love most about living in Buenos Aires is you can choose to take an overnight bus north, south, east or west and you’ll end up in the jungle, the plains of Patagonia, the Andes or the heart of the Uruguayan pampas. It’s an amazing feeling waking up somewhere so different and it has so much more impact that boarding a plane. In Argentina, it’s particularly important to appreciate the vast, empty spaces in between the sights to really get a feel of the land.

I’d encourage anyone to take at least one long-distance bus in Argentina, even if they are only on a short trip. Puerto Iguazú is a good choice from Buenos Aires.

Recently I’ve heard rumours of it being cheaper to fly to Iguazu than to get the bus. This would be a shame. I’d hate to see shoddy budget flights overtaking the bus industry. Flying with Aerolineas Argentinas already has an extra incentive for locals as they get a reduced rate compared to foreigners.

One thing they don’t have here, unlike the US and Europe, is bus passes that last a month or so.  The difficulty is there is no Greyhound or National Express monopoly here. Perhaps that’s why they’ve made more of a success of it? Competition has kept them on their toes.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by Sheep"R"Us

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7 Responses to “My year without flying (thanks to the outstanding Argentinian buses)”

  1. Well, yeah, long distance buses here are great, but only if you have the much-envied ability to sleep soundly while traveling. For me, unless I rejoice in the marvels of pharmaceuticals, a 24 hour trip on a bus could be something akin to hell on earth haha

  2. Ha. That’s a really good point! I am indeed a very good sleeper. Possibly my greatest talent. Cars, buses, planes. Even mini buses going along massive potholed roads. I forget that other people may not find it so easy and that would create a very different experience.
    Also – take earplugs! I had a snorer recently. That wasn’t so much fun.

    By Vicky Baker on Feb 11, 2010 | Reply
  3. Oh wow – wine and a meal? Sounds awesome!

    Are the movies subtitled or dubbed? 🙂

  4. Depends actually. I once had Planes Trains and Automobiles in the original, which I recall being quite exciting at the time. Subtitled in Eng can be the best option as sound is usually too low. Sometimes you can plug in headphones though, which helps. Unfortunately Colombia seems to favour Jean Claude Van Dam marathons.

    By Vicky Baker on Feb 12, 2010 | Reply
  5. People in Peru are always surprised when I tell them that the buses here are better than the buses in the US. The movie selection here is great, too–generally in English, and generally quiet enough that you can tune it out with earplugs if you need to.

    My favorite part is getting the second-level “panoramico” seats–the ones in front with the full huge windows. It’s like your in your own private bubble careening high above the Peruvian countryside. Of course, these seats can be a bit unnerving on some of the more precarious mountain roads….

  6. Cheers Jessie! Two really good tips – earphones and ask for ‘panoramico’ if you can.

    Also – take a coat/fleece and wear layers. It used to be that all buses were always freezing due to excess air-con. Now it’s totally unpredictable. Or has been on my recent journeys.

    By Vicky Baker on Feb 18, 2010 | Reply

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