Argentina is a huge country with spectacular sites located inconveniently far from each other. To make matters even harder, its skinny neighbor Chile offers equally inviting spots that are tantalizingly close to their Argentine counterparts. This post will offer some tips on different ways to get around with some helpful online resources to assist with your planning.
Ida = one way. Ida y Vuelta = round trip
If you’re short on time and long on money, air travel is your best bet. There are two main airlines, LAN and Aerolineas, and they serve major cities within Argentina. Since there are so few airlines and Argentina has a notorious inflation problem, ticket prices can be high. Tip: you’ll get the best rates if you choose Argentina as your home country on their website. Buying tickets online can sometimes be frustrating, so do your research online and then go to a local ticket office if you have that option. Note that these airlines are known to hold impromptu strikes that could affect your travel plans. To add to your frustration, they don’t always fly in a straight line – so if you want to go from Mendoza to Bariloche, you might find yourself flying first to Buenos Aires. Weigh this information against the time required to travel by bus. In some cases, you might find it more efficient to fly into an airport in Chile and then bus across the border.
If you have the time, slow travel by bus can be very rewarding. I visited Chile and Argentina in spring and was rewarded by views of lake after lake surrounded by snow topped peaks covered in a low blanket of wildflowers in brilliant yellow bushes with purple and pink lupine and red and orange poppies. Secret waterfalls peeked through crevasses in the rocks and babbling creeks passed too quickly to snap a photo but stay etched in my mind.
Argentina has an excellent network of long haul buses. These are not the “chicken bus” version of slow travel – they are very comfortable. Ticket prices range from very inexpensive (Bariloche to Esquel 232 pesos) to pricey (Mendoza to Buenos Aires 1000 pesos for full cama) to exorbitant (Bariloche to El Chalten 3,000 pesos).
Often you will have the choice of what level of comfort and service you want.
Cama means bed in Spanish
- Semi-cama is the most common service level and includes a reclining seat with a footrest. You may get a snack and coffee at this service level.
- Cama offers a bed-like seat that’s great for overnight trips. Typically they recline to 160 degrees with an almost-flat leg extension. You’ll often get a meal at this service level.
- Cama Suite usually reclines to 180 degrees and comes with your own personal entertainment system and a hot meal.
Luggage gets loaded underneath the bus at the station and you get a claim check they will match against the bag they hand you at your destination. Note: give a propina (tip) to the guy who hands you your bag.
Bonus! On AndesMar they play Bus Bingo, which kills 15 minutes of a long ride and is a great way to practice numbers in Spanish.
Some bus lines offer the option to buy tickets online, but others need to be purchased at bus stations.
Good bus route resources:
BusBud www.busbud.com or use their app on your mobile
Rome2Rio www.rome2rio.com or use their app on your mobile
Bring your own toilet paper for station bathrooms.
Buses can be cold so wear layers.
Think about where the sun will be before you select your seat. This will impact your comfort and ability to take glare-free photos.
By car or motorcycle
The freedom to come and go as you please is attractive, but there is a price to be paid for that freedom. In virtually any city you can rent a car (alquiler un carro) but be sure to read the fine print. Often the daily or weekly price includes only 100km per day free, and extra distance fees add up quickly. Also be clear on what type of insurance your credit card covers. In some cases the rental companies only accept cash, which will negate any credit card coverage. Gas is sold by liter and at the time of printing is 17.65/liter, which is about U$4.50/gallon. If you want to cross borders into Chile with your rental there will be a high premium and you’ll need proper documentation.
Most cities have a great network of local buses that can really minimize your costs and get you to plenty of attractions. For example, instead of taking a pricey wine tasting tour in Mendoza, you can take the city bus to Maipu and rent a bike inexpensively to do your own tour, saving you almost $100.
Buenos Aires also has a comprehensive and easy-to-use subway system. To use city buses or the subway in Buenos Aires you’ll first need to buy a SUBE card at any “kiosko” with a SUBE sign. You will need to bring your passport or national identity card and pay about 20 pesos for the card. Then you can add as much or little value as you like to the card, recharging it at any kiosko with the SUBE sign. SUBE currently works in about 60% of Argentine provinces, so hold onto it if you’re visiting other cities.
Most cities, even small ones, have taxis, but they can be expensive. They are identified by a yellow roof on a black car. A better alternative may be “colectivos,” which are either micro buses or all-black taxis that are shared, depending on where you are. Uber is available in Buenos Aires but it’s very contentious and not entirely legal at this time – which makes it a cheap alternative to taxis.