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An Intro to Long Distance Argentinian Buses – Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

There is some AMAZING stuff in Argentina. The challenge is that unlike other popular tourist destinations in the world they lack A) An established/useful train system and B) A vibrant discount airline system with cheap regional airfare. Two facts which are made that much more difficult by Argentina’s immense size.

The good news is that Argentina has a fantastic bus system. The bad news is, it’s also surprisingly expensive but while you may find the famous chicken buses of Central American fame in some areas, there are usually options for long haul, first and second class buses which offer quality conditions and excellent service. Before I go further, I’ll share with you that I’m a converted skeptic. I’ve done the Guatemalan colectivo adventure, Belizean and Mexican buses. The price was always right, the experience usually an adventure, and the physical discomfort typically a consideration. At 6’4″ I tend to dread most forms of public transport. The thought of a 3 hour bus ride tends to make me grimmace, let alone the 17+ hour bus rides Argentina is famous for.

So, it was with mixed dread that I set to booking my Bus trip from Buenos Aires up to Iguazu in Argentina’s far north.  A bus ride that typically takes 17-18 hours each way.  Still, the price to fly in and out was about $300 beyond my budget and I’d already blown my spare funds on my flights in the southern part of the country. With no clue what I was doing, I set to the task of booking the BA -> Iguazu leg as everyone had told me that a visit to the Falls was worth it, no matter what. I now gladly give the same advice.

As a quick aside, there IS a train line that goes there.  Usually. If you’re like me and had a strong preference for the train, I can only tell you that every piece of advice I got was that the bus was faster, better, and more comfortable.  Don’t bother research it, just commit to flying or taking the bus.

What you may not know is that Buenos Aires has a massive multi-story bus station.  From their central hub you can travel to just about anywhere in South America. In truth, the station is so large (I believe over 100 bays) that it has several foodcourts and a wealth of shopping venues.  Just make sure to arrive early, as finding the right spot and figuring out which bus is yours can be difficult. There’s also usually a shortage of people available to help point you in the right direction.

In my interactions with the Argentinian bus system there are three levels of Bus service on a third through first class scale.  Based on my (admittedly limited) interaction with the second class tier, it’s suitable for most traveler’s needs and will be a pleasant surprise for budget backpackers.  If you’re looking at a long trip (such as Buenos Aires to Iguazu or the common BA to Bariloche route) a 2nd class ticket is advisable.  These tickets typically provide wider seating which reclines at a near 60-70 degree angle, well maintained and air conditioned buses, drop down LCD TV screens (which played American movies in English with Spanish subtitles), and airplane-like meals and drink service.  On my 18 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires the crew even provided a complimentary Scotch as a nightcap.  The company I traveled with, Crucero del Norte, has a large assortment of pictures available on their website if you’re curious about what the buses look like.

I was so concerned about how miserable the ride might be that I only booked a one way ticket to Iguazu, planning on biting the bullet and booking a return flight if the experience was miserable. Needless to say, not only did I book my return trip on a Bus, but would gladly do it again.

Which brings me to the next key factor.  Price.  I already mentioned that travel in Argentina, even by bus, was surprisingly expensive.  As it turns out locals get a citizen’s price, while tourists are forced to pay a visitors price.  Where in many areas there is a tourist based transport infrastructure and a local tourist infrastructure, the transport system in Argentina has combined the two.  The bad news is, this means that even if you wanted to travel super budget on a more local-oriented bus system, the option isn’t there.  It can also be frustrating because where you’re paying a premium for standard transportation, the locals pricing can be as little as a quarter of the cost for the same ride. On the upside, it’s still affordable and a positive boon for the local economy.

The general price for a one way ticket between BA and Iguazu as of my December 2011 trip was AR 369 for 3rd class (semi-cama), AR 422 for second (Cama) and AR 495 for 1st class (CamaSuite). At an exchange rate of 4 AR pesos to $1 USD that comes out to $92 for 3rd class, $105 for 2nd class and $123.75 for 1st class.  So, for 13 dollars more – less than a dollar an hour, I was able to experience a significant upgrade.  One which included two (quality) meals, drink and some booze.  You’ll note, however, that that’s still $210 for the RT ticket to/from Iguazu which isn’t exactly cheap.

While you should check the accuracy and pricing on your own, I found this list to be extremely helpful and accurate. It shows the time, company, and cost for BA -> Iguazu trips.

I highly recommend Bus travel in Argentina.  Don’t let the distances or the fact that it’s bus travel dissuade you from seeing the country’s spectacular natural and cultural beauty.

Questions?  Have your own experiences with the bus system to share?  Please post them in comment.  I’m eager to hear them.

Need a place to stay in Buenos Aires?  Consider checking out our affiliate partner: Hostel Inn Tango City.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

21 Comments

  • Nestor
    May 16, 2011

    Thanks, thats helpful. Do the airlines also charge “tourist” prices for local flights?

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      May 16, 2011

      That’s a great question. I’m not quite sure to be honest. They very well might. I know there are some priced differences for citizens vs. non-citizens. Though if they favor travelers or locals more it’s hard to say. I know the regional airpasses are a fairly good deal and require you have an external ticket, so i think they may favor tourists.

      Reply
  • Scott
    May 16, 2011

    Thanks for putting the info out there. I believe I will be hitting the Falls first, but I will use this as a reference if change up my plans, man!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      May 16, 2011

      Thanks Scott. It’s amazing. Try and get there a bit earlier in the day so you stand a better chance of getting out onto the small island. I’d make a B-line for it, then explore elsewhere. Also, if you take a swimsuit and the weather is right, they had a small beach set up. Will be posting on Iguazu in the next few weeks.

      Reply
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  • stephanie
    September 9, 2011

    this is great information, thanks. echoed alot of what i had heard regarding bus transpo in argentina, but was glad to find it all in one place on this page. how many days do you recommend in iguazu? my boyfriend and i are headed to argentina in november for 3.5 weeks and we plan for iguazu to be our first stop after a night in B.A. thanks in advance! -steph

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      September 10, 2011

      Thanks for the kind words Stephanie, and great to hear that it was helpful! It really depends. There’s not a ton to do in Puerto Iguazu beyond the animal refuge and the falls. You can see the entire Argentine side in 1 day, though it can just as easily be spread across 2 if you want to. I didn’t do the Brazilian side due to the Visa cost and timing on needing a little lead time to get the visa. The key though is that you want to have a backup day in case the weather sucks. If it’s rainy it could really detract from the visit, same if water levels are high and you don’t get a chance to go out to the small island. I believe I was there for 2 full days which were about perfect for me as I had stunning weather during both.

      Reply
      • stephanie
        September 10, 2011

        thanks alex. i’ve spent the majority of the day going thru all your blogs from your argentina trip. i discovered we have been planning a trip very similar to the one you took. we have 21 days in argentina (22 if you count the day we arrive in the morning). the one thing you have influenced thus far is the placement of ushuaia in our trip cycle. as of now we are planning BA, Iguazu, BA for the weekend, Ushuaia, El Calafate, possibly El Chatlen, and that’s all I know so far. One question I have that I didn’t see in your blogs is regarding airline tickets. Should we buy our inter-country tickets now? I’ve looked online and they are looking about $300 EACH for 1 way. I am just scared they will go up in price. We are headed down on November 5th, leaving November 24th. Did you buy your airline tickets there or online in advance? Thanks in advance. Your blog is way helpful; I’m stoked I found it. Another question: any recommends on hostels in Ushuaia? Thanks

        Reply
        • Alex Berger
          September 11, 2011

          Awesome, I think you’ll absolutely love it! Definitely aim to do Ushuaia earlier vs. later. El Chalten is probably more impressive than Ushuaia (outside of the penguins).

          I don’t think you’ll see the price go down, BUT there’s actually a tourist pass you can buy which is a relatively good deal. Both airlines operating in Argentina offer passes. I think* this is the page for one of them. http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/arg/main.asp?idSitio=US&idPagina=159&idIdioma=en and http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/arg/main.asp?idSitio=US&idPagina=49&idIdioma=en&id=167&categoria=C Hunt around a bit and see if the pricing makes more sense. Unfortunately there’s not much in the way of solid budget airline options. Also, if you book it individually book it as a multi-leg ticket, not individual 1 way legs. You’ll find it to be cheaper.

          I stayed at Freestyle Backpackers which was nice if not overly cozy: http://www.ushuaiafreestyle.com/ the pricing between the various sites varied a bit so you can probably save a few bucks depending on where you book (i think their website was actually MORE expensive).

          Any other Qs just fire away! Happy to help =)

          Reply
          • Puja Mehta
            November 6, 2015

            Hi Alex,
            We are travelling with my two kids. We are thinking of taking the bus from Buenos Aires to Iguaçu falls but I wanted to ask is there something on the way to Iguacu where we can stop, that way we see another city/town and breaks our journey.
            thanks in advance.

          • Alex Berger
            November 7, 2015

            Enjoy the trip! Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there’s anything in between. Given you can do the trip as a very comfortable over-night bus ride, that may actually be more convenient/easier than a during the day two-part trip. Having said that though, I don’t know where you might stop or what you can see along the way if you do break it up =(

  • stephanie
    September 11, 2011

    Thank you so much. I read about the onepass on your blog; I need to call the airline as the fine print says it is only good for tickets through Sept 15, 2011. Fingers crossed.
    Another logistical question:

    When we fly from Ush to El Calafate, are 2 nights, 1 El Calafate day enough in El Cal (we just want to do the glacier) Then on the 2nd day, we would ideally go to El Chalten by bus. Is one day enough there? And do you sleep in El Chalten or bus back to El Calafate that night?

    THANKS so much. I think this will be my last question for a while 🙂

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      September 12, 2011

      Ahh, that’s weird. I can’t imagine they’re discontinuing it. Probably more likely there is a lazy webmaster somewhere. Also, be prepared for the planes to be late or potentially randomly go on strike. The Argentines are as bad as the Italians in that way.

      There is nothing in El Calafate beyond the glacier and a flamingo park. As long as the weather is survivable 1 full day there is all you need.

      If you’re feeling intrepid then 1 full day in Chalten is. I believe the main walk you’ll want to do is about 24km. The weather tends to be pretty difficult there (we had gailforce winds one night and sunny blue skies the next day). Research the different hikes and views. You’ll want to do the fitz roy and stop at the glacial lake (I missed it given how cold/wet we were). There are also several smaller glaciers which i think you can gain access to. The town though is tiny and only there to service people hiking, climbing and camping in the area. We slept in a small hotel/hostel in El Chalten. I was there over Christmas eve so it was a bit odd timing wise. I believe I arrived late afternoon, did 1 full day and left early the following morning.

      Reply
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  • Diana
    June 28, 2012

    Hi Alex, great blog! We are going to take your advice and book a bus trip from Buenos Aires to Iguazo Falls. A few quick questions. You mentioned getting a visa to travel to the Brazilian side…as I have only traveled to Peru and Equador in the past I have never had to do this-so I am a bit ignorant in this area. I assume this will be manditory if we also travel to Rio De Janeiro? We are Canadian so I was just curious what the easiest way to obtain this is. Also, any advice on where to stay while visiting Iguazo Falls. Thanks again for the great information! Diana

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      June 28, 2012

      As I recall, they like you Canadians a good bit more than they like us Americans =) I jest, but there were different reciprocity fees for different nationalities. The reciprocity fee was a one time fee you had to pay upon entering the country. Argentina has one, and I believe Brazil also has one. But double check. Also, double check what visa you need. Typically you’ll get a default 90 day visa in most countries, as I assume Visa restrictions are comparable for Canadians. However, for Argentina I had to get pay the reciprocation fee which was a bit like an instant Visa, but is good for 10 years OR the life of the passport. I paid it upon arrival at the airport. I believe you can get same day Visas for Brazil, BUT I was told that it is better to allow 3 days lead time for it. So, see if you need one/if you can pick it up before your trip, or at the airport. It seems to depend somewhat in S. America what you pay and the lead time you need depending on how you enter. For example, I talked to people who entered Argentina by bus, and didn’t have to pay the reciprocation fee….*shrug*. I know this is all a bit vague but hope it helps some.

      I stayed at the hostel right across from the Bus station in Puerto Igazu, which had a nice little pool and decent rooms. Good location, and the shuttle left from right there to Iguazu falls. So that was fantastic. Let me know how you like the bus. I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Also, when you find out a concrete answer RE: the Visa, if you’re up for posting it here in a comment for other readers, that would be awesome!

      Reply
      • Diana
        August 8, 2012

        Hi Alex,

        Yes, we will have to pay a reciprocity fee when we enter Argentina (It looks like around $150) and after looking into a visa for Brazil we changed our plans for this trip and aren’t going anymore. I am in a situation that was proving to be a pain when trying to fill out the forms to mail away with my Passport so I could obtain a Visa. I just recently became self employed and the Consulate wanted a copy of my last notice of tax assessment which I can’t produce yet since my company hasn’t had a year end yet. I was trying to find out if I could just send my last notice of assesment even though it was from my former employer since I haven’t been in business for a year yet. Needless to say after numerous attempts to get a hold of them they didn’t get back to me so I changed my plans. This is what is on their website around my situation:

        SPECIAL CASES

        Self-employed applicants: provide a notarized affidavit and a copy of your last notice of tax assessment. We do not provide a template of affidavit in verification of employment. The applicant should look for examples on the web or elsewhere. Summed up briefly, the affidavit must state the profession, field of activity, gross income and total taxes.

        Brazil will have to wait until next time :-)….being Canadian didn’t get me anywhere 🙂

        But-you never know once we get to Argentina and if we find out there is an easier way to get into Brazil than the run around I was getting from the Consulate in Canada maybe we still make the trek.

        I will let you know how the Bus trip works out-we are booking that in a few weeks!

        Thanks again 🙂
        Diana

        Reply
        • Alex Berger
          August 9, 2012

          Bummer to hear that, though I think you’ll still have an incredibly rich trip! Thanks for posting that info!

          Reply
  • Andrea Puljiz
    July 5, 2012

    Hi Alex-

    Thank you for this… this is so helpful! I’m headed to Argentina in December and I was planning on taking a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. Do you recommend booking the bus ticket in advance or should I wait till I arrive in Argentina to purchase the ticket?

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      July 5, 2012

      You should be able to get it a day or two in advance. I wouldn’t worry about booking it too far ahead of time. Unless of course, there is a big price difference (which there might be). Also, that route should be fairly regular, but make sure the buses run every day.

      Reply

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