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

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.

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Dublin Part I

Packing always seems like a monumental task. The lighter you try and pack, the greater the fear of overlooking something major. As I prepared to leave, I set to the task of packing Friday evening. With a 12:15PM departure time, I knew I had a small emergency buffer if I overlooked something, but that things would no doubt be rushed.

As I set to laying everything out in the living room, it quickly turned into what looked like a war zone. Bags scattered around, clothing piled up, random electronics covering the floor.

By 11:00PM it was time to record a few quick videos. As I laid everything out, I couldn’t help but feel as though something was missing. Something important…and then it dawned on me. I’d forgotten to pick up a replacement day pack. Slightly panicked, I realized much to my relief that the Super Walmart down the street was open 24 hours. Dad in tow we struck out at 11:30 in search of a suitable daypack.

20 Minutes later I had an Outdoor Products daypack in hand for $15. The outdoor products bags have been fantastic. I use their $30 backpack as my main travel bag, and so far the $15 daypack is great. Durable, well designed and amazingly priced.

On the way back to the house, Dad and I realized that we’d left my Capital One credit card in the car with Mom, who was off celebrating one of her girlfriends birthdays down the road. Slightly stressed, we tried calling several times, only to find that her phone was off.

By the time we got back to the house and finished packing, the total weight of both of my bags came to 25 pounds. I’d missed the 15 pound mark I was aiming for. I was slightly dissappointed with myself but still well under the 20kilo ceiling I’d set for myself. I had plenty of extra room. My daypack weighed just under 10 pounds, while my main pack weighed about 15 pounds.

Videos recorded, bags packed, I turned in. I had a big day full of extended travel ahead of me.

The following morning we rose early, got hold of Mom, and had a quick breakfast after picking up the all important credit card. We ate, conversed, enjoyed each other’s company and then set off to the airport.

I arrived, made it through security without issue, and before long found myself on a flight bound for Atlanta. The first leg was tight, packed in next to a very strange 6’9″ gentleman with a 6’3″ Israeli in between us…it was a long, sandwiched flight.

My layover in Atlanta went by quickly and luckily the gate associate was able to change my seat from 43G to 15B – giving me a bulkhead seat at the front of the aircraft. Relieved that I wouldn’t be sandwiched for the flight to Ireland I settled in and waited.

The flight itself was good. Only 7 hours due to the jetstream, I wasn’t able to sleep, but did manage to watch a movie on my netbook, in between chats with the woman I ended up sitting next to. Originally from Ireland, she was on her way back to visit family with her two children and husband, after moving to the US 7 years previous. The netbook was a lifesaver and a fun social tool. At various points I shared a video with her and another Chilean gentleman while waiting in Phoenix.

I arrived in Dublin at 10:30AM after a long sleepless night, hopped on a bus and made the 40 minute bus ride into Dublin proper.

More to come soon…for now, I’m off to relax and explore Trinity College.