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.

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

Goodbye Cadiz and Hello Granada!

Leaving a place you’ve thoroughly enjoyed is always a bittersweet experience. On the one hand you have the knowledge that the next place will most likely be just as good and may even be better, on the other hand you have to acknowledge the end of a small portion of your adventure.  As I waited for my train on the benches in the photo above I spent time thinking about how much fun I had in Cadiz. The people at the hostel and throughout the city had been wonderful, the food had been some of the best on the trip and time spent near the ocean always leaves me feeling wistful.

Eventually my train arrived and I scooped up my day pack.  Fully laden I made my way to my seat, settled in and prepared for the 2 hour train ride to Dos Hermanas where I had a 2 hour rail layover before catching a train east to Granada.  The view out the train windows was beautiful. It’s truly striking how the hands and presence of man has altered everything you see.  Mile after mile the countryside was covered in a patchwork of beautifully manicured, freshly tilled fields…it feels more like a giant, expansive golf course made of brown and light green hues more than the rural Spanish countryside. It’s amazing to think of the landscape as it must have been thousands of years ago – covered by wild, natural forests, covered with rocks, moss and wild animals.

Dos Hermanas was a fun, albeit fairly industrial, city located about half way between Madrid and Cadiz. With 2 hours to kill I decided to set out into the city and explore a bit instead of sitting around at the train station watching the seconds drag by. With my large backpack on my back and my day pack strapped to my front, I wasn’t eager to walk for too long but did want to explore the city and hopefully a local tapas bar.

From the small square in front of the train station I made my way to the left down a series of quiet avenues which looked as though they probably cater in some capacity to tourists during summer.  After passing a number of closed restaurants and pricey looking tapas bars, I eventually came to the main square with a small beautiful fountain and smaller Spanish cathedral. As I paused to rest I enjoyed architecture that reminded me heavily of Mexico.

Feeling as though I’d traveled about as far afield as I was comfortable doing, I picked a small side street that looked as though it paralleled the way I had come and started back towards the train station.  Within a block I found a small hole in the wall with a large number of locals.  To my delight they had a daily tapas list and hearty special.  Before long I was sitting at the tapas bar with my bags leaning against my legs and a full spread laid out in front of me. A glass of Spanish Alhambra beer by my left hand, a small bowl of albondegas with fresh french fries, a bowl of chunks of torro in albondegas sauce and a pork loin sandwich on my right.  Using the bread that came with it I quickly devoured all 3 plates soaking up the sauces and juice before downing the rest of my beer.  Total cost of the meal?  Just under 5 Euro.

With a full stomach and a large smile on my face I continued to the square in front of the train station where I paused to peruse several stands set up with various Moroccan and Middle Eastern items before making my way back inside and reading for a few minutes. As the time for my train grew closer I began trying to figure out which track my train would be arriving on. Unfortunately, the announcements were all in heavily accented Spanish, my ticket wasn’t marked and the station lacked the normal TV screens displaying the arrival track assigned to incoming trains. I asked a few individuals in broken Spanish and received answers that left me waiting for the train on Platform 1.

Much to my surprise and concern a train arrived at track 2 right at the time my ticket had listed – in a flushed rush I flew down the subterranean steps which led to track 2 and bolted up just in time to try and ask several of the passengers on the now nearly departing train.  As I was about to board another train arrived back on Platform 1 and I realized I must be looking at the wrong train.  With a gulp of air it was back down through the walkway and back up the other side where the security guard I had talked to earlier beckoned for me to hop on the train that had just arrived. Feeling rather dense and generally relieved I hopped on board, hoisted my backpack into the overhead shelf and collapsed into my seat relieved.  Luckily the rest of the trip to Granada was uneventful!

I arrived in Granada sometime after dark. I don’t recall when exactly, though I think it was probably around 8PM. The air was significantly crisper than I had gotten use to in Cadiz but still refreshing.  Bundled up I quickly fished my gloves out of my day pack, took a look at my directions and then *sighed*.  The directions mentioned catching a bus straight out from the train station…unfortunately there wasn’t a bus stop to be found.  In usual form I was without a guide book or map and just scratched my head, paused for a moment, took a deep breath and began walking down the large avenue that stretched up a small hill and connected the train station with a main cross street. By the time I reached the cross street I saw several bus stops and made my way over. After reading the text directions I’d printed out I figured out which side of the street I needed to be on and managed a decent idea of which bus lines to take.

After a 5 minute wait, the bus I needed pulled up.  It was packed to the point that even standing room wasn’t really an option. Not in the mood to get pick-pocketed or accidentally kill someone with my backpack, I elected to wait for the next one. Another 5 minutes passed and running behind schedule, the 7 line showed up.  I asked the somewhat unfriendly bus driver if the bus went to the stop I needed and got a gruff ‘no’.  Apparently, it was his last run.  With two strikes down I was pondering just trying to walk the 4 stops to where I needed to go but without a map or any clue where the bus line might turn I elected to wait and give it one last shot.

Ten minutes later another bus from another route arrived. Luckily, as with the others, this stopped at the stop I needed.  Unlike the others it was nearly empty which made the trip nice and easy.  A 5 minute ride later I was standing on the street corner glancing at my directions.  In short order I found the street I needed and began heading up hill into the winding maze that is the old Moroccan Albayzin. Just as I was starting to get into the warren of small, shoulder-width streets I saw a sign for Oasis Backpackers hostel.  The sign led me down a sequence of streets before eventually dumping me at the hostel’s front door.  Relieved, but with a knot in my stomach, I headed inside.

I hadn’t quite gotten around to booking ahead when I left Cadiz and had arrived in Granada a bit later than anticipated. Tired and a little grumpy from the bus experience I got buzzed in and slightly out of breath asked about availability. The Swedish guy working the front desk was sympathetic but informed me that they were all booked up for the night.  Only slightly put off I asked about the following 2 nights and quickly reserved them with the intention of returning the following day – Oasis had been highly recommended to me by several people, including my buddy Scott Dare who is an Australian I’d met on my previous trip to Europe.  I’d also thoroughly enjoyed Oasis Granada’s sister hostel Oasis Seville and was eager to repeat the experience.

With my following 2 nights booked, I got a map and hostel recommendation for the night from the Swede working the front counter. Eager for a shower and a place to dump my bags I set off into the Albayzin. Unfortunately for me the hostel he had recommended was the Makuto Backpackers Hostel which is a great little hostel but located at the very top of the Albayzin.  By the time I left Oasis it was easily 9:00PM – slightly worried about getting mugged in the maze of small, winding alleyways-that-were-streets I began my ascent.  Legs pumping, out of breat, I followed the directions he had drawn on the rather clunky map he’d given me.  As I made my way up the steep hillside I saw a backpacker walking ahead of me. As I gained on her, I realized she was a traveler and assumed she was looking for the same hostel.  Eager to team up and sympathetic to how she must be feeling as she made her way through the deserted Albayzin at night, I called out to her and quickly asked if she was also seeking the Makuto. After a quick look of alarm she turned, took in my backpack and with a somewhat relieved look on her face introduced herself. She was a Slovenian girl who was biking across Spain.

Together we tackled the rest of the hill and after a few dead ends and wrong turns found the hostel.  The hostel was a great little place with a small bar, hookah tent, kitchen, clean rooms, nice bathrooms and a TV room.  If it had been somewhat busier I probably would have gladly stayed there for the rest of my time in Granada. We both got checked in and then went our separate ways. Tired I elected to settle for a quick shower and the 3rd and last quiet evening of the trip.

I unloaded my bags, made my bed and checked my e-mail before asking the receptionist for a good place nearby to eat. Her recommendation was a small place about a 5 minute walk away that she said was affordable and had great Couscous.

The place was a fun little hole-in-the-wall. Nothing spectacular but it smelled good and I was starving. I took a seat and placed my order.  The owner spoke excellent English…French and Spanish as well.  He made several recommendations which I followed. I failed to check the price as I normally do. 10 minutes later I had the meal (detailed in the video above) steaming in front of me.  Lamb couscous, a delicious broth soup and a soda left me hankering to dive right in. The food was good if somewhat bland but did a wonderful job warming me up.  I finished up, got the bill and after a slight grumble to myself prepared to make my way back to the hostel. Total cost of the meal was about 15 Euro – which compared to the 17 Euro hostel I was staying in left me a bit annoyed with myself.  The Couscous alone had been just over 10 Euro – not exactly the affordable meal I had in mind when she recommended the place.

After a leisurely stroll I found my way back to the hostel. I relaxed, read for a while and then crawled into bed.  It had been a full, but good day.

Tomorrow I’ll head down to the Oasis, get checked in and then set about exploring the city!