At almost 3500km from top to bottom, Argentina is an enormous country. Seeing it properly will require many internal journeys, few of them short. Before we arrived we heard all about expensive flights and long-distance buses, where we would enjoy hot meals and champagne as we cruised around in luxury. While we found a tiny bit of that, the bus trips could not be called a highlight of our time here. Here we give you the lowdown on our journeys, with some tips along the way.
(Note: this is a long post, but if travel in Argentina is in your future we have provided some handy information so please bear with us)
El Calafate to El Chalten
Carrier: Chalten Travel
We did a round-trip journey in the off-season, which meant that there was only one very early (7am-ish) and one late afternoon (6pm-ish) bus each day going in either direction. The four hour journey cost AR$150 return per person. It wasn't terrible but it wasn't great either. On the way to El Chalten the driver turned the heat up so high that people were stripping down to tank tops (in Patagonia, people). When we stopped at a roadhouse he then changed the air to freezing. We also made a photo stop on the way into town.
El Calafate to Bariloche
Carrier: Aerolineas Argentinas
The two-day bus alternative didn't appeal to us so we caught a very pricey flight (about AR$1600 plus departure tax of AR$38 each). This was the first time in almost seven years that either one of us had been on a flight that wasn't even close to being full. We were even able to change seats. The plane was old, so old that we had ashtrays in our arm rests and my seat was broken, but the service was alright and we were given a nice lunchbox with tasty ham and cheese sandwiches and biscuits as well as a drink (water, soda, coffee or tea only). No complaints here.
Bariloche to Neuquen
Our plan was to go to Malargue on the way to Mendoza but no buses went there directly. We chose the hub of provincial capital Neuquen instead. The bus terminal is a bit out of town in Bariloche but tickets can be purchased from an outlet in the city. This was probably our best bus ride and not only because it was completely empty in our section. Seats on Argentine long-haulers are classed as either semi-cama, which are the regular seats upstairs, or coche cama (ejecutivo), which aren't much more expensive for foreigners with strong currencies and much more comfortable (we paid around AR$240 each). Of course, the level of luxury depends on the bus company, but we had good service on Chevallier, with two movies, beverages and a lunch included. Neither the lunch nor the movies were brilliant (an intentionally cold sandwich tray and movies overdubbed in Spanish), but we were really happy with the service nonetheless. Note: the movie Taken was much better when we were spared the original dialogue and could just make it up ourselves. We caught the original version on TV in English a few days later.
Neuquen to Mendoza
Our first overnight bus trip together as a couple wasn't TOO bad, but we had to question the sense at the company starting the journey with a game of bingo. I mean, the bus left at nine o'clock and after an entire day waiting around boring Neuquen we were keen to eat and fall asleep. Dinner wasn't served until after ten and it was a big production: two courses (we would have skipped the first entirely but we weren't sure that the second was coming) with a hot main course of chicken, wine and a sparkling wine nightcap. The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles and the story was pretty good, so that was a bonus. We made the mistake of choosing seats downstairs. Our thinking was to avoid the numerous people upstairs, which was silly because the bus was all first-class suites and there probably weren't any kids up there. So we got to hear the loud engine and dodgy road noises all night long. After being kept awake until after midnight with the dinner service, we barely got four hours of sleep before arriving around six in the morning, even with the fully flat recliner seats. The staff member serving us was very friendly but we couldn't rave about much else on this journey. The cost was AR$315 each.
Mendoza to Cordoba
Carrier: El Rapido International
**If you read nothing else in this article, know that you should never, EVER book a trip with this company**
Truly a hell journey. Our good run with Chevallier was over after we tried to book this journey with them. After the transaction was finished the staff member in Neuquen handed us the tickets and told us we would be travelling with El Rapido. This was a 12-hour journey with the heat cranking in our over-priced seat section (AR$215 each), a non-flushing toilet (and yes, someone left solid waste there for the rest of us, which somehow found its way onto the floor) and no food or food stops. An Argentine working at our hostel told us on our departure that they were a terrible company. We got in the taxi to the terminal and hoped for the best but after we were handed a packet of instant coffee and pointed towards the water dispenser, we knew we'd been horribly wronged. Andesmar seems to own or be connected to this company so this puts a blight on them as well in our book. We also read terrible reviews of Andesmar so maybe we just got lucky on our journey with them. And shame on you, Chevallier for booking us onto a bus with another carrier without telling us first.
Cordoba to Puerto Iguazu
Carrier: Austral (Aerolineas Argentinas)
Our first flight took off on time and we enjoyed a nice new, albeit small, plane with in-seat entertainment. Our connection was in Buenos Aires and not only was it tight, the organization at Jorge Newbery Airport left us completely stressed out. Planes don't pull up to the jetways at the terminal. Instead, transfer from the terminal to the planes is by shuttle bus. This normally wouldn't be a problem, but we had a tight connection and the shuttle took everyone to the baggage claim area and we saw no connections hall in sight. Instead we had to find our way back up to the departure area, clear security again and then locate our gate. Luckily our second flight was delayed so we had plenty of time, but we would have just barely made it otherwise. Our flight from Buenos Aires to Iguazu was on a very old plane. As we were taking off we saw that the first four rows were empty. Several passengers asked if they could move up but we were all told that those seats had been intentionally left empty in order to "balance the plane" and keep the nose from going forward. What? Er...doesn't that defy a law of physics somewhere? The attendant spoke English so I don't think I misunderstood. I don't mind that we couldn't sit in the seats, but lying about the reason is no bueno. The take-away here, however, is that one should always check the flight prices for a journey because the amount of time we saved going by air was priceless. Buses aren't always cheaper when all factors are taken into consideration.
Puerto Iguazu to Concordia
Carrier: Crucero del Norte
Our bus left twenty minutes late and we had problems with the in-seat audio during the movies. The coach was old but at least the toilet was operational and the seats pretty comfortable, but they played the company promotional video in between each movie. We were unable to get any seats better than regular cama seats for this particular journey (AR$288). Unless the journey is between two major destinations in Argentina, it seems impossible to get a direct service with first-class seats like we had on our Neuquen to Mendoza trip. We hoped to get some sleep on the 15-hour journey, but with numerous stops at bus stations and gendarmerie check-points, this proved impossible. Guards came onto the bus about five times, turning on the lights in the middle of the night.
Buenos Aires to Salta
The absolute best journey of the lot. LAN flights are just nicer, with newer and cleaner planes. We had plenty of leg-room, a nice snack and great service. Travel really should be this easy.
What are your best and worst experiences travelling around Argentina?