Opportunities for boat or river travel in and around Argentina are limited, though there are regular international services to/from Uruguay and to/from Chile via the Lake District. The classic sea route south along the Patagonian Andes is the Navimag boat trip; although the journey is in Chile, many people combine the trip with a visit to Argentina. Further south, from Ushuaia, operators offer sailing trips on the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego.
Otherwise, if you must be on the water, head to the Buenos Aires suburb of Tigre, where there are numerous boat excursions around the delta of the Río de la Plata.
If you’re doing any serious traveling around Argentina, you’ll become very familiar with the country’s excellent bus network, which reaches almost everywhere. Buses are fast, surprisingly comfortable and can be a rather luxurious experience. It’s the way most Argentines get around. Larger luggage is stowed in the hold below, security is generally good (especially on the first-class buses) and attendants always tag your bags (and should be tipped). If you have a long way to go – say Buenos Aires to Mendoza – overnight buses are the way to go, saving you a night’s accommodations and the daylight hours for fun.
Hundreds of bus companies serve different regions but a few bigger lines (listed here) really dominate the long-haul business.
Andesmar (0261-412-2710, 011-6385-3031; www.andesmar.com in Spanish) Serves the entire country.
Chevallier (011-4016-7000; www.nuevachevallier.com in Spanish) Serves the entire country.
El Rápido International (011-4313-3757, 011-4315-0804; www.elrapidoint.com.ar in Spanish) Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Córdoba, Rosario. International service to Santiago and Viña del Mar, Chile, and Lima, Peru.
Most cities and towns have a central bus terminal where each company has its own ticket window. Some companies post fares and schedules prominently, and the ticket price and departure time is always on the ticket you buy. Expect (Argentine) fast-food stalls, kiosks and newspaper vendors inside or near almost every terminal. There are generally few hotel touts or other traveler-hassling types at terminals.
This is where it gets fun. Better bus lines such as Chevallier and Andesmar (not to mention dozens of others) have modern Mercedes or Volvo coaches with spacious, cushy leather seats, large windows, air-conditioning, toilets, TVs and sometimes an attendant serving coffee and snacks. Spend a little money and you’ll be playing bingo for wine as you roll across the pampas (no kidding!).
On overnight trips it’s well worth the extra AR$20 to AR$50 to go coche cama (sleeper class), though the cheaper coche semi-cama (semisleeper) is definitely manageable. In coche cama, seats are wider, recline almost flat and are far more comfortable. If you want to lay totally flat, you can go ejecutivo (executive) or coche super cama (super-sleeper), which is available on a few popular runs such as Buenos Aires–Córdoba or Buenos Aires–Rosario. If pinching pesos, común (common) is the cheapest class. For trips under about five hours, there’s usually no choice and buses are común or beat-up semi-cama, which are both usually just fine.
Bus fares vary widely depending on season, class and company, and can cost anywhere from about AR$6 to AR$8 per hour on común or semi-cama, to AR$9 to AR$11 for coche cama. Prices given are approximate and are mid- to high-season fares, generally in semi-cama. Patagonia runs tend to be the most expensive. Many companies accept credit cards. Following are sample fares from Buenos Aires.
Mar del Plata65
In the Lake District and northern Patagonia, bus services are outstanding during summer (November through March), when there are many microbus routes to campgrounds, along lake circuits, to trail heads and to other destinations popular with tourists. Outside summer, however, these services stop, and getting around becomes much more difficult.
In Patagonia the famed stretch of RN 40, or Ruta Cuarenta (Route Forty), south of Gobernador Costa, is infrequently traveled, rough and blessed with zero public transport – well, almost. Recently, several businesses have sprung up offering seasonal service (really they’re just microbus tours) along the route.
Local Argentine buses, called colectivos, are notorious for charging down the street, gobbling up coins and spewing clouds of black smoke while traveling at breakneck speeds. Riding on one is a good way to see the cities and get around, providing you can sort out the often complex bus systems. Buses are clearly numbered and usually carry a placard indicating their final destination. Since many identically numbered buses serve slightly different routes (especially in bigger cities), pay attention to these placards. To ask ‘Does this bus go (to the town center) ?’ say ‘¿Va este colectivo (al centro) ?’
Most city buses operate on coins; you pay as you board. In some cities, such as Mendoza, you must buy prepaid bus cards or – in the case of Córdoba – cospeles (tokens). In both cases, they can be bought at any kiosk.
Because Argentina is so large, many parts are accessible only by private vehicle, despite the country’s extensive public transport system. This is especially true in Patagonia, where distances are great and buses can be infrequent. Besides, with your own wheels, you can stop for photo ops or bathroom breaks at the side of the road whenever you want.
Although motorbikes have become fashionable among some Argentines, they are very expensive, and there appears to be no motorcycle-rental agencies in Argentina.
Technically you’re supposed to have an international driving permit to supplement your national or state driver’s license. If you are stopped, police will inspect your automobile registration and insurance and tax documents, all of which must be up to date. Except in Buenos Aires, security problems are few.
Drivers of Argentine vehicles must carry their title document (tarjeta verde or ‘green card’); if it’s a rental, make sure it’s in the glove box. For foreign vehicles, customs permission is the acceptable substitute. Liability insurance is obligatory, and police often ask to see proof of insurance at checkpoints.
Liability insurance is obligatory in Argentina, and police ask to see proof of insurance at checkpoints. Fortunately, coverage is reasonably priced. Insuring a US$20, 000 car with basic liability insurance costs about AR$250 per month. The cost is lower, of course, if you have an older vehicle. If you plan on taking the car to neighboring countries, make sure it will remain covered (you’ll have to pay extra). Among reputable insurers in Argentina are Mapfre (0800-999-7424; www.mapfre.com.ar in Spanish) and the ACA (011-4802-6061; www.aca.org.ar in Spanish).
If you are spending several months in Argentina, purchasing a car is an alternative worth exploring. If you resell the car at the end of your stay, it may turn out even more economical. On the other hand, any used car can be a risk, especially on Patagonia’s rugged back roads, and the process of purchasing a car can be a real headache.
If you buy a car, you must deal with the exasperating Argentine bureaucracy. You must have the title (tarjeta verde), and license tax payments must be up to date. As a foreigner, you may find it useful to carry a notarized document authorizing your use of the car, since the bureaucracy moves too slowly to change the title easily. Argentines themselves rarely change the title over because of the expense involved.
As a foreigner you may own a vehicle in Argentina but, in theory at least, you may not take it out of the country (even to Chile) without a notarized authorization, which can be nearly impossible to obtain. Dependable used cars rarely cost under AR$10, 000.
Renting a car in Argentina, if you can cough up the cash, is well worth it because it allows you the freedom to go and stop wherever you please and to visit those backcountry places that buses don’t. The best deals are almost always with the locally owned agencies (when you can find them) rather than the ever-present international ones. To rent a car, you must be at least 21 years of age and have a valid driver’s license and a credit card. To drive you must have an international driving permit, but renters rarely ask for this.
The cheapest and smallest vehicles cost anywhere from AR$150 to AR$170 per day with 150km to 200km included. Although unlimited-kilometer deals do exist, they are much more expensive. A 4WD vehicle is significantly more expensive. One of the cheapest places to rent a car is Bariloche; if you’re heading down to Patagonia or plan to drive for a while, this is a good place to rent. Reserving a car with one of the major international agencies in your home country sometimes gets you lower rates.
Despite major reductions in long-distance train service, rail lines continue to serve most of the Buenos Aires suburbs and some surrounding provinces. There are longer rail services between Buenos Aires and the towns of Posadas and Córdoba. During the holiday periods like Christmas or national holidays, buy tickets in advance. Train fares tend to be lower than comparable bus fares, but trains are slower and there are fewer departure times and destinations.
Train buffs will want to take the narrow-gauge La Trochita, which runs from Esquel to El Maitén. Another legendary ride is Salta’s spectacular Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), but service is extremely sporadic. A scenic stretch of track (and luxurious service aboard the Tren Patagónico) also connects the Lake District hub of Bariloche to Viedma, on the Atlantic coast of Patagonia.
Often you don’t need to buy bus tickets ahead of time unless you’re traveling on a Friday between major cities, when overnight coche cama services sell out fast. During holiday stretches such as late December, January, July and August, tickets sell quickly, so you’re best off buying yours ahead of time. As soon as you arrive somewhere, especially if it’s a town with limited services, find out which companies go to your next destination and when, and plan your trip out around that.
Buenos Aires is the only Argentine city with a subway system (known as the Subte), and it’s the quickest way of getting around the city center.
The national carrier, Aerolíneas Argentinas/Austral (0810-222-86527; www.aerolineas.com), offers the most domestic flights, but it’s not necessarily better than its competitors. In fact, the airline’s reputation for delays has gotten so bad that you should never rely on an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight to make a connection. Aerolíneas also maintains a two-tier pricing system: only residents qualify for the cheapest tickets. Other airlines with domestic flights are LanChile (LAN; 011-4378-2222; www.lan.com) and Líneas Aéreas del Estado (LADE; 011-5129-9001; www.lade.com.ar), the air force’s passenger service. The latter has some of the least expensive air tickets (probably because its offices still have the same decor they did in 1974) and specializes in Patagonia.
One way to avoid the higher fee Aerolíneas Argentinas charges foreigners is by taking advantage of the discounted airfares the airline offers to those who fly to Argentina with Aerolíneas. However, you must purchase these tickets from outside Argentina, usually at the time of purchasing your international flight. The promotion is most convenient for travelers who can set their schedule prior to visiting the country.
A new airline, AirPampas, was set to begin service on the eve of this book’s publication. There was no website at the time, but it’s worth checking into for competitive rates. Other domestic airlines open and close with surprising frequency (Southern Winds and American Falcon are both gone), so always do a little research.
Nearly all domestic flights (except for LADE’s hops around Patagonia) have connections only through Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (011-5480-6111; www.aa2000.com.ar), a short distance from downtown Buenos Aires. Flying with certain airlines on certain flights can be financially comparable or even cheaper than covering the same distance by bus, but demand is heavy and flights, especially to Patagonian destinations in summer, are often booked well in advance.
If you dig cycling your way around a country, Argentina has some good potential. It will also save you some money: partnered with camping, cycling can cut the costs of your trip significantly. And of course you’ll see the landscape in greater detail, you’ll have far greater freedom than you would if beholden to public transportation, and you’ll likely meet more locals.
Road bikes are suitable for many paved roads, but these byways are often narrow, and surfaces can be rough. A todo terreno (mountain bike) is often safer and more convenient, allowing you to use the unpaved shoulder and the very extensive network of graveled roads throughout the country. Argentine bicycles are improving in quality but are still far from equal to their counterparts in Europe or the USA.
There are two major drawbacks to long-distance bicycling in Argentina. One is the wind, which in Patagonia can slow your progress to a crawl. The other is Argentine motorists: on many of the country’s straight, narrow, two-lane highways, they can be a serious hazard to cyclists. Make yourself as visible as possible, and wear a helmet.
Bring an adequate repair kit and extra parts (and the know-how to use them), and stock up on good maps, which is usually easier to do once you’re in Argentina (there are plenty of places to get good maps in Buenos Aires). Even if you have 10 maps for a region, always confirm directions and inquire about conditions locally; maps can be unreliable, and conditions change regularly. In Patagonia, a windbreaker and warm clothing are essential. Don’t expect much traffic on some back roads.
Many towns have bike shops, but high-quality bikes are expensive, and repair parts can be hard to come by. If you do decide to buy while you’re here, you’re best off doing so in Buenos Aires. Selection in other major cities – even Córdoba and Mendoza – is pretty slim, and prices for an imported bike (which you’ll want if you’re doing serious cycling) are much higher than in their country of origin. If you’re staying for a while and you just need a bike for tooling around the city, you’ll find Argentine bikes are great value. You can pick up a beach cruiser for under AR$300, and a multi-speed townie won’t cost much more.
Reasonable bicycle rentals (mostly mountain bikes) are available in many popular tourist destinations, such as Mendoza, Bariloche and other towns throughout the Lake District and Córdoba’s Central Sierras. Prices are affordable, setting renters back no more than AR$10 per hour.