If you’re doing any serious traveling around Argentina, you’ll become very familiar with the country’s excellent bus network. Long-distance buses (known as micros) are fast and 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 1st-class buses) and attendants tag your bags. If you have a long trip – say, Buenos Aires to Mendoza – overnight buses are the way to go, saving you a night’s accommodations.
Most cities and towns have a central bus terminal where each company has its own ticket window. Some companies post schedules prominently, and the ticket price and departure time are always on the ticket you buy. Expect restrooms, left luggage, fast-food stalls, kiosks and newspaper vendors inside or near almost every large terminal. In tourist-destination cities they’ll often have a tourist information office. There are generally few if any hotel touts or other traveler-hassling types at terminals; El Calafate is one notable exception.
Some long-distance bus services face reduced services as low-cost airlines offer stiff competition.
Classes & Costs
Most bus lines have modern coaches with spacious, comfortable seats, large windows, air-conditioning, TVs, toilets (bring toilet paper) and sometimes an attendant serving coffee and snacks.
On overnight trips it’s well worth the extra pesos to go coche cama (sleeper class); seats are wide, recline almost flat and are very comfortable. For even more luxury there’s ejecutivo (executive), which is available on a few popular runs. For less luxury, semi-cama (semisleeper) seats are manageable. If pinching pesos, común (common) is the cheapest class. For trips less than about five hours, there’s usually no choice and buses are común or semi-cama, which are both usually just fine.
Bus fares vary widely depending on the season, class and company. Patagonia runs tend to be the most expensive. Many companies accept credit cards.
Often you don’t need to buy bus tickets beforehand 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 through February, July, and August, tickets sell quickly. 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.
When the bus terminal is on the outskirts of a big town or city, there are often downtown agencies selling tickets without commission.
In the Lake District and northern Patagonia, bus services are good during summer (November through March), when there are many microbus routes to campgrounds, along lake circuits, to trailheads and to other destinations popular with tourists. Outside summer, however, these services slow way down.
In Patagonia the famed stretch of RN 40, or Ruta Nacional Cuarenta (Rte 40), was once infrequently traveled and rough – though most of it is now paved (it's still good to have a 4WD for side roads, however). But there’s still little public transportation despite the road improvements, and it’s mostly via expensive, summertime microbus ‘tours.’
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. Further south, from Ushuaia, operators offer boat trips on the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego.
The Buenos Aires...
Because Argentina is so large, many parts are accessible only by private vehicle, despite the country’s extensive public-transportation system. This is especially true in Patagonia, where distances are great and buses can be infrequent.