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Buses are often thought of as necessary evils in getting around South America. Learning to think differently about them will have a transformative impact on one's trip, however, mainly by forcing one to make a gift of the time on board to rest and reflect. Buses (primarily long distance buses) in Argentina are MUCH more comfortable than one would expect.
It may be a little confusing why the main way to get around Patagonia is by bus. The reasons involve the distances being simply too far and the populations too sparse to consider an alternative. This is especially true of the far southern Patagonia. Fortunately travel by bus in Patagonia is a very enjoyable experience. No other method allows one to take in the gorgeous scenery and make new friends (both fellow tourists and locals) in quite the same way. So drop the idea of flying everywhere (unless time is short and money plenty), and let the journey build itself up by choosing to go by bus.
One of the more charming aspects of South American travel, and Argentina in particular, are the few roads. Being on them includes a sense of adventure that eludes most other countries. In Patagonia , however, the road system hearkens back to an earlier age. Its narrow lanes, crossing mostly empty terrain for kilometers and kilometers, are a thrill to be on, not least because traffic is so rare as to become a highlight.It is worth noticing in this context how preferable travel by bus in Patagonia is to going alone by car. Considering the distances, lack of amenities and fueling spots, any accident or mechanical failure could pose a challenge with consequences that are more than merely annoying. In the comfort of a bus seat, one can rest assured that all of that is somebody else’s problem, and in point of fact problems for busses are rare. On top of that, fuel is expensive, as are rental cars; buses provide the cheapest, safest alternative to any other type of travel, and Argentina as well as Chile ’s government go to great lengths to maintain very high standards.
That said, there is no one bus company that goes everywhere. Argentina ’s bus system is privatized, and many routes are operated by only one company. For that reason, careful planning is necessary in order to make efficient connections and insure one’s self a seat. Booking through a travel agent therefore rids one of these hassles, and most agencies' itineraries certainly match what is most efficient and effective according to the bus system. Where a lost day on a trip can mean missing an important highlight, it is important to remember that plans can all too easily fall through if a bus connection fails; an agent can help significantly in these not too infrequent cases to make the situation right. There are several options to choose from when it comes to agencies. Some that come recommended are: Say Hueque, Chaltentravel, Caltours, and Huellas del Sur.
The principle routes through Patagonia all begin in Calafate. One can head north to Chalten (and even further on to Bariloche and beyond), east to Rio Gallegos, or south to Torres del Paine, Chile and eventually Ushuaia.
From Calafate one's journey north to the hiking center of El Chalten in a short and comfortable three hours. Leaving in the morning, one heads around the Lake Argentino into the brushy Patagonian plains. A quick stop takes place at a local estancia turned restaurant gift-shop.
Heading south from Calafate is the only convenient way to Chile , the Torres del Paine, and eventually the end of the world. The first stretch of the journey takes about a full day’s travel, adding in the time consumed at the border crossing, but leaves plenty of time to explore and enjoy Chile’s Puerto Natales, a fascinating fishing town. From Puerto Natales to the farthest southern city in the world, Ushuaia, it’s another two day journey via the vibrant city Punta Arenas , situated on the Magellan Straight. Leaving the continent of South America behind, one alights on the island of Tierra del Fuego, to find that the only way is a rough dirt road for kilometers upon kilometers through a desert landscape. The road abruptly becomes paved once one re-enters Argentina from Chile. Soon after switching vehicles in Rio Grande (the largest town on Tierra del Fuego ), the terrain abruptly becomes wooded, eerie Spanish moss hanging from the partly barren trees. This in turn changes again to verdant forest, lake and mountains, and finally ends in Ushuaia.