The Buses – Our experience

Like most travellers in South America we spent a lot of time travelling across the continent on buses. In South America you will always hear stories about drivers falling asleep behind the wheel, but this mainly applies to the overnight “Flotillas”. Just make sure you stick to using the tourist buses and not local Flotillas on long haul journeys. Your experience can vary depending on how much you are willing to pay. We would recommend Full or Semi Cama for those really long bus journeys. ALWAYS bring some food and water!  The last thing you want is to be stuck on a bus for 20 hours with no food or water! A lot of backpackers get caught out with this particularly on the night buses. Most staff aboard the bus do not speak English so have your Spanish phrasebook ready! There are many stories of backpackers bags and wallets been stolen on buses so just use your common sense!

Argentina

Argentinian buses were by far the most comfortable, safe and professional. However, they were also the most expensive.  Buses will always drop you off at the main bus terminals. If you have booked the bus in advance make sure to show up early at the bus terminal so you can locate the correct platform, particularly in Buenos Aries where the bus terminal is huge!

  1. Cata International

We used this company 3 times. This included Buenos Aires to Rossario, then Rossario to Mendoza and lastly Mendoza to Bariloche. You can book a seat in "executive cama" which includes dinner and breakfast on the longer 2 journeys which were over 17 hours each. The "Full Cama" or "Executive Cama" offers a seat that reclines back 180 degrees which can make a huge difference when you are travelling for 15+ hours. "Semi Cama" reclines approximately 130/140 degrees. Probably the most comfortable bus we took in South America. 5 stars!

 

 We travelled on a Marga bus for 27 hours. They show English speaking movies with subtitles in Spanish and served us lunch and dinner. Although they stopped a lot but its best the drivers take breaks and/or switch drivers completely like this companies drivers. Some stops were over 40 minutes to clean the bus, making all passengers get off the bus for fresh air and stretch the legs. The seats were very comfortable, reclining to almost a full bed with plenty of leg room and space between the chairs in front and behind. We would definitely recommend these guys even their basic package seats were very comfortable too.

 

  1. El Chalten Travel

We used El Chalten Travel going from Los Antiguos to El Calafate and then Los Antiguos to Bariloche. These guys brought us to Bariloche on an ‘IOU basis’ because our ‘chip&pin’ ATM cards would not work in any ATMs in El Chalten nor in the bus terminal. They were small seats but when they reclined the bottom tilted too so it was comfortable enough to get some sleep. They stopped a few times in order to change drivers and to give themselves a break. They served no food on this 12-hour bus journey so make sure to bring a packed lunch. There was also no movies shown. Arriving in Bariloche we paid them after a trip to the bank and then they handed over our bags. We couldn’t have got to Bariloche without them, they went above and beyond, really nice guys.

Chile

Chilean buses were comfortable and again their standards are very high. Don’t expect any food on most Chilean buses so if you do, count yourself lucky.

  1. JAC

We took JAC from Osorno to Pucon. It was comfortable, on time and a smooth drive. Not much to say about these guys as the bus was only 3 hours which in backpacker’s terms was "only down the road". Their bus terminal in Pucon is not far from the town and it is was one block away from Hostel Pucon Sur (one of our favourite hostels).

  1. Pullman

Pullman buses are the purple bus company you see at all the bus terminals. They have "Cama" and "Semi cama" seats. We opted for the "Full cama" downstairs which was extremely comfortable. We travelled with these guys from Valparaiso to La Serena. The seats were comfortable although the only problem was that they stopped in so many different destinations that it was hard to sleep. They seemed to be a little more expensive than TurBus even though they are part of the same company.

 

  1. TurBus

These are the most popular bus company in Chile and seem to be the most frequent in all destinations. We travelled with them twice. The first journey with them was my favourite. It was a late 12-hour bus ride from Pucon to Santiago. Although it didn’t have any food or any movies for the price we paid we couldn’t complain. The seats were semi-cama but plenty of leg room.We found their staff to be the friendliest! The 2nd time we travelled with them was from La Serena to San Pedro. A 17-hour bus ride in "Full Cama" with 2 ‘meals’ provided - the 1st a stale sandwich, wafer bar and a drink.  The 2nd meal was breakfast which contained a wafer bar and a box of juice. Luckily we made our own sandwiches for the trip! As we said before, always bring your own lunch!

Bolivia

Bolivia is known to have a poorer standard of bus services in comparison to the likes of Argentina, Chile, and Peru. We were told to only go with a reputable company, especially on a long bus journey. Flotillas are an extremely cheap way of getting around on short journeys but we recommend to avoid them on long journeys especially the overnight ones. reputable buses are cheap enough so this is our recommendation too. You will know a flotilla as soon as you see one, they are the buses that have custom paint on the side of them. The design could be anything from a painting of Jesus or a naked woman riding a horse waving around an axe, yes, they are extremely random! The roads are also really bad in most areas, prepare to be bounced around a lot!

  1. 6 De Octubre Bus

This bus was our first journey at night in Bolivia. We were the only backpackers on this packed out bus with the rest of the passengers seemingly from Bolivia. The chairs smelled, didn’t recline as they should have and the bus itself smelled like boiled cabbage due to the poor ventilation. The windows were dripping wet with condensation. There was no toilet on the bus luckily we didn’t have to go. It was 7-hours of absolute discomfort! This was a huge shock having come from Chile where the bus services are quality. We would recommend going with a better company the countless travel agencies scattered along the all main streets that can advise you, we found them very helpful.

 

  1. Trans Copacabana MEM

This was a very comfortable journey considering the bad state of the roads. Our bus was new with soft reclining chairs and most importantly this company has a good reputation in Bolivia. Most of our backpacker friends travelled with this company and they were always mostly recommended by both hostel owners and travel agents. We travelled with them from Sucre to La Paz and it made the drive more comfortable. The windows didn’t steam up as there was good ventilation, the seats were very comfortable and they provided blankets for the cold night as you climb the altitude. The road itself was winding and very bumpy so it was hard to sleep. They only show movies in Spanish. Probably the most comfortable bus you can take in Bolivia.

 

  1. Bolivia Hop

This company is Irish owned. They can seem expensive in comparison to the other bus companies but they take the worry and hassle out of your trip. They offer comfortable chairs, blankets and they stop off for food at certain intervals. Although they are more expensive than other companies, we would definitely recommend them. 

Here’s why;

  • They pick you from your hostel; the guide introduces themselves;
  • They let you choose the movie by majority vote;
  • They help you with crossing the border;
  • They help you find a hostel at your next destination;
  • You can hop on and off at various stops or extend your stay in the town and get back on the next day (or longer)

What more could you ask for in a bus service! This is also an excellent way to meet other backpackers.

 

Peru

The Peruvian roads are not great which makes the journey a little bumpy. If you’re travelling in raining season prepare yourself for A LOT of bus cancellations due to landslides. Also, Lima does not have a central bus terminal. They have small company specific ones scattered all over the city which can make booking a bus and travelling to their terminal all the more difficult. One very important piece of advice is DO NOT purchase your bus tickets from travel agents, they add on a 20% or sometimes 30% booking fee. Make sure to book directly with the bus company.

  1. Peru Hop

This is the same company as Bolivia Hop but they also offer their services in Peru. Once you change country, you change buses to the other service. As stated before they do have a lot of benefits despite their high price, the only difference is in Peru you have far more options.

 

  1. Transveula

One of the more expensive options, apart from Peru Hop of course! These are the big red buses and came highly recommended from travel agents, already we noticed the far superior standard compared with Bolivia. We travelled with them from Cusco to Arequipa. There was a Spanish movie with English subtitles but no food which is fine for a 12-hour overnight bus. It was the first time sitting at the front of the top of the bus (not recommended). We felt every bump and turn on the road. The seats themselves are very comfortable and the staff offered lemonade at 2 different intervals. The bus was delayed getting to our destination because the bus driver pulled over for rest for at least an hour. Safety first!

 

  1. Oltursa

In our opinion, Oltursa was one of the nicest, newest and most luxurious buses we took in South America. Cruz del Sur is the most popular bus service for tourists but also the most expensive. Oltursa were more reasonably priced and nice food was also part of the package. We received a hot tasty dinner on an 8 hour day bus journey from Lima to Huarez however the food returning to Lima was a sandwich and a dessert because it was a night journey. Hot food on buses is scarce so this was a nice surprise. The only downfall with this company was the movies! They were all in Spanish and didn’t always have English subtitles. We were told Cruz del Sur show English speaking movies. We still however highly recommend this service. The staff are very professional and helpful, great value for money, particularly on a budget! The best thing for us was their bus terminal is a close taxi ride from the Miraflores district in Lima, which is a plus. 

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