The ticket vendor advises us to be at the bus station an hour before departure. Don’t bother, as it’s not really necessary and I’m not sure why – you’ll just be hanging around.
As a bus virgin in Argentina, the sketchy plan is to travel from Buenos Aires (BA) down to Ushuaia by bus, which is over 3,000 kilometres. Thinking it will probably be on 3 very long bus trips over about 50+ hours, if all goes to plan.
Our first taxi ride during the 9-day stay in BA, with the barely out-of-nappy wild-eyed driver with a Formula 1 attitude, proves an exhilarating ride!
As Argentina has barely any trains, a bus is your main form of transport, especially for long distances and if you’re on a budget.
To give you an idea – at the time of writing – flying costs are roughly double the bus fare. So if you’re away for any length of time, then zigzagging your way across Argentina on a plane is best left for the rich, or only for emergencies.
Retiro Bus Station
The Retiro bus station in BA is more like an overcrowded well-oiled airport.
Buses come and go every few minutes across 75 platforms – with loads of travellers and their oversized luggage, and enough cafes and shops to keep you occupied during a long wait.
Relieved to see our bus arrive on time, as the Arrival/Departure board displays the time only 20 minutes before departure. Our bags are loaded and we board the bus. Oh, the guy loading bags into the hold expects a tip. However, after he hurled our first pack upside down into the luggage compartment with some force, I don’t give him a tip.
Very impressed with my Class 2 ticket (AR$352) with the “Condor Estrellas” company. Big comfy seats that recline 140 degrees and a small pillow is also provided. Once we board, the attendant hands out a cold packaged dinner comparable to a plane meal and we are then on our way.
Buses in Argentina
Worth mentioning is the Class structure on buses in this country.
Each company has its “version” of Classes 1 to 5, although a company must still abide by Argentinian Law…not sure whether this is policed though.
At the time of writing, my understanding of the different classes goes something like this:
Class 1 – allocated seat reclining to bed
Class 2 – allocated seat reclining 140 degrees
Class 3 – allocated seat reclining 40 degrees
Class 4 – allocated upright seat (number of passengers for number of seats)
Class 5 – free for all bus transport, no passenger limit
For even more detail, check the Omnilineas site.
After a quick stop (passenger pick-up) an hour after starting the long journey, we stop for a 20-minute coffee break at Bahia Blanca at around 5am, then continue the drive on the long highway.
I find it amazing how these drivers go for 8+ hours straight without a break, and on an 18-hour run. I’m not sure how they stay awake – quite dangerous when you think about it, but most companies have two drivers on board.
The landscape is unremarkable. Golden pancake-flat plains, scattered patchy shrubs, with the occasional rising hill in the distance. So, if you can’t sleep on long bus trips, take plenty to read, play, and to listen.
Only one movie is shown for the duration of the trip. If you’re not good at lip reading due to a lack of TV screens in this bus and the sound is also turned down, then you can simply plug your headphones in to listen…if of course the movie is in English.
This trip provides a breakfast stop, which is paid for in your ticket price. Although, unless you understand Spanish, you won’t know this or partake in breakfast. If you’re anything like me, you will notice passengers getting off the bus and racing to get food and wonder why they’re in such a hurry.
Depending on how hungry you are by the time the bus stops, this may be a minor or major point for you. Unlike us, make sure you take up the offer as this is your only chance to eat something substantial, unless you brought some snacks along for the 18 hours.
There are also about 4 checkpoint stops or drive-throughs. If the bus stops, the armed Guardia Nationaciales walk through the bus looking for something or checking. I’m not sure what…perhaps just exercising their right to bear uniforms or justify their job?
Arriving at Puerto Madryn an hour late, we find our accommodation relatively easy.
Although, everyone advises it’s out of season, the price of food, accommodation, and transport is expensive, so far. I can only imagine what high season’s prices must be like and would quickly put a dent in any long-term traveller’s budget.
Spending some time just walking around Puerto Madryn and down to the waterfront, the small coastal port doesn’t hold much interest really, but worth the walk and to stretch your legs.
Also ventured to a couple of cafes and supermarkets, but not a lot of time to explore on this occasion.
Hostel Sentir is very clean and the ladies running it are very accommodating.
A very well-equipped kitchen and a refreshing change from BA’s Hostel. Wi-Fi in our room and a common room with a PC are provided. Loads of glorious hot water, which is welcomed after a very long journey.
At AR$160 a night (double with a private bathroom), which is the cheapest available hostel at the time, I definitely recommend the Hostel Sentir.
Leaving Puerto Madryn for Rio Gallegos
Only spending a couple of nights in Pt. Madryn, and mainly to break the journey up a little and stretch the legs before the next long bus trip. But, also because it’s out of season and we are pushing south before the winter sets in – we would like to try to do a boat trip to the Antarctic, which leaves from Ushuaia.
Didn’t take up any dolphin or penguin tours either, which are supposed to be quite good from this city. Instead, spent time indoors searching accommodation and bus details for the onward journeys to Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia. It’s also becoming quite cold the further south we head, of course and I don’t think I have enough clothes with me really…we’ll see.