Bus Virgin – Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, Argentina

March, 2011

After haggling for a taxi (AR$30) from Centro in Buenos Aires, arrived at the Retiro Omnibus station 2 hours early for the 18-hour bus trip to Puerto Madryn in Argentina.

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!

Puerto MadrynArgentinians drive like they play football – with unrivalled passion and no rules! An excellent driver though and he even returned my change before speeding off into the distance – I’m impressed.

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.

Bus journey

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.

Argentina: Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, bus trip
On the Road – view driving along

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.

Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Roadside trading

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?

Puerto Madryn

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.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Argentina at Image Earth Travel.

45 responses to “Bus Virgin – Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, Argentina”

  1. The Thrifty Campers Avatar

    Sounds like a spectacular journey you took. Although I could never see myself sleeping in a hostel, I get scared way to easily.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Many thanks for commenting.
      Yes it was and 50+ hours in the end just to get from Argentina to Ushuaia.
      A Hostel was the safest accommodation back in 2011 and much safer than a hotel; not sure what it’s like now.

      1. The Thrifty Campers Avatar

        That sure is a long way, that’s cool though that the hostel worked out for you 🙂. I personally have never stayed in a hostel but always Considered a hotel to be a safer bet. Was it there that the hotels were unsafe?

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        After 10 months of travelling in South America, I found that hostels were safer. Particularly as we were robbed in a hotel in Chiclayo (Peru). We were the only Gringos staying there and the only people robbed. The police also said it was an inside job, but we couldn’t prove it as nobody saw anything.
        You may want to read the next 2 bus legs: El Pinghuino bus experience – Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos, Argentina and Bus lag and flat arse! Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia by bus and ferry

      3. The Thrifty Campers Avatar

        Thats interesting. Oh man, thats awful that happened to you, yeah it does sound a little coincidental. I may just have to check out those other 2 reads of yours

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yeah, kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

        Other things that happened is the usual pick-pocketing on the streets, and theft of female hygiene products from the room. After this, we locked our packs each time we left the room so that stopped, but it didn’t stop the major robbery. The robber/s came into our locked hotel room, picked all the locks on our packs, stole everything, locked everything back up, then locked our room again, and left.

        We lost 2 laptops, an iPod, and iPhone, and a bunch of cash. The robber/s even took Polish Zlotty, which is ridiculous as it’s worthless in South America and can’t be changed on the streets. Luckily, our passports and credit cards were left behind, but the police said this was because these can’t be used as readily as cash and electronics. Just so you know, I had met other travellers that left cash in their hotel’s safe, which was also stolen. So, it’s a difficult continent for a long-term traveller.

        I haven’t written a post on the robbery yet but do have loads of notes. The visit down to the Peruvian police station was even more interesting! 😉

      5. The Thrifty Campers Avatar

        Oh my goodness. I that is horrendous 😔 Yeah thats definitely no surprise it had left a bad taste in your mouth, one of the worst feelings to experience. Thank you, That’s good to know about the safe in the hotel, I have used one plenty before in the past, only never in another country other than the US. So, I actually got robbed a day ago myself for the first time ever which was such a low point for us. That is a whole other post to come but really hope you never go through something like that again.

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It was and the fact that we didn’t get any of it back on travel insurance was also a pain but we left it too late to claim as we were still travelling. Also, the police report was in Spanish and they documented the cash figure totally wrong. With our insurance, we would have only received about AUD$250 – we lost much more.
        I’m so sorry to hear you were robbed; in which country? The experience does really bring you down. I had a worse experience in Ecuador, but that’s another blog.

      7. The Thrifty Campers Avatar

        Oh no, that’s terrible. And on top of that they got the figure wrong? oh boy that must of been so rough on you both. Glad you got through though and didn’t stop you from continuing your travels. It happened here in the USA it wasn’t bad at all compared to what you experienced but for it being a first time for us felt awful. I know someone who went to Ecuador and had the time of his life, sorry it was different for you. I’ll be sure to check out that blog when you post it.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yeah, but when something like that happens, you have to put it behind you otherwise, you’ll never step foot out the door.

        That’s terrible it happened to you in the US but the feeling of being robbed is the same regardless of the country. Ecuador is beautiful and we were only there for about 2 weeks. The scam happened in Quito on the afternoon before we were due to fly back to Australia as my mother was ill. After that and mostly ten months of looking over my shoulder, I was ready to go home.

      9. The Thrifty Campers Avatar

        Most certainly, otherwise you’ll constantly live in fear and that’s no way to live. Sorry to hear about mother, wish you well! There’s nothing like going back to familiar surroundings.

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        True enough about surroundings but to be honest, that was the first time I felt like really returning to Australia.

      11. The Thrifty Campers Avatar

        Aww well it was for a good reason.

  2. artinmanyforms Avatar

    Reblogged this on artinmanyforms and commented:
    So lovely Nilla

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the re-blog Pat! Eternal hours of bus trips to come…
      I’m updating all my South American blogs with more photos and words, so stay tuned. 😉

  3. Patty Avatar

    Did you adjust the photo of the skyline or was the sky that purple?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Patty, no, no post-production, this was the real colour.
      I am a purist photographer and only do minimal post-production on my Nilla’s Photography site – dust removal (for film), straightening, and sharpening. I believe in taking a photo with my eyes, not with Photoshop! Hope that answers your question and thank you for commenting. 🙂

      1. Patty Avatar

        I asked, because I am in love with that purple color…never seen it before. So thank you for sharing! XxX

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I’m not good with post-production and couldn’t even re-create this if I tried! Nature is too beautiful. x 😉

  4. globalhousesitterX2 Avatar

    You didn’t sell me on the idea of staying in a hostel! 😉 Though hoping to do an extended stopover October next year. Will have to wait and see what deals our travel agent gives us! Yes, informative post Nilla.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      When we travelled in South America back in 2011, hostels were the best accommodation. Mainly because many are family run, they’re great value, and they’re much safer than hotels for Gringos. They’re not like backpacker hostels as we know it. We were robbed in Chiclayo (Peru), which was I think the only hotel we stayed in during the 10 months…but that’s another story.

      I would book things independently online and not through a travel agent as it’s so easy these days and to be fair, there is an abundance of accommodation out there.

      1. globalhousesitterX2 Avatar

        Airfares is what I was talking about as we need to do a return ticket nearly a year in advance as well as one this year to return – definitely not accommodation. Have being doing it ourselves for years. Interesting to hear about the hotel situation.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ahh right, now I understand.

        We were trying to get down to Ushuaia to catch a boat to the Antarctic but when we got down there, missed the boat by a week or a few days. The season was cut short due to an early onset of winter.

        I’m in the process of updating all my South American blogs as I uploaded minimal information when I was with the Matador Travel blog site. Then had to transfer everything to WP as Matador gave all bloggers one week to export everything or lose all information!

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    1. Nilla Palmer Avatar
      Nilla Palmer

      Thanks, I’ll be travelling again at the end of this year (in the working/saving mode atm), then I will have more interesting things to add!
      A forum that I’ve connected with is Trip Advisor, which I find very useful for places to stay, prices, experiences. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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      Sorry for the late response. I tried to hook the RSS feeds with FaceBook back in 2011 but it didn’t work. I’ve provided all my links with most post today. I was trying to use this site as a Newsletter, but it’s not a very user-friendly site and I don’t know how people find anything here!

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