El Pinghuino bus experience – Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos, Argentina

April, 2011

What could possibly go wrong travelling through Argentina for 18 hours on the El Pinguino bus from Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos?

Deciding which bus

The unknowns when choosing a bus company for a long journey whilst everyone is selling you the same story, is a pain as so far, it feels as if it’s all a sales’ spiel.

The following four companies service the Pt. Madryn to Rio Gallegos route daily:

  • Andesmar (three times per day at 13:30hrs, 18:00hrs, and 19:00hrs)
  • El Pinguino (17:00hrs)
  • Tramat (10:40hrs)
  • Don Otto (13:30hrs)

Deciding to go with a different bus company this time than the last Condor Estrellas, chose El Pinghuino (AR$324 Semi Cama) for its advertised “good experience”. The ticket also seemed better value-for-money with the promise of a comfier seat – although this trip is Sin Servicio (without food). What a strange name for a bus company: ‘The Penguin’.

You just never know with bus companies, do you?

Puerto Madryn, Rio Gallegos, ArgentinaThe El Pinghuino experience

The well worn and shabbier than previous Condor Estrellas bus arrives 25 minutes late. This may not seem too late, but it’s not a great way to start an 18-hour journey.

After an hour’s drive, the bus stops at Trelew for a 20-minute break and a passenger pick-up.

Thought we’d be on our way in no time. But no, we then drive around the industrial streets of Trelew to a bus Depot, and tole to wait on the bus for another 30 minutes for something to happen…

The driver orders everyone to pile out of the bus as it is “broken”. Passengers collect luggage and board yet another bus, before heading off again, 45 minutes later.

Another delay…this trip is going to be longer than expected.

At least I have a proper seat belt on this bus as I only had half a seat belt on the previous bus, which is not much use during an accident.

We have the pleasure of 2 successive movies on this journey but as expected, both are dubbed over in Spanish and also with Spanish sub-titles.

This company is definitely not as organised or customer-focused as the Condor Estrellas’ company. In fact so far, I would describe this company as probably more of a cowboy-style.

During the whole journey, the toilet lacked toilet paper, soap, water to wash one’s hands, and cleanliness. To add to this, urine graces the toilet floor, not to mention the stench. So, I prefer to try my luck with the station’s public toilets when we stop. At the Rivadavia bus terminal, the toilets are much worse than on the bus, with a homeless person living in one of the men’s cubicles, I’m told. The Rivadavia terminal is also quite seedy, so be careful if stopping at this bus station.

On we continue with our journey…

I rarely sleep on buses and during the darkness of the early morning hours, I notice that the bus slows right down to a snail’s crawl. Peering out of the curtain and into darkness, I spot another El Pinghuino bus parked on the opposite side of the road.

Slowly our bus backs up within a foot of the already parked bus.

Our driver proceeds to take out a piece of garden hose and a 5-litre water container. And then, sucks some petrol out and started syphoning from our bus’s fuel tank to the container, obviously to give to the other bus drive. My words at the time: ‘you’ve gotta be f…… kidding me! How useful is 5 litres of fuel, hours away from anywhere on a deserted highway in Argentina?’ You’d think the bus driver would have filled the bus before leaving.

But as always, the best is yet to come…

Suddenly, angry passengers from the other parked bus appear and start piling onto our bus. They are freezing cold so not sure how long they have waited on the side of the road. I doubt there was any heating in their bus at that stage. Although our bus is almost full, the new passengers fill up the few available vacant seats whilst others sit on the floor in the aisles, glad to be out of the cold and on their way again.

Definitely won’t be using this bus company in the future!

On this trip, we travel only through one police checkpoint where everyone’s passport or ID details are recorded.

Thinking we would arrive much later, our driver tried to make up time by stopping less. Finally arriving in Rio Gallegos, which is over 1,200 kilometres from Puerto Madryn and some 2,636 kilometres south of Buenos Aires, our scheduled 18-hour trip actually took 20+ hours. I thought we were never going to get to Rio Gallegos.

Argentina, Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos bus, scenery
As interesting as it gets on the highway…

Rio Gallegos

The taxi from the bus station to the hotel costs AR$22 and so glad for the comfort of not having to walk with all our backpacks for the couple of kilometres.

As this is only a quick overnight stay, there isn’t any time to explore this city in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, but believe there’s a population of around 98,000. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems quite industrial but it may just be the area that we’re in.


Hotel Sehuen (AR$258 double with private bathroom) is clean but the room is small.

Breakfast starts at 8a.m and is included in the room price. Annoyingly, if you’re catching early buses, you forfeit breakfast as the hotel refuses to start serving earlier. Most travellers take early buses as Rio Gallegos seems to be a stop-off for onward journeys south or north.

Although the hotel is clean, it is overpriced but conveniently located only 150 metres from the main avenue.

Heading further south to Ushuaia

As soon as we arrive in Rio Gallegos, we book the next leg’s bus tickets south to Ushuaia as only 1 bus runs daily (8:30am – Techni Austral), otherwise it’s 9am with Marga (Monday/Wednesday/Friday). A ticket costs AR$270 one-way and a return ticket is AR$500 (special price).

I’m hoping that yet another bus company will be better than El Pinghuino…what else could go wrong?

Catching a bus from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate?

If you’re catching a bus from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate to experience the incredible last advancing glacier, which is the Perito Moreno Glacier, then companies servicing this route include:

  • Taqsa (every other day at 12:00hrs)
  • Sportman (Monday and Saturday at 13:00hrs)
  • Marga (daily at 20:30hrs; every other day at 09:15hrs; Monday and Friday at 18:00hrs).

Note: Just so you know, “Every other day” is what the bus companies’ state and not my words.

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

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8 responses to “El Pinghuino bus experience – Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos, Argentina”

  1. The Year I Touched My Toes Avatar

    Quite a trip.. and a long way. Can’t imagine this bus trip our flights were long enough. We flew from BA to Calafate but we had two young kids in tow … Louise

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Louise, this wasn’t the final number of hours as to get from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia took over 5o hours. I have more continued bus posts I’m updating in my new format and with more photos.

      Take my hat off to you travelling with two young kids…it’s hard enough with just two people in South America. 😉

      1. The Year I Touched My Toes Avatar

        We were living there for a while so we had a couple of exotic long week ends.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Wow, how long did you live in Argentina for and did you move there for work?
        There’s never enough time when you’re working to really explore a country.

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