South America By Bus

After some relatively short bus rides in Peru and Bolivia, It was time to trim the fat in my travel expenditures and opt for long distance bus trips over expensive flights. After spending three days in a Ford Explorer crammed with seven people on a Bolivian Salt Flat tour, it was time to head to Chile. (They don’t charge Americans an entrance fee) It had been several weeks since I’d seen the ocean and I was really starting to miss being by the water. A short five hours on a bus from San Pedro de Atacama to Antofagasta and I was beachside once again. It’s a nice enough city but after a few days by the water it was time to head to where the action is, Santiago. Since the bus ride from San Pedro was so nice, I figured I’d try it again, but this time on the 18 hour long haul to Santiago. Since the ticketing sites are all in Spanish, it’s easy to screw something up. And man, it happened at the worst possible time. On the short trip to Antofagasta I managed to get a premium seat that reclined completely, as flat as a bed. Which is the only reason I thought I could survive the 18 hour journey ahead. It turns out I was on the top level surrounded by people talking loudly on cell phones and watching videos on tablets without headphones. (Asshole can be heard clearly in every language)  Not to mention, the seats only reclined about as much as the ones on a budget airline. Those 18 hours did not fly by.

I woke up from my sleeping pill induced coma in Santiago, which is a city that’s hard to be mad at. I had a great Airbnb in a perfect part of town and all was right in my world. Another short bus ride followed and I found myself in an adorable little beach town called Viña del Mar, next to the more popular and equally quant Valparaiso. A few days exploring the area and I was ready to give the whole long haul bus thing another shot. This time the destination had a little extra pull for me. Mendoza, Argentina. They call it the Napa of South America. Sold! Some nice Malbec would compliment the right bus ticket perfectly. Not to mention, Argentina had just lifted their reciprocity fees for Americans so the trip wouldn’t cost me a $160 visa I was on the fence about getting. After hours of research, I found the right bus company with the right seats for the right price for the 8+ hour overnight journey over the mountains and across the border to Mendoza. What I didn’t research? How common it is for the border to be closed at this time of year do to weather.

After checking out of the Airbnb and killing about 10 hours wandering around a very rainy Viña del Mar, I got to the bus station only to hear that the border had been closed for several days and likely would not be opening anytime soon. #travelfail. Sure would have been nice if one of the 10 promotional spam emails I got from the bus company after purchasing the ticket would have mentioned that my upcoming trip was canceled. After checking into another hotel for a few days and closely monitoring reports about the border I had to give up on my Malbec dreams. Since getting to Argentina by land was out, I flew to Buenos Aires and ate ALL the steak and drank ALL the Malbec made in Mendoza. Pour one out for my on site wine tasting tour though… After all of that would you think another long bus trip was in my future? How else was I going to get to Iguazu Falls? Oh, right. Fly. Well… I opted for the 18 hour bus ride instead, because I’m not a quitter. (And also very cheap)

I researched my ass off. Watched 360 degree bus interior view videos. Read reviews. Double checked the weather conditions along the route and even purchased a refundable ticket. #slowlearner. Long story short, I got the nicest seats on the newest fleet and made that bus my bitch! Sure, 18 hours is a hell of a long time to be on a bus. But when you get free alcohol, meals and your seat is as big as a twin bed and fully reclines all for less than half the cost of a flight… You board that shit. It didn’t hurt that I was in route to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Iguazu Falls puts Niagra to shame in a big way. But like Niagra Falls, Iguazu can also be seen from two countries. The river serving as a natural border between America and Canada and in Iguazu’s case, Argentina and Brazil. If you’re planned a trip there, email me and I will share more details about what each side has to offer, because they’re very different.

After traveling by bus the right way, I was ready to get back on board for another long haul to São Paulo, Brazil. At only 12 hours I thought it would be a breeze now that I had my seating game on lock. Unfortunately, after researching the options, I discovered that the fully reclining bed seats I’d now been spoiled with are not common in Brazil. So with flashbacks to my hell on wheels trip to Santiago so fresh in my mind, I decided a flight was in order. Luckily, I found an incredibly cheap one-way ticket directly to Rio and thus ended my South American Bus tour. I might still take a bus to São Paulo, but at only five hours I think I can deal with the upright seat option.

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