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Through the glass: Scenes from the road in Argentina

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If you love to travel – which seems obvious if you have found your way here – you have heard the old saying: Travel is about the journey, not the destination. That might really hit home with you or just seem like something you read everywhere but this was never more true for us than the roughly three months we spent driving up, down and all around Argentina. We have written extensively about all our favorite destinations – like Buenos AiresIguazu Falls and Rosario, but in Argentina, travel is truly all about the journey. We spent countless days and nights on buses traversing this country from top to bottom, but most certainly not in that order. 28 quebrada de las conchas road argentinaIn fact, we crossed the Andes four times, criss-crossing back and forth from Chile, watched green meadows turn to tropical climates with palm trees lining the roads near the Brazilian border, drove through the dust and salt near the border with Bolivia and froze in the permanent winter climates on Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of the Americas. Each ride was an adventure in itself, and almost always with awe-inspiring views. Scroll down for our scenes from the roads through Argentina.

Bus Travel in Argentina

First things first: buses in Argentina usually look like this:

1 bus argentinaFor our very first ride, which was 24 hours from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile, we splurged on first class seats which turned out to be big, comfy leather seats with our own TV screen and meals that included free wine.
2 argentina bus3 argentina bus tv

Eating on the road in Argentina

The food was surprisingly good, with a vegetarian option available when booking the tickets and we were relieved. 24 hours is an eternity on a bus with very few stops. Unfortunately, we would never have that kind of food quality again – and not all buses offer any vegetarian options at all. These little perks also seem to have nothing to do with the price of the ticket – which can vary but is always fairly high.

4 Argentina bus foodBreakfast on buses usually consisted of crackers, a couple of different kinds of cookies, dulce de leche and jam (pictured on the upper left side of the above photo).

6 argentina bus breakfast dulce de lecheOn our bus ride to Salta we collected three sets of sandwiches each, all of them were white bread, ham and cheese.  The stray dogs of Salta were thankful for them, though.

5 argentina bus breakfastOn shorter rides we were usually just given cookies and a cup of instant coffee, always styrofoam. On the overnight buses, coffee was pre-made in a big container, which they loaded with sugar, as per the Argentine palate. Yuck! All long-distance buses have attendants who serve meals and drinks an collect the trash. This is all included in the ticket price.

6 bus snackWhen we didn’t have first-class seats, we shared TVs with the whole bus and enjoyed Lady Gaga and other pop videos together. Well, sometimes we enjoyed them, other times we wished we had opted for noise-cancelling headphones to block some of it out.

7 argentina bus with tvs

From Buenos Aires West To The Andes

From Buenos Aires to Santiago, the entire first day heading west consisted of pretty unexciting views – until the Andes Mountains could be seen on the horizon. We passed the vineyards around Mendoza and finally drove straight into the mountains, following the winding mountain road until we hit the border to Chile at the Los Libertadores mountain pass.

7 argentina mendoza and andes8 andes mountains9 andes mountains argentina

The Road Through The Lake District 

After two months in Chile working our way south, we re-entered Argentina about 1000 kilometers further south via San Martin de los Andes, driving back east straight into the beautiful Lake District around Bariloche.

11 andes mountains argentina19 andes mountain drive11 jess argentina border10 andes mountains towards chile2Our highlight here was visiting Nahuel Huapi National Park and the Black Glacier before we headed further south towards El Chalten on what was the longest and most grueling of all our bus rides.

13 argentina lake district13 nahuel huapi national park5At 27 hours, this ride was intense and bumpy, too. It started off with a gorgeous drive further into the Lake District and with the Andes mountains painted red by the setting sun. But then…

12 argentina lake district with andes15 argentina andes sunset…the road became gravel for hours and hours. And hours. We would see the same exact view out the window, unchanged, from the start to finish of a movie or hour-long TV show. Mountains, rocks, and the most barren landscape we had ever seen. Even in its most boring spots, it was still awe-inspiring how incredibly big Argentina is and how intense it is to drive straight down through the center of it.

15 driving through argentina16 argentina pampa520 argentina pampa3

The Road Through Patagonia

When we finally reached El Chalten it was so gorgeous and so worth it. We really enjoyed the incredible vistas of Mount Fitz Roy.

16 el chalten river and mountains3We followed the paved road alongside the Andes down to our next stop: El Calafate. This three hour ride felt like a snap of the fingers after all those long rides before. El Calafate was our base to explore Perito Moreno Glacier.

17 argentina with andesThe drive to the glacier was one of the most scenic in Patagonia, passing mountain lakes and leading straight into the Los Glaciares National Park, surrounded by the Andes.

18 patagonia panorama19 road through patagoniaFrom this point, now fairly far south, we crossed back into Chile to visit Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Punta Arenas, where we took the ferry to Porvenir and set foot on Tierra Del Fuego for the first time.

14 argentina river3This is where things got a bit complicated and we were forced to hitchhike back across the border  into Argentina in order to reach the End Of The World, also known as the southernmost city in the world or Ushuaia.

21 Ushuaia mountains

The Road To Iguazu Falls 

At that point, the only way to go was back up north – or down to Antarctica, but that is an adventure for another time. After freezing on our way down through Patagonia, we couldn’t wait to get to Montevideo, Uruguay, and since a three hour flight is the same price as the 50+ hours it would have taken by bus, we decided to give our knees a rest and flew up to Montevideo. After a couple of weeks in Uruguay, we headed west again back into Argentina, to explore the northern part of the country.

21 argentina cows3During our time there, heavy rains had flooded big parts of the country, and some fields were still covered in water when we went up to Iguazu.

21 argentina road iguazu1All of a sudden, we found ourselves in tropical climates with jungles and palm trees surrounding us. Those 24 hours on that bus brought us to an entirely different part of Argentina.

22 argentina sunset from the busUp here near the Brazilian border, it was hard to believe this was the same country that was home to Buenos Aires, or the Lake District, or Rosario…scenes would have felt at home in Nicaragua than the booming cities or tranquil tourist enclaves further south.

23 argentina bus station

The Road Through Northwest Argentina

And then, just like that, the 20 hour ride to Salta brought us out of the tropics, through countless quiet villages and into a sophisticated Spanish colonial city.

24 argentina north east argentinaFrom Salta, we headed to El Cafayate, and even though this was only a four-hour drive, it was easily one of the most spectacular in all of Argentina.

25 quebrada de las conchas argentina road26 quebrada de las conchas red cliffsWe passed through the red rock formations of the Quebrada De Las Conchas on a long, winding mountain road to Cafayate, a dusty winery town surrounded by vineyards and mountains.

27 argentina quebrada de las conchas1428 argentina quebrada de las conchas1329 argentina quebrada da cafayate vinyardOur next stop was equally as stunning: A trip along the Quebrada De Humahuaca, a road which leads from Salta to the Bolivian border. We stopped in Jujuy, just two hours from Salta.

29 quebrada de humahuacaHere we rented a car to do this Quebrada de Humahuaca road trip at our own pace.

31 argentina andes mountain roadThis freedom and flexibility allowed us to take a detour through the Cuesta De Lipan, or Lipan Rise, at an altitude of 4,170 meters / 13,700 feet above sea level, on our way to the Salinas Grandes, Argentina’s salt flats.

30 llamas on the road34 quebrada de humahuaca andes mountain roadIn this mountain range we saw more guanaco families hanging out than anywhere else in Argentina!

36 quebrada de humahuaca andes guanacos35 quebrada de humahuaca andes mountain road2The salt flats in Argentina are much smaller than the famous Salar De Uyuni in neighboring Bolivia, but they were still an incredible sight to drive through.32 argentina road to salinas grandes salt flats33 argentina road through salinas grandes salt flatssalt flats argentina dani & jess with carThe next day we continued on toward the indigenous town of Humahuaca, passing more guanacos and alpacas, plus some of the most colorful mountains we have ever seen. Here we could feel how close we were to Bolivia – the people, the air, the traditional clothes and tourist trinkets for sale in the markets.

37 argentina quebrada de humahuaca14A few days later, it was time for our fourth and final Andes crossing. From Jujuy we caught a bus that would take us west through an incredible no man’s land, a vast expanse of sometimes mountainous and other times flat land. As far as the eye could see, the road stretch out ahead on what felt like an entirely different planet for hundreds of miles at a time. This final leg through Argentina would take us into Chile to the Atacama desert, almost 4000km north of our last crossing point in Patagonia.38 argentina quebrada de humahuaca roadTo find out how much all that cost us, read our post on The Blue Dollar and the real cost of traveling in Argentina.

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12 Comments

  1. Here in Turkey there are also attendants on every standard class bus who serve you drinks and a snack (biscuit or cake) – although the amount of times you get served during the journey and whether you actually get your snack seems to depend on the attendant you get that day! I was very upset the other day to miss out on my snack on a long journey 😉
    I’ve always heard good things about the buses in S America and these look amazing.
    Julia recently posted..Taking a Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul

    1. I have actually heard great things about bus travel in Turkey and can’t wait to go back there soon to jump on one of the buses 🙂 I think we’ve experienced the best buses in SA (Argentina & Chile) – Bolivia’s next, I have a feeling bus travel will be a bit rougher there 😉

  2. Oh, how I wish I had noise-cancelling headphones! If you thought it was bad on Argentine buses, just wait till you get to Bolivia and Peru. I swear, it was like silence is something to be feared, rather than savoured.

    We did a small part of that 27 hour journey between Bariloche and El Chalten (just 12 hours from El Chalten to Los Antiguos), and when we heard from Juan at Kospi that you guys had done it all by bus, we thought you must be crazy. I don’t envy you that journey!

    But I must admit, Argentina is a really gorgeous country and seeing it by bus is a great way to do it – and the fact that the buses are some of the best on the continent (that we’ve experienced), it’s not that bad!
    Sam recently posted..Expat Living in Peru: Mari in Lima

    1. Bolivian and Peruvian buses seem to be a lot more like Central American buses from what you’re saying! I am curious to see how we feel about Bolivian buses when we get there in a couple of weeks – we have yet to hear a GOOD story about buses there 😉

  3. Wow! Incredible photos… the huge expanses of space and big skies definitely appeal – and the mountains of course…
    Argentina and Chile are definitely on my list, if I can ever tear myself away from India! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Melody! I hope you’ll get to visit South America soon – it’s very different from India but I think you’ll enjoy it equally as much 🙂

      1. Hi Dani, Jess…
        Yes, I’ve been to Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica… I loved it and look forward to returning – the Andes totally stole my heart and I was lucky enough to do the Inca Trail before they introduced the rule that you have to go with a guide, which was magic… But your pictures definitely make me want to explore Argentina and Chile – thanks! Enjoy your upcoming adventures and thanks for the inspiration 🙂

        1. Wow, you did the Inca Trail before you had to go with a guide – how amazing!! I had no idea you already knew Latin America so well, Melody 🙂 I hope you’ll get to explore Argentina and Chile soon – you’ll appreciate all the scenic places along the Andes 🙂

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