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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 Aires, Iguazu Falls and Rosario, but in Argentina, travel is truly all about the journey. We spent countless days and nights traversing Argentina by bus – from top to bottom, but most certainly not in that order. In 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.
Argentina by bus – what is it like?
First things first – buses in Argentina usually look like this:
For 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.
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.
On 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. If you’re a vegetarian and are planning to travel Argentina by bus, do yourself a favor and pack snacks. Lots of them – especially for longer rides.
On 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.
When 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.
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.
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.
Our 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.
…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.
That bus ride was when we started wondering: was it really worth enduring 27 hours through Argentina by bus instead of forking out the money for a plane ticket? For us, it was worth it because we were traveling on a tight budget and the difference in price between bus and plane was staggering.
The Road Through Patagonia
We 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.
From 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.
This 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.
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.
During 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.
Up 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.
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.
We 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.
Our 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.
This 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.
The 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.The 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.
A 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.To find out how much all that cost us, read our post on The Blue Dollar and the real cost of traveling in Argentina.