If you plan on backpacking in South America, chances are at some point, you are going to take a night bus to cover some serious distance.
I’ve put together a little lowdown on the four different experiences I had using night buses in Argentina, Chile and Peru – which were of varying quality from free glasses of red wine in Argentina to a hot and sticky overnight in the North of Chile!
Here is the lowdown…
Night Bus #1 Argentina
The Journey El Chalten to Bariloche
Time Taken 24 hours (leaving at 9.50pm)
Bus Company Used Marga Taqsa
Comfort Rating 3/5
Cost of Ticket AR3444 (around £60)
After an amazing Christmas spent hiking around the Patagonian town of El Chalten in Southern Argentina, New Year would be spent in the Argentine Lake District town of Bariloche. Without flying, this was the most ‘direct’ route and an opportunity to see the vast landscapes of Patagonia, on what would be the longest bus journey I’d ever done.
We boarded the bus just before 10 pm, as the skies over the mountains were darkening, having eaten a decent meal in town and changed into comfy clothes ready to settle down for the night.
As we’d booked the tickets in advance, we’d paid slightly more to sit downstairs in the slightly more spacious ‘semi-cama’ seats, which reclined to a reasonable sleeping position.
Stupidly, I thought we may have been provided with a blanket, but none appeared, so instead, I put on all the thermals and clothes I’d bought on board with me. It turned out to be freezing on the bus, and the first part was slow going, on an unsealed gravel road. Every hour or so I would wake up, feeling a chill – but on the plus side, the stars over the barren Patagonian landscape were amazing!
As it grew lighter, we made a stop in Perito Moreno (town, not the glacier) where I jumped off to brush my teeth and try to do something with my hair, plus picking up a breakfast panini.
The daylight hours were spent reading, writing my travel diary and listening to podcasts. And lunch? Well, it was a beige affair!
The classic Argentine biscuit snack of alfajores, filled with dulce de leche (caramel) was a welcome treat mid-afternoon.
In the early evening, the flat landscapes changed to more mountainous green hills, as we approached Bariloche just as the sunset over the town.
Night Bus #2 Argentina
The Journey Bariloche to Mendoza
Time Taken 18 hours (leaving at 1.30pm and arriving at 7 am)
Bus Company Used Cata International
Comfort Rating 4.5/5
Cost of Ticket AR3033 (around £53)
Hands down the best bus we took on our trip, this bad boy was amazing. Comfy leather seats, blankets provided, headphones to listen to music and watch movies on the little screen in front (Spanish only), this was like taking a flight on the road!
We boarded in the early afternoon, briefly chatting to an Argentine lady who was amused at our excitement on the fanciness of the bus compared to the last one.
As the sun began to set, we were given a basic three-course meal – a pizza slice, beef with potatoes and peas, fruit salad and even a glass of red wine! Granted, it was worth the extra cost for paying for the semi-cama (more spacious downstairs seats).
The bus was kept warmer too, and I had a pretty decent nights sleep, feeling quite refreshed as I peered out the window to see the dawn rising over the miles of vineyards around Mendoza. We were given a light breakfast before jumping off into a steamy hot Mendoza!
Night Bus #3 Chile
The Journey Calma to Arica, Northern Chile
Time Taken hours 8 1/2hrs (suppose to be 9hr20)
Bus Company Used Geminis
Comfort Rating 2/5
Cost of Ticket CLP 9,000 (around £10)
This was the most uncomfortable night bus we took, but it was also the cheapest ticket. I also have no photos from this journey – a testament to how unremarkable it was! Instead of flying up to Peru, we choose to go overland from Calama to Arica, the last town in Chile before catching to train over to border to Tacna.
We decided to go cheap and basic on this bus, and booked top deck seats right at the front, with semi-reclining chairs.
No added extras on this journey, just ploughing on straight through the night. And it was hot, oh so hot, which was hilarious given that after the first bus back in Patagonia I had bought so many clothes on board with me! I think we were the only tourists on the bus, a true local bus.
We ended up arriving in Arica 2 hours early at 5 am and having to snooze in the bus station until the hostel opened!
Night Bus #4 Peru
The Journey Arequipa to Cusco
Time Taken 10hrs (8.30pm-6.30am)
Bus Company Used Cruz Del Sur
Comfort Rating 4/5
Cost of Ticket 115 Peruvian Sol (around £22)
This was up there with the Cata bus to Mendoza in terms of comfort levels – and even before we got on the bus, we got to go into a “VIP” area which had air con, toilets, wifi and free drinking water!
We opted for the slightly more expensive downstairs again, with seats right at the back. The attendant gave out headphones but this time the movies available on the little screens on the back of the chairs had English subtitles – so I opted for a bit of cheese watching Mamma Mia before drifting off into a light sleep.
As we boarded the bus quite late, we just got light snacks and a light beige breakfast the next morning.
As morning broke, the altitude rose as the bus began to wind up the Sacred Valley, passing hilltop villages before arriving into a fancy bus station on the edge of Cusco.
Overall, I think taking the night bus in South America is really worthwhile – no hassle of getting to an airport and checking in. Plus, you get to see the landscapes change and have a little time to reflect on your trip as you go.
Heading to South America? Catch up with my advice posts here!
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