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Getting Around Argentina: Transportation Tips

SmarterTravel

Most international flights to Argentina from North America and Europe are overnights, or redeyes, leaving from the U.S., Canada or Europe in the late evening and arriving in Argentina in the early morning. If you catch a few winks on the plane, jet lag is minimal for North Americans, as there is just a one- to two-hour time difference between Buenos Aires and most North American cities.

Once in Argentina, you’ll find it easy to get to most major cities by air, and to many more locations through an extensive and inexpensive bus network. Keep in mind that distances are much farther than they may seem. For example, a domestic flight from Buenos Aires, where you will likely arrive into the country, is 3.5 hours by air to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego at the very bottom of the country. With stopovers or layovers, adding additional cities to your itinerary means building in a half to a full day for transfers.

Read on to learn more about flying, driving and other methods of getting around Argentina.

Flying to and Around Argentina

The main gateway for international visitors is Buenos Aires, the country’s capital. Its primary international airport is Ezeiza Ministro Pistarini, coded EZE, about 20 miles outside of Buenos Aires. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive to most parts of the capital from there. Domestic airlines and some international flights, including those to Uruguay and Brazil, use Jorge Newbery Airport, also called Aeroparque (AEP). It is as little as 15 minutes north from downtown on Rio de la Plata, and almost walkable from some northern districts.

A long list of international airlines serves the country, including Aerolineas Argentinas (the country’s flagship carrier), Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, Avianca, British Airways, Delta, LAN, Lufthansa, South African and United, among others. Domestically, Aerolineas Argentinas and its subsidiary Austral dominate, along with LAN, a Chilean company that often is more reliable. Flying is definitely the easiest way around the country, though airfares can be notably pricey, especially for popular routes like Buenos Aires to Mendoza.

If you plan to travel extensively within Argentina, consider buying the Aerolineas Argentinas Visit Argentina Pass. It offers discounts for domestic travel in conjunction with your international Aerolíneas Argentinas ticket. For more information, contact the Aerolineas office in your home country or a travel agent like Borello Travel.

Resources:
www.AA2000.com.ar
Aerolineas.com.ar
BorelloTravel.com
LAN.com

Renting a Car in Argentina

You won’t need a car if you’re staying in Buenos Aires, but it can be a useful option for side trips and seeing remote areas of the country surrounding major cities. A car is particularly helpful if you are going to visit estancias, or gaucho resorts in the exurban areas of Buenos Aires; staying in wineries near Mendoza; or traveling to certain areas of Patagonia. In many of these cases, 4 x 4 or more rugged vehicles might be recommended, as some roads in these areas are gravel or unpaved. For the most part, however, major highways are well maintained and well signed. Driving is on the right side as in the U.S./Canada.

Renting a car is pretty simple as long as you are at least 21 years old and have a valid driver’s license, credit card and passport. The most common rentals are manual, with automatic vehicles costing considerably more. Some cars run on natural gas, called Gas Natural Comprimido or GNC, which is slightly cheaper than gasoline; others use engines that combine both. Be aware that passengers are required to step out of natural gas vehicles during refueling as a precaution.

International car rental companies dominate the offerings at airports and in cities, including Hertz, Avis, Dollar and Thrifty. The Automovil Club Argentino, on Avenida del Libertador in the Retiro neighborhood, is useful for maps and other information about driving in Argentina. There is no turn on red in Argentina.

Resources:
www.ACA.org.ar (Spanish only)
Avis.com
Dollar.com
Hertz.com
Thrifty.com

Argentina by Bus

Argentina is served by dozens of bus companies offering inexpensive and relatively comfortable travel, especially on long-distance routes. Overnight options for many routes include semi-cama, or partly reclinable seats, and cama, which are fully reclinable.

All cities and sizeable towns have a bus station. In Buenos Aires, the Estacion Terminal de Omnibus, usually called the Retiro bus station, serves all long-distance buses. It’s sprawling and chaotic, but there is a hidden sense of order. A color-coded system determines what regions of the country are served by which bus lines. Red, for instance, indicates the center of the country (including Buenos Aires province), dark blue the south, orange the north, green the northeast, light blue the central Atlantic coast, and gray international destinations.

Major bus companies include Singer, serving Puerto Iguazu and Brazilian destinations, and Chevallier, serving points throughout the country.

Travel agencies can sell tickets for buses, which adds a little to the price, or you can purchase and download tickets yourself using the website Plataforma10.com. Another useful site is OmniLineas.com.ar. These two sites will allow you to compare prices and routes from different companies in Spanish and in English. Most individual bus company websites are only in Spanish.

Buses are generally safe, but keep an eye on personal items.

Resources:
ExpresoSinger.com.ar (Spanish only)
NuevaChevallier.com (Spanish only)
OmniLineas.com.ar
Plataforma10.com
www.tebasa.com.ar (Spanish only)

Argentina by Train

The 1990s privatization and decades of neglect decimated the Argentine rail system. It is under rejuvenation, reconnecting Buenos Aires via Retiro station to Cordoba (about a 20-hour trip) and other destinations. There are long-term plans for European-style high-speed rail service, but for the moment this remains a dream.

Some of Buenos Aires’ commuter rails are useful for tourists, such as those that pass from Retiro station in the north to wealthy suburban towns such as San Isidro and the Tigre Delta. The southern, poorer regions of the Buenos Aires suburbs are served by Constitucion station, which also has trains to the beach resort of Mar del Plata (about five hours away) and the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata, a one-hour trip. Note that suburban trains can be rife with pickpockets. After several fatal train accidents, the government has been upgrading the southern system, but there are still issues.

There are a few beautiful train options for tourists only, including Salta’s Train to the Clouds (Tren a las Nubes) into the surrounding mountains. Note, however, that this train is unreliable and often suspended — sometimes for weather conditions, sometimes for strikes and sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. Use MoviTrack Safari to the Clouds, which uses special land vehicles, as an alternative.

In Ushuaia, the Train at the End of the World (Tren del Fin del Mundo) is a former prison train through regrowth forests once plundered for their wood resources; today mustangs roam and the views stretch to snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Resources:
www.Ferrobaires.gba.gov.ar (Spanish only)
MoviTrack.com.ar/eng/
SateliteFerroviario.com.ar (Spanish only)
TrenalasNubes.com.ar
TrendelFindelMundo.com.ar

Motorcycle and Bicycle Hire

If you want to write your own version of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” the famous memoir by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, this might be an ideal way to see the country. Travel writer Patrick Symmes did the very same thing, publishing the book “Chasing Che” in 2000.

Motorcycle rental in Argentina isn’t very common, but it is a beautiful, if slightly rough, way of seeing vast stretches of the country. You must have a motorcycle license from your own home country. MotoQuest, Edelweiss and Patagonia Rider all offer tours of Argentina on motorcycle, with Patagonia Rider also allowing you to rent them on your own.

To rent road bikes for long-distance travel in Argentina is very rare. However, Buenos Aires and many other cities have bicycle tours. The capital also now has an extensive system of bicycle lanes and a bike rental system called EcoBici, available all over the city. Look for more information (in Spanish only) on bicycle tours on the website Amigos del Pedal. Many hotels also rent or offer bikes free to guests.

Resources:
AmigosdelPedal.com.ar (Spanish only)
EcoBici.BuenosAires.gob.ar (Spanish only)
EdelweissBike.com
MotoQuest.com/guided-motorcycle-tours-argentina/
PatagoniaRider.com

Argentina by Boat

Many international cruise companies make Argentina a port of call, often combining it with itineraries that include Brazil, Uruguay and Chile. Buenos Aires is the main destination. Your cruise line will likely organize shore excursions, but if you are traveling independently, be aware that the zone just outside the port of Buenos Aires is very dangerous and the site of many robberies of unsuspecting foreigners. For safety, choose an itinerary offered by your ship, or find taxis in this area immediately after leaving the vessel if you want to see things on your own.

If you are traveling between Argentina and Uruguay, you will most likely be taking a boat. From Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires, BuqueBus (a boat, not a bus!) operates trips to Colonia, Montevideo and Punta del Este via a bus-boat connection, with expanded service in the summer. Sturla Viajes also offers boat connections from Puerto Madero to the Tigre islands, a resort destination in the Buenos Aires suburbs. This is a stunning way to see the islands and the Rio de la Plata coastline of Buenos Aires.

If you are interested in renting a private boat or docking your own private boat while in Argentina, contact the Yacht Club of Argentina.

Resources:
BuqueBus.com
SturlaViajes.com.ar
www.YCA.org.ar (Spanish only)

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–written by Michael Luongo

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