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I'm heading to Buenos Aires in a week and would like to get to Patagonia and back in 12 days.

I assume I've got to get down to El Calafate and from there we can organize trekking and visit the Perito Moreno glacier.

I'm on a budget, and it seems like flying and taking the bus is going to be around the same price, and both are pretty expensive ($200/person round trip). Would there be an advantage to taking the bus besides getting there quicker? (Nice scenery I'd miss from a plane maybe?)

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3 Answers 3

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Well firstly most buses won't go directly to El Calafate. You'll likely have to change buses, and likely will want to - it's a long way!

However, a convenient stopping point could be Puerto Madryn (Chubut). It's a great little beach town, with the Valdez Peninsula - and I kid you not - you can sit on the hostel balcony and point at the whales as they come near the shore! Some great seafood restaurants too.

If you're going to consider the bus, consider upgrading from Semi-cama to full-cama or cama-suite or whatever the bus company you choose calls it. Semi-cama is seats that partially recline. However for about $5 more from Puerto Madryn to Buenos Aires (that's the price difference it was for me) you can upgrade to full-cama, which gives you a seat that folds down into a BED, as well as good food, and tv. If you're on a strict budget don't bother, but once I discovered that, wow, it's so much better for the huge trips.

In El Calafate, I also highly recommend the America Del Sur Hostel - it had a spectacular view over the town and Lago Argentina, and you can organise trips to the glacier from their reception (we did a day tour to the glacier - it's spectacular).

Much of the flat part of Argentina is fairly boring scenery, but I liked the coastal route, and once you get into the mountains it's great. You'll spot guanacoes (like llamas) and rhea (like ostrich) and other animals. But I guess it depends on your preference, how you handle seriously-long bus trips, and how much time you have as well.

Look into Andesmar (my favourite), El Rapido (sometimes cheaper), Omnilineas and Plusmar.

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Thanks, we'd definitely spring for the full-cama as we've had our fill of all-night sit up straight buses this year! Is US$160-200 a reasonable price? Would I be able to find a cheaper bus once I'm in BA, or better to book online prior to arrival? –  jjeaton Aug 15 '12 at 20:35
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When we went (2010) it was nearly impossible to find bus companies from outside of Argentina. Once we got there, it was trivial, google seems to change results based on your country. But if you're in BA, go to Retiro bus station (next door to the metro station of the same name). There is a building full of companies, all competing with each other, so just wander around asking how much, until you hear a price you like. I honestly can't remember how much good was - I did it in smaller segments, but if you have more questions I'll be in Travel Chat for a bit. –  Mark Mayo Aug 15 '12 at 20:37
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I agree with most of what Mark wrote. However, instead of visiting websites of individual bus companies or going to the Retiro bus terminal, there's a far better way to find out the prices and schedules of intercity buses anywhere in Argentina:

plataforma10.com

Just enter origin, destination and date, and hit "buscar". If you want, with credit card you can also buy the ticket directly from the site & print it.

For example, for Buenos Aires (Retiro) - Puerto Madryn, there are 6 different operators running lots of buses daily. Results can be handily sorted by duration, price etc. Quickest is 18 hours (Condor - Estrella), while cheapest is AR$ 525 (El Pinguino) one-way.

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(If price isn't the main factor, I can also recommend Andesmar. Though I haven't tried most of the companies on the BA-PM route, like El Pinguino, Don Otto or Via Tac.)

For Puerto Madryn - El Calafate, Andesmar seems to be the only option with one daily bus; AR$ 835 (cama ejecutivo) or AR$ 950 (cama suite).

Good point by user27478 too. I think everyone should take at least one long-distance bus trip while in Argentina, but spending big part of your 12 days in buses probably isn't optimal. Still, of course you'd miss something if you fly. If nothing else, you will better appreciate the vastness of it all and maybe feel some additional sense of (In Patagonia type) adventure going by road. :-)

(One option: visit Patagonia later with more time, and go to perhaps Salta or Mendoza instead.)

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Hmm, I thought Plataforma 10 was just an Argentinian agglomerate site, but actually it covers Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay too... at least to some extent. –  Jonik Aug 19 '12 at 9:57
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You only have 12 days. If you take a bus round-trip from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, you're going to waste 2-3 days getting there and 2-3 days getting back. That's almost half of your vacation on a bus! On top of that, a brief check I did of the price on the Andesmar bus via Puerto Madryn shows a round trip price of around $700 USD (depends on the seats) whereas LAN flies there round trip for around $500 USD.

Patagonia is an amazing place and you should try to spend as much time there as you can. The scenery in the interior of Argentina is spectacular for it's vast emptiness, but trust me after a few hours looking out the bus window you'll have seen enough.

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I'm fairly sure the Andesmar bus website shows it in Argentinian Pesos, not US$. There's no way I paid that much to bus down there. So more like $150 each way in that case. –  Mark Mayo Aug 16 '12 at 20:39
    
I was surprised by the high price too! Maybe I picked something wrong on their web site, but the total was about 3,500 ARS round-trip (four buses) which is about 750 USD... –  user27478 Aug 17 '12 at 6:20
    
Ah crud, I was just going to PM, not El Calafate. Yeah there's still no way - in which case I'd definitely buy them on the ground - I paid £3 extra to upgrade from Regular to Ejecutivo according to my blog, so it surely can't have been US$300. Annoyed I didn't write down the total price. Maybe it really is way cheaper on the ground; I know a lot of South Africa was like that, and Russia for that matter. –  Mark Mayo Aug 17 '12 at 6:35
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My experience with Andesmar has been that their online prices are exactly the same as buying on the ground. Just double-checked: BA to PM is 600 ARS and PM to EC is 835 ARS both in cheapest class. That's a total of 2870 ARS round-trip or 622 USD. Perhaps other bus companies are cheaper? –  user27478 Aug 17 '12 at 7:47
    
Perhaps, but I definitely did Andesmar to PM in Ejecutivo. Maybe I got some weird special. I'd still recommend going into Retiro - there are so many companies there that you can wander around and guarantee you're getting a good price. Just been hunting through my emails, lots of talk about the 19 hours to PM, but no price, not happy with my record keeping >:( –  Mark Mayo Aug 17 '12 at 7:59
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