San Carlos de Bariloche, capital of the Rio Negro province, is the entry point of the upper north side of Argentinian Patagonia. In order to travel more south, more specifically to trekking capital El Chalten, there are only a few options available to bypass the monstrous 1700km.
- Take a flight to El Calafate. This town is more south, so you will actually need to travel back north, for around 3 hours. Budget-wise, this is the most expensive option (approx 200-300 EUR/USD)
- Cut the journey in pieces, traveling via Puerto Madryn and the coastal area. By doing this, you will be able to cut the bus ride in a 10h journey (El Chalten) and a 20h journey (via Rio Gallegos). On the way, you can visit the Valdes Peninsula, famous for its wildlife and whale watching. This will set you back between 150-200 EUR/USD, and you will need more time (3-4 days)
- Go straight south via Ruta 40, a 23h bus journey directly reaching El Chalten (120 EUR/USD). We’ve chosen this one.
Which bus company to choose?
There are only 2 companies which will do this trip. Chalten Travel usually starts operating around 15 November, splitting the trip in 2 days of 12h rides. You will need to book accommodation in Perito Moreno. Total cost reaches 150-200 EUR/USD.
The other option is Taqsa Marga, doing the 23h in one ride. Operating times are dependent on the weather, but in 2016, this was November 6, making the journey on every even day. Tickets can be bought at the Taqsa office in the Bariloche bus terminal (opening times 9-13h and 19-21h) and were 2020 ARS (Nov. 2016). Don’t expect a lot of luxury. The Taqsa Marga bus’ condition is bearable, yet not as modern as buses in Peru or Chile. The entire bus is semi cama, which means a seat reclining to 140 degrees. If you’re lucky.
Getting on the road
Ruta 40 was long known for its bad conditions of the road, yet in recent years the entire way is almost completely paved. Start time is 12:30 in Bariloche, after which the bus passes some extremely beautiful scenery until reaching the small city of El Bolson, approx. 2 hours later. When the weather is nice (i.e. blue skies), it’s truly amazing to sit back, relax and enjoy the landscape passing by.
Another 2 hours passing by snow-capped mountains and green hillsides will get you to Esquel, where it is possible to buy some drinks or snacks in the bus terminal.
Ruta 40’s view is amazing, with really long stretches of no man’s land. It feels like you’re the only there…
Food and “entertainment”
You better had bought those snacks in Esquel, because afternoon tea is what could be called “light”: one apple juice, a cookie and a small ham sandwich.
23 hours is long, very long. If you want some change and don’t want to keep watching outside or working on your blog (if you have one), maybe it’s time to get to some reading. Time to reread a nicely written classic of Nassim Taleb: The Black Swan. Maybe this 23h bus ride will also be a Black Swan in our South America journey…
At this time, the views have shifted to the Pampas: small hills and mountains in a more desert like setting, occasionally some sheep or horses on the horizon.
Time for dinner: a cold empanada (with corn), a cold hamburger and a piece of bread. Better bring some good snacks!
After dinner, it’s movie time, with surprisingly an English spoken movie: Everest. Yay! It’s not really worthy to keep checking outside (the last few hours have been similar), so enjoy that movie.
The long stretches of no man’s land continue, gazing at the sunset (around 9PM), until night comes and you’ll hopefully can get some sleep.
We estimate around 90% of the road to be paved. Occasionally during the night, we felt some bumpy parts, going on more grind roads. But, the bus drivers actually slowed down quite nicely.
After a night’s sleep, few hours left!
After some sleep (good or bad), breakfast is thrown in your lap: some crackers and 2 cookies. There’s also tea or coffee. The landscape changed once more, back into mountain area. Occasionally, you’ll see some sheep, guanacos or even some emoe.
The last 2 hours of the journey are very pleasant for picture taking. The last stretch towards El Chalten follows a big lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. This is why we have been putting efforts for such a long bus ride, finally reaching the hikers capital of El Chalten. Fitz Roy, here we come!
Last fun fact about our 23h bus journey: we arrived on the morning after the US presidential elections. Funny feeling not knowing what was going on in the world…
Did you take a long distance bus in South America? How was your experience? Share your story with us!
Argentina’s economy experiences some tough times, annual inflation easily reaches 25% to 40%. Prices and costs mentioned in our posts clearly state the date. Therefore, take into account future price increases while reading our information.