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When you travel South America there are a few guaranteed things that will happen.. you’ll end up buying an Alpaca wool jumper, you’ll get extremely tired of eating bread and jam for breakfast, you’ll probably experience altitude sickness, you’ll have an amazing time AND you’ll get so sick of bus journeys!
To travel via plane in South America is ridiculously expensive, whether it’s an internal flight or a flight between countries and train travel is unheard of so buses will be how you get from place to place!
I travelled South America for 3 months at the start of 2015, I travelled to 7 countries and within that time I took 33 buses! 13 of which were overnight, so its safe to say after my last journey (which was 21 hours) I was happy to get off and not get on another bus for a while!
In all fairness the buses in South America are on a whole different level to those you find in South East Asia and even in Australia, New Zealand and the UK and they can actually be comfier than being on a plane!
A 22 hour bus journey may not sound too appealing but it will inevitably happen if you want to travel the vast continent that is South America so here are some tips on how to book buses in South America and how to travel on buses in South America that I picked up a long the way to help you prepare for these long journeys!
1) Be picky with the companies you use.
As I mentioned all the buses I took (with some exceptions in Bolivia and Ecuador) were very fancy! It pays to do some research into which bus company is best in South America as some companies may be more for locals- charging a lower price but also with a lower comfort level and some will be a lot nicer aimed at tourists and more wealthy locals.
I found plenty of blog posts online with recommendations on which companies to use (and not use!) for most routes. I have given my own recommendations at the bottom of this post!
2) Opt for a better class.
You will soon get used to the terms Semi Cama, Cama and Salon Cama. ‘Cama’ in Spanish is bed and these are the 3 types of classes on South American buses for tourists.
Semi Cama is the basic class, it has 2 sets of 2 seats like you would normally see on a coach and the seats recline to usually about 140° (which is a lot more than they would on say a Greyhound bus in Australia!) and they have a leg rest.
The second class is Cama, this seat will recline to 160° and the seat itself is the same as you would get in business class on a place so there’s a lot more room, because the seats are so big the coaches have a row of 2 seats, the aisle and then just a row of one.. perfect for a solo traveller and again they have a leg rest.
Salon Cama isn’t offered on all buses but some do and this is the highest class,- these seats go back flat to 180° and have a leg rest that does the same so you basically have a bed (!!) and again the seats are very large and comfy.
If you are doing a long journey then I would recommend looking into the price differences between the classes as if you’re like me and don’t sleep too well on buses then it pays to get a bigger seat and possibly not be sitting next to anyone and often there’s not too much difference between the prices!
Do you have travel insurance to cover you? I am covered by WorldNomad’s and I really recommend them as it has been designed for travellers by travellers and you don’t even need to be in your home Country to start a plan. Why not look into travel insurance now whilst you think of it.
3) Take Food and Water!
Some of the buses in South America will provide you with meals- especially Cruz Del Sur which I used all the time in Peru (i could even order a vegetarian meal when I booked the ticket on their website) but the meals are usually quite small and often a boring combination of rice and a sauce and if the bus does provide you with meals then it means they won’t stop… Even if it’s a 22 hour journey!
Those that don’t provide food may stop but it’s not guaranteed. Often the drivers will allow locals to come onto the bus and sell snacks and drinks and then drop them off 10 minutes later but its worth taking your own snacks and water just in case.
4) Keep all valuables on you.
This sounds obvious doesn’t it and I didn’t have anything stolen or have any problems on any of my journeys but I did hear stories of people who did have things stolen from their hand luggage bags on the bus (although this was more in Ecuador and Columbia).
Most of the time when you put your big bag in the bottom of the bus you will be given one half of a ticket and the other will go onto your bag, at the end of the journey you have to show your side of the ticket in order to collect your bag (and they do really check it!) I thought this was a great idea travelling by bus in South America is very safe in this sense as it means your bag won’t be stolen.
However from experience in Asia I know it’s possible that people go through your bag when it’s in the bottom compartment so still keep all valuables and expensive items on you and in a bag on your lap.. especially when you sleep.
5) Take Entertainment.
A lot of the buses will play films.. some of them even have personal TV’s in each seat so you can watch what you want (fancy hey?) but if you’re like me and you don’t understand much/any Spanish then you’re quite limited so make sure you have your phone fully charged, a book and some music to listen to.
A plus of bus travel though is that you get to watch the world go by, we drove through and passed so many amazing landscapes and villages that looking out the window for 8 hours can also pass pretty quickly!
6) Be Prepared for all Climates.
For some strange reason, and this has happened to me in Asia and in Australia- when the temperature drops outside at night the bus seems to have the air con on full blast and when it warms up during the day it seems to stop.. hmm weird! Anyway, this means no matter how hot you are when you board the bus, take some extra layers and clothes just in case! Some bus companies will provide you with a blanket and pillow for overnight journeys but its best to be safe than sorry.. and cold!
7) Take toilet roll.
I was pleasantly surprised with how many of the buses had working toilets and toilet roll but of course it’s always best to take your own just in case! The odd bus which didn’t have a toilet, or a working toilet (mostly in Ecuador) did stop every few hours so it’s not tooo bad!
8) Enjoy the ride!
And finally.. use these long journeys in South America as a way to rest so you can be back on your feet exploring at your next destination. I saw so many amazing landscapes, little villages, locals going about their day-to-day life so sit back and enjoy the journey!
Companies I recommend using for long distance journeys.
To see Blog Posts from my 3 Months in South America have a look here:
I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010. In the Summer of 2018 I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time! Yes, I’m living that dream!
NOV-DEC: PROBABLY INDONESIA
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