East of Heart

Crossing South America By Bus

Here you have it, the logistical summary table of my transcontinental bus travels in South America in the last year. Nice, clear SEO title, eh? In two trips, I covered almost 12,000 kilometers of road over a total of more than 220 hours (nine days). It surprises me how easily it can be done. I expected that the chain of travel would reflect the great changes in landscape and cultures more, but efficient bus transport appears to really be a shared institution on this continent. People and goods need to move around here, these are the Americas after all.

In most places buses leave for your next checkpoint every 1-3h, making the long-distance direct routes (Buenos Aires / Salta and São Paulo / Porto Alegre / Montevideo), border opening hours (Peru and Bolivia, 8-21h) and routes in the middle of nowhere (the 19:30 departure 25h bus from Santa Cruz to Asunción) the main flow control points. The shortest border crossing was from Uruguay to Argentina (10 min) and the longest from Bolivia into Paraguay (45 min), again not bad. Finally, if you are wondering about cost efficiency, I spent $27 less on the fast Lima – São Paulo route than I would have with the ‘direct’ $275 tickets Ormeño sells (a standard bus operator from Peru which uses the transoceanic road to Brasil through the jungle) and got to know many more interesting places.

It’s all been quite rushed, but it’s given me a really good overall perception of the continent. I’ll admit that I haven’t been as good at balancing the attraction of covering distance and known landmarks with true off-the-path exploring as I’d have liked. I believe that I’ll now have the better sense to make the time to focus on places far more isolated, challenging to understand and story-filled in the future. Future travel goals. I remain in many ways a person who still has to go through the cycle of considering all available alternatives before making a choice. I admire those who know and choose decisively.

UPDATE: Uruguay comes across as exaggeratedly expensive because of the Porto Alegre / Montevideo bus. From what I heard there, travelling exclusively inside the country costs about the same per unit of distance as in Argentina.



5 Comments

  1. Paul wrote:

    Love the thorough analysis. Good job!

  2. Falco wrote:

    Glad the level of analysis proved informative Paul!

    I didn’t think of including this last relevant value, the average cost of each kilometre / hour of speed, in other words, the country where you get the most for your money. It’s explanatory power is stretched, but if time is not your primary criterium, this really highlights the differences between countries.

    PERU 1.78
    BOLIVIA 0.69
    ARGENTINA 3.05
    URUGUAY 10.63
    PARAGUAY 4.21
    BRAZIL 4.07

    The conclusion one can make is that although a few countries here might be on average faster than others, their transport service quickly looses value when compared to what the cheaper countries are offering for the money, in spite of slower buses. You’re not really getting anything else for the higher price, it’s just the level of pricing in that economy. I’d even argue that transport in Peru and Bolivia remains undervalued in these numbers given the driving skills and more expensive roads necessary in the Andes. What’s surprising though is that Bolivia offers double the ‘value’ as Perú!

  3. Chris wrote:

    Cool Falco!

    That’s a nice analysis! I wonder how long it took you to do the whole trip. Maybe I missed the info in your text, but “in the last year” seems to be the only clue to figure out time frames.

  4. Falco wrote:

    Both of these trips were mostly about getting across the continent so they didn’t take very long. In the first instance, I left Lima on a Thursday and made it to São Paulo by Thursday the next week, spending half a day in Santa Cruz, and another three and a half in Paraguay in the middle. I stopped in many more places on the way “back”. From my experience, if you time your departure properly, you can just keep going all the way across with rarely more than a 3h wait. The major choke point is crossing the Chaco.

  5. Merci Falco pour ces informations précieuses. Je vais les utiliser très prochainement.