How to survive a 30 hour bus trip in South America

Step 1: Sit as close as you can to the driver and just cry. He will either empathize for you and drive faster to make you feel better, or get annoyed and drive faster just to end the trip sooner.

No, not really. Though the thought did cross my mind.

While this post has been crafted with the journeys to/from Patagonia in mind, I’m sure most of the tips will apply to any long bus trip. We traveled a total of 30 and 1/2 hours from Puerto Montt down to Punta Arenas. This included two border crossings, passing through the Andes mountains, crisscrossing the southern part of the continent, and traveling through several Argentine departments. In all honesty, it was brutal. So was the return trip (Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt), though because there were fewer passengers and no children, the trip went easier through the night. In case you are researching to plan a trip of your own down to Patagonia and the sheer length of the trip makes you feel faint, I have included beautiful photos we took along the trip to give you strength of heart.

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In another post I write about the costs and financials of getting to Patagonia cheaply. This post is for the practicalities of the journey. Here are a few things we learned and a few items we consider indispensable for surviving a trip of this magnitude.

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View from bus driving through Puyehue  National Park in Chile.

What to Expect

On trips this long, buses normally provide “servicio,” which are sorta like the drinks and meals economy flights provide. Not really good food, but something that will tide you over. On our trip down to Patagonia the bus stopped twice–once for dinner, once for lunch the next day–at small restaurants that were somewhat overpriced. But when you finally get a chance to eat real food after snacks during hours and hours of the ride, overpriced really doesn’t seem that bad. These stops always took around 30 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how many passengers were waiting on a meal.

Usually buses have TV screens and will play movies during the trip. Depending on if children are on board, the rating and type of movie can vary. On our way down there were around six or seven children, and most movies were G or PG. On our way back up, there were no children and they played a very heavy R movie. Jordan brought his iPad, power brick, and earbuds to watch the movies he wanted. On the trip down he watched a total of six movies. On the way back up he watched a couple of TV shows with me and around four movies.

The eight hours nearest Puerto Montt are by far the most interesting, because it crosses several national parks and the Andes. After that, Patagonia begins and things get pretty flat and yellow. If you can, try to get a bus trip that spends the time through the Andes during the day. It also makes the customs stops more pleasant (imagine doing that at 3 am).

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What to Bring

  • Water
  • Any toiletries you can’t go without for 30 hours (Such as eye drops, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.)
  • Toilet paper (I have yet to be on a bus where the existence of toilet paper can be counted upon)
  • Food of your own* (Although they do serve breakfast and lunch of a sort, you will want more to munch on in between meals.)
    • We brought: cookies and crackers, orange juice, granola bars, hot soup, tea and sugar, Coke, chips, nuts, dried fruit
    • We packed this in tupperware, thermos, and brought spoons and a cup
  • Pillow, blanket, or jacket of your own, especially if you tend to chill easily
  • Cash to purchase meals at restaurants or snacks at customs kiosks
  • Eye mask, ear plugs, etc., for anyone who is a light sleeper. And everyone will be a light sleeper in a semicama seat packed in a bus with 30 other people
  • Tylenol PM or Nyquil to help you sleep
  • Camera, especially if you will be crossing the Andes or some other picturesque scenery
    • Polarizer for your camera lens to cut down on reflections in the windows
  • Entertainment of some kind (Jordan and I brought an ipod, kindle, ipad with movies between us and that helped a lot)

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A peninsula in Lago Nahuel Haupi, just north of San Carlos Bariloche.

*Be careful about where you store it. Sometimes custom workers don’t like food being taken in and out of the country. We left Jordan’s peanuts inside my pillowcase on the bus when we put our hand luggage through the scanner machine.

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If you’ve been on a long bus ride, what do you recommend?

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Categories: Argentina, Chile, Practical Matters | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “How to survive a 30 hour bus trip in South America

  1. Nancy Redding

    Wow! Sounds like you are almost ready to travel with multiple small children—of your own. Other people’s kids don’t count 😄 The scenery is indeed beautiful!

  2. hey! this is a really informative post! do you mind if we reblog it on our expat blog in chile, of course we will give you all the credit! let us know!

  3. Ha! On the way down there was this very obnoxious eight year old that kicked Jordan’s seat, whined loudly, and was always in the way. I realize that the trip must have been very hard on him, but his parents never once told him to be quiet or still. I was ready to have a nice chat with them about how bad their son was and why it was their fault for not teaching him the proper way to behave. Still, I wonder, why would you ever take a little boy on a trip like this?

  4. Pingback: A cheap(er) way to get to Argentine Patagonia | Wayfaring Adventure

  5. Reblogged this on Inside Santiago and commented:
    We want to share with you this great blog and post we found while looking around online. Adrianne has a been traveling around south america, and has some very interesting insights about bus traveling in South America. We thought it was excellente information, very complete and all her travels look amazing! Thanks to her for letting us share it!

  6. Gorgeous pictures! My longest bus ride was 19 hours in one shot and it was kind of terrible (but worth it). Your 30 hours, in comparaison, seems insane but in a good way. I was thinking of road tripping through South America next summer, your post made me want to even more. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Thank you! Where was your long bus journey? We are spending a total of about 4 and half months in S America, and it is truly beautiful and people are friendly–you should definitely do it!

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