If you’re heading to South America for any length of time, you’re going to be spending time on buses. Unless you fly everywhere I guess, but one thing is for sure – it’s not a continent widely connected by rail. Which is certainly disappointing for any rail buffs out there. Like myself. I did get a couple of tourist trains in, however, it was bus travel that got me across long distances.
I thought I’d do a quick summary of buses in a post as for anyone likely to traverse distances in South America, you’re going to find yourself spending oh so many hours on buses. Yeah, I am not the world’s greatest fan of buses. However, the good news is that bus travel in South America, all told, is not all that bad and in some places it can be quite comfy. I’ll go country by country here, covering four of the five countries I visited. I didn’t take a long distance bus is Brazil so it’s all about Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Today is Part One as I realised whilst writing how long the post is!
In Ecuador I took three long distance (more than three hours) buses. From Quito to Riobamba, from Riobamba to Cuenca and from Cuenca to Huaquillas, just before the Peruvian border. None of these trips were overnight. Quito to Riobamba was between four and five hours. Then to Cuenca a bit more and Cuenca to Huaquillas again around 5.5 hours.
The buses were okay, but perhaps the least comfortable of all the countries I took buses in. The Quito bus terminal is huge, a bit of a walk from the ticket counter to the bus. As I found with all bus stations in South America, on varying scales, they have counters for many different bus companies. Some do many routes, others are more specialised. There are signs up for the routes on most windows but it helps if you know which company you are looking for before you arrive.
The buses usually let you on through a door past the driver’s compartment to the main cabin, which often stays shut during the journey. The buses in Ecuador weren’t always in great condition, bits falling off here and there, the air conditioning didn’t always work. They got quite full too. But they were sturdy enough. I travelled on Chimborazo, Patria and another company I don’t remember in Ecuador. No issues with them, all pretty punctual and safe, but also not amazing buses.
The one thing that you notice on the bus in Ecuador is the hawkers that come on to get you to buy something on every single journey. From food (fair enough) to usb fans. They stay on the bus for a while, give a spiel, then go up and down the bus looking for customers, then they try it again. One guy stayed on and kept talking for well over an hour on route from Riobamba to Cuenca.
My trip from Cuenca to Piura in Peru I booked through a website. I booked on ‘Pullman Ecuador’ but they only operated the bus to Huaqillas. Then I had to be escorted through town (with several warnings it wasn’t safe) to get to another terminal where the bus through the border all the way to Piura was waiting. In Piura I would have to transfer terminals as well.
I uses CIFA who were quite good (Border to Piura) and Libertad (Cusco to Puno) for my two day journeys. Libertad weren’t so comfortable, they had a similar bus to Oltursa however it seemed to be one that had been in operation for too long and bits and pieces everywhere needed to be repaired. It was also quite dirty.
Oltursa is the company I used for all three of my night journeys, and I booked all my tickets online. That’s Piura – Lima – Arequipa – Cusco. Oltursa are one of the companies that offer a superior, ‘VIP’ service. Three seats across (sometimes only on the bottom level) means there is almost a ‘business class’ feel to the service. I always booked the single seat on the right.
The chairs reclined back quite a bit and I had some pretty decent sleep it must be said on my Oltursa journeys. They also had meals and snacks as well, a host/hostess, and movies playing. One of the buses, perhaps all of them, had a usb charger which was great. They were pricey I guess, the shortest trip was around $45US, but that’s really nothing for an overnight service. The buses were also clean and punctual. After the first one I had no hesitation booking the other two. Being able to book online was also a big bonus. It’s fair to say that Peru had the best buses (bar Cusco to Puno) that I took in South America.
And so that’s enough for this post, next week I’ll talk about the buses in Bolivia and Argentina. Have you taken buses in South America? How did you find them? Please comment, and of course, May the Journey Never End!