What the guidebook doesn’t tell you…
Getting round Retiro bus terminal
Flights cost a fortune in Argentina, yet buses are of luxury quality, so chances are you’ll be passing through Buenos Aires’ main bus terminal – Retiro – at least once while travelling here.
- It’s more than possible to obtain tickets for travel on the same day – remember bus travel in Argentina is prolific – there are hundreds of companies with dozens of departures each day.
- Get cheaper prices by buying your tickets at the bus company’s office at the bus station itself rather than online, by phone or through an agency. It can also be possible to negotiate even cheaper deals there, especially if you offer to pay in cash. They don’t shout about this, so keep friendly and keep pushing to see how low they will go. For example, we got cama seats for cheaper than semi-cama when we chatted to the clerk and offered to pay in cash.
- If you’re travelling to Iguassu Falls, the cheapest option that is not very well advertised is to go with the Brazilian firm Pluma Bus – find them in the very last booth on the booking office floor in Retiro, or unlike with the Argentinian firms, find even cheaper tickets on their website. It means you will arrive on the Brazilian side of the falls, but you can get a semi-cama ticket at half the price of Argentinian buses.
- There is a luggage storage service located in the lower ground floor at Retiro bus station.
- Travelling to or from Retiro, save money and avoid getting stuck in traffic and instead of a taxi, take the Subte (subway/underground). From the bus station walk right to the very end of the terminal, follow the undercover route until you come out on a market-stall lined street, turn right and keep going past the two train stations until you see the Subte. The stop is called Retiro, so easy if you’re going to the bus station from town, too.
- The immense booking office floor has booths for hundreds of bus companies and is organised by the destinations they serve. To save wandering time, make your first stop the information office (on your left as soon as you enter the terminal from the undercover route if you’ve come from the train or Subte stations) to ask for a list of companies that serve your destination, and their booth numbers. Then take the escalators upstairs to begin your mission!
Going to Uruguay!
A recommended trip – I ended up spending six weeks in Uruguay before I came back to BsAs.
- At the time of my travels, there were two main companies making the ferry trip across the Rio Plata to Colonia – the quickest route from BsAs. BuqueBus is the dominant company that also offers different standards of packages depending on your requirements, but I found the relatively new company Colonia Express to be the cheapest and the fastest – with a crossing time of less than 1 hour.
- Remember your passport! You go through ordinary customs and immigration controls at the ferry terminals.
- Colonia Express departs from its own small terminal (basic facilities) south of Puerto Madero (Av Pedro de Mendoza 330) in BsAs. You’ll arrive in Uruguay at Colonia’s smart ferry terminal (more facilities, ATMs). From here it’s just a few metres down the road to the town’s bus terminal for onward travel; but I recommend stopping at least an afternoon to explore pretty Colonia. There is a secure left luggage service in the bus terminal.
- On the way back to BsAs, remember to check in at your chosen company’s desk first – many people (I included – I’m not used to travelling internationally by boat, ok?!) make the mistake of immediately heading to the immigration queue, to then be told you need your boarding pass first.
- You can also cross from Tigre, a suburb of BsAs, to Carmelo or Colonia in Uruguay.
Eating and drinking in Buenos Aires
- My restaurant recommendation is El Remanso in San Telmo (Estados Unidos 745) – all you can eat parrilla meat, pasta dishes and salad buffet – try all kinds of meat from chorizo to ribs and all the different types of cuts of bife they offer (Estados Unidos 745; www.elremanso-parrilla.com.ar)
- Order a coffee in BsAs and you’ll get an espresso (they call coffee as we know it ‘dirty water’!).
- See my budget tips for Buenos Aires to see how to eat well and cheaply in the city.
Sleeping in Buenos Aires
I stayed in seven different places during my time in Buenos Aires – both seeking out best deals and to get to know each different area of the city. If you’re planning a stay of a couple of weeks or more, save money with a vacation rental apartment or negotiate a discount on a room with a hostel (not many seemed to be up for this when we enquired, but we finally found one that would reduce it by 20% if you paid cash in advance). Also see my expert guide on which barrio to stay in Buenos Aires.
Hostel Sol, Lima 1169
Probably the cheapest hostel in BsAs and a world away from Che Lagarto (see below). Old and basic, but a safe and homely feel thanks to the attentive middle-aged men on the front desk who personally come down the stairs to let you in and out the front door, unlike at other hostels where we noticed they just blindly buzz anyone in.
What I paid: Ar.$49 for a dorm bed, shared bathroom, breakfast included.
Showers: Gas; good.
Internet: WiFi; three PCs.
Other amenities: Kitchen, sitting and dining area, courtyard.
Che Lagarto, Venezuela 857
I guess it should always be a warning when you walk into a hostel and hear an upset girl checking out saying she was leaving to another hostel. We were soon to find out many reasons why, with our upsets including a power cut that wasn’t fixed the whole duration of our stay; sharing our dorm with potential thieves; an in-house bar-disco with pounding music until 4 or 5am; and to top it off, ignorant staff that seemed oblivious to any of these misdemeanours. We only came here by accident and wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re after a messy party.
What I paid: Ar.$68 for a dorm bed, shared bathroom, including breakfast.
Showers: Gas; good.
Internet: WiFi downstairs area only; three PCs.
Other amenities: Shared kitchen but with limited hours you were allowed to use it; bar; garden; ping-pong table.
An anomaly in my list of budget accommodation, but we got a good deal – read my full review of Pop Hotel.
Easy Downtown Cordoba Apart-Hotel, Cordoba 875
This was excellent for location smack bang in the centre, and for the novelty of having our own mini ‘apartment’. We felt like we were fully fledged porteños. We never saw one member of staff – nor needed to – we just received a confirmation email and picked up and dropped off the key at the building’s concierge. However, this did mean the lack of attention showed only too well in that the apartment had not been cleaned properly and the bathroom was crawling with so many insects at night, I felt like I was in Indiana Jones Temple of Doom.
What I paid: US$33 (with an offer on Hoteles.com) per night for the apartment.
Showers: Gas; very good; plus bath.
Other amenities: Your own apartment! Studio room with beds, sofa, breakfast bar, TV; separate mini-kitchen with 2-ring hob, microwave, sink, cupboards with basic utensils, pots, pans and crockery; bathroom.
Hostel Ayres Porteños, Peru 708
Another great location, though with a very different atmosphere – this time in the heart of San Telmo – the pretty and touristy area of the city. I never understand why hostels can’t spend money on maintenance rather than whimsical decoration, such as the life-size models of porteños (one even standing on a full-size Caminito balcony in the breakfast room) that appeared throughout this building. Our first room here was old-fashioned but quaint with retro furniture, and I liked it. But when they got confused with bookings and moved us up to the stifling third floor to a room that was dark and leaked when it rained, I got a completely different feel of the place.
What I paid: Ar.$354 for two nights (an offer on Expedia.com.ar) for a twin room; shared bathroom; including breakfast (croissants, toast, fruit juice, teas, coffees).
Showers: Gas; very good; plenty on each floor.
Internet: WiFi; three PCs.
Other amenities: breakfast/dining room; kitchen; TV lounge; and the best amenity yet: a do-it-yourself washing machine and dryer (Yippee! I can wash my clothes at the right temperatures and not beat the life out of them like laundry services do!!)
Hostel Kilca, Mexico 1545
One of the cheapest in town, which showed – we had what appeared to be a small tablecloth for a bottom sheet on the bed, and cockroaches streamed through the kitchen. It was evident this place didn’t have a cleaner and was run by a couple of young guys, who, although friendly and helpful, weren’t too bothered about cleanliness. However, it was smaller and homelier than other hostels, which made it a great place to get chatting with others and hang out in the courtyard gardens.
What I paid: Ar.$130 for a private double room, shared bathroom, including breakfast (tea and toast only).
Showers: Gas; good; not clean, and only one bathroom for the whole hostel!
Internet: WiFi throughout.
Other amenities: Cosy lounge and kitchen areas; courtyard gardens with hammocks.
Garden House Hostel, Avenida San Juan 1271
Of all of them, this was my favourite hostel in town – the right balance of cheap and cheerful, with great, homely areas to meet others. And it wasn’t too big or party-focused.
What I paid: Ar.$180 for a private double, shared bathroom, including breakfast.
Showers: Gas; good.
Internet: WiFi; two PCs.
Other amenities: Kitchen; two lounges; roof terrace; lots of information, tours, travel tickets and so on.