By Noemi Gamel
Kara and Tristan – 12 hours into a 13 hour bus ride in Argentina
Growing up in the United States, we tend to view bus rides with trepidation. They are uncomfortable, slow, and rarely seem to run at the time or along the route we need. We knew that buses would be part of our around the world trip, but it wasn’t a form of transportation we were looking forward too.
Imagine our surprise when we boarded our first extended bus ride in Peru (20 hours). Many of the buses in South America are amazing. Huge, comfortable seats that recline a full 180 degrees (think first class on a plane and you get the picture of what a “cama” seat is like). They even provide decent food service.
After three months of using buses in South America, we have some tips to make bus travel more comfortable. These will be especially useful if you have kids.
Use a backpack instead of a suitcase. A backpack is easier to maneuver around bus stations that may not have elevators or ramps. It is also easier to carry in case you can’t use the luggage compartment under the bus, which sometimes you can’t do if your final destination is not that route’s end of the line.
Pack entertainment. Chris and I have a “carry-on” bag where we make sure to keep materials to keep the kids (and us) entertained on the bus, especially the long ones such as our 20 hour bus ride to Cusco, Peru or our 12 hour ride to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. We carry Uno cards, a standard deck of cards, and yes, their iPADs (loaded with books, movies, and games). Make sure those electronics are fully charged before you get on the bus, as most of them do not have plugs.
Pack snacks. Many of the longer, upscale buses will provide meals, but options are limited and they can be unappealing to kids. Other times, you will not have time to buy food at the bus stops or your options may not be good. Pack snacks like fruit, crackers, or empanadas to prevent hunger-related meltdowns.
Bring antibacterial gel and toilet paper. In countries outside the United States, sometimes you will not find soap or toilet paper in public bathrooms such as the ones in bus stations. One time, in Bolivia, the bus stopped at a remote rest area and when I asked where the toilet was, I was directed to an open field with grazing llamas. It helps to have a sense of humor.
What useful tips do you have for using public transportation in Latin America? Share your advise, tips, and tricks in the comments!