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South America by bus

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean South America by bus

1. Posted by zijerem (Budding Member 4 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Hey all,

I´ve got roughly two 24 day stints to see as much as South America as I can, as cheaply as I can. I´m in Lima, Peru, and am wondering what the bus options are from here to countries throughout the continent. Seems impossible to plan a trip down here using the internet, but I would appreciate some tips on how I can rough out a basic itinerary (how long a bus trip from place to place, rough cost, etc). Below are the places I would like to hit outside of Peru, by country. I´m used to walking a city in a day, sleeping on transportation, saving time by bringing non-perishable food, etc. Given that, does this even look possible?


Buenos Aires
Iguazu Falls
El Calafate/Perito Moreno Glacier
Ushuaia/Tierra del Fuego


La Paz/Tiwanaku
Potosi/Salar de Uyuni


Belem/Amazon river ride


Iquique/Gigante de Atacama
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine/Puerto Natales






Colonia del Sacramento


Los Llanos
Parque Nacional Canaima

Thanks a bunch for the input, and if you know any websites that could make some basic planning possible, I´ll be even more appreciative...

2. Posted by aharrold45 (Travel Guru 1281 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Have you looked at a map and seen just how far you are talking about travelling in a tiny amount of time? The overland tours that do similar sorts of distances (without going to a couple of those countries) take 72 days. Those tours are the ones that they cram stuff that would normally take 6+ months in to a couple of months.

If you trip is of more purpose than just to say "I have been there", then it would be totally crazy to attempt to cram so much in. It would be like going to Europe and trying to see at least one city in every country in the continent in a month and a half.

I am used to doing the same sort of thing as you seeing a city in a day except ones that deserve more which Buenos Aires and Rio De Janiero certainly do. You could see enough of Santiago in a day, but a few days would be better. You can see Valparaiso in a full day, but if you want to see the neighbouring city you'd need to allocate another day. You really should try and cut large areas of your itinerary out to try and allow more than a few hours in each place before you have to get on another bus. I spent 3 days in Rio and I still did not feel that I had see it as well as I probably should have, but because I really wanted to also see Iguazu Falls I had to cut the time short to get the long bus trip via Sao Paulo across. I didn't get the time to see any of the other places you mention and I was in South America for about 3 weeks (including the 4 days I spent on Easter Island). Just Iguazu Falls deserves at least 3 days. 1 Day for the Argentina side, one day for the Brazil Side and another day for seeing the other things in the area worth checking out.

I am planning a trip that includes Patagonian South America later on in the year to time up with a cruise to Antarctica that I'm booked on. I have allowed four days in the El Calafate section of my itinerary so that I can see Perito Moreno Glacier and also take a quick visit to El Chalten as buses do not connect up nicely which means to actually make it worth your while even going there, you need at least two days (including the one where you are getting there). Then I'm getting a flight to Ushuaia (mainly due to limited time before my cruise leaves). After I get back from the cruise I will get the bus as quickly as I can to Puerto Natales and then do the W Trek in Torres Del Paine which I have allowed 4 days. From what I have been reading this is only just enough to do that trek but it is recommended that you allocate a little more time to do the full circuit.

You would spend so long getting to the places that you would barely be able to get off the bus to see anything.

[ Edit: Edited on Jun 21, 2008, at 7:45 AM by aharrold45 ]

3. Posted by zijerem (Budding Member 4 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

I know that it´s ambitious, and I certainly don´t want to do a three hours in a city sort of thing. I also wasn´t necessarily advocating doing everything on the list, and I will try to judiciously place at least two flights to cut a couple of days of travel off the itinerary (I´ll fly to Rio for sure and probably to Caracas as well).
What I want is to spend one full day in each city and destination, although Rio and Buenas Aires will likely get two apiece. I´ve 48 days to work with as well as a few more possibly if I schedule travel around religious holidays. I brought off a pretty similar type of deal (although a lot less distance, of course) in Europe, starting in Madrid and seeing Paris, Geneva, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples/Pompeii, and Athens in two weeks, all by train and ferry, and I even lost a day due to piss-poor Italian trains. I´m still young and poor, and hope to return to all of those sites in the future, god willing, but with what I´ve got right now I want to see the most possible. My main obstacle to threading together a pretty full itinerary is the seeming lack of information out there on travel distances and schedules. If I can find that information I´ll throw something together which I¨ll post and then take criticisms and suggestions. I need the bedrock first, though...

4. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

I haven't read your reply to the first responder, but this is totally unfeasible. For 24 days, I suggest you limit yourself to two countries at the very most, even though I'd personally stick to just one.

5. Posted by aharrold45 (Travel Guru 1281 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Not sure how easy they are to come across where you are, but you should go to your local library and try to loan the Lonely Planet South America guide. That is where I found most the information on South America that I managed to source.

I have struggled to find anything of help in the way of transport in South America through the internet.

The comment you made about the trains in Italy, well I would plan on losing quite a few days in this adventure because from what I experience in South America a couple of years ago buses can be pretty infrequent and slow going. I can recall meeting a guy in Rio who lived in Lima and had dreamt of coming to Rio all his life. He could never afford to fly so he saved all he could and got buses to Rio from Lima and it was about a week of torture he endured going through multiple countries and that was connecting as tight as he could not even stopping overnight anywhere along the way. That week would waste a good part of one part of the trip and you'd see very little for all the punishment you put yourself through and if you stopped for breaks as you went to make it so you don't double up a lot, you'd end up using a week and a half - two weeks to only have use of a few days.

6. Posted by Eleniki (Full Member 125 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

I'm curious to know how you come to be in Lima, having apparently put no thought or planning into your trip. So what's your next destination? You don't say where you're from or where you live, so maybe you live in Lima? In which case you must be fully aware of the vastness of the continent you are in. You do say you're young and poor, so for a start you can cross Galapagos off your costs an arm and a leg to get there. I have also heard that Brazil is one of the most expensive South American countries for tourists. Personally I don't get why you have set yourself this challenge - all you will get out of it is a few muddled snapshot images in your exhausted brain, and a whole lot of stress. Stick to one country and really experience something - you will have an appreciation of at least one culture to take home with you afterwards instead of a vague, fleeting road trip memory. Incidentally, bus travel in Ecuador, Peru and Argentina is wonderfully efficient, cheap and easy - I can only speak for these three countries.

7. Posted by kellec (Budding Member 7 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Hi dear!
I worked as tourism guide in Brazil. We spend around 20 days to see this country. Look, from Rio to Belem by bus you will spend 4 days.
It would be good you reduce your expectations.
South America is larger than you can imagine and a lot of places the roads are ground roads, without asplhalt. be carefull.


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8. Posted by zijerem (Budding Member 4 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Hey all,

Just to reiterate, I´m not planning on doing all of that in 24 days, or even the 48+ I should have to work with in my time here. For those who were interested in "how I got to Lima, with apparently no travel sense" just to paraphrase, I appreciate your condecision. Classy. I actually will be living and working in Peru for the next two years, fully immersing myself in the culture and experience and doing some random traveling for work purposes, hopefully seeing most of the sights that this country has to offer during these times, which is why it´s not on my list.
What I do want to do with my traveling is get a nice taste of the other countries on this continent. I simply don´t have the time or resources to linger and soak up several sites on the continent. Just to clarify that, I plan on sleeping on my transportation instead of in hotels and bringing durable foodstuffs to cut expenses. I also will take a flight or two where logical, which likely will include Rio at least. I actually have done this type of blitzkrieg travel before.
For one example, when I was studying in Spain I dove down into Morocco solo because I wanted to see the Sahara. It took me more than a full day of travel on local bus each way, and when I got down to Erfoud I ended up trading a dress shirt, pocket knife, and bottle of body spray for the privelege of hanging out with a couple of Berbers in the dunes, sharing a meal and communicating the best we could in mangled French and Arabic, and finally sleeping under the stars in the freakin´ Sahara desert! I then took the long bus and ferry ride back fully content, and meeting people like a kindly dockworker from Tangiers who spoke Spanish and a businessman from Ghana who also lived in Southern Spain along the way, sharing experiences and generally having the time of my life. This took three days, and I daresay that I had as much or more fun than somebody who stays in swank hotels and travels the Chilean wine country for a week, nose in the air. To each their own, I guess, but this is the way I prefer to travel, and the way I intend to here.
In Morocco I also went in blind as far as bus schedules and timeframes, but I would like to avoid that because it would be significantly less fun that way over the course of a month. It doesn´t sound like there are many resources out there to plan such a trip unless you want to do it with an agency, which I certainly don´t have the money for. I guess I´ll have to do it blind, then, and see what happens. Thanks to the last poster for her/his kind words- I definitely intend on being as careful as possible (I´ve made some dummy wallets, etc, and don´t plan on carrying anything of value except my debit card, so hopefully that helps). I´ll post what I do end up accomplishing here for anyone who´s interested in a year or so. And if anyone does know of a resource or two that may be able to help with the logistical planning, I´d be indebted. For the Lonely Planet poster, I have a Fodor´s guide, which may or may not measure up. None of the guides I looked at had the kind of info I¨m looking for, but I´ll keep looking. Thanks all, and I´m definitely still listening if anyone has something constructive to say.

9. Posted by zijerem (Budding Member 4 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Upon rereading, I think my language was a little harsh... sorry about that. Still, I want to make as much of my time as I can in the way I see fit, so I could use advice more than discouragement at this point. The continent is certainly vast, so I´ll attack this trip using a northern leg first and a southern leg second, with flights back from Rio and Buenos Aires to Lima to close things up. How much I´ll be able to see along the way is dependent on stuff going smoothly and the amount of preparation I´m able to do before leaving... which is what I really need help with.