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6 Useful Tips for Travelling with a Bus in South America

Introduction

Travelling by bus is the common way to travel in South America. I travelled only by bus and once by plane. Here are some general tips and hints. Yet, there is sometimes a huge difference between the buses in different countries depening on their development stage and/or tourism level. Thus, I added an additional post about the different countries, we know about: Travelling by Bus in South America – Different Countries

Know what you need on the ride and get it beforehand

Usually a bus ride takes about 5-15 hours, so it is good to know what you need beforehand. I always bring some food and water. Most trips include a breakfast, food and drinks, but this could be a cookie with a small cup of tea, which might not be enough. Check out the package list for convenience and safety, about what you should definitely bring.

The travelling outfit

Usually, when I board a bus I put my most practical and worst clothes on. First, practical means good and many pockets (deep, ideally with zippers or another way to close them) on my trousers and comfortable. I have a special trouser in greenish, with many pockets and I can detach the legs of with zippers to make it medium or very short. Second, worst clothes, well usually you are rich compared to the locals, thus I prefer to look more like a poor traveller than a rich one.

Should you keep your valuables with you or in the cargo bay – short checklist

First of all, in South America it is quite common that you need your passport / ID card even within the borders of one and the same country. Thus, when travelling with a bus I recommend to keep your passport always with you.

-Do you travel alone? Yes, 1 point for the cargo bay.
-Do you travel with another person or a group that you trust and keeps an eye on your stuff too? Yes, 2 points for keeping it with you in the bus.
-Is it a long ride? Yes, 1 point for the cargoy bay.
-Are you tired or do you fall fast asleep? Yes, 2 points for the cargo bay.

-Do you have the possibility to really secure your stuff in the bus, e.g., small backpack with lock and a chain to mount it to your place? Yes, 3 points for keeping it with you in the bus.
-Do you travel with a secure bus company with strong regulations special staff, vouchers, etc.? (Like the first class of the Cruz del Sur fleet in Peru? Yes, 5 points for the cargo bay.
-You like peace of mind, while sitting in the bus and tired of watching your stuff? Yes, 3 points for the cargo bay.

In my case, I nearly always put a vast amount of my valuables in the backpack that was stored in the cargo bay.

Know what you should take with you in the bus

Well, check what you need, then what you want and then what you could need.
My list is as follows:
-Something to drink
-Something to eat
-Hygenie stuff
-Something to entertain me (book(s), mp3player)
-My Camera

To get some ideas about what you should have with you, check out: The package list for convenience and safety and 7 Things every Backpacker should have in his Backpack.

Check and/or determine where they put your backpack

This is necessary if you are travelling with a bus that carries liquids or stuff that can run out. If they put your backpack below a bag of eggs and these eggs break, well bad luck. I heard from some travellers that insisted that their backpacks are put on the top of the bus to avoid such situations. Personally I think this is only necessary in a very few occassions. If you want to be on the safe side you can always put your rain gear around your backpack everytime it is stored in the bus.

Watch your stuff

Watch your stuff before it it stored in the bus.
Watch your stuff while you are in the bus.

Depending on the security level also watch it after it was stored in the bus AND everytime the bus stops. (I only did this in Bolivia). In Peru, Chile and Argentina I always got vouchers for my stuff and they bus stops and service was quite organized, thus after I gave them my backpack I was pretty sure that it is safe and it was always. In Argentina I once forgot my hat, while changing a bus and then they asked who forgot it. Wow, I was pretty amazed about that.
Yet, in Bolivia the service and security is quite different – also depening on the bus company – there I always watched my stuff, right before the moment we took off and at every stop we took a look at the cargo bay. Sometimes even leaving the bus.

Further information for your pocket

I would highly recommend you to get some books about traveling in South America for your trip that you can read while on the bus. I prefer the Lonely Planet, cause it’s structured to get the most important information fast. It is ideal to skim or read in the bus or whatever vehicle you are traveling.

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Travelling by Bus in South America – Different Countries

Introduction

This is an addition to the post: 6 Useful Tips for Travelling with a Bus in South America.

Buses in Perú

In Perú I mostly travelled with Cruz del Sur. It is more like travelling with an airplane than a bus ride from the organization and safety features. At least if you take the first two classes. I travelled with all three classes, between the first (Cruzero) and second class (Imperial) there is only a slight difference. The third class (Ideal) is also really good, but it depends where you travelled before and what you want. The first two classes do non-stop travel (with on-board breakfast/lunch/dinner), thus you don’t even have to think about your backpack on the whole ride.
I only travelled with Cruz del Sur in Perú, thus I don’t know anything about the other companies. I heard that Cruz del Sur is overrated, but this was from a female backpacker who travelled Bolivia on her own for a few weeks, thus she was well experienced and hardend than most other backpackers out there.
Note, when you travel with the first two classes of Cruz del Sur that the passengers are mostly higher middle-to-upper class Peruvians and tourists.

Buses in Chile and Argentina

Good quality, good service and secure. It is the common way to travel for most people in these countries and it is also quite cheap for them. In Argentina have a bit of tip ready for the person who takes out the backpack of the bus and checks your voucher. I think 0,25 to 0,50 Pesos were common, just take a look what the other people give him.

Buses in Bolivia

Bolivia is always a great adventure and so are the buses and the roads. The buses are not really comfortable, cleanliness is limited and I watched my stuff very closely. Especially, since the country is very poor and I am really rich compared to nearly everyone there. I always boarded the bus after I took a look, where my backpack was stored and that most other people boarded the bus. Also I couldn’t determine a difference between most bus companies in less touristic areas. Only in Salar de Uyuni there are one or two special agencies that provide high quality buses, I don’t know the names but it is quite easy to find them.
Another thing, the leaving times are quite strange. When I was in Tupiza (Southern Bolivia), I needed a ride from there to Sucre, well all companies were leaving at the same time to Sucre and they did it only once a day!? Thus, it is better to check beforehand. Don’t assume – like I did – that they each company leaves at another time.

Further Information

For further information about traveling with a bus or specific routes, I would recommend the following books. These are made by backpackers for backpackers and contain loads of information in a well organized manner. I can highly recommend them.

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Bolivia – Best Pictures

I was entering Bolivia from Argentina, the first place I stayed was Tupiza. Tupiza is lovely small town surrounded by a desertlike terrain in red colors similar to Colorado (at least from the pictures). There was the first time I ever tried horse backriding. Well, just one hint, if you never rided on a horse before and your muscles aren’t highly trained I would recommend NOT to take the 6 hours tour. I didn’t knew that I can have muscle soreness in the back and that a muscle soreness can last for 3 threaking days… nevertheless it was one of the best experiences in 2007!

After Tupiza I went to Sucre were I met a real good friend. After a two weeks and some of my best Spanish classes, we moved on to Salar de Uyuni the great salt lakes.

Then our trail parted and I went to Isla del Sol at the lake titicaca, which was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever experienced.

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Riots in Sucre 2007 – “marchas”

When I was staying in Sucre (Bolivia) in 2007, there were quite some unrest.

I took this video at the main place of Sucre, shortly afterwards a firecracker landed next to us. My ear went *beeeeep* immediately and hearing was hindered for a few days. We were quite lucky though, since the use of firecrackers and other stuff was quite common. Also the people are wearing masks in case the police uses tear gas.

Bolivian Police Sucre 2007

Bolivian Police Sucre 2007


28th August 2007, Sucre (Bolivia).
The aim of this demonstration is to move the capital of Bolivia from La Paz to Sucre. Right now, Sucre is “just” is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, whereas La Paz is the administrative capital.

Here are some of the best shots I took of the demonstrations (“marchas”).

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