If you’re traveling to Buenos Aires for vacation or for a short stay, you probably won’t find it necessary to use anything but taxis and potentially the Subte (what they call their subway). However, if you’re going to be staying for a bit longer, or you just want to experience Buenos Aires on the cheap, I encourage you to look in to taking the buses (called “Collectivos”) in the city, since they are very comprehensive and although a bit challenging to use at first, once you get the hang of them they’re really the only type of transportation you need to get throughout the city.
So First, What Are the Advantages of the Collectivos?
Before I talk at all about how to use the Collectivos, I’ll first tell you why you might want to consider taking them. Here is my simple reasoning:
(1) They’re Very Cheap: Depending on where you’re going in the city, a bus ride will run you between 90 centavos (90/100 of a peso) and a peso. When you think about the fact that a dollar equals a little more than 3 pesos, that means a bus ride is between U$S 0.30-0.33. Compare this to a taxi fare, which will run you at least $15 (when I don’t put ¨U$S¨, ¨$¨ means pesos) to go the same way, and it is significantly cheaper.
(2) They’re Reliable: Unlike the Subte system which closes at 10:30 PM every night, the Collectivos run 24/7. Thus, if you intend on experiencing any sort of nightlife, or find your dinner going a little late, it’s definitely the best option as far as knowing you’ll be able to get around.
(3) They’re Very Comprehensive: I’ve been living and attending school in Buenos Aires for a little over a month and I have yet to take a taxi because the bus and Subte system is so comprehensive. Depending on where you are in the city, you’re typically not very far from a Collectivo that can take you home, or at least pretty close.
(4) They’re Very Safe: When I write my article on taking taxis I’ll be sure to link this to it, but until then you should know that there are oftentimes incidences, where especially girls, have been robbed and sometimes raped taking taxis at night. For this simple reason alone, I always take the Collectivos because I’ve never heard of someone having a similar experience on one of them.
(5) It’s Fun: Part of the fun of being outside of the United States and being in another country is experiencing what life is like for those people. Living with an Argentine family, I can assure you that everyone takes the Collectivo if they’re not taking the Subte, so if you want to experience what Argentines do every day I would recommend at least trying the Collectivo. They’re really very different from the buses in the United States, and just being able to say “I rode a bus in South America” is pretty cool.
What Are The Disadvantages?
Like any transportation system, there are of course disadvantages to taking the Collectivo versus just a taxi. These reasons include:
(1) Walking and Waiting: Like any bus system, unless you’re really lucky with where you’re going, you’re not going to get door to door service from pickup to delivery. Because of this, you’ll likely have to do some walking to get to and from bus stations, and some waiting for some buses. (To give you an idea, sometimes it might be as far as a 10 block walk if you’re off the beaten path, and if you’re taking a low frequency bus at night, you could be waiting for as short as 5 minutes or as long as 40 depending on which bus you’re taking). With a taxi, you’re coughing up the extra money to get picked up exactly where you are at exactly when you want to go to exactly where you want to go. If it’s worth the extra money to you, I might just recommend doing a taxi.
(2) Finding your stop: Like I mentioned about with the number 5 advantage for taking the Collectivo in Buenos Aires, that very same “fun” aspect can be really annoying if you’re trying to get somewhere on a timeline and you don’t know were it is you’re going. The bus drivers here do not announce the stops ahead of time, and if you want to get off, you have to press the buzzer beforehand. Because of this, it is extremely important that you know the cross streets that your bus is going to hit before it gets to the street you’re going to. This usually translates in to frantically looking out the window as the street signs go whizzing by trying to figure out where you are. The bus drivers here drive very fast, and although that can be great if you know where you’re going, it can be a nightmare when you’re trying to meet a friend for dinner in Recoleta or Palermo, two areas that don’t typically have street signs on all the roads (the usually have them up on the buildings, and even then they´re infrequent). That being said, the bus drivers here are typically very friendly, and if you let him know that you need to get off at ¨X¨ street but don’t know where it is, and then request for his help, if you stand near the front he’ll likely let you know. Also, other people on the bus are typically very helpful, and they’ll help you figure out when you’re close.
(3) Communication: Bear in mind, since this is a method of transportation used by the locals, and other people will be waiting on you to get on the bus, it is very important that you have the necessary communication skills in Spanish to express where you want to go. Typically all you have to say is “Hasta ¨X¨” where “X” is the cross street you want to get off at. However, if you need to ask for help finding a stop, or in making sure that this bus is going where you need to go, make sure that you have enough of a basic understanding of Spanish to ask for the help and to then understand his answer. Although most people here know a couple of gimmicky English phrases and words here, typically most Argentines could not have a practical conversation with you. Think of it like most people in the United States: their comprehension of Spanish is maybe 5 or 6 words. This will be your experience here as far as English, so if you don’t have someone with you that can speak a reasonable level Spanish, make sure you learn a little bit yourself.
Ok, So I Want To Take One…What Should I Do?
So my first recommendation is as soon as you get here, either ask someone at your hotel’s front desk where you can find a “Guia T”, or just find a magazine/newspaper stand on the street, since they typically sell them. The little pocketbook runs about five pesos, and it is extremely important for getting around, especially if you ever get lost (see picture below for cover of the guide).
The reason that this little booklet is helpful is that not only does it have all the streets and major buildings in Buenos Aires, it also has all the buses that you can take. Understanding how to use the guide can be a little tricky sometimes, so let me explain.
Say your hotel is on “X” street, number 2000. In the front of your Guia T, you’re going to find a map of Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, and all of the neighborhoods that the city is divided in to. This is helpful because the guide book is arranged by planos (planes), and if you see that you’re staying in Puerto Madero, you’ll know that you have to go to Plano 18 to see that area’s map. Another page forward from the general map at the front and you’ll see an index for all the streets. Simply find street “X” in the index, and then depending on what number it is, you’ll go to a different Plano and Plano section (each Plano is arranged in square quadrants, with letters A to D to differentiate quadrants horizontally, and 1 to 6 to differentiate quadrants vertically).
For example, say I’m looking for Bacacay street, building number 920. That means I’m going to go to Plano 22, quadrant A2 (see picture below).
Now, say I’m staying in Plano 17, quadrant B2 (green square below), and I’m trying to get to quadrant C5 on the same Plano (red square below), which is close to the Casa Rosada (essentially their White House). To find the buses that I can take, I need to look on the page to the left of the map (pictured below, with the little blue pockets for each quadrant with numbers). The quadrants on that page directly correspond to the quadrants on the map page, and to find all the buses that service that quadrant, simply look in the pocket icon at the numbers. Once you’ve found those, you have to cross check those with the numbers of the quadrant that you’re trying to go to. As I highlighted, the 111 is the only bus that will take you there. However, if you go over one more quadrant to the blue square, you’ll see that there are a bunch that you can take to that quadrant.
Once you’ve found the buses, you can look in the back at the bus and see the streets it goes through. “Ida” meaing going out, “Vuelta” means coming back. Since this back index of the buses is fairly challenging to understand, your best bet is to find someone in that quadrant and ask them where the bus stop is for that bus line (“Sabés donde está la parada para la linea ‘X’”?). Better yet would be to ask a cop, or someone working at a kiosco. Once you find the stop, and get on the bus, make sure you ask the bus driver if that bus goes to whatever cross street you’re trying to get off on (“Andás a ‘X’?”).
Getting On and Off the Bus: How it Works
So unlike the U.S., where the buses stop at all of the stops, here that doesn’t work the same way. Thus, if you’re waiting at a bus stop, you need to keep a look out for the bus you want to take, and once you see it coming up make sure you stick out your hand and wave so that the driver knows that you want to get on. Then, make sure you get on quickly since if you don’t, they’ll likely leave without you (don´t panic about it, but just know they don´t have much patience).
Once you get on, like mentioned in disadvantage 3, you have to let the bus driver know where you’re going. He’ll then plug in that amount in to the change collecting machine, and it’ll say either a peso or 90 centavos. You then put that money in to the machine (it’s usually a spinning little wheel that picks up change). Then, at the bottom you’ll get a little ticket and whatever change you were ment to get. Sit down or stand depending on how soon you’re getting off and if there’s enough room. When you want to get off, go to the door in the back, and push the buzzer button on the metal support bars near the door. Once you buzz, he’ll stop at the next stop and you can get off. Try and get off as quickly as possible, since they’re on a timeline and if you don’t get off enough, they’ll continue without you.