Ruta 40 by Bus: Getting from Bariloche to El Chalten
Argentina's famous Ruta 40 route runs along the Andes mountain that stretches for about 5,000 km (3,107 miles). Unpaved roads, sparse populated towns, and a feeling of adventure - this drive is conquered by few but can be considered one of the most epic.
There are multiple ways of getting from the Lake District to the south, entering into the heart of Patagonia: (1) Flying, (2) Driving, (3) Bussing.
Flying: ~ 2 hours
- Pro: This is obviously the easiest and quickest way of getting to El Calafate and is the best option for those short on time or not keen on sitting in a vehicle for 20+ hours. If you book it ahead of time this option could be quite affordable. When I was checking to fly from Bariloche to El Calafate tickets were about $170 for 1 hr 45 mins, which is a pretty sweet deal.
- Con: However, I would have to double back up to El Chalten then back down to continue to Puerto Natales. This was why I didn't go with this option (also because I had the time and the $60 - $70 I saved could go a long way).
Driving: ~20 hours
- Pro: Road trips are always a blast, especially if you go with a great group of people. You can also stop by different towns along the way and get down at your own pace. Therefore, if you want to explore more of Argentina and not on a schedule to get down south, this could be a very good option. You get experience the change in scenery as you drive from one part of Argentina to another.
- Con: Unless you are planning to drive back up and drop off your car in the same city, this is the most expensive option because car companies charge a hefty fee to have the car picked up and dropped off in different locations ($1,000 USD+). Not including gas, each person in a 5 person car will be paying at a minimum $250 USD and you have to be driving for over 20 hours. Since the roads are not all paved, you will have to worry about any car troubles you might encounter because there might not be a mechanic or town for miles. Additionally, since towns are very sparse you would need to gas up every chance you get and those queues can take awhile. The last concern is mainly for Americans because car rentals are mostly manual so you would need to know how to drive stick.
Bussing: ~24/25 Hours
- This bus can made a few stops along the way (El Bolson) and ends in El Calafate
- Pro: This is the option I went for because of it made the most sense for my schedule and budget. Although I am sitting on a bus for over 24 hours, it was the cheapest option and I wouldn't have to pay for a bus from El Calafate up to El Chalten then another one back down (those buses are about $30 each). At the end of the day, I would be saving about $70 by bussing and you get to see the change in scenery. The company I booked with was Taqsa & Marga for $126 USD or $2100 ARG.
- Con: Very long... you are sitting on the bus the entire time and don't get the freedom of stopping by anywhere along the way. The food they provide isn't the greatest so you might want to pack your own.
I went back and forth for awhile debating between the flight and the bus because of the huge travel time. At the end of the day I'm pretty glad to have gone on the bus because I saved money and was able to see the country more on the ground. You do drive through just emptiness for a long time so load up on your books, podcasts, music, and Netflix offline because if can't sleep and there is nothing to look at outside, it was be a VERY long bus ride. I loaded up on everything and was ready to head out! Plus it was pretty easy for me to fall asleep on the bus. The seats recline pretty far back and they are comfy. It helped that the bus was relatively empty so I had two seats to myself. Overall the drive was not that bad! It was a whole lot better than I had expected. After this any 10-15 hour bus rides will seem like a breeze!
Booking: I had problems booking on my laptop and kept trying but the website wouldn't pull up the bus route, even when I knew it existed. It finally worked on my phone, so try different ways before giving up. Additionally, I couldn't buy the ticket with my Visa credit card, even after trying it multiple times. The purchase only went through with my Mastercard.
Here are some pictures of the road along the way: