Most people choose to fly between Bariloche and El Calafate, with time and dreading such a long bus ride being their top reasons.
However, in this post, I’ll show you why the bus ride itself is a destination and all that you’ll be missing out on if you opt for a plane! I took the bus from Bariloche to El Calafate, but the information is nearly identical for the bus ride in reverse. I’ve made notes along the way if you’ll be traveling from El Calafate to Bariloche.
Note: Forgive the smears in my photos. Bus windows aren’t the most photo flattering!
The Basics: How long is the bus ride?
The bus ride from Bariloche to El Calafate (and vice versa) is about 27.5 hours. Did your eyes just pop?
If spending over a day on a bus sounds daunting to you, know that there are breaks along the way where you can get off the bus, grab a snack, and use a real restroom.
One of the things that impressed me during the ride was how timely the bus was. After a 27.5 journey, we only arrived to El Calafate 8 minutes late. Then again, when you only have rhea (similar to an ostrich) and guanaco (similar to a llama) as your traffic, there’s not much to slow you down.
The Bus Company: Marga Taqsa
There’s one bus departure per day between Bariloche and El Calafate and its with the Marga Taqsa bus company. Leaving from Bariloche, the bus departs at 6:30am from the San Carlos de Barliloche terminal. From El Calafate, the bus departs for Bariloche at 7:00pm from the El Calafate terminal.
Don’t be fooled by the signs other bus companies have showcasing this route. If asked, they’ll point you down the hall to Marga Taqsa.
Months of Operation
If you’re planning on taking the bus in July, think again. Route 40 is practically impassible in the winter, especially the further south you get. Marga Taqsa closes up shop starting May 1st. Operation opens back up around October, although employees wavered on dates when I asked them.
Your best bet is to keep an eye on Marga Taqsa’s website since tickets won’t be available for purchase if they aren’t running the route.
Just keep in mind that if you’re planning far ahead (5+ months out) the website will likely show no tickets available. However, keep an eye out because tickets will eventually be released if your travel dates fall firmly in the spring/summer/fall season.
If you’re keen on traveling to Patagonia in the winter and taking the bus from Bariloche to El Calafate, there is a way. You first need to take a bus from Bariloche to Río Gallegos. From there, you’ll need to switch buses to get to El Calafate. This route avoids Route 40 and is therefore passable year round. However, I recommend taking a good look at a map to see if you’re up for the roundabout journey.
Cost of the Bus from Bariloche to El Calafate
The bus cost ranges from around $90 USD to over $100 USD. This depends on whether you book a semi cama (semi-reclining) or cama (full reclining) seat. The website shows prices in Argentine pesos, but given their inflation issues, any number I write here would, unfortunately, change quickly.
The seat type matters, both for comfort and views. We’ll explore more about the differences later in this post.
Where to purchase tickets
You can book your bus ticket in person at a Marga Taqsa counter at the bus terminal in Bariloche or El Calafate. Or, you can purchase it online.
I encourage you to opt for the online option as soon as you know the date you’ll be traveling. This way, you’ll have the best chance of securing a good seat on the bus. More on this seat securing tactic later.
This next part is important: Print your boarding pass if you purchase an online ticket. Don’t arrive to the terminal without a printed boarding pass and assume they can print it for you at the counter. There are horror stories of people missing their bus over this.
If you purchase your ticket online when you’re already in Bariloche or El Calafate, both places have certain kioskos (convenient shops) where you can print your ticket. Just look for a sign on the store that says “impresions.”
If you purchase your ticket in person with Marga Taqsa they will automatically give you your printed boarding pass.
Where to sit on the bus
Now we’re getting to the good stuff!
If you take only one piece of advice from me let it be in these next two sections. The drive on Route 40 is pretty, but choosing the correct seat on the bus makes the pretty ride infinitely better.
When traveling from Bariloche to El Calafate, sit on the passenger side of the bus. This will give you prime lake views of Bariloche as you’re leaving (provided that its daylight when you’re traveling!) and other noteworthy mountain views along the way.
If you’ll be traveling from El Calafate to Bariloche, this means that you’ll need to sit on the driver’s side of the bus for the best views.
Due to the timing of the different bus departures, you’ll be covering a lot of the same ground with either route in the dark. That said, daylight hours in Patagonia vary greatly. By traveling during the heart of summer (December, January & February) you’ll be able to maximize your daylight sightseeing hours.
Semicama vs. Cama Seats
Remember, semicama means partially reclining and cama means fully reclining seats.
Although the cama seats are more comfortable for obvious reasons, they’re located on the first floor behind a wall where the driver is. This means that you’d only ever have the chance for good views out your side window. You’d also be accompanied with beeping noise when the driver goes over the speed limit.
Therefore, if you choose the cama seats, bring headphones or ear plugs.
Unlike the semicama seats, the cama seats come with a small meal onboard. The meal is plane food quality at best, so I wouldn’t make your choice solely on that.
The semicama seats are located on the second floor and come with the opportunity of a bus lifetime: To sit in the front row.
There are four seats in the front row and they usually go the quickest. However, I booked my ticket only three weeks out and had my picking of front row options.
The best part about sitting in the front row? When the bus lays on the breaks everyone else on the bus will assume its for a car when you know that its for the guanaco crossing right in front of you!
The downside to these front row semicama seats of course is that you are on a long bus ride and semi-reclining seats can only offer so much comfort on a long journey. For me though, it was totally worth it!
When you travel into Patagonia you’ll see Route 40 plastered on souvenirs, named after restaurants and written all over bus terminals. What’s the big deal about it?
Route 40 is the vein that runs through Patagonia.
By taking the bus from Bariloche to El Calafate, you’ll get to travel down a huge portion of Route 40. Take a look!
There’s a whole slew of stops along the route from Bariloche to El Calafate. Aside from my front row seat, these stops were my other favorite part of the journey. It gives you the opportunity to see little Patagonian towns that you would otherwise fly over.
Aside from one stop around dinnertime, the breaks were around 10 minutes. There were opportunities to get off at only certain stops since others had too quick of a turnaround time. All the stops that I got off at had a free restroom (bring your own toilet paper!) and a small snack stand.
When you’re on the Marga Taqsa website and you have the choice between cama or semicama, beneath the number of hours for the journey there’s a clickable button that says “Ver Recorrido.” Click on this and it will take you to a chart of all the stops and their timing.
I’ve put one together for you here for quick reference. Remember, this is the route when taking the bus from Bariloche to El Calafate. When doing the journey in reverse, the towns are the same, just stopping at different times.
|Paso Río Mayo||4:45pm||4:45pm|
Of the stops on this list, El Chaltén is a popular one aside from El Calafate. If you’ll be heading to El Chaltén make sure to check out my post about the best way to spend a day there.
Animals, oh my!
I’ve alluded to animals throughout this post. Animal sightings make up such an exciting part of the bus journey that it deserves its own section!
As you travel by bus from Bariloche to El Calafate, you’ll notice that you leave the lush vegetation behind as you travel south into more sparsely vegetated areas. What I found fascinating is that I spotted the most wildlife in these sparse areas.
Along my journey I saw a variety of hawk species, rabbits, guanaco, rhea, sheep, and both animal and car carcasses, all making for unique viewing.
Taking photos of the animals was far more difficult than spotting them, but I had to try!
As the last part of this post, I’ll cover some questions you may have about the bus journey from Bariloche to El Calafate.
What’s the food situation like?
Its pretty non-existent. You’ll have access to tiny stores at different terminals to buy a snack, but its nothing substantial. We had our longest stop at Perito Moreno (the town, not the glacier) and this is where there was a larger store and close to real food- things like semi-mushy sandwiches in refrigerators. However, you’ll need to put your hopes of a hearty sit down meal on hold until you get to your destination. I recommend bringing your own food that can withstand the journey- fruit, nuts, peanut butter, etc.
What’s the bathroom situation like?
There’s a bathroom on the first floor of the bus. Toilet paper ran out about half way through the journey and the soap dispenser was empty. I tried to hold out for the stops to use a real restroom. Most restrooms didn’t offer toilet paper, so make sure to bring your own (and hand sanitizer, too!).
Is the bus cold?
When the sun wasn’t out it got pretty chilly onboard. When the sun was out, it warmed up nicely…and sometimes too nicely. I recommend wearing layers so that you can keep yourself comfortable throughout the journey.
Does the driver speak English?
Enough to tell you how many minutes you have before the bus departs. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to have a full blown conversation with your driver in English. However, given how many tourists and tourist oriented locals use the bus, you’re bound to find a fellow passenger willing to help you with your translating needs.
Are there steep drop offs?
This is pretty much a drop off free journey. You’re going to be driving on wide, mostly flat land for a good portion of your trip. While there are some drop offs they’re not the white knuckle kind since there are guardrails and large shoulders.
Does the driver drive safely?
I found all the drivers drove very well. This is likely in great thanks to the GPS monitoring device the bus has. Its equipped with a speed detector that beeps for passengers to hear if the driver goes over the speed limit.
Will you be taking the bus between Bariloche and El Calafate (or vice versa)? Do you have questions that I didn’t address here? Comment below and I’ll do my best to help!