How to Navigate Bus Travel in South America Like a Pro

When traveling in South America, the most common form of transportation is bus travel. This is true for tourists and locals alike. These buses are not what we are used to in the U.S. with Greyhound and they are not the stereotypical ‘chicken buses’ that you might hear stories about from Central America. These buses are truly plush, double-decker buses that even include options for seats that recline into a flat bed.

Border crossing in Northern Chile

Once you get started traveling by bus in South America, you will easily be able to scope out what other bus companies are available at your destination when you arrive. Make a note of these bus companies for your departure. No doubt you will be seeing some of the companies listed here while you travel through South America.

Keep reading for a list of bus companies in South America (including website links) and tips on how to navigate a Spanish language bus websites.

Santiago, Chile Bus Terminal

Bus Companies in South America

  • Cruz del Sur (Peru) – English, Spanish, French, Chinese website; online bus reservations available.
  • Cruz del Sur (Chile) – click Pasajes in the navigation for ticketing; Spanish website only
  • Tur Bus – Spanish website only; online bus reservations; Facebook; Twitter; examples of seat classes, i.e. Clásico (basic seat); Semicama (reclining seat); Cama (deluxe seat reclining to 155 degrees); Premium (seat makes into flat bed)
  • Pullman – English and Spanish website; online bus reservations; examples of seat classes, i.e. cama (bed); semi-cama; cama premium
  • CATA – English, Spanish, and Portuguese website; online bus reservations; check out the bus fleet; Facebook
  • Condor Bus – Spanish website only; online bus reservations
  • Bus Sur – English and Spanish website; serving Patagonia in southern Chile and Argentina; bus routes served

Translation Tips: Spanish Language Bus Websites

  • Pasajes means ticketing (in the navigation)
  • When searching for a bus, ida y vuelta means roundtrip
  • sólo ida means one way
  • Fecha Ida means Departure Date
  • Fecha Regreso means Return Date
  • Ciudad de Origen means (a pretty safe guess…) city of origin
  • Ciudad de Destino means city of destination
  • Numero de Pasajeros means Number of Passengers

Now give it a try yourself on one of the websites listed above!

Have some fun seeing when your bus will leave and how much it will cost. Keep in mind the tips below when checking your bus trip. (Figure out your currency exchange here.)

Valparaiso, Chile Bus Terminal

Don’t Forget!

The U.S. just has to be different (decimals and commas)

For prices, the U.S. uses the comma and the decimal point opposite of the rest of the world. For example, if you see $37.000,00 Chilean Pesos that means $37,000.00 Chilean Pesos to those of us from the U.S. Which is $45 one way (currency exchange website) for the roughly 20 hour bus trip from Santiago to Ancud, Isla Grande de Chiloe in a cama (bed) style seat.

Choose your seating type wisely… it will make a big difference in your travels

There are generally three different types of seats on the buses. There are your standard seats generally called Clásico (no reclining) or Semicama (reclines slightly) that are in the second floor of the double decker bus. Then there are the upscale cama (bed) style seats that are much larger seats; are in a separate area of the bus (usually downstairs); with only a few seats available per bus (normally 12 seats).

For longer bus trips, maybe 12+ hours in length (South America is immense), you may find some of the better bus companies offer Premium seats which the seats recline to a completely flat bed including the foot rest that comes up to complete your bed. Seats like these come with premium food and beverage included in the price of the tickets.

... or here with 30+ people? (Clásico upstairs)

Would you rather sit here (semicama w/ 12 people)? Or...

A Good Value for Transport, Food, Beverage… and Possibly a Bed

Meals and beverages maybe included in the price of your bus ticket depending on the bus company. Ultimately making it a really good cost for your travel and meals and possibly for your bed for the night.

It is especially important to note that one of the best benefits of upgrading to semicama is that instead of sharing space with 30+ people, you only have to co-exist with usually about 12 people.

Remember… South America is a massive continent. It takes a lot of time to get from place to place. Get used to 12+ hour bus rides. 18 hour can be the norm too. Opt for paying an extra $10 – $20 for upgraded seats and be sure to book in advance. Just look at the photos to compare. Don’t skimp on what type of seat you get, it can make all the difference the next day for you in your travels!