Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To Provincia and Beyond: Long Distance Buses Part 2

Welcome to the second half of my new series on long-distance buses: Retiro’s Bus Terminal or the Definition of “Quilombo.” A few days ago I covered the basics and how to buy tickets, HERE. Today we’ll go over the layout of the bus station and how not to miss your bus and have to go sprinting down a busy highway to where it has embarrassingly pulled over to wait for you. Yeah.

OK. So you have your ticket(s) in hand and are making your way to the Retiro bus station, about 45 minutes to an hour before your bus is supposed to depart. If you come by Subte, take the C line to Retiro, head up the staircase on the right after you exit the platform area and keep going straight, passing the train station on the left. Go almost all the way to the end of the street, passing all the little food vendors, stores, and restaurants (who goes out to eat in Retiro?!) until you come to the last building on the block. It’ll be a big green building on the left, and you’ll see an open entrance with a long ramp heading up into the terminal. Go in there and walk up until you sense that you have entered the tenth circle of hell. Just kidding.

There are about 120 slots or platforms outside for the various buses to pull into, which makes for a long-ass terminal. Consequently, the slots are divided up into sections A, B, C, etc, each comprised of about 15 platforms each. Your ticket will tell you the section your bus will be arriving in, but not the exact platform. For example, when I went to Villa Gesell, my ticket said the bus would arrive somewhere between Platforms 37 to 51 in Section D.

You will want to head to the section listed on your ticket, then check the large sign located at the start of each section to see if your bus is listed—the bus company, destination, and departure time will be displayed, along with the platform. Tip: the name of your bus company is on the top of your ticket, in the middle. If it’s not on the board yet, sit yourself down near one of the TV monitors that show the arrivals (arribos) and departures (partidas) of all the buses in Retiro and keep an eye out for your bus.

If all goes smoothly, your bus will appear on the screen along with the platform it will be arriving at shortly. Go to that platform. If you have luggage you want to be stored in the bottom of the bus, head to the back where there will be a man chucking bags inside the belly of the beast, and hand over your stuff. Then, go back to the front door and give your ticket to the men standing outside. One of them will read your ticket number and seat assignment to the other one, who will check it off on a little piece of paper. They will rip off the right side of your ticket, tell you if you’re upstairs or downstairs, and then you can get on! Donezo.

However, if your bus hasn’t shown up on the screen about 5 minutes before it’s supposed to depart, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you see a bus from the same company in a platform near you, show the men outside your ticket and ask if it’s the right bus. If it’s not, they might be able to tell you whether your bus is running late or not. There are often several buses from the same company leaving at around the same time, which is confusing, but again, don’t be afraid to ask someone. When it comes to Retiro, it’s always better to ask and look like a stupid tourist than to miss your bus.

Story time. When I and some friends went to Villa General Belgrano for Octoberfest, the bus never showed up on the screen, and it left without us. All 4 of us, plus 2 other girls, swore we had been watching the screen and the thing just never came up. So, eventually we ran upstairs to where all the ticket counters for the bus companies are located and told the guy there that our bus never came. He said that it had come, and had already left as well. Anyway, we freaked out—there was no WAY we were not making it to Octoberfest!!—and the poor guy called the bus driver to ask how far he’d gotten. Fortunately he hadn’t gone far and we ended up running, bags and all, down this highway to where the bus had pulled over onto the shoulder for us. It was highly embarrassing traipsing through the bus to our seats, but it turned out all right in the end---->


And now some tips for the journey. Wear pants and take a sweater, because it gets cold. Not kidding. I always end up huddled under my handy "pink thing" (it’s actually a giant pink sarong, and it does everything: beach towel, dress, scarf, sheet) wishing I had more clothes on. Socks are a good idea too. Books and iPods are always useful, especially for longer journeys, and consider bringing an eye mask and earplugs if you’re going to want to sleep—you never know where the screaming child will be sitting. 

 Pink Thing

And that’s about it! Apart from being really hectic all the time, the Retiro terminal is actually quite efficient, considering the amount of traffic it deals with, both vehicular and human. Just don’t buy gum there…it’s like 6 pesos for 4 pieces. Anyway, I hope this little guide helps, because it would be a shame to come all the way to Buenos Aires and not see the rest of the country. Those of you already here, you now have no excuse for not traveling, so go! Chau. Hasta luego. Nos vemos. Suerte!


  1. It seems you learnt why beer is served in jars you still keep thinking that beer jars are weird?

  2. Amy, one last piece of advice when going to retiro ! Always make sure you take snacks and something to drink/eat with you. Every place in the station is way more expensive than any place outside, in many cases even twice as much !!

    -Juan Z

  3. Another tip: be discreet. I'm not an alarmist but Retiro is a dangerous place, so try to travel during normal-ish hours, keep your valuables on your person, and avoid standing out at all costs. Or do what I did, bribe Amy to go with you...