Everything You Need to Know About Buses in Buenos Aires “Los Colectivos”
Buenos Aires is a very well-connected city by public transport. Among all the means, I prefer taking the colectivos (buses) the most.
I always told newcomers that the colectivos are like cheap tour buses to see the city. In fact, they could easily be the cheapest. For just AR $9 (US$0.45), you can go from one end of the city to the other on an elevated viewing platform (as opposed to being inside a taxi at street level or worse, in the subway underground staring at fast-moving cement walls). They go through not only main well-known big roads but also small neighborhood streets where you could have a better glimpse of the true local life, and not just the typical commercial after commercial, tourist/consumer-targeted streets.
Also, you can go through easily 5 barrios (neighborhoods) in just an hour ride and your legs would still want to be your friend. Once you have spotted an area you like, you can always get off or return to walk around and explore more. They are really a great tool in helping you to get your bearing and to know the city in a more efficient way. While walking in Buenos Aires is a very enjoyable and common thing to do, it is also quite limited.
So I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to give the colectivos a shot, and you’d be amazed how many discoveries you’d make and those that you’d have missed otherwise!
Taking the Bus in Buenos Aires Using La Guia T
If you want to be able to navigate the city like a pro or simply like a local, you need to get a copy of Guia T, or as I call it The Buenos Aires Bus Bible. Guia T comes in a couple of sizes: a very handy palm-sized one (as shown in picture) that fits in a tiny purse and a much bigger one with spiral spine that is great for having it in a car if you have a car. The former is definitely the more common one that you’ll see because it’s just sooo handy!
The Guia T is actually a guide for colectivos (buses) and since the colectivo network in Buenos Aires is denser than a spider web, the map they use is of course the best! You can get a hold of it at any kiosko diario (newspaper stand), they cost around 40 pesos for the small version last time I checked but they might have upped it for 2017.
For newcomers, using the Guia T can be a bit tricky because you do need some basic knowledge of Buenos Aires streets to understand where you are or where you are going. The good news is though, once you got yourself acquainted with a handful of big streets, you’ll start to orient yourself much better in this extensive little map book.
When I first tackled the task of figuring out how to take the bus using the Guia T, it was like impossible detective work but I love it. It’d take me a good 30mins. to find out my route and brave it in the streets! Don’t worry though, once you know how to use it, you’ll get a hang of it very quickly. I hope my little guide here will also make this less of a mystery to all of you. So get ready with your copy and vamos!
1) Find your starting point:
There are 2 ways to locate your starting point:
A) Go to the second page of the Guia T, find the box that your starting point is in and go to the corresponding page number which is at the right top corner of that box. Or
B) Find your street address by alphabetical order in the following pages from page 4 and up.
For example, let’s say we are at Defensa 1300:
In method A) you find that you are in box 25, so you go to page 25 to look for your location.
In method B) look for ‘Defensa’ and under the street name, you will find the 2 listings ‘101-850…17 – C5’ and ‘851-1850…25 – C1’. Since we are at Defensa 1300, the latter is the right one; thus, 25 is the page number and C2 is the coordinates of the square on Page 25.
2) Next, find your destination
Repeat Step 1. In this example, let’s say we are going to Avenida Coronel Díaz 1736. That will take us to Page 16, square A1.
3) Now, look back on the page of your starting point.
The map is on the right and there are all these numbers in boxes on the left. Remember you are in square C2 on the map? Look for the C2 box on the left and that’s the box with all the bus lines that run through the area of C2. Then, do the same thing for your destination point.
4) Compare the bus numbers in the 2 boxes and see if there is any in common.
If there’s one, BINGO! That’s the bus to take. If there’s none, then look in the surrounding squares and see if there is one that matches up. In our example, we actually have 2 bus lines available to go from Defensa 1300 to Coronel Díaz 1736: #29 and #39. woohoo!
5) You may now wonder, ok, I got the bus lines but where is the stop?
Good question and here comes the fun part! With the bus number, you go to the last section of the Guia T where all the bus routes are listed. This could be quite a tricky part as I’ve mentioned in my last post that a little knowledge of Buenos Aires streets would come in handy at this time, but don’t fluster, you can still do it. It’ll just take a bit of time and patience. Start looking for your starting point street and then check which street the bus turns from and the street turns onto next. From that, you’ll have a good idea of the section of the street where the closest bus stop is located.
6) Lastly, where to get off?
You already found your destination point at this time. Check the street number of the block and remember that, so when you are on the bus, you can look at all the door signs and judge how close you are to your destination. Or you can always ask the bus driver and he could tell you where to get off. (Note that in general, bus stops are around 2 blocks away from each other so if you got off a bit earlier or a bit later, you won’t end up too off track. I’ll explain more below)
I take the bus about twice a day that’s around 300 sweaty journeys in my time here to date, so I have a good idea of the quirks and tactics of taking the bus in Buenos Aires. The bus in Buenos Aires can be quite an experience with a minefield of problems that you might not have thought of. Your first obstacle to successfully get from A to B by bus is to make sure you have a SUBE card or coins. It is always embarrassing to have to shamefully get off the bus because your SUBE card is out of money of because you don’t have sufficient coins.
Officially, it is AR$9 for under 3km, AR$10 for 3-6km and AR$11 over 6 km, but no one checks and no one is measuring. It is a very Latino pricing strategy. Waiting for the bus is like waiting for a shooting star, you just never know when it will come. There is no fixed timetable for the buses. If you have just missed a bus, it does not mean much, the next one could be around the corner or very far away indeed, it´s really a bit of a lottery! It is always good to have a back up line just in case the one you are waiting for is full or if the driver decides he doesn’t like the look of you. Make sure you wave the buses down only when you are near a stop, although there is a law that at night the buses have to stop wherever you are if you are a woman alone, but this is rarely enforced.
Once the bus arrives, your second obstacle is to deicide whether to take a seat or not. This is where the real bus politics come in. There is a hierarchy of those who can take a seat, being a young male I am right at the bottom of that list and it is only with a little sense of guilt can I take a seat. Older ladies, pregnant women or the handicapped take the seats first and in this way the scarce seats on the packed buses go to those who need them most, which is great. However, this principle gets taken further to the stage where as a male I can’t help but feel a little guilty if there is a single other woman standing on the entire bus.
On top of deciding if you want to sit or not, you also have to choose your seat wisely. The front seats tend to go straight away to the elderly. So if you are young head to the back of the bus, the back of the bus is also the best place to stand if your journey is longer as there is a lot less jostling with others. Standing in the door way is very frowned upon if the bus is very full, so stand towards the side or towards the back to avoid those disapproving glances.
The bus is also a great place to hear arguments. The close proximity of people is like a pressure cooker for arguments. Be it the driver pulling off just as an old lady is getting on, or my favourite: the door being closed onto somebody’s arm. So, best of luck navigating the bus in Buenos Aires and on top of brushing up on your Spanish beforehand, so that you can ask the locals when to get off the bus and as to where on earth you are going.
When I first arrived in Buenos Aires, I was incredibly intimidated and overwhelmed by the bus system. I saw packed buses speed down busy streets, and more than once I had to sprint from an oncoming bus when I’d imprudently decided to cross against the light. I stuck to the subte, which could get me close enough to tourist sites during the day, and mostly relied on taxis at night. When that began to get inconvenient and expensive, I knew I had to find a better option for navigating the city and decided to attempt to master the bus system.
I bought a Guia T a few weeks after arriving here and took the workshop at Vamos Spanish Academy to help me understand how to use it. I always keep my Guia T with me – even if I’m not planning on using the bus, it’s nice to have a map that doesn’t immediately out you as a tourist. I also found two very useful websites that help you plan your route before you leave home: Omnilíneas http://omnilineas.com.ar/colectivos, which allows you to look at the routes by bus line, and The Official Interactive Map of Buenos Aires http://mapa.buenosaires.gov.ar, which provides an interactive tool that lets you enter your origin and destination, then gives you all the subte lines and colectivos that will get you to your intended location.
Another intimidating aspect of the bus is interacting with the driver when you first load: there are three different bus fare rates, so you have to tell the driver either your rate or your destination so that he can calculate the price. Fares typically range from $9 to $10, depending on the distance you intend to travel, and must be paid using SUBE card or monedas. Bus drivers like to keep a fast pace, and often begin driving while passengers are still standing in the doorway, so be prepared with your change in hand and destination in mind. Telling your bus driver the intersection where you intend to get off will work, and when you see that you’re nearing that location, you should get up and solicit a stop. Buses don’t stop at every parada (bus stop) automatically, and when you’re waiting for a bus on the street, you have to wave your bus down if multiple lines share the same stop.
After a few long trips, I now confidently ride the bus on a nearly daily basis. Although I still encounter some confusion with unfamiliar lines, I feel comfortable navigating the city with my Guia T in hand. If you choose to ride the bus and are lucky enough to get a window seat, you can even make a bus ride an opportunity to see new sites in Buenos Aires!