How to: Booking a Bus Ticket from Santiago to Mendoza
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When we were planning our trip to South America, we had settled on going to Santiago, Mendoza and Buenos Aires but had to sort out how to get from A –> B –> C. After reading a few trip reports and seeing a few photo galleries from the bus ride over the Andes, our mind was made up.
Bus vs. Plane
If the breathtaking pictures aren’t enough, also consider that a bus ticket will only set you back $40-50 vs a few hundred if you decide to fly:
Book Online vs In Person
My recommendation is to do your research online before arriving in Santiago or Mendoza and then go to the bus station to buy your ticket. A few reasons for this:
- Just about all of the online booking websites are in Spanish; this could pose problems depending upon your knowledge of the language.
- How can you know the online booking agency is reputable?
- How can you know that the bus company you purchase your ticket from is reputable or safe?
- Will the bus company actually be making the trip on the travel date you purchased? We had heard from my sister that the roads across the Andes had been closed for a few days. Some of her friends were in Santiago trying to go to Mendoza and had to stay in Santiago for a few days waiting for the roads to be cleared of snow. Some bus companies might make the trip where others won’t.
A quick sample search will reveal the 4 companies that are bookable on this site for the route (note that CATA doesn’t appear on Andesmar.com, just Central de Pasajes):
- CATA – 4x daily
- El Rapido Internacional – 2x daily
- Coitram – 2x daily
- Andesmar – 3x daily
This site will also show you the classes of service and seat map so you can check how full a particular bus is. Here’s a sample booking on the Andesmar website.
And the seat selection map– you’ll want to take note of this because just about all of the buses have 2 levels and you’ll probably want to book a class of service that allows for the better view on the upper floor:
Classes of Service for Argentina Buses
El Rapido Internacional
Here’s a fantastic description of the classes of bus service in Argentina/Chile from Omnilineas:
Bus services in Argentina are available in a variety of comfort classes, each with its distinct characteristics. The classification is prescribed by law (Decreto 2407/2002 Annexo II) in an attempt to improve the comparability of the services. Every service is assigned by the bus company to one of five comfort classes and has to comply with the minimum requirements of this class. Below we present a summary of the available classes to give you an impression of the respective levels of comfort.
For quick and easy reference we have introduced a numbering of the categories and assigned the number one to the best comfort level (“first class”), while the most basic service is number five.
Class 5: Común
This is the lowest category with no additional requirements other than the basic technical standards for bus transportation.
Class 4: Común con aire
As the main difference to the lowest class, services in the “comun con aire” category offer air conditioning, i.e. the buses are equipped with a heating and cooling system. Also the number of passengers is limited to the number of seats (no transport of standing passengers). Normally there are individual seats with soft cushioning, although this is not required by law for this category.
Class 3: Semicama
Services of this class offer better seating comfort. The buses are equipped with rows of individual seats (4 seats per row), with soft cushioning, arm and foot rests, and reclining back rests. There are also rests to support your legs when the seat is in a reclined position. The service either includes catering of food and drinks or a minibar with self-service where you can get juices, coffee and tea. An air conditioning system with individually adjustable air flow for every seat is mandatory. The following dimensions are minimal requirements for a semicama service:
- distance between armrests: 45 cm
- distance between seats: 75 cm
- maximum reclining angle: 40 degrees
- depth of the seats: 45 cm
- width of armrests: 4 cm
All semicama buses are also equipped with a toilet compartment with certain minimum dimensions.
After all, the comfort level of the semicama class is thus slightly better or about equal to typical bus services in Europe and North America, and similar to the economy class on a flight.
Class 2: Cama-Ejecutivo
This class offers even better seating comfort, and because of the larger seats there are only three seats per row. Consequently every row has a single seat on one side and two adjacent seats on the other side of the aisle. A cama service has to comply with the following minimum requirements for the seats:
- distance between armrests: 50 cm
- distance between seats: 86 cm
- maximum reclining angle: 55 degrees
- depth of the seats: 46 cm
- width of armrests: 6 cm
Needless to say that the larger seats and wider reclining angle are favorable for sleeping on a night bus. The cama-ejecutivo class has the same requirements as the semicama class with respect to air conditioning, toilet department, and minibar or catering. In addition there is normally also an audio and video system installed for your entertainment.
Class 1: Cama Suite
The only additional requirement for this class as compared to the cama-ejecutivo class is that the maximum reclining angle must be at least 85 degrees. In practice this means that the seat can be reclined until it is completely flat and you will really have a bed (spanish: “cama”) to sleep in. Normally there is some sort of separation between your seat and the one in front and behind in order to preserve your privacy.
Where to buy a bus ticket in Santiago, Chile
Like I mentioned, we had heard from my sister that the roads across the Andes had been closed for a few days just prior to our trip. As a result, we opted to not purchase our tickets online in advance and instead went to the bus station to A) find it ahead of time to make our lives easier when we’d show up later with lots of luggage and in more of a time crunch and B) to get first hand info from the bus companies about a road condition update.
Finding the bus station, it turned out, was exceedingly difficult– and for no apparent reason. We were working with just a map of the downtown area and in no place could we find a symbol or even hint of a bus or bus station. Contrary to my travel style, we broke down and asked someone where to find the “bus station for buses to Mendoza;” they seemed highly confident in their answer and drew precise directions on our map. This bus station, however was a very small one and for only one company. They did, in fact, have a few daily departures to Mendoza but the buses at the station looked small and not as nice. It also didn’t help that, in all of my online research prior to our trip, I had not once come across the name of this company. The internet was so slow, but, when I finally was able to use Google, I learned that there are 4 bus stations in Santiago, the largest being Terminal de Santiago with the majority of international departures. We asked for directions to Terminal de Santiago and were told to take the red line subway to Universidad de Santiago.
We followed the signs out of the subway to the buses and found a huge plaza of buses for “Pullman.” After scouring the area, I couldn’t find any of the bus companies I hoped to find like “Andesmar,” “Cata International,” or “Coitram.”
We began to feel as if we were on Candid Camera and the victim of a prank. Since I had a really slow connection on my phone, we found an Internet cafe. There is SO little info on the web about these buses it’s crazy. I did, however, find the Terminal de Santiago website who confirmed that Andesmar has a ticketing office in stall #42. Ok, great, back downstairs we went for stall #42 and found nothing, just more Pullman ticketing lines. After some hunting around the area, we realized that we were, again, in the wrong bus station. It turns out there is a bus station RIGHT next to Terminal de Santiago called Alameda (and that’s where we were), with very few signs to make that known to the uninitiated.
Here’s a map– hopefully someone can learn from our mistakes. If you’re headed to Argentina, you’ll want the station with the yellow star, Terminal de Santiago:
Ok, NOW we’re finally in Terminal de Santiago, and we went straight to stall #42 and it’s STILL not Andesmar, not even close. Hmmm, time to take a spin around the station. Couldn’t find Andesmar, Coitram etc… anywhere. UGH. Is this a joke, Chile?!?!?!
Then, FINALLY, after getting very close to leaving and then reevaluating, we found that we were in the domestic area of Terminal de Santiago. We doubled back around to the international area and, there it was: the Andesmar ticketing office. There were many companies all lined up selling tickets to Mendoza. We checked with a few of the companies for prices and road conditions. They all said the same: the roads were currently open to traffic and buses operating normally but, you never know, things could change at anytime. Oh well, good enough for me.
We went to the Andesmar counter and requested 2x tickets. We were quoted a price of 19,000 CLP each (~$34 US). This sounded fine, and, in fact, was a better price than purchasing online because they were charging in Argentine Pesos which came out to appx ~$40 US. The agent requested our passports, which we didn’t have with us, but, fortunately, we had a picture of McCown’s. This seemed sufficient for the time being. He told us to be back by 9:30am, 30 mins before our scheduled departure with my passport on Sunday.
He asked us at least 3x if we had paid our reciprocity fee for Argentina, to which I said, yes, already taken care of.
It was our intention to take the subway from Las Condes to Universidad de Santiago– it’s a straight shot on the red line but would take close to 50 mins and required a few minutes’ walk on each side, with our bags… Not to mention the stairs of the subway. The subway fare is just 620 CLP each (appx $2.25 total) but, since we were running a bit late and it was starting to rain, we had to grab a taxi. The cab got us there in 20 mins door-to-door and cost 8,000 CLP with tip (~$14.50 US).
BOTTOM LINE: We ended up booking a “Semi-cama” seat in person with Andesmar for less than we were quoted online. This allowed us to speak with the agent to make sure the buses were running before purchasing. It also forced us to go find the bus station in advance, which proved to be invaluable because it took a lot longer than expected and we surely would have missed our bus otherwise. I think this is the best way to go for most travelers.