This post will hopefully answer a few questions in regards to taking the bus from Santiago to Mendoza. Yesterday we made this trip with the bus company Andesmar, and I will walk you through what to expect.
Day 364 – March 1st, 2015.
Searching for bus tickets online
I began the search sometime ago and then put it off until closer to the travel date. I did this for one reason, and that was because according to some information that I found, tickets only come on sale exactly a month in advance. Meaning if your travel date is March 1st then you could only purchase tickets on or after February 1st.
Through my research I found this to not totally be true. Let me explain. Most sites have a booking calendar and you can only input the dates that are highlighted, days that are yet to open will simply not load. However, I found a site that did allow bookings further than the one month period. The prices were no different for any of the seats, regardless of date when comparing with the month limited sites.
Needless to say, I booked through OmniLineas, over a month in advance and secured the front seats on the upper level for both our trips, Santiago to Mendoza with Andesmar and Mendoza to Buenos Aires with CATA International.
Buying bus tickets online
The web sites are pretty easy to use and on most you can select English language. As for choosing which bus company or type of seat, that depends on what time of day you travel, more on that below.
Most of the bus companies have the same fare structure, so it’s not worth searching for a better deal, I did, but found nothing. From the looks of it, they offer the same onboard service as well.
I guess that leaves only one criteria, what time of day do you want to travel. When looking for times of busses, there are many possibilities, you’ll just have to pick one that suits.
The deciding things for me were,
- A) we wanted a front row, window seat on the upper level,
- B) we wanted to travel during the day from Santiago to Mendoza so we could look at the scenery,
- C) travel over night from Mendoza to Buenos Aires,
- D) have a full sleeper seat from Mendoza to Buenos Aires.
With those criteria in mind, I booked the busses accordingly. Being able to book over a month out I was able to secure front seats on both trips. Even for the full sleeper seats on the Mendoza Buenos Aires trip are upper level front. This was a great find, as most of the seats that recline fully flat are often downstairs or towards the rear on the upper level.
When searching the busses, they will list the amount of seats in each class for that particular trip. The available seats will be shown on the next screen once you select and click-through. There you can see exactly where each seat in each class is located shown below in the side by side photos.
In my search I did find one bus that has only 12 seats, all suite class, meaning fully reclining seats bottom and top-level, including the front row. As the price was the same as the others I booked them with CATA over a month in advance. I will report on that trip when after the 8th March.
Do you need a visa?
The answer to this is best found on your individual countries website for travel. Needless to say that for Australians, you don’t need a visa for up to 90 days. Neither do UK & Swiss passport holders. As an Australian you do need to have paid the reciprocity fee online before traveling.
Don’t forget the reciprocity fee
The reciprocity fee varies from country to country, check online as to what it costs and how to apply and pay for it. This link is for travelers from the USA and the fee, as of writing is $160 US and is valid for multiple entry for ten years.
For Australians, this is the link to use and the fee is $100 US, and is valid for multiple entry for one year.
Quote from the official website “The Reciprocity Fee can only be paid through the Argentine Immigration Department web-site: (www.migraciones.gov.ar), and it must be done before arriving into the country. Payments must only by made by credit card. Credit cards accepted are VISA; AMERICAN EXPRESS and MASTERCARD.”
However, the above quote gives the link to the Interior ministry and transport, but the actual link that you need to use is different. If you click on through, it takes you to this page, Provincia NET. Here you need to create a username and password, then login to proceed to fill out your details, and then pay with a credit card. It might sound confusing, but just follow the prompts and it will be fine.
YOU MUST HAVE THIS PAID AND A PRINTED COPY WITH YOU BEFORE BOARDING THE BUS.
The funny thing here is, you can purchase bus tickets without having the reciprocity fee paid, and there is no mention of this when buying a ticket.
http://www.omnilineas.com/ this is by far my favourite site and allows for searches further than 30 days.
http://www.plataforma10.com/ this site is good but does not allow for further ahead purchases. Limited to 30 days.
http://www.andesmar.com/ this is for Andesmar bus company. They also offer some other bus company services, I know it’s all too confusing.
http://www.catainternacional.com/ this is for CATA, and again they list other bus company services.
I have only linked to those two companies as they are what I have booked.
OmniLineas is the site that allows you to book further in advance. Click the English flag for translation. Put in the station names and enter, then hover over the shopping basket to the right and a calendar will pop up, put in your date and enter. The next page looks like this. Not all bus companies are listed, but the main ones are.
Actually, I have not found a single website that lists all the companies offering the same service. You will have to look around if you want another company which may not be listed here.
Type of bus seat from Santiago to Mendoza to Buenos Aires
This is where it can get confusing, especially if you don’t know what type of seat you want. I suggest that you first decide when you want to travel, time & date, then chose the seat type. They range from fully flat, 180 degrees, which can be called ‘cama suite or super cama’ or SU Suite – First Class or Royal Suite, it all depends on what company you look at.
Then there is a seat that reclines to 160 degrees, which could be called cama ejecutivo, and then the next one that reclines to 145 degrees and is generally called semi cama.
Each of these seats will have a slightly different standard of service as well. The full on suite service should have wine and a hot meal. Once we have sampled this service next week, I will confirm or not. Either way, I’ll be sure to write about it. The semi cama might just have light refreshments like a Sandwich and tea or coffee. You can read more about our semi cama service below.
What to expect with a semi cama seat on the Andesmar bus journey from Santiago to Mendoza
The 8 hour journey begins
We arrived at the bus station over an hour before the departure time. There are two bus stations in Santiago, however they are next to each other. The one we needed was….. Moni went with Lissete (who gave us a lift) to find out from which platform our bus would leave from, while I waited with the bags.
They returned and said it could be anyone between row 40 and 49!! oh well. That was really quite good considering there are over 60 bus bays for all services. We waited at number 40 as it was not so busy there, that soon changed. Apparently the bus would arrive 30 minutes prior to departure and sure enough it did.
During the time we waited I took a wander around the station. This has to be the busiest bus station ever (so far) that we have ever seen. Busses were coming and going like ants, continuously back and forth. There are loads of ticket booths from every company, and then some, you will just have to walk around and find yours.
Andesmar & CATA are close to each other, but all the way through the terminal.
There are toilets here and the queue was long, also there are some kiosks selling snacks and papers etc. Also, if you need power for a phone, plugs sockets are up high on the pillars.
The road to the station was like a line up of busses waiting to enter the arena. It all seemed to run like clockwork to me. Like I said, our bus arrived and pulled into bay 43.
There are no announcements or any other way to know which is your bus other than reading the front display of each bus. A bugger if your on your own with lots of bags.
By the way, if you arriving at Santiago bus station, there is a taxi rank near bus bay 36, they file in from the same entrance that the busses use.
We shuffled along to bay 43 as did many others, and joined the line waiting to hand over the luggage to go in the hold of the bus.
For each piece of luggage, you receive a ticket stub with the corresponding number on. The guys who load the bags don’t work for the bus company they work for the station and they expect a tip for loading your bags, and yes they will ask for it. Some loose change or a note would be fine, some gave notes some only a few hundred peso.
With the bags handed over, now to get on the bus.
The driver and his offsider stand at the entrance. We gave him our online printed tickets which he tore off the bottom part. He asked what passport we have and then wanted to see proof that reciprocity fee has been paid, we showed him our print outs, he then handed us customs forms and allowed us to board.
We take our seats at the front of the bus, numbers 10 & 11. At 10.06 we depart bay 43 of Santiago bus station.
I had read that the bus trip from Santiago to Mendoza was spectacular and hence the reason for sitting at the front. I would have chosen a different date had I not been able to get a front seat for today.
After leaving the city of Santiago we could see the Andes mountains in the distance, (you can see them when in the city as well). Sure enough the scenery was great and being at the front you get to see so much more.
There was a movie being shown on the monitors throughout the bus, and at first it started in English and loud, with a speaker right above us. Then it changed into Spanish with Spanish subtitles, but not so loud. Not that we wanted to watch tv anyway. You don’t get to drive through the Andes mountains every day do you.
The first part takes you out of the city for a while, before the climb begins up a series of curves. I lost count, but it must have been over 35 corners that we turned, slowly creeping higher and higher, then through a couple of tunnels before passing by the exit of Chile.
Leaving Chile at this point you don’t stop for customs, only people entering Chile must stop. It is the same when entering and leaving Argentina. This brings us to the border to Argentina where lots can happen, according to some stories that I have read online during my research.
Snacks on board the bus trip
Shortly after departing the attendant, who is also a driver, handed out sandwiches followed by polystyrene cups which he later filled with sprite. Later on he collects any rubbish. The sandwiches were semi frozen, they were hard. We waited for over an hour before we attempted one. To report that they were the dryest sandwich ever would not be lying, and still cold. Yet on the pack it clearly reads daily fresh!!
After our stop at customs, which I’ll call part two of the journey we were served some tea or coffee and a biscuit. This time from the driver from part one. That was the limit of refreshments on board.
I guess depending on what time of day you arrive here, it could be either a huge line up of busses or not. We had four busses in front of us. Later, there was at least seven behind us.
For those that needed some extra sustenance (if the gourmet sandwich was not enough) you could get a burger and coffee or other items from the two outlets that were open.
As you can see, the busses are lined up waiting and with that comes a bunch of feral smokers that have a lot to answer for with a total disregard to the earth… A strange breed they are, putting apples in the bin and throwing their smokes on the floor, just doesn’t make sense to me.
The bus stopped inline and we were asked to get off and form a line. This line went in number of seat, as we were upstairs at the front on this bus we had number 10 & 11 and so our respective places were 10th & 11th inline. This means you wont have to wait as long as someone in seat 28 for example.
We were marched into the building and asked to wait for the passport counter to open. First you show your passport and form to the Chilean side, here you get stamped out of Chile.
Then you walk all of ten steps to the Argentine passport control and here you show passports, customs form and reciprocity form. You receive a stamp into Argentina and the reciprocity is ticked off the list and checked on computer. By the way the A4 sheet was full of names, that’s lots of dollars every day!!
Customs and Immigration
You might think ‘that’s it’ but hell no, there’s more… but not right now. We have to wait for each of the other busses to pass through the customs search process. I had been watching the other busses and the procedure. The bus pulls up in front of the inspection area, everyone must get off with all of their carry-on bags and place them on the benches that form a U shape, here you stand and wait.
All the luggage in the hold of the bus is removed and x-rayed. If something stands out, you are called to open the bag for further inspection (Moni’s pink bag was one of them, they wanted to see what was the round ball, which was the microphone). The hold of the bus is searched before moving forward and the luggage put back in.
Sorry no photos here as I didn’t want to get caught!! Most border controls do not allow for photos.
The bus is inspected inside, under seats, the driver cabin, wheel hubs etc. All very thorough indeed, places unscrewed taken apart etc. Then all our individual bags are searched and our white declaration forms collected. One lady before Moni was causing some suspicion on the part of the officer and he called over some military inspectors.
We were checked and asked where we are from, on answering he moved to the next. All up we were at the border control for three hours and hence we arrived 35 minutes late into Mendoza.
A word about bus toilets
I never used the toilet on the bus (lucky me), however Moni did. Her words were ‘they are disgusting’. Apparently they were very wet and smelly, with no paper. Good job she always has a pack of wet wipes. Needless to say, I made sure to go during our time at the border control, again here was no paper. On her second visit later in the day, they were not so smelly thanks to some chemical, but the toilet was foaming!! I know, too much information.
Remember not to book a seat near the toilets. The plan of the bus when booking your seat will show where they are located.
The journey continues
Part two of the bus trip was a continuation of wonderful scenery. Gradually making our way down the pass towards Mendoza.
The area is all very dry-looking and then out of nowhere comes a lush green oasis which forms the town called Upsallata, before it becomes dry again before reaching the outskirts of Mendoza where vineyards pop up along the way.
Arriving in Mendoza
Mendoza appears in the distance. As we edge closer to our destination it becomes more populated before arriving at the quite large bus station, but at this time of day not very busy.
The bus pulls into bay 17 and everyone gets off. There is once again a station worker that unloads all the bags. He is working alone and this process takes forever, possibly due to his lack of enthusiasm and thus the lack of tips he receives. He does ask a few people and they give nothing and so his frustration grows. Eventually we get our final bag and make our way out of the station.
We flag down a taxi to take us to our place in Mendoza.
There you have it, our daytime bus journey through the Andes mountains. I hope that you find the information helpful when taking the bus from Santiago to Mendoza. Stay tuned for the bus journey from Mendoza to Buenos Aires next week.
Have you had good or bad experiences when traveling by bus from Santiago to Mendoza, we’d love to read about them in the comments below.