Often when travelling for long periods at a time we tend to plan our next destination relatively last minute. While we were in Santiago, Chile, we spent quite a bit of time debating whether we should fly to Mendoza, Argentina or take the bus. Being fully aware that flying would be much quicker (the full flight is about a half hour) and still relatively inexpensive, we’d heard that although much longer, the bus ride through the Andes Mountains was one of the best in the world.
We did read that it’s pretty much imperative to travel by double decker bus and get the top, front seats for the great views. Even last minute we were able to achieve this (more on that later), and honestly, must agree that if you can’t get those seats, it’s probably best to fly (the views on the rest of the bus wouldn’t be nearly as good). We also found there wasn’t a whole lot of detailed information about the bus and ride available online so we decided to put together this post with all the important information you might need if you’re interested or planning to take the bus from Santiago to Mendoza.
We purchased our tickets online. There are a number of sites where you can get your tickets from but we ended up purchasing directly from the bus company we decided to travel with, Cata Internacional. We were able to easily pick our seats during the process and pay online, and tickets arrived by email promptly. Be aware that they will need to be printed out. Tickets were 1250 Argentinian Pesos per person (about $25 USD).
The Bus Station:
Oddly enough, one of the most confusing aspects of the entire process was figuring out which station our bus was leaving from! No where on our tickets or on their website listed where the Cata Internacional station is (that we could find anyway). Our Airbnb host even attempted to call the company for us (since we don’t speak Spanish) to find out, with no luck. We did a few Google Maps searches which pointed us to a Cata Internacional office so we decided to try it first. Thankfully we left our rental apartment with a few hours to spare. Our Uber driver (who didn’t speak English) took us to the address that Google had provided, only to find absolutely nothing there! Using the very little Spanish we know, and our driver using his limited English, we managed to make a plan to try out the nearby and large bus station called South Terminal (Terminal Sur). Thankfully we made the right decision, it took awhile to figure out that there was an international section but we soon realized we were in the right spot. We spotted a desk that had a Cata Internacional sign and went up to ask if we were in the correct spot. He asked for our tickets and passports where he double checked the information and then told us which platform to go to and when to be there.
Our bus pulled into the station right around the same time as our departure was scheduled for, and of course everyone immediately lined up to check bags (included in your ticket) and board. The second confusing part of the entire process happened just as we were about to board. The bus driver checked our tickets and then informed us we hadn’t checked in yet. We were obviously quite confused since we’d already visited a ticket counter but the bus attendant swiftly took us back inside the building, pointing to a much larger Cata Internacional sign that we hadn’t seen our first time through. There they checked our tickets and stamped them for us. We’re still confused about what the first desk was that we’d gone to earlier! After that we were able to board the bus, making our way upstairs to our front seats!
The bottom section of the bus had a bathroom right behind the bus driver with the seats behind that (meaning if you’re seated in the bottom section, you won’t have a view out the front at all). Upstairs was all seating with two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other. Our seats were big and spacious with a removable footrest. There were also personal screens to watch movies and they handed out over-the-ear headphones. Needless to say, we were so happy to have the huge windows in front of us which gave us the most incredible views along our journey. As we said before, if we couldn’t have got those seats, we probably would have flown instead.
Along the way they did bring us a bit of food but we’d highly recommend bringing some water and snacks along as well! Soon after boarding they handed out small glasses of juice and relatively basic sandwiches (ham and chicken- there didn’t seem to be a vegetarian option). Later in the journey, after we’d passed through immigration in Argentina, they also handed out some instant coffee and cookies. We’d read on their website that there would be wine, but there definitely was not!
It seemed to take ages to get out of Santiago but the moment we did the incredible views started! We quickly reached the mountains, making our way along highways, through small towns all while ascending into the Andes. Most of the roads were actually relatively straight, other than one scary area that was numerous hairpin turns making our way up and up with nary a guardrail in sight. Other than that we have to say, the drive itself was more than breathtaking! It felt like the terrain was constantly changing, at times we felt like we were on another planet, looking rocky and desert like, and a few minutes later we’d be in a town full of green trees and grass.
We were slightly nervous that we might get some motion sickness along the way but neither of us had any issues at all.
We had heard that the border crossing can be one of the longest parts of the journey. When looking up tickets we found most buses seemed to leave in the morning or later in the evening. A lot of the earlier buses were already booked at the time we were looking, so we picked the one that left in early afternoon as it still had those front seats available. Becase of this timing, we may have also lucked out with border crossing. There was only one bus ahead of us when we arrived and we spent about a total of one hour there. You essentially line up to have your passport stamped, then we waited outside the bus for everyone to finish up. After this they moved the bus a bit where they unloaded the luggage to be scanned. We were then all filed into a large room where we had to put our hand luggage on tables and open them up, and an immigration officer made his way around the room quickly checking our bags. That was it - as soon as all the bags were checked we were able to go back on the bus and departed immediately. We had read that there would be a stop around immigration where there would be food for purchase, but our bus made no more stops.
The border crossing happens about halfway through the trip. In total it took about 8 hours to make the entire trip, we left around 1:30 PM and arrived in Mendoza around 9:30 PM.
Watch the video:
As we’ve stated, this was a seriously stunning voyage! We certainly haven’t done them all, but this has got to be considered one of the top bus rides in the world in terms of incredible scenery! We’d highly, highly recommend you book far enough in advance to get those top front seats in order to have the best views along the journey from Santiago to Mendoza!
Did we answer all your questions?
If not, let us know in the comments below!