The best way to get to know a city is by taking public transport. It’s also an easy way for any traveller to cut down on their expenses. Here follows a masterclass to get you roaming Buenos Aires like a true porteño/a in no time.
The easiest place to start is the underground system, known as the Subte. Ask the man in the ticket booth for “un viaje” (one journey, pronounce it like this). At current prices, this will cost you AR$1.10 (£0.17; $0.27; €0.20).
Of course, you don’t have to be in BA for long to realise there is an extreme coin shortage here, which is rumoured to be the work of a dastardly mafia. The Subte ticket office usually has coins, so pay with a five-peso bill and snap up the change for a bus ride later.
Opening in 1913, BA’s Subte was the first underground transport system in the Spanish-speaking world. Today you’ll find six lines (A, B, C, D, E and, er, H) covering 52km. It’s worth taking a trip on the A line, even if you have nowhere to go. Quite incredibly, this line still operates its original, wooden, early-1900s carriages. Try to get the coveted window seat next to the driver to watch the track unfold before you, like this…
So now you have the hang of the Subte, let’s get down with the colectivo (bus), or bondi, as it is known in local slang. Firstly, to get us in the mood, here’s a lovely celebration of bondis with a cumbia soundtrack. Nice.
The BA colectivos can be off-putting to an outsider. If I had a coin for every time I have seen a tourist try to pay the driver with a note, I’d be selling them on the black market too. Here’s a simple guide to getting it right.
The driver does not want your money. You tell the driver what fare you want, then put your coins (no notes, strictly no notes) into the slot at the top of the little machine until it whirs with satisfaction and spits out your ticket below.
How do you know what fare you want? Here’s how (roughly speaking):
- AR$1.25 = across the city
- AR$1.20 = to the next barrio
- AR$1.10 = a few short blocks
Most people tell the driver the fare they need and then proceed to the machine. Alternatively, you can say where you are going (i.e. the cross-section of roads) and let the driver tell you. Or, if you are a nervous, non-Spanish speaker, just learn to say 1.25 every time and at least you won’t be questioned. If you are sticking around, you may want to get yourself a little swipe card from a Subte station, but at the moment, this exciting new initiative is almost always out of service.
How do you know what bus to get? Now here is where things get clever/complicated. You need to get yourself a Guia T, a book full of routes that will soon become your BA Bible. Or use the website comoviajo.com. Fortunately, someone has saved me the effort of explaining how these work (although note prices have go up since they made this).
Short on coins? Go to a bank and get change, as porteños do.
Watch your bag/pockets, as in any big city.
Don’t forget the overground trains, which often allow you to go further for even cheaper. The Mitre line will take you from Retiro’s central terminal to the tranquil, delta town of Tigre.
Are there trams in Buenos Aires? There used to be lots, hence its old nickname ‘the City of Trams’. Sadly, the extensive system that was once envied across the world has now been abandoned.
However, there is one fancy new tramline down by Puerto Madero (see video below). The question is, does anyone actually use it? If you’ve used this magical mystery tram, then let us know below and maybe you can teach us a thing or two. Feel free to share transport tips or your favourite bus route, too.
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