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.
Thumbnail image by féemaisquoi
Latest posts by Vicky Baker (see all)
- The Real Tango Experience in Argentina - May 1, 2013
- In Case You Haven’t Heard, the Pope is from Argentina - March 20, 2013
- Argentinian Culture Around the World - January 8, 2013
6 responses to “How to get around Buenos Aires using Public Transport”
Nice summary! I completely agree that the colectivos are the most daunting of the transport methods which I why I started Buenos Aires Local Tours, a free tour that shows you some of the most interesting areas of Buenos Aires, using buses and subte to get around. We start every day (Mon – Sat) from Plaza Italia at 11am – if you're new to the city, it's the easiest way to find your way around!
That's a really cool idea… thanks for telling us about it.
As of today (June 2011) most bus lines (colectivos) allow payment with an electronic card (look for MONEDERO and SUBE cards).
As for the coin shortage, it's a result of the inflation. For the government it's easier to print notes than make new coins. therefore, as the monetary base expands, the ratio between notes and coins gets skewed in favor of notes. The black market for coins was a result, not a cause. Thankfuly, with electronic rechargeable cards widely available by now, it is not so much the case anymore.
PS: the tram at Puerto Madero is probably the most useless and inefficient tram line in the world. It connects no meaninful destinations (on one end, there is the BUQUEBUS ferry terminal, on the other end theres the Catholic University). The distance it covers is minimal, you can walk it in 15 minutes or less, with the added benefits for your health and beautiful sight. I know, I did it many times, as it is on my route to work.
The govt subsidy to keep it running is monstrous, as of 2010, for every passenger who takes a ride on that tram (ticket value $1) the government has paid the equivalent of $1.000 in subsidies. There are plans to expand it, maybe then it will become useful. But fur now….
There are 2 other trams working in Buenos Aires. One is a touristic tram you can ride for free in Caballito, you can reach it by taking Subte line A (the vintage one). But it only works on weekends. More info here http://www.tranvia.org.ar/
The other tram is the PREMETRO, wich is integrated to (and operated by) the subway system. You can reach it at the end of the Subte line E, on the maps it is marked as line P. A little piece of advice, if you are a tourist, the places where this tram operates are *not* the saftest. Neither are they interesting to see. You lose nothing by skipping it.
(for more info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P… )
[…] in the downtown area (known as el Centro to most or San Nicolás to bureaucrats) and taking the Subte to the equally upscale Belgrano neighborhood to do field research in Chinatown, I never received […]
[…] complex Guia T is my Baires Bible. It’s a guide to the buses (AKA colectivos or bondis) and you’d be lost without it. Pimped disco vans hurtle around the […]