Looking for a quick and easy way to see the best of Buenos Aires?
The good news is there’s a hop on hop off bus tour that drops you at all of Buenos Aires’ must see attractions! The bad news is it may not be the most reliable service you’ll ever come across… However it’s still worth investing in a ticket to make getting across town much easier, especially if you only have a few days to look around and need to find your bearings quickly.
Buenos Aires Bus offers a 3 hour 15 min long loop around Buenos Aires and an additional 60min route (linea azul or blue line) that covers a smaller area of sights. The main (yellow) route gets you to all the best spots without the hassle of navigating public transport, including San Telmo, La Boca, Recoleta, Barrio Chino, Teátro Colon, The Floralis Genérica, Museo Nacional de Artes Bellas, Centro, Retiro, Jardin Japones and many more. We invested in a 48-hour ticket which cost us ARS$470 each (just under AUD$47 at the time) which we bought on board the bus although they do offer a 5% discount if you buy tickets online. A 24-hour ticket would have only set us back ARS$350 to buy on board which is actually pretty reasonable but we wanted long enough to see everything and not rush.
So is it worth it?
I used to be horrified at the idea of using a hop on hop off bus service as it seems like such a nerdy tourist thing to do however having given it a whirl in LA, San Fran, Singapore, Hong Kong and now Buenos Aires I have to admit I’m a convert. I don’t have a great sense of direction and I find these tours to be a great way to get my bearings and get a feel for the different districts. In most large cities major attractions are often quite far apart from one another and some don’t warrant spending a large amount of time at, so being able to get from one to the next quickly and easily is a huge plus. As much as I like to think I’m an intrepid traveller who can navigate my way on public transport like a local, the fact of the matter is this method could take twice as long with potential to lose precious exploring time. The tour bus makes it possible to get to all the most interesting places with ease – and for those destinations where you turn out to not need much time you can just get back on the next bus (every 10-20 mins) and move on to the next point of interest.
While I have to say that the standard of service was not up to the level of some other big cities that I have experienced, I think if I could go back in time I would still use Buenos Aires Bus purely for the ease of getting from A to B without much effort and for the great overview of the city it provides. Now I know which parts I want to go back and spend a whole day (or more) exploring, and which parts I am satisfied a quick look around was enough.
Here are a few of the pros and cons of using Buenos Aires Bus to get around based on my experience.
· The Sights - They’ve definitely got all the good places to see covered.
· Frequency - The main yellow bus line runs about every 10-20 minutes so you never have to wait too long for the next one - I didn’t experience any long delays.
· Info - You have an audio tour guide filling you in on the history and relevance of all the things you drive past. Languages available include English, German, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Japanese, Italian and Hebrew.
· Stops -The big yellow stops are prominent and easy to find (I once wasted over an hour trying to find an unmarked stop in Hong Kong).
· Quality - The quality of the buses can be quite hit and miss. The first bus I got on was great with a canopy to provide sweet relief from the glaring sun and the audio headphones and outlet worked perfectly. The quality went downhill from there sadly as the next several buses I hopped on had no canopy so I was absolutely sweltering in the midday heat and the downstairs air conditioned seating is minimal so you’d be lucky to get a seat. Also the quality of headphones and outlets varied greatly - with many either not working at all or regularly cutting out causing me to miss half the story.
· Reliability - While I found that the yellow line was generally pretty on time with it’s 20 minute frequency (give or take a little depending on traffic) the blue line was ridiculous and in the end I never actually made it on board. We went to the stop on time for the first blue bus of the day and waited. Luckily it was a shared stop with the yellow line so we were able to ask the guide on the yellow bus as it passed and were told there wouldn’t be a bus for an hour as the first one had been cancelled (had we gone to a blue stop that was not shared with the yellow line we would have been waiting in vain not knowing where it had gotten to). This was a little annoying but we decided to make the most of the situation and go to a nearby café for breakfast - but after eagerly rushing back to catch the next bus we were informed that it too had been cancelled and the following bus would be another hour and 20 mins away, by which point our tickets would have expired. We decided it wasn’t worth waiting another hour or more given the chance that bus might also be cancelled, and we weren’t sure if they would honour our tickets either so we gave up.
· Price - It is considerably more expensive than the uber-cheap public transport options available in Buenos Aires. If you are on a really tight budget you may resent paying so much for a potentially mediocre service when you could get to many of the places on the subway and train for a pittance. That said, a few spots like La Boca aren’t on a train or subway line and the public buses are VERY confusing to navigate so you might end up taking a taxi there and back which would cost as much as the tour bus anyway. For me, La Boca is one of those places that was awesome to see for a short time but not worth spending very long at as the parts that are safe to visit are also very touristy, so the hop on hop off option was perfect.
In summation, if you're in Buenos Aires for only a short time and you want to see as much as possible, the hop on hop off bus will help you achieve this without wasting time. The company has its flaws but it is generally a pretty good service. My hot tips: bring a sun hat and large bottle of water and be warned, there tends to be a long queue to get on at the first stop outside their main office. If you have more time but less money then you may be better off getting around on the trains and subways. You can buy a Sube card at a Kiosko and top it up at a station and it is truly cheap as chips.
Note - there is another company offering a similar tourist bus service in Buenos Aires - L'Open Tour - we didn't trial their operation but we did notice their pricing appeared slightly more expensive than Buenos Aires Bus. If anyone has used this company we would love to hear your feedback.