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Transportation in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is home to over 10 million people, so it's not hard to understand that the city is spread out over a huge area. Fortunately, you can get around the city very quickly and easily. There are several modes of transportation, and we'll go over each of them in detail. Ironically, the hardest place to get in and out of is the Ministro Pistarini (Ezeiza) International Airport, so we'll start there.

Aeropuerto Internacionál Ezeiza

International Departure Terminal
Ministro Pistarini (Ezeiza) International Airport Once you get off your plane, you pick up your luggage and head for the immigration area. You will need to have your passport handy. There are two lines: One for Argentine citizens and one for everyone else. Unless you're Argentine, your line is the longer of the two. Most of these people speak passable English. After a painless trip through immigration, go to customs and prepare to have your bag searched. Helpful Tip: I've noticed if you give a smile to the lady who directs traffic in the line, she might let you skip customs.

Once you're out of customs, the fun begins. The first thing you should do is exchange some money. You won't get a good rate at the airport, so don't change more than you have to. Once you get past the exchange counter, you will see a whole bunch of booths offering transportation downtown. Find a counter where the rate is published on a sign so you don't get fleeced, tell them which hotel you're staying at (they definitely know where it is), pay at the counter, and follow your driver to his car. This service costs around AR$40 (conversion). Note that the Richierri freeway which takes you downtown is a toll road, and the driver might expect you to pay the toll, but it's not much money. Also be sure to tip your driver when you arrive.

Now that you've made it out of the airport and into Buenos Aires, you'll need a good map. There are good maps available for free at many hotels and at the tourist information office (Corner of Santa Fe and Suipacha). The best free map I've found can only be picked up at one place as far as I know: The registration desk at the Sheraton Libertador Hotel (Corner of Córdoba and Maipú). This map will show you places of interest and subte lines which are crucial to getting around Buenos Aires.


A Subte Train at Constitucion Station The Buenos Aires subway, known locally as the subterreno (literally means "underground"), or more commonly as the subte, is by far your best transportation option in Capital Federal for many reasons. First, the subte is very smartly laid out. Its five lines (labeled A through E) more or less radiate out from Plaza de Mayo. Most important attractions and shopping centers have a subte station just steps away. Alto Palermo shopping center even has a subte station on the first floor! The subte is also well connected to train and bus lines, making travel into other areas easier. Second, the subte is fast. You can get from one side of the city to the other in 1/2 hour. The frequency of trains varies by line, but most lines have trains every 3-4 minutes. This means you don't need to run to catch a train because another one will be by almost on its heels. Third, the subte is amazingly cheap. A ride costs AR$0.70 regardless of length; your fare is valid as long as you remain in the subte network. That means you can go as far as you want and change lines as much as you want for the same low price. Just don't leave until you're ready or you'll have to pay again.

Paying on the subte is easier than it used to be. Old school missionaries like me will remember buying fichas one at a time, but that system is gone now. Today they use a magnetic card called Subtepass. You can purchase a Subtepass in increments of 1,2,5,10, or 30 rides. You don't save any money by purchasing multiple rides, but you do save yourself time in line at the boletería by not having to purchase a token each time. Just don't forget to retrieve your card when you enter.

The subte network is almost like its own city. Almost every subte station sells books and magazines, and the larger ones (Retiro and Diagonal Norte, for example) have restaurants and shops. There's even a McDonald's and a place to buy luggage at one of them. Also, a lot of subte stations are covered with murals and other art. These are nice to look at while you wait for your train.

The only downside to the subte is that it tends to get crowded during rush hour. As you would expect, traffic into the city is heavy in the morning, and vice versa in the afternoon. Some careful planning will help you avoid most of this. The subte is operated by Metrovías, and their website (in Spanish) has more information about the subte, including maps of the network.


A Line 49 Colectivo In order to access areas the subte doesn't reach, you can take a city bus (colectivo). The Buenos Aires bus system is not to be taken lightly; there are over 700 bus routes in the metropolitan area. So before you jump on a colectivo, make sure you know where it's going, and don't rely too heavily on what it says on the front of the bus. Ask the driver if you're in doubt. If you're interested in riding colectivos in unfamiliar areas, I strongly recommend you purchase a book called El Lumi, which has descriptions and maps of every route. You can buy them at any sidewalk book kiosk.

Here is how you get onto a colectivo: When you see the one you want, hold your arm up and point across the street. This signals the driver to stop. When you get on, tell the driver where you're going and he will enter the fare into the machine. The machine will return change, but it only accepts coins. It seems like the bus companies control 90% of the nation's coins, which brings us to an important rule: If you ride colectivos, HANG ONTO YOUR COINS. Don't buy anything but colectivo fare with coins. I made that mistake several times as a missionary, and I would ended up buying candy at a kiosco just so I could get coins. No, nobody will change a bill for you because they all ride colectivos, too.

Colectivos offer another slice of Argentina that you won't find anywhere else. Colectivo drivers have the freedom to decorate their colectivos as they choose, and some are really wild. I recall flagging down a crazy one in Lugano one night. The door opened, and I was greeted by a blast of theatrical smoke and loud nightclub music. The driver was obviously a Boca Juniors fan. He had covered the walls with blue and yellow shag carpet. A strobe and black lights illuminated the Boca shrine in the front window. A disco ball turned overhead. I don't think you'll see this kind of thing anywhere besides Argentina.

Long-distance buses, called micros, are also popular. The shortest journey is usually a few hours. There are only two places in Capital Federal to catch these buses, Retiro and Liniers. These are a good way to travel long distances cheaply. I once took one to Santiago, Chile for AR$200 round trip. It was a 24 hour drive. I had a flat reclining seat and there was a "flight attendant" serving three meals a day. True, I could have flown it in two hours, but it would have cost me five times as much. Anyhow, it's an option if you're going someplace like Bariloche, Iguazú, or Rosario. It's a necessity if you're going to visit "campo" areas of the West mission like Saladillo, Junín, or Bragado.


A Sarmiento Line Train If you're visiting Buenos Aires to pick up your missionary, chances are good you'll be riding trains a fair amount of the time. 90% of the areas in the West mission are in the Buenos Aires suburbs, not in Capital Federal itself, and train lines are the most important link between the suburbs and the city. According to the company that operates most of the regional trains, 370,000 people ride the Sarmiento line (the line from Once to Moreno) every weekday.

Train lines usually run from the end of a subway line, which is convenient, but as of yet there is no combination ticket for both. This is because they are run by different companies. Unlike the subway, your fare depends on the length of your journey, so you have to tell the worker at the boletería your destination. You can also buy tickets de ida y vuelta (round trip), saving yourself some time on the return trip. One way fares cost between AR$0.35 and AR$1.50. In addition to ticket windows, there are automated ticket machines that are pretty easy to use, but they only accept coins.

During rush hour, provincial trains become even more crowded than the subte. On the subte, it can be crowded enough to make a tight squeeze, but there's no guarantee you'll even be able to get inside a train. I have fond memories of hanging so far off the side of the Merlo-Lobos train that my backpack would smack telephone poles as we sped by. You won't have to do this when you go pick up your missionary, but these are the kind of things he's not telling you in his letters home.

On the train (and on the subte to a lesser degree) you'll run into a uniquely Argentine occupation: Train salesperson. Here's what happens: The salesperson enters your train car and makes a pitch about his product (it could be anything). Then he'll walk around the train car and hand everybody a sample of the product. You should politely accept it and hang onto it. Once he's given a sample to everyone, he will come back around and either collect the sample or money to pay for it. If you're in the market, you can actually get some good deals on the train. I used to buy batteries on them all the time.

Taxi/Remis/Rental Car

Taxis on Av. 9 de Julio at the Obelisk If you're looking for door-to-door service, or if there's no subway stop near your destination and you're not comfortable taking a colectivo, a taxi or remis is the only way to go. Taxis are the easiest and quickest automobile to find. It seems like half of all cars in Capital Federal are taxis, so flagging one down shouldn't take you long. Taxis are always small black Renaults or Fiats with yellow tops. I'm sorry but I don't know what the per kilometer charge is for a taxi right now. In my limited experience with taxis, they seem to be a bit expensive but not outrageous like they can be other places. Note that you are expected to pay any tolls and you should always tip your driver.

The remis, a taxi where you pay by the journey and not the kilometer, is maybe more useful and more familiar to missionaries. This is probably what you took into town from Ezeiza airport unless you arranged transfers through a travel agent. You can find a remis in two ways: Walking into a remisería or calling one on the phone. Unless you're right by a remisería, the latter is what you'll want to do. You can ask an employee wherever you are to call one; most businesses have a list of remises handy for this reason. When the remis arrives, the driver will tell you what the journey costs and off you go. You pay and tip the driver when you arrive, unless you walked into the remisería in which case you might pay up front. Don't worry about this; these are well-respected businesses that survive on word of mouth, so they won't try to rip you off or otherwise take advantage of you. Note that your remis might be a pretty nice car or something that barely runs. If you speak Spanish, remis drivers love a good conversation on almost any subject. They're some of the most colorful people I've met.

If you're coming from a country where the exchange rate is good, you'll soon realize that you could take remises everywhere without spending lots of money. You can do this if it suits you, but I wouldn't even if I had the money. Why? Because every time you hit the streets of Buenos Aires in anything smaller than a colectivo, you're taking your life into your own hands. Buenos Aires has the worst driving I've seen anywhere in the world, hands down. Lanes, stop signs, crosswalks, and even stoplights are disregarded. It's total madness. Your remis driver will fly down one lane, one way downtown streets well above the speed limit, and the only thing he'll do as he approaches an intersection is honk the horn before charging through. I'd rather take the subte, even if it means a long walk from the nearest station.

Ezeiza airport has a good selection of rental cars from most major international companies, but I strongly discourage people from getting rental cars. First, there's the safety issue noted above, made even worse by the fact that you probably don't know how to drive like an Argentine. Second, it would be a major challenge to find a parking place for it in the microcentro (downtown) area. Parking on the street is hard to find, and parking garages are quite expensive. Once you're in town there are much better transportation options, so do yourself a favor and don't bother with a rental car.

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