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Crossing the Andes: Mendoza to Santiago by Bus

Crossing the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago by bus, or vice versa, is a superb way to see some stunning countryside. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than flying. It’s only going to cost you $US20-25 one way for a reserved seat.

"Mountain scenery just outside of Mendoza"

Mountain scenery just outside of Mendoza

Buying Bus Tickets

We purchased tickets about 5 days before our departure when we were in the Tucuman bus station from the Andesmar Bus Company. There are many bus companies to choose from – CATA Internacional, El Rapido Internacional and Pullman Bus to name a few. We stuck with Andesmar because we’d had such a good experience on a 14 hour overnight trip from Tucuman to Mendoza. Deep leather seats are bigger than an airplane business class seat and you can recline without bothering the person behind you. Book a bi-level bus and choose a seat on the upper level. You’ll need your passport to book the ticket.

"Interesting rock formations"

Interesting rock formations

Pick a bus that leaves in the morning so you can enjoy the scenery. Most companies have buses leaving around the same time – 8, 9 or 10 am, though there are noon time buses and an evening bus too. It’s really only about a 6 hour ride but the border crossing especially on holidays can get clogged. We were at the border for a solid two hours.

I would not want to take this bus ride in the winter. Wait till you see the road on the Chilean side with its umpteen curves. I can picture sliding off the road to my death!

"Scenery near the Chilean border'

Scenery near the Chilean border

"Enormous flood plain - can't imagine the river during the spring melt"

Enormous flood plain - can't imagine the river during the spring melt

The Bus Ride – Argentina Side

Leaving Mendoza you travel through the city and then past miles of vineyards framed by the snow capped Andes. I saw one organic winery within sight of a gas or oil refinery. Makes you wonder what constitutes organic. Then you start climbing into the foothills of the Andes. It’s dry country when I’m here in January. Lots of interesting geological formations keep my husband riveted. There’s nothing scary about the drive to the border. Save that for the Chilean side of the trip. It’s all a very gradual climb through the mountains with nary a village in sight. If you get bored with the scenery then you can watch one of the incessant movies playing on the bus.

"View through the bus windows"

View through the bus windows

The Border

Speed is not a word that I would use to describe the actions of anyone working at the border. It’s really quite a process.

  • Everyone loads off the bus and gets into a line-up to leave Argentina. Passports must be stamped.
  • Shuffle sideways three feet and get into another line-up to enter Chile. Get your passport stamped.
  • Wait for everyone on the bus to do the same thing.
  • Get back on the bus. Drive 30 meters.
  • Get off the bus with your belongings and enter a room with two rows of tables. Put your belongings on the tables. Watch the cute sniffer dogs run up and down the table looking for bad stuff. Don’t risk bringing in anything illegal. If the customs people don’t get you, your fellow passengers will. They don’t want to be kept waiting because of one individual.
  • Did I just say that? Turns out that my bag and my friend’s bag were the two that were held up for closer inspection. If that happens to you be prepared to march over to another table in front of everyone and let the agents go through your bag. Apparently the x-ray machine had picked up my glass jar of Dulce de Leche – the same with my friend, Jo. That’s allowed but honey is not and that’s what they were looking for. You’re also not allowed to bring in any wood that isn’t treated. That means all those handicrafts made out of cactus are NOT ALLOWED and will be confiscated if found.
  • Before leaving the customs room a hat is passed around. We thought funds were being collected for the dogs. Wrong. It’s for the guys unloading the baggage off the bus – or that’s what we think.
  • Two hours passed from start to finish at the border though we have heard that that is longer than average.
"The Chile-Argentina border"

The Chile-Argentina border

The Bus Ride – Chile Side

Right after leaving the border you’ll pass the Portillo Ski Resort. The place looks like it’s for the hard core ski crowd.

"Portillo Ski Resort in the Summer"

Portillo Ski Resort in the Summer

Then the road continues down via a series of 27 switchbacks; this is not a road I would ever want to drive in the winter months but really kind of fun in the summer. You just have to hope the bus companies service the brakes at regular intervals.

"27 curves to go"

27 curves to go

Once you’re through the curves then you follow the river but in no time you get into greener countryside – first small trees and then huge vineyards. It’s only about a two hour drive to Santiago from the border.

"Scenery from the bus - on the Chilean side"

Scenery from the bus - on the Chilean side

"Vineyards outside of Santiago"

Vineyards outside of Santiago

Santiago hits you with its mass of people and housing. Fortunately traffic is reasonable and in no time you’re downtown at the bus station. When you pick up your bags don’t forget to have some change or small bills for a tip. It’s expected.

"From the beauty of the mountains to the city"

From the beauty of the mountains to the city

We had also crossed the Andes by bus in the northern part of the country – from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta. It was a longer trip but I think overall a prettier trip and more interesting – wildlife, colourful rock formations and the desolate but beautiful altiplano. My husband disagrees – he thinks the Mendoza to Santiago is the better bus ride. You’ll have to go and see for yourself.

Before you get on the bus check you might want to check out my blog on 30 Tips for Long Distance Bus Rides.

What bus rides have you been on that were unforgettable?

Leigh McAdam

HikeBikeTravel

**Photo Credits to Jo Beyers for View through the bus window and Scenery from the bus -on the Chilean side.**

**All but one of the pictures was taken from inside the bus.**

Author Hike Bike Travel

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion No Comments

  • Cam says:

    We lucked out and got the top deck front row seats – brilliant trip! How crazy was that windy road near the border crossing?! Ski Chair lifts over the highway – unbelievable

  • Dalene says:

    Oh man, I wish I could say that we enjoyed it as much as you did. Yes, it is insanely beautiful, but we had the displeasure of sitting next to a kid that did not enjoy it so much. He vomited all over his pants, and then later “expelled” himself in them as well. He had no change of clothes, and so we endured it (and we had started from Buenos Aires!)

    All those windy roads gave us new “wafts” of the smells….

    Oh boy…

    Anyways, glad you enjoyed it – haha! :)

    • Sitting beside someone that vomited and pooped would turn anyone off. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable that ride was. I guess bringing nose plugs should be added to my list of Tips for Long Distance Bus Rides.

  • Vincent Restuccia says:

    I enjoyed your blog on the trip from Mendoza to Santiago. I plan to do the same trip end of February 2013.

    I have just one question not about the trip but what site did you use to do your blog. I have been using WordPress for my current and for my last two trip to different places in South and Central America. In my previous two blogs my pictures were as big as yours but WordPress seems to have changed the format in creating blogs. Some changes are good but the one thing I do not like is that they have limited the size of the pictures.

    I’d be interested to know what you used as I am not happy with my current results. Presently I am in Banos, Ecuador attending a Spanish school so that I can become more fluent in the language.

    Thanks for a great blog…. Vincent

  • Cecile says:

    I Will cross the border from mendoza to santiago within 9 days and thanks for the tips!! Really made me excited!!

  • A city that is both European without forgetting its Spanish heritage and modern without forgoing its cultural ancestry. The people, places and general safe environment make for a pulsating, exciting city with sufficient activities to satisfy the city tourist, countryside camper, trekking or mountaineering types.

  • Scott Major says:

    Great article and pictures! I am thinking of making the bus trip from Santiago and return at the end of August. Is this feasible in August? A good use of 2 days, or can I see mountain scenery that is as good on day trips around Santigo?

    • @Scott I think you’d need to check the weather before going. I’m not so sure I’d want to be on a bus on a snowy day. You don’t get the same mountain scenery right around Santiago – that’s the problem. Pick two clear days and then it should be safe and beautiful.

  • David Grace says:

    Hello, Your blog on the Mendoza-Santiago trip was excellent,I will book a seat as soon as booking opens, I think its 30 days in advance.
    I will try and avoid incontinent small children!
    From Santiago its motor bikes to Ushuaia and then Antartica!
    DG

  • Glenn hogan says:

    I know we have to pay a fee to get into Argentina.do we pay again to get into chile

  • Jenn says:

    Hi there.. Was it $90 each or together? And do they charge an Exit as well?

  • Jenn says:

    Sorry let me make that question more specific.. Lol. I’m leaving to go to Mendoza from Santiago, Chile. Just wanted to know how much it will cost to get into Argentina and if there is an exit fee. Also, because I’m already coming from Chile and I’d pay my entrance at the airport, is that $90 just to get back into the country after a trip from Mendoza? Thanks!

    • @Jenn I don’t remember it costing anything to get into Argentina when traveling by bus – but charges can be quickly added – and it all depends on your nationality. The $90 entrance fee was actually good for a year and it was only charged at major airports. Canadians paid more than most other nationalities.

  • Mindy Sparks says:

    Hey there! To enter Argentina bus land or air or sea you must have paid in advance your reciprocity fee, have your piece of paper proving it in your passport. It’s 160 for Americans. Anyways, headed from Mendoza to Santiago and came across your blog…SUPER helpful! What would you recommend once in Santiago? Also, did you bus anywhere in Chile from Santiago? If so, how did it go?
    thanks!
    Mindy

    • @Mindy Sorry I’m slow getting back. You’re right about the fee though it varies by nationality. We didn’t bus anywhere from Santiago – but we did some huge bus rides in Argentina including a surprisingly comfortable 16 hour overnight ride. As for Santiago – we ended up hopping on one of those hop on/hop off tour buses, walking the old sections, walking the parks, taking leisurely lunches. WE only had a couple of days and spent some of it just getting on the time zone.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I know you published this awhile ago, but I just found it. My husband and I are traveling by bus around South America right now and the Santiago-Mendoza ride is coming up in a few weeks. I found this info incredibly helpful! Thank you so much!

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