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Transport in Argentina: Getting Around

Distances are immense in Argentina, and you are likely to spend a considerable proportion of your budget on travel expenses. Most people travel by bus, but a domestic air pass is often the best way of seeing a lot of the country if your time is limited.

Car rental is useful in places, but too expensive for most budget travelers, unless they can share the cost; and in fact, many back packers on a tight budget might be forced to hitch.

Finally, most boat trips and some ferry crossings are incredibly scenic, and are well worth working into your itinerary if at all possible.

By far the most common and straightforward method of transport in Argentina is the bus. There are hundreds of private companies, most of which concentrate on one particular region, although a few, such as TAC, run pretty much nationwide.

Argentina's most important domestic airport by far is Buenos Aires's Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. There are connections from the Aeroparque to all provincial capitals and major tourist centers of the country, including Puerto Iguazú, Puerto Madryn/Trelew and El Calafate.

Argentina's train network, developed with British investment from the late nineteenth century and nationalized by the Perón administration in 1948, collapsed in 1993 with the withdrawal of government subsidies. Certain long-distance services were maintained by provincial governments, such as the one that links isolated rural communities between Viedma and Bariloche in Río Negro Province, but these tend to be slower and less reliable than buses. The city of Buenos Aires has a large and remarkably inexpensive network of trains that run to the suburbs, into its namesake province, and to the town of Santa Rosa in La Pampa Province.

Taxis and remises
There are two main types of taxi in Argentina: regular urban taxis that you can flag down in the street; and remises, or minicab radio taxis, that you must book by phone or at their central booking booth. Urban taxis are fixed with meters - make sure they use them - and each municipality has its own rates (generally $0.10 per block, with a $2 minimum charge). Buenos Aires, like New York, is a city that seems to be suffering from a taxi plague of biblical proportions: you'll rarely have problems finding one, and if you follow a few basic precautions, you'll find them a handy way of negotiating the metropolis. For reasons of safety, if you need a cab from Retiro, get one at the official pick-up point, where you'll be issued with a destination ticket and the price. Also, when flagging down cabs on the street, make sure you ask a rough price before you get in and, to be on the safe side if you have luggage in the boot, wait until the driver has got out of the cab before you do. Remises operate with rates fixed according to the destination. They are less expensive than taxis for out-of-town and long-distance trips. Often, it makes more sense to hire a remise for a day than to rent your own car: it's often more economical, plus you save yourself the hassle of driving.

In some places, shared taxis or colectivos also run on fixed routes. Remis colectivos head between towns: they wait at a given collection point, each passenger pays a set fee, and the colectivo leaves when it has a car load (some carry destination signs on their windscreen, others don't, so always ask around). They often drop you at a place of your choice at the other end. Taxi colectivos drive up and down fixed routes within certain cities: flag one down and pay your share (usually posted on the windscreen).

Boats, ferries and hydrofoils
Boat and ferry services in Argentina fall into two broad categories: those that serve as merely a functional form of transport; and (with some overlap), those that you take to enjoy tourist sights. The two ferry services you are most likely to use are the comfortable ones from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, which provide plenty of space for day-trippers to sunbathe and may entertain you with a game of bingo; and the much more spartan, functional Chilean ones that transport foot passengers and vehicles across the Magellan Straits into Tierra del Fuego at Punta Delgada and Porvenir. There are also several practical river crossings throughout the Litoral region, connecting towns such as Concordia with Salto in Uruguay; Rosario with Victoria in Entre Ríos; Goya in Corrientes with Reconquista in Santa Fe; as well as numerous crossings from Misiones to neighboring Paraguay and Brazil. Tigre, just to the northwest of the capital, tends towards the pleasure-trips end of the market, and offers boat trips around the Delta, to the Isla Martín García, and up to Villa Paranacito in Entre Ríos.

In Patagonia, most lacustrine boat trips are designed purely for their scenic value. Chief among these are the different options to behold the polar scenery of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares near El Calafate at close quarters, especially the world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier. As popular is the Three Lakes Crossing from Bariloche through to Chile, a trip that can be truncated so as to access the Pampa Linda area of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. Of other notable launches, one crosses San Martín de los Andes' Lago Lolog to access the interior of Parque Nacional Lanín; and a tourist passenger launch crosses the western end of Lago Viedma, linking Estancia Helsingfors with El Chaltén. Further south, there's also a new catamaran service that crosses the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia to Puerto Williams in Chile, a popular day-trip from Argentine Tierra del Fuego's provincial capital.

Hitching always involves an element of risk, but it can also be one of the most rewarding ways to travel - especially if you can speak at least elementary conversational Spanish. It is getting more tricky to hitch in Argentina: some truck drivers are prohibited by company rules from picking you up; others are reluctant as it often invalidates car insurance or you become the liability of the driver. And in general, it is not advisable for women traveling on their own to hitch, or for anyone to head out of large urban areas by hitching: you're far better off catching a local bus out to an outlying service station or road checkpoint and trying from there. In the south of the country, hitching is still generally very safe. In places such as Patagonia, where roads are few and traffic sparse, you'll often find yourself part of a queue, especially in summer. Always travel with sufficient reserves of water, food, clothes and shelter: you can get stranded for days in some of the more isolated spots.

You are unlikely to want or need a car for your whole stay in Argentina, but you'll find one pretty indispensable if you don't have the flexible itinerary necessary for hitching but nevertheless want to explore some of the more isolated areas of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, the Northwest, and Mendoza and San Juan provinces. It makes sense to get a group together, not just to keep costs down but also to share some of the driving, which can be arduous, especially on long stretches of unsealed roads. Approximately thirty percent of roads are paved in Argentina, but some of the less important of these routes are littered with potholes. In Buenos Aires, driving is not an entirely relaxing experience: do not expect much lane discipline, and plan your route in advance as the pace of traffic doesn't allow for dithering. In other areas - such as the Chaco - unsealed roads can be extremely muddy after rain, and after prolonged rainy periods roads can be impassable, even to 4WDs. Unless you're traveling on minor roads in mountainous areas or when you're likely to encounter snow, a 4WD is not usually necessary, but having a good clearance off the road is helpful on many unsurfaced roads. Outside major cities, most accidents (and often the most serious ones) occur on unsurfaced gravel roads.

Most towns with a tourist industry have at least one place that rents bicycles (usually costing $10 to $15 per day) for visiting sights on half- and full-day trips. These excursions can be great fun, but remember to bring spare inner tubes and a pump, especially if you're cycling off sealed roads, and check to see that the brakes and seat height are properly adjusted. Argentina is also a popular destination for more serious cyclists, and expeditions along routes such as the arduous, unsurfaced RN40 attract mountain-biking devotees who often value physical endurance above the need to see sights (most sights off the RN40 lie a good way to the west along branch roads, which deters most people from visiting more than one or two). You will need to plan these expeditions thoroughly, and you should buy an extremely robust mountain bike and the very best panniers and equipment you can afford. Bring plenty of high-quality spares with you, which can be hard to come by out of the major centers; punctures and broken spokes are extremely common on unsealed roads. Be prepared to get extremely dusty, and plan your stages with great care, paying particular attention to how much water you're going to need. Wind is the biggest problem in places like Patagonia, and if you get the season wrong, your progress will be cut to a handful of kilometers a day. High altitude can have a similar effect. Keep yourself covered as best you can to protect from wind- and sunburn (especially your face), and do not expect much consideration from other vehicles on the road.

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