If you’re traveling through multiple cities in South America on a budget, chances are your travel plans at some point or another will include a long bus ride. And if you’re realllllllly on a budget (like us), your travel plans will probably include an overnight bus.
We’ve taken over a dozen buses through South America (the longest ride being 22 hours long!) and there’s a few different reasons we like taking them overnight:
- you save $$ since you don’t need accommodations for the night
- you don’t miss any sightseeing time during the day
- less traffic at night = less total travel time
It’s definitely the most economical way to get around all over the continent. But in order to embark on the adventure that is an overnight bus, you’re gonna wanna be prepared. After thousands of miles traveled in overnight buses in South America, we’ve compiled a list of 5 things you need in order to survive these long journeys and make it to your next destination smoothly.
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This should go without saying, but it’s important to remember because the bus operator more than likely does not have water for you on the bus. Even if they are feeding you a meal while onboard, the drinks they serve are usually juice or soda! It’s really important to stay hydrated while traveling so you’re at the top of your game everyday exploring new places, and juice and soda just won’t cut it! Grab a bottled water at the bus station or fill up a bottle you already have before you leave (if the water if filtered/potable). We always like to keep two kinds of reusable bottles with us when we travel because it’s more economical and environmentally friendly than buying bottled water everywhere. We have this little water pouch that folds flat when it’s empty, therefore not taking up any unnecessary room or weight (both important considerations while traveling). You can grab this one or these two on Amazon for less than $15! The other water bottle we always have with us is the LifeStraw bottle. Not only is it a sleek bottle, but the integrated straw also filters and removes 99.99% of Waterborne bacteria. It’s easy to get an upset stomach when you’re drinking water that isn’t up to your normal standards, so the Lifestraw can be a lifesaver in other countries!
Overnight buses can leave at all hours of the day (or night), but if you’re anything like us, snacks are always a necessity. And nothing is worse than being hungry while stuck in a moving vehicle for hours on end. Meals on overnight buses are more the exception than the rule, and you’ll probably have to be on the bus more than 16 hours to be offered a meal anyway. Sometimes the buses will stop at rest stops with restaurants or shops on the way, but it isn’t guaranteed. Before departing, we like to go to a local market or convenience store and buy some fruit, some trail mix or chips, and something sweet like cookies or candy. The latter aren’t the healthiest of options, but we try to make the long bus rides less miserable by thinking of them as road trips with our favorite snack food stocked. Snack food makes even the most awful ride a little bit better. So spring for the snacks that you’ll want to reach for when you get those hunger pangs right before you pass out asleep on the bus.
#3) WARM CLOTHES
This is a hard lesson to learn the first time around if you aren’t prepared. These buses can get COLDDDD! Like really cold. They pump that air conditioning out no matter the weather or time of year. So if you get on a bus in shorts, a tank, and flip flops, you might get frostbite. Yes, that is how cold it is. Your best bet is to enter the bus wearing a jacket or sweater over a shirt, comfy pants, and socks with tennis shoes (let’s face it, your feet always dictate how warm you are right?!). We’ve even seen some people go as far as to bring a blanket with them on the bus. Whatever it is that will keep you warm and cozy and will help you sleep the ride away, bring/wear that. Or lose an appendage to frostbite, your choice.
Really nice buses offer everyone their own personal TVs in the headrest like on a nice airplane. Decent buses have a TV playing at the front for everyone to watch together (more than likely, a movie in Spanish). And the rest of the buses, have nothing at all. If the bus you’re going to be on is of the latter variety, or if watching a TV for hours on end just isn’t your thing, you’re probably going to want something else to do for the hours you aren’t sleeping. This can include a book or magazine, podcasts, games on your phone, notebook for writing, a coloring book, offline downloaded Netflix shows, etc. Basically anything that can keep you occupied that you can do while stationary and won’t need WiFi for. So if you need to download any books, podcasts, shows, etc, be prepared and make sure to do so before your bus ride!
#5) External Battery
Some buses have USB ports to charge electronics, but this is reserved for only the nicest buses. And even if you are lucky enough to come across a USB port on your bus, no guarantees it actually works (we’ve been let down many times by a USB port that didn’t offer even 1% of a charge). So if you plan to use your electronics as entertainment while on the bus, it’s a good idea to have to back-up external battery with you, so once you get to your destination, you can still use it to navigate your new city, view your reservation information, and have it on your for emergency purposes. We have this small Insignia brand external battery that is capable of charging three electronics via USB port at the same time, so we are never without our devices. Just make sure its fully charged before departing!
The bus systems in South America are an amazingly simple and economical way of getting from Point A to Point B, albeit taking more time than a flight normally would. As long as you come prepared for your overnight bus with all the necessities it takes to survive one, you should have an easy and enjoyable ride. And you can treat yourself to a delicious postre once arriving in your destination since you saved so much dough on your transportation 😉
Have any questions about taking an overnight bus in South America? Let us know in the comments!
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*Based off overnight bus experiences in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina