This was the longest bus ride I have taken. Somehow, it made the list of the world’s most beautiful bus rides. Was it? It was certainly long, 12.5 hours, from Ushuaia, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile. This article in Lonely Planet mentions taking the bus ride the opposite direction:
Argentina: Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia
Distance: 360 miles (580km)
Estimated duration: 11 hours
It’s a trip to the end of the world; that’s the civic motto of Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, and this poetic title sets the tone of this grand journey that’ll have passengers feeling like pioneering explorers as they cross land, sea and international borders on a meandering voyage along the toe of Argentina.
Starting in the busy port town of Rio Gallegos, this bus route crosses the Chilean border, before boarding a ferry to cross the tempestuous Strait of Magellan, where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. While watching the hulking glacial landscapes glide past from the ship’s deck, it’s easy to envisage yourself as a modern Magellan, the strait’s Portuguese namesake, who passed through in 1520. After making port in Patagonia, hop back on the bus to cross the romantically-named Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), a windswept archipelago that’s home to storied shipwrecks and snow-scuffed mountain ranges, before arriving in Ushuaia, where the adventures continue with skiing, scuba diving and trips to Antarctica.
Why did Mike and I do this? First, how did we end up in Ushuaia? Our original goal was to drive the country of Chile form top to bottom. We did the top part, some by auto, some by plane, some by walking. When we got back to Santiago, we decided to take a side trip to Mendoza (Argentina) for some wine tasting. Once there, we decided it would be nice to visit Buenos Aires, since Mike had been there numerous times, as a departure point to the Argentine countryside to go dove hunting.
And from Buenos Aires, we though we would fly down to the southernmost point, Ushuaia, and drive up the spine of Chile, and the Andes. So, after a few days in Ushuaia, we discovered 1) the only flights were back to Buenos Aires, or 2) take a 12.5 hour bus ride back to Chile.
Ushuaia sidebar: Ushuaia takes full advantage of its end-of-the-world status, and an increasing number of Antarctica-bound vessels call into its port. The town’s mercantile hustle knows no irony: there’s a souvenir shop named for Jimmy Button (a Fuegian native taken for show in England) and the ski center is named for the destructive invasive castor (beaver). That said, with a pint of the world’s southernmost microbrew in hand, you can happily plot the outdoor options: hiking, sailing, skiing, kayaking and even scuba diving.
A car rental was out of the question, and we wondered why? The ferry across Magellan does not operate during the season we were there!!! Besides that, it is a 30 hour ferry, with no stops, and no amenities. So, instead of going back to Buenos Aires, and missing most of southern Chile, we opted for the bus. Problem solved? NO!!!
The bus leaves only on even numbered days, and it had already departed (6am). We had to wait another two days to catch the next bus out of Ushuaia. However, we were able to take a boat out to the Beagle Channel, and froze our butts off in the straits and waters made famous by Chuckie Darwin.
The first thing I noticed was the COLD temperature outside, and subsequently, inside the bus. We were handed a cup of tea, and a cheese sandwich, along with a very heavy horse blanket. At least, it felt like a horse blanket. But it certainly was welcome. I was able to nap a few times through the Argentine pampas. I had two seats to myself, Mr. Mike sat across from me in his two seats. Fortunately, the bus was only half full!!!!!
The ONLY stop along the way was the border crossing. First, on the Argentine side, then a few yards further, the Chilean side. The process probably took 2 hours, but we soon realized it was a welcome stop. We walked around, went to a regular toilet, and pretended to speak some Spanish to the locals.
Was it the longest 12 hours in my life? Probably not, since I pulled 12 hour shifts when I was interning. Was it the most boring 12 hours in my life? Most likely. I was unable to not read, there was no internet, and I drank too much bad coffee! But we made our ultimate goal: a few days later, we made it to Torres del Paine!!