Riding the Luxury Buses of Latin America

Jim Yu
by Jim Yu

Traveling by bus is the preferred mode for the growing middle class throughout Latin America. White collar workers, government employees, and students take long-distance buses for many reasons. First, it is much less expensive than flying. Second, buses reach a lot more destinations than planes. Finally, even those who own cars prefer to let a professional do the driving, thus minimizing wear and tear to their own cars and the stress of dodging out-of-control big rigs and stray animals for hundreds of miles.

The stereotype, of course, is that all buses South of the Border are chicken buses– second-hand American school buses with psychedelic paint schemes, tinted windows, and chrome galore. In fact, luxury buses– built in Brazil and Europe– are very common and often have more amenities than commercial airliners. Make the jump to learn more about them.

The Buses. Along the Pan-American Highway, three brands dominate. Busscar (Brazil), Marcopolo (Brazil), and Scania (Sweden). Many are double deckers.

Accommodations. All the buses have TVs hooked up to DVD players up front, constantly blaring bad American movies. Think Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Fireproof (starring Kirk Cameron), or any Kevin James movie.

All luxury buses have a toilet in the back, as the long-distance buses make very few stops.

The seats recline, some up to 160 degrees. One Peruvian bus company even offers a business center onboard, complete with printer and fax machine.

The Staff. Two drivers usually man each bus. And they are always men. They switch off after a few hours of driving, as it is very fatiguing work. The express bus from Osorno, Chile, to Punta Arenas, Chile, which cuts through Argentine Patagonia, for example, takes over 28 hours.

The waitstaff onboard the buses puts the flight attendants of American legacy carriers to shame. Their uniforms are chic and tidy and they will go out of their way to make their passengers’ trips pleasant. Even after a couple of days on the road, they look like they just started the workday an hour ago. It’s unreal.

The meals. On the most fancy of coaches, you get a meal just like on an airplane. When you buy your ticket, you have the option of beef, chicken, or vegetarian meals. And they are actually delicious. When meals are not available onboard, the bus will invariably stop at a clean and reputable restaurant. The photo below shows a meal I had during a stop in the Argentinean Lake District. The restaurant was at the base of a cliff and a waterfall behind the eatery provided the ambiance.

The worst meal I had on a luxury bus was in Honduras, where I was served a Burger King breakfast sandwich, and it still wan’t half bad. Here it is, served in a cute bus shaped box.

For a summary of my Pan-American bus journeys, by the numbers, click here.

Jim Yu
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  • Jellodyne Jellodyne on Aug 20, 2014

    I was really surprised how nice the ADO bus out of the Cancun airport was -- I was expecting a chicken bus based on how much cheaper than a taxi it was. Plush seats, crappy American movie on the overhead DVD. We only took it 15 minutes into Cancun downtown, but if we go down to Playa Del Carman, Cozumel or Akumal, we're taking the ADO for sure. On the way back from the Isla Mujeres ferry, the taxi driver took us back to the airport for the price of the bus, rather than drop us at the ADO terminal.

  • -Nate -Nate on Aug 21, 2014

    . Looks nice but ; Riding The Hound you get to meet all those ' interesting ' people up close and way too personal =8-) . I rode all up and down the East Coast on third tier buses in the 1960's then rode the chicken buses all over Guatemala and was glad to have lived . -Nate

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