Colectivos (bondis, or buses) in Buenos Aires are a great method of transportation. Not only are they cheap and relatively quick, but most buses also operate 24 hours per day, unlike the subway.
Generally, buses charge you based on what you are paying with, either coins or SUBE card. You can get a SUBE card in most large subway stations and at several large intersections around town. Just look for the SUBE card stands, bring along your passport number and $15 pesos.
Coins: $3.00 pesos for a short trip (10-15 blocks), $3.25 pesos for a medium distance trip (15-45 blocks) and $3.50 pesos for a long trip (45-max blocks).
SUBE card: $1.50 pesos for a short trip (10-15 blocks), $1.60 pesos for a medium distance trip (15-45 blocks) and $1.70 pesos for a long trip (45-max blocks).
Since buses are owned by a series of private companies, these prices can vary with respect to their definitions of a short, medium or long trip. The best way to ensure you are paying the correct amount is to tell the driver where you are going by saying, “Hasta _______________ (street name, park name, area in general).” By telling the bus driver your final destination, you will also ensure that you are traveling on the correct bus and in the right direction.
Before hopping on the bus, however, you will need to figure out which colectivo is right for you. To do so, pick up your own copy of the Guia T, a book of bus maps that you can buy at most any newspaper stand or kiosk. This helpful guide illustrates all of the streets in Buenos Aires through a series of gridded maps, and lists which buses travel to those areas within corresponding grids on opposing pages. Let’s take a look at how the Guia T works:
On the first or second page of the Guia T, there is a large map of the city indicating the location of the barrios (neighborhoods) of Buenos Aires. This map is overlaid with a numbered grid. The first step in planning your collectivo trip is to identify the rough location of your starting and destination points on this map. Once you have done so, take note of the numbers within the grid that correspond to these rough locations. For example, let’s say your current location is on the corner of Juan B Justo and Santa Fe (in the barrio of Palermo), and you need to get to Parque Las Heras (in the barrio of Recoleta).
Since the numbered grid indicates that a more detailed map of Palermo is found on plan 8, you would then locate “plano 8” a few pages later. Once you have located your map, find your specific street location (in this case, the corner of Juan B Justo and Santa Fe is located on the map within cell C-4). On the page opposing this map, you will find a similar grid with coordinates that correspond to the illustration. This grid is made up of a series of cells containing lists of numbers. These numbers are a list of buses that frequent that area of the city.
Now, you will need to find the location of your destination in the Guia T, and compare the numerical lists corresponding to your starting point and destination in order to decide which is the best colectivo for your journey.
Parque las Heras is found in Recoleta on “plano 9.” The park span no fewer than 4 cells on the map, but you select B-5 as our destination. After comparing the list of buses that travel to B-5 on “plano 9” and C-4 on “plano 8,” you see that the buses 59, 60 and the 67 all frequent both our starting point at the intersection of Juan B Justo and Santa Fe and our destination of Parque las Heras.
Once you have identified the correct collectivo, the next task will be to find the bus stop. On the street, you will find small signs with numbers corresponding to the various bus lines lining the sidewalks. Sometimes these signs can be a little tricky to spot, so look up and keep your eyes peeled for the bus number that you’re looking for. Once you’ve found your bus stop, you won’t need to wait long. When you spot your bus lumbering down the road, raise your hand to indicate that you’d like to get on. Even if the kind elderly lady in front of you is already raising her hand, you should raise yours too. This helps the bus drivers to know how many people are planning to board.
When boarding a colectivo, be aware that the driver’s goal is to keep the bus moving at a decent pace. Keep your questions short and payment quick. Remember that standard practice is to tell the driver your destination, pay the requisite fee, and move immediately further back in the bus. The area at the front of the bus should remain clear for new passengers to do the same. So keep moving further towards the back of the bus as opportunities arise, or find a spot to stand that is out of the way.
The door near the driver is an entrance only, except for older, pregnant or handicapped people. Likewise, the back door is only for those getting off of the bus. When approaching your destination, press the buzzer on the pole nearest to this rear exit in order to indicate that you wish to exit.
In Argentina chivalry is very much still alive. All seating in the front of the bus is reserved for the elderly, pregnant women, handicapped individuals, and parents with young children. It is very common to see men and women give their seats in these front sections to the above list when the bus is full.