Buenos Aires is not only one of the easiest major cities in the world to navigate, but also one of the cheapest. Unlike some other major metropolises (ahem Tokyo, Sydney, London…), Buenos Aires has affordable public transport 24-7. It is surprisingly convenient and easy to use, provided you have a little know how and confidence in how to use it. Not only will you see more of the city and understand better how it fits together, you will save a lot of pesos for more important things like steak and cervezas.
“La tarjeta SUBE” is a local electronic fare card used for the subway, train and bus system. It is 100% necessary to get one if you plan on using the great public transit system of Buenos Aires. You can no longer pay for individual subway tickets at the stations (June 2016) and most, if not all, buses have removed their cash payment systems.
You can purchase a SUBE card at many convenience stores (kioskos), post offices (correos) or any other store that displays a SUBE sign. Keep in mind that when purchasing a new SUBE card, there will be an initial charge of AR$50 total for the card itself (June 2016), not including the amount of credit to be added. You can charge your SUBE at the convenience stores (just say, “Recargar mi Sube por favor.”), some supermarkets or at the ticket booths at the subte stations (the station clerk will direct you to hold your SUBE card to a blue electronic pad somewhere on the window until the display reads ‘Okay’).
Tip: Ask the hotel concierge or apartment rental agent/owner if they have a spare SUBE card from previous guests to save you the time and a bit of cash getting a new one.
Buses, or colectivos as they are locally known, are surprisingly easy to use and will get you around Buenos Aires pretty efficiently. The great thing about the Buenos Aires bus system is that it isn’t centralised. To get from one side of the city to another, it isn’t necessary to pass through the city centre. There are dozen upon dozens of routes criss-crossing the city so that you are almost within a two to three block radius from a bus that will take you to where you want to go.
To newcomers seeing these colour-coded buses hurtling down wide avenues or narrow streets may seem somewhat challenging at first. However, follow a few simple steps and you will soon navigate the city like a porteño in no time:
1. Use the website Mapa Buenos Aires (https://mapa.buenosaires.gob.ar/)
or the Como Llego App (For iPhone and for Android) to search for your bus route. It has an easy to use interface similar to Google Maps. Just plug in your start and end addresses, and select which transportation option you prefer (bus, subway, cycling or by foot). Make sure you select options that are within Ciudad de Autonama de Buenos Aires as the search allows you to input street addresses of provinces, outside of the city limits.
Once the addresses are entered, you will be presented will several options, highlighted to show the exact route through the city. The downside to the Mapa BA is it doesn’t give you a precise arrival time for the bus or subway. In Buenos Aires, this isn’t necessary as the buses for most lines come fairly often, every ten minutes or so during the day (much less frequently late at night) and every three or six minutes for subways.
2. Mapa BA will give you the address for the nearest corner to the bus stop. To find the correct stop, look for sign posts or sheltered bus stops bearing the number of the bus line. It will be located on the righthand side of the road in the direction you wish to travel. Stops are easy to find. Look for the lines of people standing on roadside. The App will also give you the nearest street corner to your destination to disembark. Again, I recommend using Google Maps on your phone to track your movements (see below). Don’t worry if you get off the bus early or late; buses stop every two-four blocks so you won’t miss your stop by much.
3. Line up to the right of the signpost. Flag down the bus and get on. Make sure you have a good handhold because the buses will shut their doors and begin moving the minute the last person steps onto the bus.
4. The price of the fare varies between AR$6 to $AR6.50 (June 2016), depending on how far you are travelling. All you need to do is tell the driver which street you are travelling to (ie Corrientes, Florida) and they will select the correct fare. Wait for the electronic touch card reader to display the fare, touch your card to reader and hold it there until the display reads: ‘Retire su tarjeta’. If the driver can’t understand your pronunciation, you can just tell him the fee: seis-cin-cuen-ta (AR$6.50) which will cover the cost of wherever you need to go.
The Subway system in Buenos Aires is a far smaller network than buses, but handy for tourists wanting to travel between Palermo and downtown. For tourists staying in Palermo and Recoleta, the green line will be the most useful, as it will link you from Palermo to popular downtown destinations such as Tribunales (near the Teatro Colon), 9 de Julio station (near the Obelisk), Cathedral (near Casa Rosada/Florida street).
The subway is very easy to use and a map of the lines can be found here: http://www.buenosaires.gob.ar/subte/mapa. You can pay for your fares with a SUBE card only these days (June 2016). Service runs from 5:00 am until a bit after 10:00 pm from Monday to Sunday (last trains leave from each end of the lines at around 10:00 pm).
– If you find yourself without a SUBE card try offering the cash fare to a local that has a card.
– Some of the larger stations will have central platforms but most are split-platforms which means you’ll need to enter the station from the correct side of the street. Please note that the train lines run in the opposite direction here (they travel UK style). So before you pass through the turnstiles, make sure you check your direction of travel which are based on the last stop on the line.
– Avoid peak periods such as 8am-9am in the morning and the after work rush hour from 5pm-7pm. Subway cars can become unbearably packed.
Late Night Transportation
While the subte will shut down around 10 pm, buses will run all night (albeit only once or twice an hour). In Buenos Aires, people stay out late and you will often see young people headed to night clubs between midnight and 2 a.m. Consequently, there are people riding public transport all night, especially over the weekends in Palermo.
If in doubt, take a taxi! It’ll be considerably more than AR$6.50, but they are still relatively inexpensive.
Public Transport Safety
As with any unfamiliar city, exercise caution. If it doesn’t feel right, spend the extra money and take a taxi. In general, Buenos Aires is a bustling city at all hours, but there are parts of town that will feel unsafe at certain times of the day. Use your intuition.
In La Boca, I would always exercise caution and advise using taxis. Avoid walking around except in the tourist designated areas by the portside around the PROA gallery. Be wary of the Retiro and Constitucion stations at either end of the purple subway lines. Both are major train stations and in poorer, riskier neighbourhoods. Be wary of pickpockets. While riding public transport, keep your wallets in your front pockets and wear your backpacks on the front like a local.
Bikes, Rentals and Cycling
For those who are staying longer, Ecobici is a good free option for getting around. This option is not practical for short term tourists as it takes time to apply for an account. If you are a student or planning to stay a few months at a fixed address, this may be worth your while. Free, healthy, environmentally friendly and a great way to learn the layout of the city.
You may apply in person for an Ecobici account by requesting an appointment at your local city government office here: http://apps.buenosaires.gov.ar/apps/turnos_online
1. Select ‘Ecobici’ in the pull down menu and enter your passport and other details.
2. Select your comuna (zone). To find your comuna, input your address here: http://www.buenosaires.gob.ar/comunas
4. Select a time and date for the appointment.
5. Turn up to the appointment with your passport and proof of address. This can be utility bill, an invoice from your landlord, a letter from your university, or an invoice from Airbnb.
The Ecobici stations are now all fully automated. You can check out a bicycle using the Ecobici App (iPhone, Android) to:
-Consult your travel history.
-Know the location and availability of bikes per station in real time.
-Consult the map of the network of protected bike lanes in the city.
-Make reports of incidents on bicycles, stations and / or service.
-Enter your ID and password to access the application.
-And of course to take a bike from the station. In the “Mi Viaje” section of the App, enter the station number in which you find yourself and select bike want to check out.
You may use the bike for up to one (1) hour during weekdays or two (2) hours on the weekends. Failure to return the bikes in time will result in suspension of service; one (1) week for the first offence, one (1) month for the second; two (2) months for the third and the fourth time will result in de-registration.
A map of all the bike paths and stations can be found here: http://www.buenosaires.gob.ar/ecobici/sistema-ecobici/mapa-bicis
For short term visitors, consider hiring a bike (http://www.labicicletanaranja.com.ar/) to explore. Palermo and Recoleta has large parks and many dedicated bike paths to cycle around. Palermo Hollywood is a low density, leafy neighbourhood with many stores, cafes and a large antique market, and also without much traffic which makes it an ideal location to explore by bicycle.
Sometimes you’re tired and you just need to get to where you want to go. The good news is taxis are very reasonable in this city. They all run on meters and are plentiful at all hours of the day in most neighbourhoods. A handy, but recently made “illegal” app (the taxi unions did not like money being siphoned away) that is still in use is Easy Taxi.
Uber has been declared “illegal” as well in Buenos Aires and has met with large demonstration by taxi drivers. However, it is still available at the time of writing (June 2016). The city has announced that it will be launching a similar App (BA Taxi) although a launch date has not been set. For the tourist passing through the city, it is a handy option if you are short on pesos. The risk is for the Uber driver, who may face fines or having their vehicle towed depending on what the current political situation is.
More Tips and Tricks for Getting Around
While you may not have roaming data on your digital device, you can still use Google Maps to help you navigate the city. The trick is to load up a map of your planned itinerary on Google Maps on your device before you leave the hotel/hostel/apartment for the day. Your device will ‘remember’ the map in its cache memory, allowing you to track your location using the phone’s GPS without needing any data. The trick is to zoom in on the map all along your planned route or the area you are visiting, so that it will show the names of the streets and the various landmarks. You may also want to drop some pins of places of interest ahead of time.
There are a number of free public WIFI locations that may be used in the city; on the subway and around major parks and plazas. Just keep an eye out for the free WIFI signs.
Alternately, you may want to get a local “prepago” SIM (pre-paid) card to use while you are in town. You can buy and charge these at many kioskos. Just look out for the stickers and displays for either Movistar or Claro, both large networks of telecommunications service providers.
Data is relatively inexpensive in Argentina. WhatsApp is a major form of communication for that reason. Visitors will be baffled to see how often the locals are engaged in a constant exchanged of voice messages, instead of having an actual telephone conversations. What they are doing is sending WhatsApp voice mails back and forth. For the visitor, this means data is likely to be far cheaper than using Global Roaming with your mobile service from home.
If your Spanish is limited and you need assistance setting up the account, you can may visit a Movistar or Claro store, who would usually have English speaking staff to assist. I can recommend the Movistar stores at Florida 683 in Microcentro and Hondura 5473 in Palermo Hollywood.