During our two-week vacation in Uruguay, my husband and I spent 35 hours on long distance buses: west/east to Colonia del Sacramento, east/west to Punta del Este, and north/south to Artigas. Bus travel was cheap, convenient, and gave us a much better understanding of how the other half of the Uruguayan population lives, that is, those who don’t reside in Montevideo.
If you want to try your hand at bus travel in Uruguay, here’s some advice for making the trip as pleasant as possible.
1. Get started by going to the Guruguay post on bus travel.
This is where I got my early education on Uruguayan bus travel. Its link to the Tres Cruces bus schedule, which lists all buses from all companies that come and go from Montevideo, was a total Guru-send.If you cone from a place where only a couple of companies operate buses into the countryside, you’ll be amazed by the choice of companies and times for getting where you want to go in Uruguay. The Tres Cruces bus station bustles day and night!
At this time, there’s not much service between regional destinations: we had to come and go through Montevideo each time, staying overnight at the Days Inn across the street from the Tres Cruces bus station.
2. Get your tickets in advance, even in the off-season.
Guruguay recommends this practice during high season, but we travelled in the off-season and still found the buses busy. On two of our trips, we booked late at the station and either didn’t get seats together or had to sit by the toilet. Although we never had to stand, this is an accepted practice on Uruguayan buses, one you don’t want to have if you don’t need to.
3. Expect the trip to take longer than the listed duration time.
4. Take along enough food and drink to last the journey (plus that extra time I just mentioned.)
Before our advertised 8-hour trip to Artigas, my husband said, “I guess they’ll have rest stops along the way.” I guessed the same, but we were both wrong.
Luckily, we had taken along several bottles of water, sandwiches and empanadas. The only chance to get anything during the trip there happened when a guy selling ham and cheese sandwiches got on briefly at one station. On the way back, the bus conductor gave out cups of Coca Cola and packaged alfajores, Uruguay’s favorite cookie. But that’s only because the bus had broken down and we had to wait over an hour for another one to arrive.
5. Watch your kneecaps.
6. Hand sanitizer is not a bad idea.
At some point, you’re probably going to have to use the bus toilet. And, hey, it’s a bus toilet. ‘Nuff said.
7. Appreciate the countryside.
Yes, most of the buses have free WiFi. But why not take the chance to connect with Uruguay outside the window? We followed the Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic for part of the way east and west out of Montevideo. Coming and going from Artigas, we passed by enormous estancias, the ranches where cattle, horses and sheep graze freely (Uruguay has 3 million people and 30 million head of cattle!). I also saw a flock of small, ostrich-like birds, the South American rhea. Sudden landscape changes, tiny rural schools, and lingering sunsets all inspired my imagination.
8. Imagine the lives of the people getting on and off the bus.
Uruguayans flag down buses in towns and along the roadside. The bus conductor throws their bags into the luggage compartment and hustles them onboard. Buses also stop to let off passengers wherever they want. Sometimes, when we stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere and a passenger disembarked, I thought “Where could he possibly be going? How long will it take to get there? And who will greet him when he arrives?”
9.Take lessons on how to give really good bus station welcomes and sendoffs.
In the countryside, putting a loved one on the bus or waiting for the bus to bring a favorite person to town is an enthusiastic affair. People search the bus windows for dear ones’ faces and hug a long, long time. On our way out of the Artigas station, two grey-haired women in floral dresses stood up in their seats waving until their family members disappeared from view. The bus conductor never told them to sit down for their own safety.