How To Navigate Big Bad Buenos Aires
Article by Sharon Salt.
I have a terrible sense of direction, and for my first year here, I was almost always walking the wrong way. As I have mentioned in other articles, I didn’t take the bus for almost six months because I was terrified of getting lost – or getting lost again, to be more accurate, as I had already taken a bus to provincia “on my way” to the MALBA, or ended up outside of the Boca stadium late one Tuesday night.
If you suffer from this same affliction, I am not here, unfortunately, to give you an infallible internal compass. Would that I could, sorry. But I can tell you a little bit about the modes of transportation here in Buenos Aires in the hopes of lessening your fears. To city people, these things may seem like no-brainers, but trust me when I say that I was terrified and would have benefitted greatly from a resource like this some three years ago. Here goes:
To ride the buses or the subway, you’ll have to get a Sube card. You can occasionally buy these in the subway stations themselves, or in certain kioscos, post offices, or loteria nacionales nearby. Look for a Sube sign in the window of any of these places, which indicates that you can buy and recharge the cards there. Don’t be discouraged, however, if the first location you try doesn’t work out, as they are forever running out of cards. If it begins to feel a little like a wild goose chase, don’t panic, that is normal. If all else fails, you can find an official Sube registration office here: https://www.sube.gob.ar/CentrosSUBE.aspx?solapa=1. Also, please note: to register you’ll need some kind of official documentation, like your passport.
You can charge these cards at subway stations, as well as post offices, kioscos, and loteria nacionales with Sube signs in the window. And the best part is that you can run a negative balance of up to 10 pesos, so you shouldn’t get stranded anyway on a cold and rainy night, nor on your way to an interview, etc.
The subway is fine, I guess. I never use it because I don’t live close to a line and it really only runs east-west anyway, except for north-south Line C downtown and Line H, which doesn’t connect to anything directly Palermo-bound (gasp). Expansion is on the horizon, though, but in the meantime I much prefer the buses, especially because I’ve already learned which ones come most often (lucky 152, 60, 68, 55, 39, etc. – NOT the 29, for example), and I think that’s what deters people from busing more often. Also, please note: the subway closes around 10:30.
Look for a Radiotaxi. Nothing terribly bad will happen if you don’t, but it’s a well-known and trusted company. Also, as in any city, make a note of the initial charge and the rate as you go along. Since you’re clearly not from here, I’d suggest not negotiating sum rates (like $X from the port to Palermo) but running the meter instead. And the best advice I can give to anyone visiting the city, ever: try to talk to the drivers every single time. It’s free Spanish practice and, in general, they love to gossip and wax philosophical.
A remise is like a town car, so you’ll likely only take it to and from the airport. You can find remise offices inside the airport right after they x-ray your bags after baggage claim. You can pay in Argentine pesos or with a debit or credit card, and all of the stalls will have the same price, give or take a few dollars. Keep the driver’s card and use it to get back to the airport when it’s time to fly home, as they sometimes give you a discount for the return trip.
The bus system can be crazy here, but it’s also massive, and it runs 24/7, which is pretty amazing.
If you don’t know the city well, look up your routes beforehand. The old school way is using a Guiate, a gridded book of all the routes, which is hard to master but useful if you don’t want to use your phone to look up routes on the fly. If you don’t mind using your phone or you’re looking up things at home, though, I prefer Omnilineas or the city map. Omnilineas it great if you’re super visual, since it lets you drag a big line across the map to get your destination without necessarily knowing the address. It also lets you look up the full routes of any bus number. The city map, on the other hand, is better for searching by addresses or if you need an estimate of the duration of your trip.
To actually ride the bus, you’ll need to hail it. When you board, tell the driver your destination (generally a cross street), and he’ll input the charge, after which you put your Sube card up to the machine. Don’t put your Sube card to the machine beforehand, because it will read as an error. And make sure your Sube is charged or you’ll have to pay with monedas, which is something like double the price and a huge hassle for both you and those behind you!
Also, please note: be careful when you’re paying, as I have seen many people pull out their wallets to pay by Sube only to have the person behind them snatch it away and hop off the bus.
And that’s all I’ve got. Good luck, and call me if you get lost! 😉