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Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

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Liverpool, United...
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Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

We very much like to travel overland bus or train has anyone tried either of these ways to get from BA down to Ushuaia?

Alternatively the possibility of going by boat,but ideally we would like to stop off at a few places of interest for a few days to take in the country.

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1. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

During the Summer season, then the large cruise lines offer 14+ day cruises Around the Horn with optional trip to Antartica. One of the ports of call is Ushuaia.

If you are looking for an interesting land excursion, then you might consider the bus from Buenos Aires to Viedma and the Puerto Madryn area for a visit to Peninsula Valdes. This is the location of the largest penguin rookery in the world.

From Viedma, then you can board the Tren Patagonico(www.trenpatagonico-sa.com.ar) to Bariloche. There is much to see and do in the Bariloche area and offers a chance to cross the Andes into Chile for a visit to their lake district. www.interpatagonia.com for more details.

From Bariloche, you can either fly to El Calafate(Perito Moreno Glacier/El Chalten/Torres del Paine) or take the bus(www.plataforma10.com/en-US).

From El Calafate then the bus routes through Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia.

If you have a lot of holiday time then this would make for an excellent adventure.

Lunenburg, Canada
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2. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

Hi Liverpool!

If you like to drive, that is how we did it. We rented a car in Buenos Aires and drove all the way to Ushuaia, taking the Strait of Magellan ferries. With your own car, you can go wherever you wish. We also visited Punta Arenas, Otway Bay, Puerto Natales, and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, as well as the Perito Moreno Glacier and Punta Tombo (the world's best penguin site) In Argentine Patagonia.

We did it all in two weeks. If we'd had more time, we could have gone to even more places.

If this be of interest to you, let me know. We liked the drive a lot, and I'm glad we did it. One of those things to do once before you die.

David

capetien10@gmail.com

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3. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

David, that is very interesting.

When we were last in Argentina the advise we read here and in guidebooks was to not rent a car.

We are starting to plan an Antarctic cruise and are exploring possibilites for a land trip ahead of that. We did not get south of Buenos Aires in the east and Las Lenas in the west of Argentina and would like to do so this time.

What is your advise and experience about renting a car?

Lunenburg, Canada
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4. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

Hi Neighbor!

I've rented a car and driven in Argentina, just my wife and me, on four trips now. We share the driving, and I'd never consider any other way of seeing the country. In January 2013 we rented in Buenos Aires and drove all the way to Ushuaia, then back (with side trips to Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine National Park, and the Perito Moreno glacier near El Calafate). We loved every minute, and regard it as one of those 100 things you're supposed to do before you die.

I'm firmly of the opinion that most of those who say not to drive in Argentina have never tried (or, in some cases, have a vested interest in selling their own services as guides). I've never had an accident or so much as a cracked windshield on the road in Argentina. Before my first trip, I wrote here to ask a question like yours. One of the responses came from someone who wrote, You might as well book your ambulance now. But after almost a hundred days on the road, I'm afraid I still haven't been able to give that ambulance guy any business!

Argentine driving is challenging, as it is in Italy and Turkey. You must possess the ability to drive defensively, to anticipate what the other guy may do and always be prepared to take evasive action. And you’ll find that this means more than simply what the cops at home are always on about, as a sort of buzz-phrase. You’ll absolutely need this driving skill in Argentina.

Argentine motorists pass aggressively, including situations where they shouldn't. They tailgate. I respond with defensive driving. I prefer to drive safely myself rather than being a passenger with a daredevil taximan.

Roads in Argentina are good. Not as good as in Canada, or in Chile and southern Brazil for that matter, but still paved, with very few serious potholes.

Considering its size, Argentina possesses relatively few freeways, except in metro Buenos Aires. Still, we had no trouble maintaining 110 km/h on two-lane straight stretches in rural areas. Especially in Patagonia, where traffic is light, we often did faster.

The speed limit in most rural areas is 110 km/h. The majority of drivers observe it or drive perhaps a few miles over, much as in North America. Police speed law enforcement is sporadic, however, so do not be surprised to find a few who try to go much faster.

Road signs are all in Spanish, naturally. Many are internationally-recognized pictograms. For others, the meaning is obvious. The word “Pare” may not immediately capture your attention sitting at your desk at home, but put it inside a red octagon and you’ll get the idea.

Here’s a list of some of the driving issues you’ll face in Argentina:

1) In built-up areas, there are no traffic control signals at any but the main intersections. No lights, stop signs or yield signs at most corners.

How do you know who is supposed to go? At some, the big road is expected to have priority, although it’s not always obvious which road is bigger, nor is this rule universal. At others, the car to your right has the right of way, at least in principle. In practice, the car that gets there first keeps going, and if the other guy sees you hesitate, he’ll probably go too. It often happens that the most aggressive or the stupidest motorist goes first.

We found all this easier in the doing than in the writing. Approach every urban intersection fully prepared to stop. If I got there first, and the other car was driving in a way that it appeared he could safely and easily yield to me, I’d go. Sometimes, when I yielded, the fellow behind let me know with his horn that he thought it should have been my turn.

By the way, if one were just going to Buenos Aires, renting a car is uneconomical. Car rentals in South America are expensive, about twice what one would pay for the same in Canada. We found the usual big city problems of dense traffic, one-way streets and finding parking. (I've driven in New York and Paris too, though, and Buenos Aires driving is easier than in either New York or Paris.)

Outside the capital, we greatly appreciated the comfort and flexibility of our own wheels.

2) Argentine motorists are aggressive. They relentlessly claw their way to the head of the line on the road.

Argentines love to tailgate. And not just impatient types and young bobos, but even middle aged drivers with passengers on board. They seem to lack any conception of how dangerous this behavior is.

We frequently picked up tailgaters. When you do, don’t freak out. Do not speed up to shake the guy. Don’t tap your brakes or slow abruptly – he won’t understand what you’re trying to say and you may cause an accident.

Almost all Argentine tailgaters are saying that they’d like to pass. In fact, this seems to be the way Argentines ready themselves for overtaking.

When being tailgated, open up a huge space between you and the car in front of you. In the event braking is needed, try to leave yourself room to do it gradually.

As soon as there’s sufficient visibility, ease toward the right while staying on the pavement, take your foot off the gas, signal right, and watch what happens. Be sure you’ve left yourself a clear path so that you retain a free trajectory on the pavement in case a swarm of others behind decides to pass too. Be careful of obstructions like bridge abutments ahead – chances are, the passing cars won’t show any gratitude in case you need to get back in. Don’t pull onto the gravel shoulder unless you’re stopping. You might lose control of your steering.

3) Argentine roads are not in bad shape, but some could use a bit of work. We found many stretches when the big trucks have depressed serious ruts into the asphalt. They aren’t always obvious, but the time will come on such a stretch when you want to steer one way, but your steering wheel protests vigorously. Be ready to let your steering wheel know that you're the boss!

As well, the number of potholes isn’t zero (neither is it in North America). You’ll occasionally have to dodge some. On mountain roads, be alert for freshly-fallen pierres that the authorities haven’t moved yet. This is no different from mountain roads anywhere, though, including Canada.

On the other hand, South America poses very few hazards from animals in the road. The North American deer and the Australian kangaroos that grace front bumpers overseas will not be a problem in Argentina.

On our journey to Ushuaia, we saw wild guanaco wandering the roads. There must have been a thousand, literally, all along the way. Guanaco seem to be smarter than the deer we see in Nova Scotia, because they instinctively stay out of the way of cars.

4) Argentine authorities behave irresponsibly in the posting of speed signs. You’ll frequently be driving along a 110 km/h section of rural road when, out of nowhere, someone has erected a 40 km/h sign. No other driver even slows down. What will you do?

Most commonly, these signs pop up where a farmer’s road meets the highway. There’s never any cars on his dirt track. If you tried to obey the sign, you’d be courting a rear-ender.

“Forty” signs often denote school zones. Never drive fast around school children, but most of the time there are no school kids, especially in the summer months when there’s no school anyway. And most rural students are bused and do not walk along the road.

The third category is police checkpoints, of which you’ll see many. Orange traffic cones along the center line usually mark these, and of course you should slow down and be ready to stop for the police. Everyone else certainly will.

5) Police checkpoints – What do you tell the cops at checkpoints when you don’t speak Spanish? When I’m stopped, I always start by offering my Nova Scotia Drivers’ License. This is what the cops most often want to see. Even if not, it tells them that I’m a tourist and not likely a person of interest to them, and that I probably don’t understand much Spanish. They’ll frequently show it around to their colleagues, enlivening an otherwise dull shift with something exotic like a Nova Scotia Drivers’ License. In some cases, they'll even take the opportunity to practice their English!

Listen carefully for these words:

“Seguro” - he wants your proof of auto insurance. This should be in a little folder left in the glove box when you picked up the rental car

“Donde” or perhaps “Adonde” – he’d like you to tell him where you’re coming from or where you’re going. Tell him something like “del Rio Grande a Ushuaia," where you spent last night and where you expect to be tonight.

By the way, never once did anyone ever ask me for an International Driving Permit, anywhere in South America, and I’ve now logged nearly a hundred days behind the wheel in Argentina. And no cop has ever sought a bribe from me, despite my encountering several hundreds of opportunities. Others say that in Argentina it happens, but based on my experience it seems uncommon.

I got one ticket (US$35), for a no-headlights violation. The officer gave me instructions to pay it at a bank, which I did. No hints about baksheesh. No "help-me-so-I-can-help-you."

6) Border crossings. We’ve driven across the border between Chile and Argentina thirteen times now. It’s complicated and you must prepare in advance. You need letters of permission from the car rental company and insurance valid in the other country. Naturally, this must be arranged well in advance, and it will likely cost you around US$50 for the permission.

Driving from the Argentine mainland to Ushuaia, you must pass through Chile. Southbound from Rio Gallegos, you do it all in one building, the "Southern Integration Border Crossing." Re-entering Argentina from Chile, there are two stops, one to check out of Chile and once again on the Argentine side. Vice-versa, of course, northbound. The stops are tedious, often with queues. Chilean Agriculture will check your trunk, looking for forbidden fruits as well as meat, wood products, and similar contraband not permitted into Chile.

The Strait of Magellan ferries run every hour to 1 1/2 hours between Bahia Azul on Tierra del Fuego and Punta Delgada on the mainland. It costs about US$30 each way for a car and passengers. Crossings take about 20 minutes. On our return to the mainland, 60 knot winds from a passing storm in Drake Passage caused the service to be suspended for about four hours. By the way, Bahia Azul has as its claim to fame that Arctic terns summer there. You may remember the Arctic tern, a bird that summers in northern Canada, then flies all the way to the Antarctic the rest of the year. They never do tell us where precisely the tern goes. Well, it's Bahia Azul!

If you'll be in Ushuaia for more than a few hours, and doing something other than taking a boat tour on Beagle Channel, we found a car indispensable. Aside from the convenience in driving out to Tierra del Fuego National Park, scaling Mount Martial (Ushuaia's in-town mountain), and going for an excursion up over the mountains to Lake Fagnano, your own car gives you shelter from the changeable weather. Driving in the world's southernmost city is easy, like it is in the hinterland beyond.

Happy travels!

David

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5. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

Thank you so much, again for this great information.

We have driven in Europe, New Zealand and Australia and from what we saw we would have no problems with the actual driving in Argentina.

I will have to investigate further.

One problem we may have is that we would be wanting to pick up the car in one place and leave it in another (Buenos Airies to Ushuaia perhaps).

WDC
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6. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

Maryann, how can one add anything th theses fulsome posts ?

I would only like to mention that most earlier posts or guides books suggesting that one avoid driving in Argentina, likely were warning about driving in Buenos Aires itself. Driving in Argentina, out side of BsAs, is a wonderful and satisfying way to visit this incredible country.

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7. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

We've never tried to do a one-way rental. From what I've seen along the way, though, it may be costly.

Rental car operators in South America are mostly small, local guys and franchisees. They have to get their cars back to the home depot, which means we have to pay to send a car jockey to get the car, then deadhead home. If lady luck were with you, they might have a customer who just happened to drop an Ushuaia car in Buenos Aires, and you could volunteer to be their paying car jockey. As you can imagine, this would be a matter of very good fortune.

In the Chilean customs house on Tierra del Fuego, we struck up a conversation with a car jockey deadheading back from Ushuaia to El Calafate. He told me the story.

Depending on how much time you have and how much you like to drive, you might consider driving in both directions. Taking advantage of the long summer days (light past 9:30 p.m.) and the fact that Argentines eat really late, we found we could comfortably drive from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia in five days, and probably four if we vowed not to dawdle along the way. Or, as we did, add a detour into the far south of Chile to your itinerary. Or perhaps swing west to Bariloche and the Andes. We took two overnights plus an afternoon and a long morning to get there from Buenos Aires at our pace.

We found lots of hotels along the way, almost all reasonably priced, under CDN$100/night, taxes in, including breakfast. For that matter, through one of those big internet booking sights, we stayed at the Hotel Republica in Buenos Aires, right on the grand square, the Obelisk, for CDN$72 a night, and I still haven't figured out how they swung a rate like that!

David

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8. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

And let me add about driving in Buenos Aires:

We picked up our rental in the city each trip, and drove out. We drove back into the city later in the trip. I don't think having a rental car in Buenos Aires is economical, but it's quite do-able for an overseas visitor, as I can personally attest. You should not be afraid to pick up your car and drive in the city. Millions of other ordinary mortals do. We saw no evidence that Porteño drivers are significantly crazier than those in other megacities.

And by the way, to get to our hotel, the Republica, I drove down 22-lane 9th of July Avenue, which our hotel overlooked. It makes the Champs-Élysées look like a Halifax city street narrowed by snow banks!

David

Edited: 15 August 2014, 16:36
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9. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

Clearly, Capetien, you are a better man than I. The only places that I have so far refused to drive in: China, Naples, Buenos Aires. I do agree that renting a car and high tailing it out of the city proper should not cost too many bitten off finger nails...

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10. Re: Possible alternatives to flying BA to Ushuaia

I drove in Naples, Marnie ... until the car got stolen overnight, parked right in front of our Neapolitan hotel. After that, we get the opportunity to discover for ourselves that public transportation is not all that bad. It's less agonizing than you might think, once a large portion of the luggage has vanished with the stolen car.

It's my understanding that they won't let me drive in mainland China, but we did rent a car on Taiwan, Republic of China. I'm pleased to report that we found the Chinese motorists courteous and forgiving. Once, my wife had to cross four lanes of traffic. She had no trouble doing it, thanks to the courtesy of the drivers in Kaohsiung. (And it's not because they could see that we're occidentals -- our car had tinted windows.)

By the way, Marnie, I think that despite their courtesy, the prevailing view among Chinese motorists is much like yours. My wife also drove up the mountain road at Lishan, and parked. As we got out of the car, some Chinese women emerged from the back seats of a minivan, and one exclaimed, in English, to her: "Are you ever strong (brave)!"

David