You simply must add taking the bus up and over the Andes mountains from Santiago to Mendoza to your Wanderlust List. Absolute gobsmacking scenery make this a must do! Check out the video, too, if you need more convincing!

Add this to your Wanderlust List: take the bus from Santiago to Mendoza

What’s your favorite travel memory? Taking the bus from Santiago to Mendoza up and over the Andes mountains is one of mine. Hands-down, this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and it cost about fifty bucks.

This post has two parts. First, I share one of my all-time favorite travel adventures  about my awe-inspiring trip over the Andes Mountains from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, which I hope will inspire you to add it to your Wanderlust List. Second, I’ve provided practical information on how to take the trip yourself. Have you taken this most excellent adventure (or did you take it in reverse?)? Share your experience in the comments!

I just rode over the Andes!

I woke up a bit late that morning in Mendoza. The day before I’d taken an awe-inspiring journey: the bus from Santiago to Mendoza that wound up and over the Andes mountains. I crossed over into Argentina at a border crossing that looked like it could have been on Mars.

Hairpin curves, each one tighter than the last. Ears popping, my stomach dropping as I looked down below.

I giggled like a nervous schoolgirl. I may or may not have whispered for my mommy.

There was no guard rail, and any wrong move would send us hurtling down a mountain. I spent six hours staring out the window at gobsmacking scenery.

That ride on the bus from Santiago to Mendoza was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

I broke out into a huge grin. I JUST RODE OVER THE ANDES! ME! Holy shit!

Bus from Santiago to Mendoza
Get on the bus for the ride of your life!

And the journey begins

In my rideshare on my way to Santiago’s Terminal Sur (South Terminal) bus station to catch the bus, I chatted with the driver, mostly in English, partly in my terrible high school Spanish. I told him that I was taking the bus from Santiago to Mendoza, mostly for the thrill of it.

He wanted to know why I was in Santiago, and I told him:  I’d bought a ticket to Santiago because it was half the price of one to Buenos Aires. That’s where I was headed, by way of a stopover for a couple of days in Mendoza (big regret: I should have stayed longer in Mendoza, but that’s a story for another time). In researching how to get there, I’d learned about this wild bus ride, and decided that I simply had to try it.

Santiago hadn’t been my plan, but I was glad that I’d gone

It wasn’t the original plan, I said, but I added that I was glad that I’d spent time here, adding in a day trip to Valparíso (another highlight of my trip).  Santiago isn’t really on the tourist map the way other South American destinations are, but I think it should be. The food’s amazing (I still dream about those empanadas), the people are cool, and the street art is incredible. Plus, I’d stayed in a gorgeous apartment, looking out across the Forestal park and up to the mountains. That felt like a vacation all its own. I’d be back for a day before I flew back home, I said to the driver. That made me happy.

Have a good trip!

 We arrived, and he wished me a good trip, and I headed into the terminal to catch the bus from Santiago to Mendoza. I’d allowed plenty of time in case we ran into traffic or I couldn’t figure out how to get to the gate, so I got myself a mediocre medialuna and a café and waited for my bus.  The bus station filled up with travelers, and I saw my bus appear on the board.

Bus from Santiago to Mendoza
Things started getting interesting after we got some distance from Santiago

Here we go! The bus from Santiago to Mendoza

The bus from Santiago to Mendoza was a double decker, like most of the buses in the region, and I had a seat in the top right, which was exactly the one I wanted. I checked my suitcase, handed my ticket to the driver, who confirmed that I had a passport with me, and climbed up to my seat. I’m really doing this, I thought. I laughed to myself.

My “first-class” seat didn’t have a neighbor, which suited me just fine. While crowded, the bus was not full, and most passengers appeared to be locals, as opposed to tourists. The seat itself reclined, had I wanted it, and it was worn gray vinyl, but comfortable and plenty roomy. It also had a seatbelt, which I fastened.

I got out my “bus pack” from my carryon (Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia for the first bit of the trip, snacks, water, sanitizer, and headphones, in case I needed them), and then stashed my backpack to give myself a little more room. I had a jacket packed as well, as it would be cold up at the border crossing, but I left that in my bag.

The bus engine started, my stomach flipped, and we were off to Mendoza.

The bus from Santiago to Mendoza: a bit boring at first, but then …

Wending our way out of Santiago wasn’t all that interesting, and I read a bit and just looked out the window, grateful to have a chance to catch my breath after a week of intense traveling. After a while, we put some distance between us and the smog of Santiago, and that’s when things started getting interesting. We passed farmland in the foothills of the Andes, the autumn sun shining. I put my book away. I wouldn’t look at it again for the rest of the trip to Mendoza.

At some point an attendant brought us some breakfast, including a drink. I put it aside, uncertain if I would eat it.

We drove closer to the mountains. I was a bit disappointed that the front window had a sunshield on it, as it didn’t make for great photos, but I had a huge window to the side, and the height of the second level made a huge difference.

I’m from New England, and the contrast between the gentle, green hills of home and these jagged peaks of rust and brown left me feeling like I’d landed on another planet.

Gallery: Early part of the journey

Click on an image to view the gallery. Please note that these were taken from a bus window. They aren’t perfect images, but I think you’ll get the idea!

We get into the hills

As we wended our way up, we began following a riverbed that had slowed to a trickle. We passed shacks and farms that had grown up alongside it. The bus had a clacking rhythm and went at a good clip. We climbed higher into the Andes mountains, and the river flowed more freely, the vegetation around it greener.

Sheared cliffs and little landslides everywhere. Little warehouses and evidence of industry.

And then . . .

Suddenly, we began to climb up to the the Paso Internacional Los Libertadore high up in the Andes mountains. This is where the road begins a series of switch backs, gentle at first, but quickly change to hairpins that twist and turn up the mountain. The two-lane road is narrow, populated with semis, and I saw a motorcycle having a blast below us. The bus’s steady rhythm comforted my rising nerves.

The landscape looked like Mars, rust red, against a brilliant blue sky streaked with clouds. My ears popped, the road below us twisting like a snake and my heart beating faster. Deep breaths.  A telephone pole like a cross in the desert. I briefly wondered if it marked a place where someone fell.

The landscape close now, the rocks perilously loose. Where was I? The Andes mountains or Mars?

Gallery: Heading up to the pass 

Click on an image to view the gallery. Please note that these were taken from a bus window. They aren’t perfect images, but I think you’ll get the idea!

Wheeeeee! Up to the Paso Internacional Los Libertadore

We approached the top. I have no idea where my lower jaw was, but it was not where it was supposed to be. Those last two turns. Oh my god. So absolutely gorgeous, we were with the mountains and touching the sky.

And what absolute terror. From my vantage point at the top right of a double-decker bus, I could see the edge of the road. I could see what would happen to us if something went wrong.

I was laughing, trying to be quiet, but not fully succeeding, my face pressed up against the window pane.

We approached the last turn, and I sucked in my breath, looking over the edge.

HOLY SHIT!! WHEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

We made it. I sat back in my seat, catching my breath and trying to steady my shaking hands.  I was not going to die on the bus from Santiago to Mendoza (though I still think that I would have died happy).

The little girl sitting with her dad just behind me, both of whom had obviously made this trip many, many times before looked knowingly at me. I couldn’t help it, I just grinned at them, relieved that I hadn’t actually broken out whooping on the bus. She smiled and went back to her phone.

Leaving Chile

The hairpins behind us, we crossed the border from Chile, past some restaurants (I would have liked to have stopped, just to experience it, but we did not). We arrived at the border station, which looked like an outpost on another planet. We’d been on the road for about two and a half hours.

Gallery: Crossing the border

Click on an image to view the gallery. Please note that these were taken from a bus window. They aren’t perfect images, but I think you’ll get the idea!

Getting off the bus

Once parked at the border station, the driver announced that we were required to get off the bus with all of our carry-on luggage in order to have it inspected. We were also told that there was a bathroom. As I gathered my things to disembark, I looked out the window to see one of the passengers running for the loo with her toilet paper dragging behind her like birthday streamers.

I followed the women to the ladies’ room, standing in line, and sadly, disappointing the attendant by showing my toilet paper (I tipped her anyway).

Going through customs

Standing in line at customs, I observed the high-tech satellite equipment that seemed appropriate for the outerspace landscape. I’d heard that not having printouts of your itinerary could land you in trouble, so I had printouts of everything ready when I presented my passport. I wasn’t the most interesting person in line, so the official scanned it, looked at me, looked at my envelope I had prepared, stamped my passport, and waved me through.

We then went to get our luggage, which officials were randomly inspecting (mine didn’t get any scrutiny). All told, we were at the border station for just under an hour before getting back on the bus for the rest of the trip. I’d heard that the bus from Santiago to Mendoza can be held up at customs for considerably longer, so I counted myself lucky.

Gallery: Heading down 

Click on an image to view the gallery. Please note that these were taken from a bus window. They aren’t perfect images, but I think you’ll get the idea!

Heading down

A much gentler road, though no less gobsmackingly beautiful road, wends its way down the mountains to Mendoza. We rushed past the Puente del Inca, but I didn’t feel deprived. After that, we saw some businesses. We drove alongside the Río Mendoza, which began as little more than a trickle.

Would you believe that they put on a Spanish dubbed version of Doctor Strange, and some passengers actually watched it? The little girl behind me was most definitely engrossed. Oh, to be able to find such delights routine.

The landscape was dizzying, so different from anything I’d seen before. With the excitement of the hairpins past, my body relaxed, and I just stared and stared. I could not believe my eyes.

Here and there, we saw houses, passing the Punta de Vacas, where an old railway line used to run. We passed through tunnels and slowly descended down to the tree line, where vegetation began to grow again. The highest mountains receded into the distance, the rust changing to blue. I felt sad, I didn’t this magical trip to end.

Gallery: Journey’s end

Click on an image to view the gallery. Please note that these were taken from a bus window. They aren’t perfect images, but I think you’ll get the idea!

My glorious journey on the bus from Santiago to Mendoza comes to an end

As we descend, the river broadened. We passed through tunnels, and the little villages became more frequent. A lake, Emblase Potrerillos, appeared on the lefthand side of the road (the only downside of my seat was that I didn’t get a good view of it). And then we were on flat land again, driving past vineyards, heading into Mendoza. We arrived at the station just under three hours after leaving from the border crossing.

From the Mendoza bus station, I wound up having to walk to the Abril Hotel (modest, but comfortable for two nights) after a fruitless search for an ATM I could use (see below for some notes on the hassle of getting money in Argentina). I didn’t mind after such a long ride, but if I took the trip again, I’d try to buy some Argentinian pesos first.

After settling in, I went out to explore Mendoza. Sitting up in bed the next morning, I shook my head, still awestruck that my journey on a bus from Santiago to Mendoza the day before had not been a dream.

Bus from Santiago to Mendoza Andes Mountains
Look at those mountains!

Take a bus ride over the Andes: what you need to know

Bus travel in South America

Bus travel is very common in South America. Trains are rare and flights are expensive, so most people take the bus if they have the time. The bus from Santiago to Mendoza is a common route, and, while exciting, it should not be seen as a “slumming it” trip like the bus can be in the States.

Quick note about the road

In case the photos or the story didn’t make the point, just for your general awareness, the bus from Santiago to Mendoza does not travel the safest road. There are no guardrails (though there is a shoulder). If anything were to go wrong, well … it would go very wrong. I would do this again in a (fast skipping) heartbeat, but do be aware that you’re taking a risk taking this trip.

Trip Basics: the bus from Santiago to Mendoza

Depart: South Terminal (Terminal Sur), Santiago, Chile

Arrive: Mendoza Bus Terminal, Mendoza, Argentina

Border crossing: Control Integrado Horcones, at Paso Internacional Los Libertadore

Total distance: ~200 miles/322 kilometers

A note about the Santiago bus station—your ticket likely won’t say which one to go to, and it wasn’t easy to figure out. When I did a day trip to Valparíso, it was from a different station. You want Terminal Sur (South Terminal). When you book your ticket, look up where to catch your company’s bus, but, more likely than not, it’s Terminal Sur.

Arrive at the bus station at least 30 minutes before your trip begins (I gave myself an hour, in case something happened on the way there). 

Time to allot for the bus from Santiago to Mendoza

The bus from Santiago to Mendoza takes about six to seven hours, depending a lot on how long you have to wait to cross the border. We were the only ones crossing the border, and it went quickly, considering the luggage checks of several passengers (mine did not get checked), and we were there for just under an hour.

Given that, aside from getting you to lovely Mendoza, the whole point of this trip is to gawk like a fool at the scenery, schedule your trip during daylight hours. That will also give you time to get settled into your lodgings and enjoy a night in Mendoza.

Bus company

This is a popular route, and there are many bus companies to choose from. I rode with Andesmar. My only complaint I have was that the front window had a sunshield on it. This likely saved my eyes, but it did obstruct my front view some. Having said that, I would ride again with them.  

Whichever bus line you choose, do be sure to do a little research to help ensure that the company is reputable.

Tickets

  • Argentinian pesos fluctuate quite a bit, but when I went the ticket cost approximately $50 USD for a one-way first-class ticket (see note about what “first-class” means).
  • I bought my tickets before leaving the US, but most companies only sell 30 days in advance. Buy as early as you can, so that you can reserve the best seat.
  • You select your seat when you buy your ticket. My best recommendation is to get the top (on a double-decker) right-hand window seat. If you can’t get a window seat, take a different bus.

I paid a bit extra for a first-class ticket, which meant that my seat leaned back some and that it was a bit roomier (also it was the top right seat). Also, because of where I sat (see ticket info below), my seat was a single, as opposed to a double. No neighbor = nicer trip. The seat was comfortable, but a bit worn. I wasn’t there for the luxury experience, and this more than fit the bill.

Typical bus seat for this route

General trip experience and considerations

We got a modest lunch and snacks on board, but I’d brought my own food and drinks for the trip. I recall eating the snacks. The sandwich would have done in a pinch if I was very hungry, but it didn’t look particularly appealing.

Regardless of the weather in Santiago and Mendoza, bring something warm. It’s cold where you cross the border, and you will be outside for long enough that you’ll appreciate it.

There was a bathroom on board the bus, but I did not use it. As with general travel in South America, bring toilet paper with you, as it’s not generally supplied. There’s a restroom at the border crossing. If you were unprepared, there was a woman selling toilet paper in the restroom.

Oddly enough, once we crossed the border and were heading down to Mendoza (while the twisty turnies had ended, the breathtaking scenery did not), they started showing Doctor Strange dubbed in Spanish. And people actually watched it.

When I took the trip, there weren’t that many tourists on the bus.

Bus from Santiago to Mendoza
Now THAT is a hairpin curve

Safety and Solo Female Travel

Obviously, circumstances can change, but I took this trip (and my entire South American adventure) as a solo female traveler, and I found this daytime journey perfectly safe. I also think this is an ideal trip for solo travel, as who wants to carry on a conversation when there are MOUNTAINS to stare at?

It’s common sense to keep your carry-on luggage with you at all times, but I didn’t get any sketchy vibes at all from the other passengers.

Crossing the Argentine border

While this goes without saying, this is an international trip. You absolutely must have your passport with you, and you need to be able to present sufficient information to be able to get you into the country. This includes proof an exit trip.

You cross the border at the top of a mountain—it’s really rather cool. You will need to take all of your carry-on luggage with you off the bus (you should do this anyway, even if you were just going to the loo).

You should be prepared to present your complete itinerary, including your planned departure from Argentina. I suggest having printouts of it. I was not asked for mine, but it is better to be prepared and look it. The border crossing officials spoke English to me when they saw my US Passport, but I would be prepared to speak a few Spanish phrases (at a bare minimum, greet the official in Spanish).

The border officials did question other passengers, so my experience isn’t the rule.

Your luggage is also subject to search. They spent a lot of time looking through some of the passenger’s belongings.

When to do this

This route is not safe in the winter, due to snow, so if this is something you want to do, I would plan on traveling either in the summer or early autumn.

A note about getting money in Mendoza (and Argentina generally)

The Mendoza bus terminal was under some construction when I was there, and that included the ATMs. I didn’t have any Argentinian pesos, so no money for a cab. Here’s the thing—there wasn’t an ATM close by (seriously), and so I walked to my hotel. Thankfully, it was an interesting walk, and I needed to stretch my legs after such a long ride, but it wasn’t ideal.

This brings me to getting money in Argentina: It’s a challenge. Not every ATM takes American debit cards. Then, when you do find one, there are some serious limits on how much cash you can withdraw, and the transaction fees are steep. The ATMs often run out of money (in Buenos Aires, everyone played a little game over the weekend of trying to find the ATM in the neighborhood that actually had cash. I felt rather triumphant when I finally found it).

All this is to say that it’s a pain in the ass to get money.  I never get money ahead of time for traveling, but I would consider buying a few Argentinian pesos beforehand to make this part of your journey easier.

Do you want to take the bus from Santiago to Mendoza?

Are you adding the bus from Santiago to Mendoza to your Wanderlust list? Have you taken this journey? How much did you love it? Let me know in the comments!

    Get Directions

    show options hide options