Surviving the Buses in South America

May 6, 2014
buses in South America

foreign-correspondent badge final When I reflect on the many crazy, funny or sometimes unpleasant stories I have from my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay (2012-2014), I realize that most of them happened on a bus.

There was that one time that I had to travel to the capital city, Asuncion, on Easter Sunday to see the Peace Corps doctors because apparently I had been having an asthma attack for four days. I had to stand the whole entire three-and-half hour journey because most bus companies will pack in as many people as possible–way more than the recommended maximum capacity limit–to increase profits. Not only was I physically confined by the people surrounding me, but due to the number of people in the bus, it smelled of body odor and sweat. On a healthy day that wouldn’t be a good experience, and while feeling sick, it was even worse.

There was another time when I threw up on a bus (one of many actually) and as I ran to the bathroom and tried to open the door, I found that it was locked. Luckily, I had a plastic bag (more on that later…) and I threw up in the middle of the aisle with everyone in the seats around me watching and laughing. Afterwards, I stood there waiting for the person in the bathroom to finish, with a clear bag of vomit in my hands. After about five minutes, a lady in the seat next to me said, “There is no one in there. You just have to pull the door really hard. It gets stuck.”

Finally, there was the one time I took a bus from my friend’s house back to my community. It should have only taken me one and half hours but instead, it took me five, because the bus started filling with smoke that was coming from the bathroom. It turned out to be a fatal problem with the engine, which meant that the passengers were stranded on the side of the road at nine o’clock at night waiting for the next bus to pass by, which it did, two hours later.

However, out of the dozens of times I experienced travel by bus in Paraguay, as well as in Argentina and Uruguay, the good experiences definitely outnumber the bad. There were times when the bus attendants were incredibly helpful, or when I got free whisky on the way to Uruguay, or when I couldn’t have been more thankful to be on an air conditioned bus when it was 104 degrees outside. If I did end up having to stand, someone always offered to hold my bag for me, and on a few occasions, people offered me their seats.

I was impressed with the ease of traveling on buses in South America. It may not have been comfortable or pretty at times, but it was inexpensive, frequent and for the most part, consistent. If the United States had a travel by bus system as extensive as South America’s, cross-country traveling would be a lot easier and a lot more economical.

Here are 5 quick tips for travel by bus in South America that I have learned over that past couple of years:

1. Always have a plastic bag with you in case you, like me, are nauseous and can’t make it to the bathroom in time.

2. Always take toilet paper with you. A majority of bus toilets will not have them. (It’s also a good idea to take hand sanitizer too.)

3. I recommend putting your luggage under the bus or holding it in your lap. If you put it in the overhead compartment and then fall asleep or are not paying attention, you are at risk of having it stolen.

4. If you want to ride a nice bus, do your research. The best thing to do is to take locals about the better companies.

5. Most night buses are actually very safe and a good option for long distance travel.

About Kelley Matney

Kelley Matney is a Returned Peace Corps volunteer, Paraguay 2012-2014, who couldn’t leave just yet and is staying a few more months in this beautiful country. She is a blogger who writes at and loves traveling around South America, improving her Spanish and trying the local wines.

One thought on “Surviving the Buses in South America

  1. Joyce
    May 6, 2014

    I loved traveling by bus in Paraguay. We had such a great trip and everyone was so helpful. even when it was overcrowded. And the folks selling food come to you! Nothing better than a bus chipa!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *