Review:  Flecha Bus to Salta in Cama-Suite

Review: Flecha Bus to Salta in Cama-Suite

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Ok, ok, ok. So everyone here in Argentina pretty much says that when you travel domestically you should take a bus even if it’s 20+ hours each way. While they do mention that it is cheaper as one of the reasons, by and large they say things like:

“Argentina has really figured out how to do bus travel”

and

“It’s SO much nicer than flying”

and

“You’ll get amazing views of the countryside and first class service”

and

“With a cama-suite ticket, you’ll get a seat that fully reclines into a comfortable bed, so when you’re not being fawned over by the stewardess bringing you champagne and a wonderful multi-course meal, you can either sleep or watch movies on your personal entertainment system”

Sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. People have said things like that to us time and again. If I had been exaggerating I would have instead said something like “There’s a back section of the bus with water slides and a stadium seating movie theater; Oh yeah, and lots of pole dancers”

So–while it took us a while to get past our suspicion that no matter how nice a bus is, 20 hours on it would still suck–given all of the enthusiasm people have we decided to give it a shot and purchased our tickets for the 20 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Salta. We figured worst case scenario we’d get a lot of studying done en route. We dutifully asked around about which bus companies would be best and eventually settled on using Flecha Bus since they were the only ones that offered Cama-Suite which is the highest class of service. It cost ~US$95 each for a one-way ticket (we were willing to try this, but not ready to commit to a roundtrip). Now, while $95 is cheaper than the $200 plane ticket, it’s certainly not free, so you’d really hope that you were getting some value above the ~$100 dollars you saved by trading out a 2 hour flight for a 20 hour bus ride. Wouldn’t you?

We didn’t know what to expect, but given all of the hype we were fairly excited when we left for the Retiro omnibus station. The station is kind of like an airport with multiple levels and lots of different gates (called puentes).

Retiro Omnibus Station in Buenos Aires Image

Retiro: More impressive than your average bus terminal

We nervously awaited our bus’ puente to be announced and soon caught our first glimpse of what would be our home for the next 20 hours. From the outside, it looked fairly impressive.

Flecha Bus from the outside image

20 hours... I could do 40 hours in a bus that fine!

It’s fair to say that seeing the outside of the bus and getting our luggage loaded was the peak of the trip. It was pretty much all downhill once we got inside. Perhaps the best way to continue is to address how the actual experience compared to some of the great things we had heard…

Flecha bus journey about to begin image

Jen at the peak of her excitement (before the journey began)


How the experience stood up to the hype

Great views of the countryside: False.

The vast majority of the ride it was night time, so nothing exciting to see out the window. While the last 4 hours or so were daylight and it was somewhat interesting to see what was outside, it’s likely the same thing we would have seen on approach to landing if we had flown–because yes, it takes the bus about 4 hours to go the same distance a plane goes while on its 10 minute approach.

Personal entertainment systems: False.

There were a few TVs mounted to the ceiling and strategically positioned such as to be difficult to see. And they played 4 movies with the volume on for the whole bus to hear whether you wanted to or not; the first one was “Over Her Dead Body”; the second was something with an alligator; the third was something about a deaf swing dance champion and the final movie was about the life of Mother Theresa<—seriously, if only we could have somehow made it louder.

Flecha Bus TV placement Image

After you find the TV (hint: top right) see if you can find Waldo

Champagne: True!

We were given champagne, and in very classy, brand new champagne flutes

Flecha Bus champagne flute image

You might think this looks old and broken... Instead, try to think of it like premium stone washed jeans--classy right?

Meals are impressive: False.

sigh… We received 3 “meals” throughout the trip; one was a pre-dinner snack, followed by dinner, followed by breakfast. Breakfast and the pre-dinner snack consisted of the exact same shrinkwrapped styrofoam package with some cookies, a cereal bar and some unsalted crackers.

Flecha Bus Snack/Breakfast Image

This looks so good I with I could have it twice...

Flecha Bus Snack/Breakfast 2 Image

Nice!!! I do get to have it twice!

Dinner was an entirely different shrinkwrapped styrofoam pack with an unidentifiable sandwich, a dessert thing and some breadsticks. Also, we got a heated up tin foil thing full of potatoes and what we think was chicken gizzard.

Flecha Bus hot dinner image

Mmm mmm good. Just like Mom used to make (sorry mom)

Jen with Flecha Bus dinner image

In case you were wondering what Jen thought of dinner (hint: that face means she didn't like it--it's subtle, but if you look closely you can tell)

Dinner also came with wine. Which reminds me–drinks in general were tons of fun given that the cup holder on the very bumpy bus ride was about double the size of the cups that they gave us. That worked well.

Flecha Bus cup holder image

Now imagine filling that with coffee and then guess how many bumps on the road it would take before it was in your lap.... Correct answer: 2

Service is truly first class: False.

Service was comical. The stewardess (or whatever the appropriate name for a bus server is) literally tossed our meals to/at us from a few feet away each time. I guess that in retrospect we are glad that all of our meals were tightly shrinkwrapped, otherwise it would have gotten messy. When not throwing “food” at us, she was nowhere to be found.

The seats are great and really comfy to sleep in: False.

It was clear that this was an old bus when we got on. When we first sat down though, we actually thought the seats were old school, but reasonably comfortable to sit in. Attempting to sleep in them was a hole (misspelling intended) different matter though. They do in fact lay back into beds, BUT, there is a massive bump right where your pelvis is (imagine sleeping on a speed bump), which regardless of what position you try is extremely uncomfortable and you sort of get the feeling that if you were to somehow fall asleep despite all of the bumping and the noise from the weird alligator movie playing on the TVs you can’t see, you would wake up having lost the ability to stand up straight ever again–lucky you, odds of falling asleep are not high (besides, if you did fall asleep, you might be awakened by a styrofoam food container smacking you in the face compliments of the friendly serving staff from the other end of the bus).

Flecha bus Cama-Suite seat image

Amazingly, even less comfortable than it looks

At least we can get a lot of studying done: False.

This one was really a suprise… we had a fancy overhead panel with lights and stuff, but we were surprised to discover that, when turned on, the lights were only just bright enough to be able to see what time it was on your glow in the dark watch if you squinted. Seriously, the overhead lights were not even close to being bright enough to be able to read–given that 12-14 hours of this trip took place in the dark, that kind of sucked (at least there were movies…)

Flecha Bus light panel image

Yeah, these were useless

Well, at least we won’t freeze to death: False.

To be fair,  no one had actually told us that we wouldn’t freeze to death; I guess we just kind of assumed it and we all know what happens when we ASSUME…   but really, even with 2 blankets each and our heavy coats on, we were still freezing for most of the ride. Yay hypothermia!

Flecha bus bathroom image

In case you were wondering--the bathroom sucked too (by the way, never follow a bus... pretty sure this opens directly to the road... classy)

In Summary

I really hope that this is an aberation and we somehow ended up with a bad bus, because if this experience is in fact representative of high-end bus travel in Argentina, then I have no choice but to never again trust any of the people that recommended it–or alternatively assume that this is a standard hazing/prank that they play on new people (if so, well played)

And for anyone out there that may think this sounds picky or elitist or whatever, here is my thought–If I walked into this expecting a really crappy bus ride (similar to Greyhound in the US), then I would indeed be blown away by how nice it is, BUT… people here consistently say that despite the 10x longer travel time, this is a much more comfortable way to travel and that seems crazy to me. I can accept the idea that if you’re looking to save some money and willing to put up with 20 hours of discomfort this is a lower budget way to travel (though the margin isn’t that wide–I’d say this should cost more like $30), but to really make a quality/comfort comparison vs. flying is a little bit ridiculous (unless of course there are much better buses out there… if so, let us know!)

Very good odds we’ll be flying home.

Update: We have since heard from our guide here that everyone agrees that Flecha Bus sucks and that everyone seems to really like a different company called Andesmaar which apparently does have good food, comfortable seats, wifi, personal entertainment systems and maybe even pole dancers. Oh well, we’re still flying home (and not on Aerolineas Argentina)

Update: We have now heard that Andesmaar can be very bad as well.  Apparently it varies by route.

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Comments
  • Candice May 24, 2010 at 2:36 am

    I can only say Thank you for the honest review.
    I won’t ride a bus anyway- ( carsick) – but I won’t recommend this ..

    • ryan May 25, 2010 at 1:57 am

      Definitely stay away if you get carsick. I’ve never been car sick, but it was pretty iffy for awhile on this ride… especially when laying down.

  • Mel July 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    I’ve taken a ton of buses in South America, and it simply does not get better than Argetina. BUT, that is when their buses are being compared to the chicken buses that are so prevalent on the rest of the continent! Seriously, I think you got a bit of a bum deal. The cama buses that I took in Argentina were really good. Not awesome, you won’t wake up refreshed and you won’t have stellar service….but seriously really good…..and definitely better than 20 hours on any other bus in Latin America. However, if I had extra money, I would have spent it on a plane ticket.

  • Shon Starr November 10, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for the great review. There is a serious airport problem in EZE right now and connecting flights into Buenos Aires from other cities are getting cancelled. So I have to take Flecha Bus to guarantee I get to BA in time to make my connecting flight back to the US. I’m not really a bus person so I have no idea what to expect, but i’ll keep an open mind and see how it goes ::)

    • ryan November 15, 2010 at 3:13 pm

      Good luck, let us know how it goes :)

  • Keith November 19, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Too funny. Wish I’d read this earlier. I also took the Flecha Bus cama suite from Buenos Aires to Salta. Same experience as you. But what’s more, I found the “scenery around Santiago del Estero and Tucumán soul-blasting. Wow. FML. I’m also flying back to BA on LAN Argentina.

    • ryan November 29, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      Keith, Thanks for your comment! I’ve been enjoying your blog for quite awhile and it’s great to have you find ours.

      Completely agree on the scenery… not sure what all of the hype is about. How did you enjoy Salta once you got there?

      • Keith November 29, 2010 at 4:48 pm

        I’m still in Salta and enjoying it. Very tranquilo. I’ve been integrating with some of the local folks via CouchSurfing. I have a good grasp on the centro and San Lorenzo. All in all, very nice. Perhaps a touch too long though, a month.

  • GeeMann January 10, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    My wife and daughter took the Blechabus to Mendoza and back to BA last week. Likewise, we were “presented” with the breakfast and pre dinner (meals?), which consisted of the shrink wrapped collection of inedibles. Luckily we brought sandwiches along with us. The pre dinner offering was a one half sandwich of one micro slice of ham – yum! Dinner was a collection of hot roasted potatoes, that were really quite good, and some form of meat, but not sure what kind.
    The seating and leg room is fine for anyone under 5′ 8″ but for anyone taller you will have to contort your legs into numerous bendable positions so as to be able to sleep at night. My seat was directly behind my wife’s and daughter’s seats so I was able to insert my right leg in between the opening between their seats and hook my left foot into the curtain beside my daughter’s seat, kind of like a foot hammock.
    We were lucky enough to have a TV screen positioned on the ceiling just in front of us and we looked forward to some video entertainment. Once the first show ended (it ran in fast forward setting for the duration of the show) we were entertained by some Mexican show at full volume. It lasted for over an hour. Noise cancelling earphones worked well for me but my daughter and wife had to endure the noise. The bus did have WiFi so that helped us endure the ride.

    Now the kicker of the return trip was that we had pre-purchased the Cama seats, the ones that recline to 180°. We arrived at the Mendoza bus terminal one hour before departure to BA. We waited for our bus departure gate and time to be posted on the TV screen, waited until 5 minutes after the departure time thinking this was ok because all the buses arrive and depart about 15 minutes late. Finally, we went to the Blechabus office, showed them our tickets wondering why the departure time and gate was not posted on the TV screen. The company representative, behind the counter, pointed to the bottom of our tickets to show us that they were using an AndesMar bus and that the bus had already left. I looked at the bottom of the ticket and there in about a 6 point font, printed directly over some other typing, making the reading of the words almost unreadable, was indeed the name of the Andesmar bus that was to take us to BA.
    I asked if we could go on a later bus, the representative rudely threw his hands up in the air, said “no”, and left the counter area. At this time another representative came over to us, phoned their headquarters, explained the situation, and we were offered seats in the next departing bus.
    We arrived 12 hours later in BA, determined never to ride these buses again-next time we’ll fly!

  • Jaydee December 8, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I start my bus journey from lima, peru, via chile but as we are on the argentina part i will on mention the argentinian bus, I book a a bus ride from Salta to mendoza, the person at counter said no ecama but semi cama, so i said ok….no wine, no in flight movies, dinner eatable and the bus was leaking like a strainer as it was rain half of the way. The aircon was turn off half way through the journey so it was very warm!
    I thought probable i made the wrong choice, so on my journey from mendoza to buenos aires i went to andesmar counter and ask for cama but was offer semi cama again and i said ok but instead they said i will take the chavalier bus? So i guess they as couch sharing!! During the ride, we had movies however the tv connection was bad! So you will only see like half of the movies and to add up to the injury some passenger was play music on their phone out loud! The seat was really very uncomfortable..again there was no wine, entertaiment is nothing to shout about..food? Really it could be better..
    Would i do it again? Maybe..the experience was priceless

  • facundo January 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    empresa,via bariloche

  • Katie March 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Well, I did the opposite way. I went to Retiro from Salta. I bought a La veloz del norte’s ticket, and it was quite pleasant… As it could. I really got tired, I had only one stop in a restaurant, but the staff was very good. The trip is too long, but certainly you don’t sleep better in an executive class in an airplane. In my opinion you are complaining too much for someone who was going to travel by bus.

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