Colectivos: All I Needed to Know About Buenos Aires I Learned on the Colectivo*

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*Porteño slang for the city bus

guia.jpgThe bus system in Buenos Aires may seem like a labyrinth but with the help of a guide called the Guia T and with a few hints, any foreigner can conquer it and see the city from a completely new vantage point.

The primary tool needed by all colectivo riders, including locals, is the Guia T. This booklet comes in a convenient pocket size and contains the secrets of the hundreds of bus lines. It can be bought at most newspaper kiosks on the street for about three pesos. There are three main sections that, combined, help you find which bus to take, the exact street route, where to hop on, and changes in specific lines.

The first section is an alphabetical directory of all streets, divided into sections by the exact address on the street. Once you find the right street, follow the line of the correct address and it will have a page number and a grid combo, such as 14 1C. The next section is grid maps of the entire city. According to the previous example, you would go to page 14 and then find the quadrant 1 C. On each right hand page is the street map. On the left, there is a corresponding grid system that lists each bus that travels through each quadrant on the street map.

Buenos Aires Buses

Thanks for Colectivos to Tanoka

The next trick is to find a bus that matches both your destination and your departure location. Look around at nearby quadrants to find matches—it is not uncommon to walk a few blocks to the bus stop. To find out where to hop on and off, proceed to the next section, which is an index of the bus lines in numerical order. Each bus line is detailed and includes every street the bus runs on, allowing you to map out your route before getting on the bus.

Once you have found the right colectivo to take and where to get on, you have only won half the battle. To find the exact bus stop, go to the correct street and look for tall skinny poles or bus shelters that have numbers painted on them. The bus stops are orderly affairs where people form a line and stay organized, with occasional steps out into the street to peer into traffic with the hopes of sighting the oncoming bus.

When your bus number comes you’ve got to flag it down. Remember that the bus route numbers are on the front and side of the bus – the numbers on the back are not the route numbers! As the bus nears, try to make eye contact with the driver if at all possible. These are the most powerful men in Buenos Aires and they can blow by you if you don’t make your case for them to stop strong enough.

When the bus stops, wait your turn in line and as you approach the driver you have to say un peso and then put your peso coin in the ticket machine. Wait till your ticket prints out, then take a seat. Note: if you are traveling a very short distance (a few blocks) you can pay a lower fare of 90 centavos by informing the driver where you will get off the bus.

Whether paying a peso or 90 centavos, either way there is no change for peso coins so make sure you have monedas. At some of the bus depots such as Constitución or busy streets there are workers who will accept a two peso or 5 peso bill and give you change, but don’t bet on it. Keep a hold of your ticket, though 99% of the time you won’t need it, there is the occasional moment when someone boards the bus and checks the slips of paper. Also if the bus crashes, and you don’t have the ticket, you cannot claim insurance to the bus company, so it’s best to keep it.

Bus Colectivo inside Buenos Aires Argentina

Thanks for this picture to Sebastian-Dario

The rule for choosing a seat on the colectivo has been clearly established: pregnant women and women with babies always have first priority as well as elderly people. If you are sitting near the front of the colectivo and any of the previously mentioned people get on the bus and you don’t get out of your seat, you will be committing a social faux pas.

After getting through the hard part of decoding the bus system, the best part of riding the colectivo in Buenos Aires is being swept up in the tide of humanity of the city. Many tourists, who only visit Palermo, Recoleta, and Microcentro and who only take the subway, miss out on the full experience of the city. Besides, by taking the bus, one comes across beautiful and surprising spots. It’s also a great way to get to know the neighborhoods of the city and to see them change as the stops go by.

Buses run frequently from around 7 a.m. well into the early hours of the morning. It’s not uncommon to jump on a bus around 1 a.m. and find it packed with people. However, no one should wait alone for a bus after 12 a.m. If it is late in the night, the best way to change locations while solo or in a small group is to call a remis or radio-taxi service. They are quick to respond and safer than the taxis you can pick up on the street. Read more about transportation options here.

Finally, if you get completely lost or confused about where to get on or off the bus, most folks on the bus or on the street, who are waiting near a stop will likely be able to help you out. Also, the beat cops that walk the neighborhoods are often a good resource.

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The First 24 Hours on February 11, 09

[…] magazine stands, this is the best 6  pesos you will spend in your first few weeks here.  The pocket guide has detailed maps (one page per barrio) and uses a grid system to map the hundreds of buses in the […]

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