You just arrived in Buenos Aires, and are excited to explore this great cosmopolitan South American city with so many amazing things to see and do… But hey, wait! How to get around in Buenos Aires without burning all your pocket money on taxis?
If you are new to Buenos Aires but also a little bit confused about how to get around in the public transportation, look no further! Here’s your complete guide to SUBE, Subte, collectivos and trains in Buenos Aires!
1) Get your SUBE card!
First thing first! You will need a SUBE card to use the public transportation in Buenos Aires. SUBE stands for Sistema Único Boleto Electrónico or translated: Single Electronic Ticketing System. It is a blue magnetic plastic card on which you load pesos, and then use it as your ticket!
The greatest thing of them all is that the SUBE card works for all types of public transportation (buses, subway, trains) in the city! Though, mind that the SUBE card now is the only way to pay for transportation – no coins or notes are accepted. However, the SUBE card allows you a minus balance of 20 pesos.
The SUBE card can be bought and re-charged at the kioscos around Buenos Aires and at boletería (e.g. ticket office) at the subway stations, and costs around 30 pesos.
Some subway stations also got self-services machines for loading the SUBE. You just place your SUBE card in a little holder, press cargar saldo (e.g. load balance) and give the machine the amount of pesos you want to load. I usually load a 100-pesos-note which gets you a long way since prices are pretty low!
2) Find the nearest Subte – you will need it!
One of the easiest ways to get around Buenos Aires is with the city’s subway – or Subte, as it is called here (not to confuse with the SUBE – see above). There are six Subte lines running through the city, whereas the H-line is the newest (read more about its especial history here) and the A-line the oldest.
The Subte in Buenos Aires is the oldest subway system in Latin America and was founded in 1913. And well, the time has sat its mark on the coaches and the rails – and you can hear it too! The noise in the Subte can sometimes be almost unbearable. Nevertheless, it is easy to use and close to all main attractions of the city.
The Subte is generally hot, and in the summer months more like a sauna. On top of that, it gets really – like REALLY – crowded when rush hours hit. It is common to stand so close to one another that there is no risk falling over when the train stops.
At all possible and impossible times, you will have people trying to make a living in the Subte either by performing a little screenplay, singing a song or selling you a napkin or pencils. That said, pickpocketing is also very common, so keep an eye on your belongings – especially in the crowded rush hour.
How to use the Subte
The Subte in Buenos Aires is super easy to use, and if you are familiar with subway systems such as the one in London or New York. Before entering the platform, you scan your SUBE card against turnstile’s card reader, and… there you go! You can pass on to the platform.
Even if you combine with other Subte lines, you still only get charged one time. When combining with other lines, just follow the signs on the stations which leads you to the other line’s platform. Of course, remember to check out in which direction you need to go!
The Subte runs pretty frequently, and it is rare to wait more than 5 minutes. And while you are waiting, you can enjoy the free WIFI available at all the subte stations.
At night, the subte closes so from around 23.30 to 5.00 in the morning you will have to rely on the buses (more below) – or take a taxi or Uber! You can read a more detailed description of how to use the Subte here, just mind that their descriptions are a bit old.
Price for the Subte
No matter where you are going in the city with the Subte, the price of the ticket is always the same: 7,5 pesos (in the moment of writing – might change). That’s both whether you are just going two stops or need to cross the whole city with the Subte.
3) Buses – your help when the Subte doesn’t reach!
Colorful, noisy... but damn useful when you are going somewhere, where the Subte can’t take you. The busses in Buenos Aires, can be a little bit more challenging to use than the subte but they reach almost everywhere in the city.
The buses cover the city extensively in a complex (and at most times almost incomprehensive) net of 180 different bus lines. Each different line can be differentiated by their number and the color on the bus. The slang for 'bus' in Buenos Aires is collectivo or bondi, so these two are good words to know beforehand!
The colectivos run often, thus, forget about figuring out their schedule. They seem to arrive when they feel like it, and it is common to see two of the same bus running one after the other. On the other side, that way they are never late and always on time...Right?
However, the great thing is that most of the bus lines run during the night, even though with less frequency. Mind that if you have to change buses during your journey, you will need to pay the fare for each bus – unlike the Subte where you pay one fare no matter how many times you change lines.
How to use the buses in Buenos Aires
The first challenge when using the buses is to figure where the bus stop is. Even though it has improved quite a lot recently, some stops are still missing proper marking. Some stops are just small signs with a number on placed on a light post, while other stops have a little shed… While again, other stops don’t have any of those two features. If doubt, watch out for people standing in line!
The Porteños have a very polite habit of waiting for the bus in line! Respect that, and use it to help you when in doubt. If you are unsure whether a certain bus stops where you are, don’t be afraid to ask the people waiting in the line.
In rush hour and on the busy avenues, people will usually make one line for all the buses stopping at a stop. Then it is up to you to be alert when your bus is coming. Because if you are the only one in the line waiting for that bus, and you don’t stop it in time... Well, then the bus will just pass by you without stopping!
So, when your bus is coming, stick out the arm to indicate that you want to get on.
In the bus
When entering a bus, you need to tell the driver where you are getting off. It is common to tell the bus driver a specific place (for example, Plaza Italia or Barrio Chino) or the intersects of streets where you wish to get off. For example, if you are taking the bus 67 from Teatro Colon to Museo Nacional de Bella Artes, you can tell the driver “hasta Pueyrredón, for favor” which means that you are getting off where the bus crosses Avenida Pueyrredón. You might also be lucky, and just tell him “Plaza Francia”, and he will get which area you are heading to.
For example, if you are taking the bus 67 from Teatro Colon to Museo Nacional de Bella Artes, you can tell the driver “hasta Pueyrredón, for favor” which means that you are getting off where the bus crosses Avenida Pueyrredón. You might also be lucky, and just tell him “Plaza Francia”, and he will get which area you are heading to.
If you use one of the apps for public transportation (see below), these will usually tell you where you get off. Take a look at the map in the app to see which street is nearby the bus stop, and tell the driver the name of the street.
Keep in mind that stops are not announced, so it is a good idea to know where to get off or to use a GPS based offline map. Otherwise, in special occasions of nice and friendly bus drivers, you can ask them to let you know when you are nearby your destination.
You can also tell the driver the price. There are three different prices for the bus; $6.00, $6.25, $6.50 or $6.75, which depends on how far you are going.
The most common charge is $6.50 (seis con cincuenta), so if you request a ticket of that, you are more or less sure to be covered. It was common just a year ago to do like this. However, more and more bus drivers are starting to ask the directions, so you better be prepared for that question if you use the price-trick!
4) Know where you can get help
Wow, that was a lot of information! Luckily, there are several apps which can help you plan your journey in public transportation.
Google maps works quite well for public transportation in Buenos Aires and might be easiest for you if you are already used to it.
The local government of Buenos Aires has developed an app and an online map for public transportation in the city which is called “Cómo llego” (e.g. how do I arrive). You simply enter the addresses of where you are and where you want to go (just like Google Maps), and the system will tell you what to do. Check your Google Play or iStore for downloading it or use this map here. I honestly never became a big fan of this map since I found that it lacks user-friendliness. But maybe that’s just me…?
Recently, I found out about Moovit App which seems to be a good middle thing between Google Maps and Cómo Llego. I found Moovit more user-friendly than Cómo Llego but unfortunately, both of them are only in Spanish. So, if you are not so strong in Spanish, you might opt for using Google Maps.
5) A note on trains
In Buenos Aires, you will also encounter a net of blue trains crossing through the city at different points. These trains connect the city of Buenos Aires with parts of the province of Buenos Aires (remember not to confuse these two, right!?). Most of these train lines end at the Retiro station in the northern end of Avenida 9 de Julio.
For midtown activities, the trains are not of your interest. However, if you are interested in going to Tigre for a day trip, you will need to make yourself familiar with the train. Depending on where you live you can either make your way directly to Retiro by bus or Subte, and take the train to Tigre from there.
Otherwise, it is worth using one of the above-mentioned apps, and check whether you might be lucky to live near a train station which connects with Tigre.