Photo: author

Many expats take this route between Chile and Argentina to renew their visas.

DON’T VOMIT, keep your eyes on the horizon. This is what I tell myself as I take a doubledecker bus on the windy road from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina. There are 28 hairpin turns on the Chile side and most of the six hours of highway driving are enough to make my stomach lurch.

But on the other side of the Andes lies Argentina, Chile’s main país limitrofe (bordering country), and where travelers often go, either before or after Chile. Expats with 90-day visas who live in Santiago will also find themselves making this crossing every three months for a quick weekend trip to Mendoza to start the visa clock running again.

While you can fly to Mendoza, during the spring, summer, and fall, the bus ride is six hours of nonstop rolling mountains, scree, and sky and — at about US $26 one way — is far cheaper than flying. It was the giant skies and neverending peaks — not the subtitled version of “Training Day” blasting away on the bus TVs — that kept me entertained.

Though the driving is only about six hours, the wait at customs and immigration will add at least another hour to your journey, with long waits of up to four hours not unheard of on long weekends or — for the unfortunate — when busmates are trying to smuggle an Argentine ham or pirated DVDs across the border. During the wait you can have a snack, or join a busload of kids I recently saw sledding down the lower slopes of mountains with deep snow. Choose the left side of the bus from Santiago to Mendoza for a glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest peak between the two countries, visible shortly after crossing into Argentina.

Practicalities

Catch the bus from Terminal Alameda (metro stop Universidad de Santiago). Several companies do this route, both during the day and at night, and tickets start at around 13,000 CLP (~US $26) for a semi-cama (cheapest) seat, and 15,000 CLP (~US $30) for a cama seat, one way. The bus drops you at the Mendoza bus station, a 20-30min walk from the main plaza.

Try to get the front seat on the upper level of the bus for the best possible views. Don’t plan on taking the bus during the winter, as Paso Los Libertadores, the border station between the countries, is a high mountain pass and can close due to bad weather. May through August are particularly prone to closures. It’s slightly cheaper to travel from Mendoza to Santiago than vice versa.