If any bus ride can be forgiven for being stretched from seven hours to nearly eleven, it’s this one, linking Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, the Chilean capital.
Driving distance: 360 km
Duration: Seven to eleven (!) hours
Travel date: 17-Mar-2013
The trip is a fairly quick study in geographic contrasts, the most extreme of the five crossings I’ve now made between the two countries. Beginning along the sprawling vineyards that stretch west from Mendoza (746m above sea level), Argentina’s finest wine region, the road then gradually begins its ascent, first through a range of foothills before it begins to cut its way through the Andes. By the time you reach the border check point at the Los Libertadores Pass, the road has climbed to a peak height of 3,500m, or 11,483ft. You begin to recount how many times, if ever, you’ve been at a higher elevation.
Once you’re well into Los Libertadores (aka Cristo Redentor), you’re surrounded on all sides by peaks that stab the sky at 4,000m and beyond. You catch glimpses of Aconcagua, at 6,962m (22,837ft) the highest mountain on the planet outside of Asia. You watch nearly dry riverbeds and small waterfalls (it’s the beginning of autumn here) regularly interject themselves into the rocky landscape. You’re glad that the bus steward hasn’t interrupted the show that’s playing on your windows with a really bad movie.
As a train geek, I was captivated by the railroad tracks that run parallel with much of the two-lane highway. At times they appear well-maintained only to lead into a pile of broken boulders. Between the handful of small villages that dot the pass are dozens of abandoned and deteriorating structures once used to protect the tracks from wind, snow and ice. There exists a nostalgic harmony between the mountain landscape and the well-worn and rugged appearance of the old buildings.
The Chilean side is very different, with a very steep and slow descent down hairpin bends carved into the mountainside. Once the road levels a bit, it follows the Aconcagua River and its eponymous valley.
So, why the delay?
It was a Sunday, which made the busiest land crossing between the two countries even busier. Construction, which limited the hours cars and trucks could cross in either direction, further complicated matters. When our bus reached immigration and customs, there were eight other buses in front of us.
Both countries’ border formalities are taken care of in the same large building. First the Argentine exit stamp, then the Chilean entry, then customs. The latter requires bringing all of your luggage into the customs building, where, after a dog sniffs everything and everyone in the queue, your bags are sent through an x-ray machine. Some, such as mine, are also hand inspected as well.
Cost: I went with CATA; ticket price was 230 Argentine Pesos (45 USD / 35 EUR) for a semi-cama. A light lunch with a fizzy drink was served.
And finally, not that all the photos but one were taken through the bus windows which thankfully, were remarkably clean.