We had hitchhiked before but this was our first cross-country experience and it turns out it was an attempt worthy to write about.
Overall and easy day of travel, we met some interesting and fun people along the way including Andrés, who invited us as his guests to his winery in Mendoza, our destination.
From Santiago to Mendoza By Bus:
There are frequent bus services which run between Chile’s capital Santiago and Argentina’s wine region, Mendoza. A popular route, the incredible windy drive through the Andes provides for some outstanding scenic views, and therefore a highly enjoyable and somewhat entertaining journey.
It takes approximately 7 hours in total, an average of 5 hours driving and 2 hours queuing. This border crossing is one of the busiest we’ve encountered throughout South America.
Bus services start at the reasonable hour of 8am and runs until 10pm. There are companies such as Andes, Turbus, Cata Internacional etc. where you can prebook a seat for around $33,000 (€45) online.
However, when we popped by the Terminal at midday, there were cheaper services in both the afternoon and night starting at $22,000 (€30) so if you are adamant on taking a bus for cheap, head down early and haggle.
How To Get There
The first step is to get to Terminal de Sur, so you will need to take Metro or bus to Universidad de Chile. Exit towards the Terminal de Bus sign (you will walk through a terminal for Turbus and Pullmans, keep going and walk out onto Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins. In less than 300 metres on the left hand side is the Terminal de Sur. You are looking for the international bus services, should you get a little lost and need the help of a local. There is an information desk as you enter to ask for help.
Like we said, prices for busses direct to Mendoza start around $33,000 online and $22,000 in person. Both being the cheapest we found, however this was peak holiday season (January 2018).
We decided we’d take a risk at seeing if there was a cheaper to travel onward to Argentina. Paying nearly €100 for a 7 hour journey wasn’t of huge interest, especially since Bolivia’s cheap bus prices were still etched in our minds. Ah, I remember the good ole days of paying €6 for a 18+ hour bus ride.
Having hitchhiked our way around Chile, and hearing plenty of successful hitches to Mendoza, we thought to take advantage of the busy holiday season and thumb our way there. Thankfully, it worked. And it was a lot of fun.
Hitchhiking From Santiago to Mendoza:
Outside the bus station, near the small market stalls, we found some cardboard and grabbed a marker from the nearby papelería. The marker being a huge investment, although we didn’t know that at the time.
We definitely suggest making a sign as this helped us a lot. Write “Frontera” in large visible letters with (Mendoza) written underneath. A sign doubles your chances of a lift.
Where To Start?
The best place to start the polite begging is at the Autopista Vespucio Norte. Majority of cars passing here are heading towards the Autopista Los Libertadores, the highway that leads all the way to the border.
Take a metro to Vespucio Norte, the last stop on the orange line. Exit the station via the Avenida Principal exit and cross over the highway bridge towards the Shell petrol station.
Not only is there a small fast food shack at the bottom of the steps selling delicious empanadas for $600-800 but this is also the starting point to start thumbing it.
Walk pass the garage and stay straight on this path. It’s perfectly safe to walk and you should notice lots of car sellers and industrial estates on your right. As you walk, hold up your sign. The traffic will be coming from behind you so make sure it’s held up high.
Walk as far as the main junction which is a 20 minute walk straight up the busy road. Here you have a huge chance of being picked up.
In saying that, after only 10 minutes of waiting (no joke!) we were lucky to be given a lift by an extremely sweet couple called Karen and Alfonso. They were heading to Los Andes, and dropped us at an intersection, two hours from the Argentina Chile border.
Again, with our cardboard sign in hand, within 30 minutes were picked up by Isabella and her son Franco who brought us all the way to the border.
We departed ways, and the best part about walking into a traffic-heavy border is that we easily skipped the large and long queues. On average, it takes 2 hours to make it through the border via car or bus so this was a very nice pro.
Even if the kind folk who have picked you up are heading to your Argentinian destination, it is easier and faster to cross the border by foot to then hitch again.
Crossing The Border on Foot:
Once at the Chile Argentina border, follow the traffic and walk into the long tunnel, find an immigration booth, skip ahead of a car and flash the passport and visa receipt that you were given upon arrival into Chile.
Place and open your bags on the high metal table near the immigration booth for a quick search and you’re good to go.
Following the flow of traffic, walk out towards the road and take a moment to soak in a pretty awesome view of The Andes, rainbow rocks and incredible light as well as casted shadow. Even though the drive itself is beautiful, it was the initial view that really took us a moment to realise we were officially in Argentina.
Just at the immigration exit, the start of the long winding road, on the left hand side is a hard shoulder and a good place for pick up.
If you can update your sign, do. We originally had written “Frontera” on one side and “Mendoza” on the other. So it might not be a bad idea to prepare.
Yet again no more than 10 minutes and we were picked up by the kind gentleman Andrés in his comfortable 4×4 and we made it safely to Mendoza.
Overall, for the price of a Metro ticket, we travelled over 360km without any worries, stresses or further costs. Our first border crossing by hitching, we started such an entertaining journey at 2.30pm and arrived into Mendoza at 9.30pm.
A thoroughly enjoyable experience and one definitely worth considering, especially if those €30-€50 bus tickets are not pleasing your pocket.
As always… stay safe! Although there is a fantastic hitchhiking culture here, it’s important to go with your gut and be mindful.