If you don’t have these two destinations on your Argentina travel itinerary, you’re going to be missing out. Here’s everything you need to know about how to get from Bariloche to El Calafate. Or visa versa, if you are travelling north from El Calafate to Bariloche.
There’s no other way to describe it, Argentina’s patagonia region is massive. And to get between Bariloche and El Calafate you’ll be crossing three huge provinces; Rio Negro, Chubut and Santa Cruz.
Bariloche to El Calafate
The best way to get there for you will come down to two things; cost and time. And there’s basically three routes; bus, plane or car. Here we’ll cover all three.
With information on distances, timings, how to buy tickets and why we wouldn’t recommend hiring a car.
El Calafate to Bariloche Flight
Without a doubt, the quickest way to get between El Calafate and Bariloche is to take a flight. There’s two large airports in both places and domestic airline Aerolineas Argentinas run direct, daily flights, in season, between the two. The flight time is just 1 hour 45 minutes.
There is also the option to fly via Buenos Aires, which may be slightly cheaper and your only option if travelling in winter. But depending on the length of layover this may not be worth it. But it’s always worth checking.
The Teniente Luis Candelaria International Airport is situated 13 km from Bariloche. There’s local city bus that leaves from a few places in Bariloche town centre. The cost is the same as the regular local buses and takes just over 30 minutes. Alternatively you can take a cab.
At the other end, El Calafate airport is located 22 km from the town centre. Unfortunately there isn’t a local bus (that we are aware of at least). So you’ll need to take a tourist shuttle bus, many are on route from nearby El Chalten to El Calafate.
You can book them easily in the airport on arrival. Or take a taxi of course.
How To Get To El Calafate By Car
Another option is to hire a car and drive down the famous Route 40 Patagonia which runs between Bariloche and El Calafate. Tracking the Andes Mountain Range and stretching the length of the country, ‘Ruta 40’ totals 5,000 km (3,107 miles).
But unless you’ve hired a camper van to explore Patagonia, in which case you will be self driving the route, this isn’t something we would necessarily recommend. And there’s a few reasons for that. First up, the road.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s safe enough. Aside from the police and army checkpoints you won’t have anyone bothering you. But unfortunately there are parts of ‘Ruta 40’ that are not in the best condition. Particularly in the southern part of the route, which you would be driving.
Route 40 Patagonia
Route 40 Argentina is also prone to flooding for a significant section between Bariloche and El Calafate. And when it does, it’s impassable. So make sure you check it’s a-okay for the time of the year you are travelling because the diversion is a long ass one (upwards of 4 hours).
The driving route from Bariloche to El Calafate is 1,429 km (888 miles) direct, which is around 16.5 hours driving time. Obviously that’s impossible for one person to do in one go, and still tiring for two people when you factor in you would have to sleep in the car on route.
And do bear in mind that to do it safely, you should take 15 minute breaks every two hours of driving and not drive more than 8 hours per day.
Having travelled down Route 40 Patagonia it would also be remiss of us not to highlight that it’s pretty damn boring. Because while pretty, it is just the same mile after mile. You’ll just be looking at a straight road splitting a barren landscape with the odd condor and guanaco herd for hours on end.
Not that we’re trying to put you off driving yourself when considering how to get to El Calafate. If it really is your preferred option go for it! We just want to give you all the facts.
Bus From Bariloche to El Calafate
If you’re on a budget, the cheapest way is to take a Bariloche to El Calafate bus. It’s an overnight journey and takes a minimum of 27 hours. I say minimum because as mentioned above, if Route 40 Argentina is flooded the diversion adds another good few hours on.
There’s only one service that we are aware of currently running a Bariloche to El Calafate bus and that’s a company called Marga (Taqsa). We used these buses a lot while travelling around Patagonia. They are comfortable, well maintained and provide drinks and snacks.
The price will vary depending on whether you opt to travel semi cama or full cama on the bus from Bariloche to El Calafate.
Cama or Semi Cama
Semi cama seats are upstairs, with rows of four separated in the middle by an aisle. There’s arm, leg, and footrests and your seat will recline to a 40 degree angle. When considering how to get to El Calafate, these are the cheapest seats.
Cama seats are downstairs and have three seats in a row, two next to each other and the third separated by the aisle. So there’s more space and the seats recline further to a 55 degree angle.
We generally travel semi cama because it’s cheaper and we’re get short so always find we have enough room. But, if you’re quite tall or travelling solo and not keen on sleeping next to someone, a cama seat on the bus from Bariloche to El Calafate might be better for you.
Please note that you’ll have to print your tickets off before boarding the bus from El Calafate to Bariloche or visa versa.
This really isn’t a drama though, there’s of plenty of printing shops in both Bariloche and El Calafate. Your hostel or hotel will also probably do it for you.
Bariloche Bus Station
The bus from Bariloche to El Calafate that we took left early. 6.30am early. So plan ahead for how you’re going to get from where you are staying to the Bariloche Terminal on time. We jumped on the number 20 bus from centro at 5:45am to get there just before 6am.
The next bus wasn’t until 7am, so if we’d missed it the only other way would have been to get a cab. Make sure you have an up to date bus timetable. You can get them from the Bariloche Tourism Office on the main square.
Oh and that your Sube card needed to take buses in Bariloche has enough credit. No one wants to be dealing with that so early on a morning.
Plus take some cash for a cab as a backup. We had lots of buses in Bariloche just drive past us because they were full. However, they were at peak times so you shouldn’t have that issue so early in the day.
Patagonia Long Distance Travel Tips
We genuinely enjoyed our long distance bus journeys in Patagonia. They were adventures in themselves. But we were also well prepared. The last thing you want is for your bus from El Calafate to Bariloche to be a borefest.
Or worse, for you to be starvin’ Marvin.
Here’s some handy tips for your overnight bus journey from Bariloche to El Calafate:
Entertainment prep. Some buses might have films showing. Some might even have wifi. However neither are guaranteed. So get a few films, spotify playlists and podcasts downloaded. And a good book on your kindle. 27 hours is a long time to be bored.
Water and snacks. There should be cold and hot water on board and you’ll get some food – read snacks. And there may be the odd stop to pick up food, but also maybe not. So plan ahead for what you’re going to eat on route from El Calafate to Bariloche or visa versa.
Pack a battery charger. Most long distance buses in Argentina have USB ports, some even have plug sockets. However, more often than not they are broken or at best are crazy slow at charging devices. Don’t get caught out with empty batteries on route, take a portable charge pack.
Take layers onboard. If you’re lucky you might get a blanket and pillow provided. But don’t bank on it. The temps on the overnight buses we took in Patagonia were extreme, either heaters burning your feet off or the aircon blasting freezing cold air. Don’t forget a travel pillow.
Take earplugs. From blaring on-board entertainment systems to passengers talking at the tops of their voices, earplugs are always a good shout to block out noise annoyance. Also consider a sleep mask to prevent being disturbed with the lights come on at each stop.
Don’t forget your toothbrush. Or at the very least a splash of mouthwash. Hopefully we don’t need to explain this overnight Bariloche to El Calafate bus tip.
Look after your baggage ticket. When you check your big backpack or suitcase onto the bus, you won’t have access it during the journey. The baggage handler will give you a ticket when it’s loaded on. Keep it safe because you’ll need it to get your bag at the other end.
Have change to hand. The baggage handlers are not employed by the Bariloche or El Calafate bus stations, so rely on tips. It’s custom and expected. If you are going to be so tight as to not hand over $20 pesos or so, be prepared for an argument.
Keep valuables with you. There are a few stops on the route between Bariloche to El Calafate bus stations. Some to just quickly pick people up, others where you have an option to get off briefly and others where it’s compulsory to get off while the bus refuels for safety.
Never leave anything behind on the bus that you’d be upset about going missing. We didn’t witness any thefts on this particular route, but have seen it so many times on other buses. Passports. Cash. Electronic devices. Don’t leave them unattended.
Have a padlock handy. Same goes for while you’re asleep. We always take the precaution to attach our bags to each other or the seat while sleeping so they’re not easily swiped. You never know who is around you so better to err on the side of caution. These are great.
Have your passport to hand. It’s somewhat alarming the first time the police or army board a bus you are on. But it’s completely normal practice for all kinds of vehicles to be pulled over for roadside checks in Argentina. It’s usually just quick look around and ID check.
Where To Stay In El Calafate
The town is a decent size so you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to choosing where to stay in El Calafate. We stayed in a gorgeous little place called Hostel Kooch. The staff were super helpful, the facilities were top notch and it was close to everything we needed.
Patagonia Travel Insurance
An adventurers paradise, if you’re travelling around Argentina’s Patagonia there’s one thing for sure, you need to make sure you have some good travel insurance in place.
Our go to provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy wording & have a whole host of activities automatically included as standard.
Get a quick no obligation quote here: