Surviving Marathon Bus Rides in Latin America: What to Do

Larry M. Lynch

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The wrath of Zeus shot in bolts through my back. My spine was becoming my worst enemy. My lower legs and feet were gone. I reached a tingling limb upwards from my steamy shroud to wipe moisture from my chin and cheeks. Where was it coming from, I wondered. Then I realized - it was my own tears. A faint green glow from luminous hands told me, only six more hours to go.

Test of Endurance

Throughout Latin America, from Mexico to Chile and Argentina, a close-up travelogue will almost unavoidably bring you to a bus ride painfully exceeding eight to nine hours. There are numerous routes exceeding 15 or even twenty hours of spine-pounding roadway grind from Panama through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and beyond. Even a seemingly shorter trip of a mere four to five hours can balloon into a test of endurance if the route encounters a traffic accident, landslide, fallen tree, creek overflow or vehicle breakdown. Your bus may even have breakdown or a flat tire. Be prepared.

Such travel treks need not be torture though. With a bit of planning and a few helpful items in your repertoire, you can brave the lengthiest routes in relative ease and comfort. Make your sojourn through the Sierra Nevadas, the Tierra del Fuego, across the Pampas or the Andes, a far more memorable and interesting one by heeding these tips.

What can you do to ease the drone of hundreds of kilometers passing beneath the wheels of even the most modern and luxurious buses?


A time-tested standby, reading the miles away is a great way to pass those seemingly endless hours. Pick up local newspapers and magazines – they’re cheap, if you read Spanish. At rest stops, terminals and the occasional vendor boarding your bus are available sources. When you’ve finished all you have on hand, swap out some with a fellow passenger to get a bit more mileage – reading mileage that is. If you can, pick up several second-hand paperbacks (in English) at used book shops in places like Quito, Panama City, Lima, Buenos Aires or Mexico City. I carry a small cloth tote bag to stuff half a dozen tomes, newspapers and rags into. It’s kept me sane and informed.


Extensive trav el almost always affords you opportunity to log your travels. Keep a trip diary. Note details of other passengers, signs, sights and events during the trip. Record your thoughts, reflections and opinions. Why not draft an article or two in the process? Passages for travelogues, guidebooks and magazine fillers can flow easily from your pen while “on location". Chats with interesting passengers and other “characters" you’ll meet during your trip will make great reading later and help fuel countless stories and anecdotes once you’re back home. It’s useful to carry a penlight or small flashlight for late-night reading during the trip too. It’ll have many uses.

Fill Your Life with News and Music

Be sure to carry either a small, portable AM / FM radio or an iPod, MP3 music player or memory stick with earphones during your travels. They’re compact, weigh next to nothing and require no “extra" equipment or attachments. You can keep up with the news and pick up stimulating tidbits from locally broadcast stations. Work on your Spanish (or Brazilian Portuguese) a bit too in the process. There will be lots of local banter, names, expressions, geography and a “palabrota" or two in the process to add more grist to your travel mill.

Don’t let your Latin American travel adventure become a nightmare. Use these tips and a bit of planning to smooth out the pains and boredom of a marathon bus trip. Turn possible migraines into pleasant memories. Be sure to read the companion article, “Surviving Marathon Bus Rides in Latin America: Useful Items" Now start packing your bags.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an ELT Teacher Trainer, English language learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. He has published more than 350 articles and academic papers and presented at numerous EFL teacher training and TEFL conferences throughout North America, South America and Europe. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail:


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