The first in Latin America, Buenos Aires’ underground railway, or subte (short for subterráneo, or underground), was also one of the first in the world to be privatized: the network was taken over by Metrovías in 1994. It’s a reasonably efficient system – you shouldn’t have to wait more than a couple of minutes during peak periods – and certainly the quickest way to get from the center to points such as Caballito, Plaza Italia or Chacarita. The main flaw in the subte’s design is that it’s shaped like a fork, meaning that journeys across town involve going down one “prong” and changing at least once before heading back up to your final destination. It can also become almost unbearably hot during summer, when the ventilation system expels blasts of sticky air at seemingly several degrees above the already steaming surroundings.
Using the subte is a pretty straightforward business. There are five lines, plus a so-called “premetro” system which serves the far southwestern corner of the city, linking up with the subte at the Plaza de los Virreyes, at the end of line E. Lines A, B, D and E run from the city center outwards, whilst line C, which runs between Retiro and Constitución, connects them all. Check the name of the last station on the line you are traveling on in order to make sure you’re heading in the right direction; note also that directions to station platforms are given by this final destination. You need to buy tokens (fichas) to use the subte; these cost $0.70 and are bought from the boleterías or ticket booths at each station – you don’t need to have the right change to buy them. Unfortunately, the only thing you will save by buying fichas in bulk is your time, and there are no special deals for weekly or monthly travel.
Even if you use the subte only once during your stay in Buenos Aires, you really shouldn’t miss the chance to travel on Line A, which runs between Plaza de Mayo and Caballito. It’s the only line to preserve the network’s original carriages, and traveling in one of the rickety and elegantly lit wood-framed interiors is like being propelled along in an antique wardrobe.
Peak hours excepted, Buenos Aires’ buses are one of the most useful ways of getting around the city – and indeed the only way of reaching many of the outlying barrios. The most daunting thing about them, from a newcomer’s point of view, is the sheer number of routes – almost two hundred bus routes wend their way around the capital’s vast grid of streets. Invest in a combined street and bus-route map, however, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble. There’s a $0.60 fare for very short journeys; all other trips within the city cost $0.70. Tickets are acquired from a machine, which gives change for coins, though not for notes: as you get on you need to state your fare to the driver before inserting your money in the ticket machine. Once in Gran Buenos Aires, fares increase slightly – so if you’re traveling beyond the city boundaries (to San Isidro, for example, or Ezeiza) it is easier just to state your destination. Despite sporadic traffic accidents involving colectivos, the bus system is a generally safe way of getting around the city – though, as always, keep your eyes on your belongings when buses are crowded. Many services run all night, notably the #5 and the #86. Argentineans are generally very courteous bus passengers and never hesitate in giving up their seat to someone who looks like they need it more – don’t be shy of doing the same.
Taxis and Remises
All taxis in Buenos Aires city are black and have yellow tops. An unoccupied one will have a small, red libre sign on the left-hand side of its windshield. When hailing a taxi on the street make sure it says radio taxi and that you see a CB antenna attached to the hood. Radio taxis are part of licensed fleets and are in constant contact with dispatchers; non-licensed cabs are occasionally driven by unscrupulous men looking to rip off foreigners; avoid them. If you telephone for a taxi, you’ll have to wait a few minutes, but you can be sure of its origin and safety. Legally, all taxis are supposed to have working seatbelts, but this isn’t always the case. Meters start at 1.98 pesos and charge 22¢ per ¼ km (1/8 mi); you’ll also end up paying for standing time spent at a light or in a traffic jam. From the central downtown area, it will cost you around 6 pesos to Recoleta, 5 pesos to San Telmo, 9 pesos to Palermo, and 11 pesos to Belgrano. Drivers don’t expect tips; if you round up to the next peso and pay that fare, most drivers will be thrilled.
Remises are radio cabs, plain cars booked through an office (and therefore preferred by wary locals). Though not particularly economical for short journeys, they’re cheaper than taxis for getting to the airport and you may prefer to book one for early-morning starts to either the bus terminal or Aeroparque.