Travelling around Uruguay by bus: What you need to know

Uruguay has comfortable, frequent, reasonably-priced long-distance bus services and a centralised website collecting all the buses in and out of Montevideo makes it easy to consult timetables, find out how long journeys take and check ticket prices even if you don’t speak Spanish with a little help from this Guru’guay guide.

1. Where to find the times of buses in and out of Montevideo

Visit the Tres Cruces website for all buses into and out of Montevideo. You’ll see this site where you choose your departure point and your destination:

How to read the bus timetables in Montevideo
Click the image to go to the Tres Cruces website when you’re feeling ready!

After you’ve selected your starting point and destination a timetable will automatically open below containing all the information you need to be able to find out departure times, bus company, ticket price, journey duration, etc. You’ll need some basic Spanish listed below.

To find out bus ticket prices click on the “i” symbol in the Dist./precio column.

Essential vocabulary for deciphering your bus timetable:

Horario = Timetable
Hora = Time or hour
Destino = Destination
Empresa = Company (click the name in this column to get the company’s office phone number)
Duración = Duration of journey
Frecuencia = Frequency
Diario = Daily (as in daily services)
Dist./precio = Distance and ticket price (click the “i” symbol to see bus ticket prices)

The days of the week are, from Monday on, lunes, martes, miercoles, jueves, viernes, sabado, domingo and are abbreviated on the website to L, MA, MI, J, V, S, D.

2. Picking the shortest routes

Uruguay is a large country by European standards and bus journeys typically last several hours.

tipIf you are short of time, do yourself a favour and pay attention to the “duración” column where you can choose the shortest journey time.

Unless you love long bus rides which stop at every god-forsaken village on your route – these are known locally as the “lecheros”. This means your journey is being likened to the route a milk truck takes.

For instance almost all the buses from Colonia to Montevideo take almost three hours however if you check the timetable carefully you’ll see that there is one bus that leaves Colonia at 4.30pm that takes just two hours ten minutes to get to Montevideo. That’s your bus!

Note: Going to Punta del Este? The fastest route takes two hours. On the website, the destination you are looking for is “Pta del Este”, not “P. Del Este R-8” or “P. Del Este R-8”. These are lecheros.

Bridge between Punta del Este and La Barra
Bridge between Punta del Este and La Barra. By Rodrigo Soldon

3. How to book your seat in advance

Sadly it’s not currently possible to book seats online, however the good news is that buses to most destinations are frequent and so you don’t usually need to book in advance.

But why waste precious holiday time at the bus station, right? So how can you book without rolling up to the station?

If you speak Spanish or have someone who can help you, save yourself time and book seats by phone.

Be ready to give your name and sometimes a passport number when you book. If you are in a group make a group reservation in the name of the person who has the shortest, most easy-to-spell last name. You’ll be grateful you did when they actually find your reservation in their database with the correct spelling.

On the website you can find bus company phone numbers by clicking on name of the bus company in the “empresa” column.

tipMost companies will reserve your tickets for you until 30 minutes before departure – and without taking a deposit.

This does not apply over Christmas and New Year when you will definitely need to buy your ticket at least 24 hours before travel.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

  • Long distance buses accept standing passengers. Avoid this nightmare form of travel during high season by buying your ticket in advance, rather than just turning up at the station.
  • Buses to most destinations are fairly frequent, so booking in advance is convenient but not essential other than on public holidays particularly Christmas and New Year, the week of Carnival and Easter (known in Uruguay as Tourism Week, but that’s another story).

More reading about the comforts of bus travel in Uruguay and getting from Colonia to Montevideo.

Photo: Rodrigo Soldon on Flickr

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