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The first odd thing you’ll notice about buses in Buenos Aires is that they aren’t actually buses. They look like buses (particularly battered and colorful buses at that), they sound like buses (albeit extremely noisy buses) and they act like buses (they get you from A to B). In actual fact, the thing you see hurtling down Maípu as you make your way towards your Spanish classes at Expanish Spanish School every morning, are actually Colectivos. In reality, Colectivos are the Argentine equivalent of buses and they transport thousands of Porteños around the city each day. Navigating the narrow streets of Microcentre, the 24 lanes that make up 9 de Julio, the roundabouts of Av Libertador whilst trying to avoid the various manifestaciones that take place every day around Buenos Aires.

Despite their many faults, which include, Confusing Guia T (Colectivo maps, that are confusing at first glance but actually highly functional…more on this later), Strangely located bus stops, Irregular services, a frustrating payment system and difficult drivers (not always rude, but don’t expect them to offer advice on where to get off), Colectivos can be a fantastic way of exploring, navigating and generally getting to know the city.

So to help you out, here is Expanish Blog’s beginners guide to using Buenos Aires expansive network of Colectivos:

1. Buy a Guia T And keep it on you at all times

The Guia T is the bible of the Colectivo*. It contains pages of maps making up all the of routes in central Buenos Aires. Confusing at first glance, once you get your head around the grid system, it will all become clear (clear-ish anway. Be aware that routes do change fairly regularly). Wander Argentina provides a good Guia T user guide

2. Carry cambio with you at all times

Anyone who has been in Buenos Aires for more than a few days will know there is a change shortage in the city. This is partly due to the colectivo, and the fact that each journey is bought using their on-board ticket machines, that only accept change (unless you can find yourself an elusive new monedero payment card, in which case, well done. No more need for cambio!). BA Landing Pad has some great tips on Colectivo etiquette!

3. Get toKnow Your Local Route Numbers

There are hundreds of colectivo lines that snake in and around the city. Expanish blog’s advice would be to get to know the key routes that go through your neighbourhood, (and near to Expanish Spanish School if you study there!). You can do this by wandering down the road and taking note of the numbers on the bus stops. This way, when you’re at the other end of town, trying to get home, you can spot the colectivo you need!

4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask

So you’ve used your Guia T to locate the block that your Colectivo will be running through. The next step is to find the exact road that it travels through (note that due to BsAs one way systems, return routes of Colectivos are often totally different to their outbound routes). Take it from Expanish blog, searching for the right road can sometimes take a while. Sometimes it’s easier to bite the bullet and ask a local (good for the Spanish practice too).

5. Dont dismiss the Trees and Lampposts

You’ve found the road that the colectivo travels down. Now you need to find the stop. Its not uncommon for there to be more than one stop, each allocated to one or more colectivos (dont expect the colectivo to stop if you have made the fatal error of standing at the wrong stop, two meters away). Make sure you are vigilant when searching for the right one. Check all the trees and lamposts on the road, as they often double up as colectivo stops, with numbers pasted onto them.

6. Learn how to Say  ‘Uno veinticinco’

Fares range from between $1,10 to $1,25. But $1,10 only gets you a few blocks, so Expanish Blog finds it easier just to go for $1,25 every time. As soon as you get on board your chosen Collectivo, you will tell the driver the price you want to pay. He will then key it into his system and you can pay using the coin machine to the rear of his seat

7. Grab a Seat if you can

The nature of the drivers and the Colectivos themselves often make for a bumpy, disorientating ride. Taking a seat is advisable if you don’t want to end up on the floor, or sprawled across the small child next to you.

8. Relax and Enjoy the Ride

Once your seated and sure you have caught the right number colectivo…Sit back, relax and watch the sites of Buenos Aires fly by. Practice your Spanish by listening to the noisy couple conversing next to you and most importantly, keep track of where you are so you don’t miss your stop!

*Anyone with an Iphone or Ipod Touch can supplement their Guia T with a brand new and very useful Iphone App called miTinerario, a handy little automated route finder that will help you avoid points 4 and 5.