Coming from a far away land where cars are the primary form of transportation, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that public transportation in Buenos Aires is the main form of getting around the city. As I was studying intensive Spanish Buenos Aires,I realized it is a relief to not worry about gas, parking, and driving in general. Of course I do miss the perks of having my own car and getting places quickly, but I also feel more free without the burden of cars. Although there is an extremely useful and extensive public bus system in Buenos Aires, most newcomers will most likely fall back on using the subway as it is a bit less intimidating to use, so it is always good to get some general information about if if you are planning on coming to Argentina. While there is a lot of information that is valuable that I learned in my intensive Spanish language program, there is still a lot that can be said about the subte which will make things even more clear!
The subway system in Buenos Aires is surprisingly efficient. The subway cars come every few minutes, they get you to where you are going quickly, it is simple to use and it is cheap. For these reasons it is the public transportation of choice by most foreigners and Argentines alike (take that, public bus system!).
Since each line was constructed at a different period, commuters will find a variety of “looks” to each one from the antique subway cars on the A line, which has the oldest commercial cars in the world, to the H line, which is all new and shiny.
The system is continuously growing, adding new lines and extending existing ones. This process is a bit slow, but progess is being made to add the lines G, I and F and extend the lines A, B, E and H. To give you an idea of the plans, here is a picture of what the subway system is supposed to look like in 2015:
Will this happen in time? Definitely not, but it is nice to see that there are plans to make this great form of transportation more convenient and available to more people in the city.
To help those who are new to Buenos Aires, we have put together a list of key vocabulary and guidelines for a successful ride.
Spanish Subway Vocabulary
Subte – Subway
A term specific to Buenos Aires.
Estación – Station
(Un) viaje – (One) trip
If you buy a subte card you can by 1, 2, 5 or 10 trips together.
Línea – Line, referring to the subway line
There are currently 6 lines that run throughout the city.
Combinación – Combination
As in riding one line and changing to another.
Interupido – Interrupted
They say that repetition is the best way to learn a new word, so do not be surprised if this is the first vocab word you pick up in BA, as you will hear this spoken over the loudspeakers when service is “interrupted”, a frequent occurance.
Con demora – With Delay
Another common term you might hear often.
Hora pico – Rush hour
See description below.
If you are looking for more, check out our Expanish Spanish School Spanish Crash Course on Wednesday that goes over travelling in Spanish and it touches on public transportation in Buenos Aires.
Guidelines and Tips For a Successful Subte Ride
Hora Pico – Be aware of when hora pico, or rush hour, occurs on the subte. In the morning, rush hour is around 8-10 am, and in the evening, around 5-8 pm. If possible, try to take the subte outside of these hours. If your school or work schedule doesn’t allow this, prepare for the real Argentine experience, as you watch porteños continuously defying the time/space continuum as they human Jenga and kung-fu panda their way onto the crowded subte.
Know the Subte Layout: Knowing where the better spots are on the subte is especially important to know during hora pico (see above). To get on a less crowded section of the subte, try to get on the section that is more towards the end of the actual train, as more people tend to board in the middle sections. If you can’t get a seat on the train, try to get a standing spot in front of the people that are sitting – not only does this allow you to avoid all the aggressive porteños Lion King stampeding their way onto the subte, but you are also in prime position to get a seat once the people sitting down get off the subte.
Dress For Success – Knowing exactly how to dress on the subte can mean the difference between fainting a la Marie Osmond on Dancing With The Stars, and well…not fainting a la Marie Osmond on Dancing With The Stars. Buenos Aires is known for its humidity in the summer, so try to wear light and breathable clothing, i.e. stay away from the cotton.
The winter is a little more complicated, as although it is cold outside, in the actual subte, the combination of the lack of fans and the fire-hazard-defying amount of people packed into the subway means that you feel like you’re trapped in a sauna…in the middle of Death Valley. So how do you manage to overcome the obstacle of reconciling these warring climates? Dress in layers – wear that long sleeve shirt with your comfy winter coat. While you’re on the subte, take off your coat, and when you get off at your station, put that warm extra layer back on. It takes some trial and error to figure out the perfect Not Too Hot / Not Too Cold combo, but with a little practice, you can succeed!
Know the Phrase, Bajás? – This is one of the most useful phrases you will be armed with when navigating the public transportation system in Buenos Aires. Bajás essentially means, “Are you getting off (at this station)?” but really is more of a passive aggressive way to let the mountains of people in front of you know that if they are not getting off at that stop, then they need to get the frack out of the way PRONTO. Try it sometime, it works wonders.
Don’t Eat on the Subte – As starving as you are, don’t eat in the subte, because it’s against the rules, and even worse, porteños will give you huge caras de culo to display their disapproval. Once, in the middle of just another insoportable summer, I saw a brave woman gorging into her petri dish (yogurt) on the subway, so I applaud her ability to defy social convention. but I do not recommend it. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t exactly followed this rule 100% because I’m a huge gordita, but try as much as you can not to stuff your face in potato chips until after you get off the subway.
Be A Good Samaritan – The upside of the machista undertones of Argentine culture is that older and pregnant women get treated like queens – and if you’re an old AND pregnant woman (I’m talking to you OctoMom), congratulations, you’ve just reached the peak of the public transportation hierarchy. This means you’ll see lots of caballeros (and reluctant women that aren’t old and/or pregnant…cough cough myself) get up from their seats so that these lucky ladies can sit down.
So, if you find yourself in a situation where someone who fits this category asks you to get up for them, don’t go all Snooki Jersey Shore on them – as painful it is to relinquish your throne, it’s part of the rules, and plus, it generates good karma.
Extra Tip: If you are unfortunately not old or pregnant, do not lose hope, there is still a way to get a seat on the train! How, you may ask? Pull the injury card. A few months ago I sprained my ankle, and I found that hobbling around on the subte also did the trick. Let’s just say I may or may not have pretended to hobble around for a few extra days, even after I was 100% healed…