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Travelling around Uruguay by bus: What you need to know

Bridge between Punta del Este and La Barra

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

Some companies have websites allowing you to book seats online. Be prepared that they are in Spanish. 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

[This article was originally published on Jan 18, 2014 and was last updated on the date above]

25 Comments

  1. Shari B.

    March 28, 2017

    Is it possible to do this? Bus from Colonia Del Sacramento to Atlantida? My thought process is to go from Montevideo to Colonia, stay a bit, then go to Atlantida and later Punta Del Diablo and then back to Carrasco Airport. This is over the course of 12 days. I know it’s a lot of bus rides but am trying to scope out the country in a short amount of time. Kindly advise.

    Also, different question – do most hotels in Uruguay allow folks to leave their luggage in the facility later than the checkout time? Because most places have 11 a.m. checkout but my flight doesn’t leave until 8:15 p.m. from Carrasco!

    Thanks!!

    Reply
  2. Shari

    March 27, 2017

    Sorry for the repost but I realized that I didn’t check notifications! Thanks!

    Could you please give me a ballpark idea of bus ticket prices? For example, I was thinking of going from Montevideo to Atlantida then Punta Del Diablo. Then all the way back through to Colonia del Sacramento for one day and then to the Carrasco Airport. This is over the course of 12 days. Am I looking at crazy expensive transportation costs?

    Reply
  3. […] There are five buses each day to Valentines from the central terminal in Montevideo, Tres Cruces. Check out the bus timetable for buses to Cerro Chato. Most bus drivers know the estancia and will know where to drop you off on […]

    Reply
  4. Margaret Hartman

    March 11, 2017

    We are 3 (two adults and a child) – we are planning on taking a bus from Montevideo to Mal Abrigo. From there, we need to get to Colonia to catch the ferry to BA. Do you recommend doing this by bus, car service or taxi? We are trying to be efficient with our time. As we are going to be at an Estancia, it doesn’t make economic sense to rent a car for 3 days as we will not be using it while at the Estancia. We are trying to find our transport options and am having trouble figuring out the trip from ‘small town’ to Colonia. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

    Thank you.
    Margaret

    Reply
    • The Guru of Guru'Guay

      March 13, 2017

      Hi Margaret, I assume you are staying at an estancia. They will be able to help you better than I can. Ask them about the best way to get from the estancia to Colonia. I assume taxi will be very expensive and that it is possible by bus. They will be able to tell you how to do it without having to go back to Montevideo. All the best, Karen.

      PS Anyone looking for estancia recommendations should check out the new Guru’Guay section on estancias.

      Reply
  5. Manuela

    January 10, 2017

    Hi Karen,

    I love your side :)…just found it a little late since I’m heading to Colonia tomorrow ;). I pre booked accommodation on booking.com but haven’t thought about getting there :(. According do your recommend bus-side my rides colonia-montevideo-punta del Diablo are fine, but I wanted to go from punta del diablo to la paloma and than to punta del este and than to a hotel near montevideo airport. Couldn’t figure out timetables for routes not going to and from Montevideo. Can you help me with that?

    Your help would be really appreciated 🙂

    Cheers
    Manu

    Reply
    • The Guru of Guru'Guay

      January 11, 2017

      Hi Manu, unfortunately there is no one timetable that contains buses between smaller towns. What you want to do is perfectly possible, but you will need to buy tickets at the local bus stations when you arrive. So in Punta del Diablo you’ll buy your tickets to La Paloma. In La Paloma to Punta, etc. Buses are very frequent so you won’t have any problem with seats. However don’t leave buying till last minute as January is very busy. When you arrive at a destination, take a few minutes to buy your outgoing ticket at that time. Enjoy! Karen

      Reply
      • Manuela

        January 11, 2017

        Hi,

        Perfect! That’s all I needed to know :).
        Thank you for your help!

        Greetings
        Manu

        Reply
      • Shari

        March 27, 2017

        Could you please give me a ballpark idea of bus ticket prices? For example, I was thinking of going from Montevideo to Atlantida then Punta Del Diablo. Then all the way back through to Colonia del Sacramento for one day and then to the Carrasco Airport. This is over the course of 12 days. Am I looking at crazy expensive transportation costs?

        Reply
  6. Chris

    January 6, 2017

    I was able to buy a bus ticket online at https://www.turil.com.uy/

    Reply
  7. Peter Silva

    November 17, 2016

    Do you know if it is possible to hail the coach on Ruta 21 that goes to Montevideo in the direction of Carmelo? I’m in Carmelo but about 15 mins from the centre and was told I could hail the coach and pay the driver but I’m slightly worried that the driver may not stop.

    Reply
    • The Guru of Guru'Guay

      November 17, 2016

      Hi Peter, talk about a live message! Yes, in the countryside it is absolutely normal to hail a bus at any spot on the highway! I hope that by now you are in Carmelo safe and sound! Let us know that you made it. All the best, Karen

      Reply
  8. Max Carleton-Smith

    October 26, 2016

    Hi there,

    Im planning on travelling up to Punta del Diablo from Buenos Aires on January 2nd. Do you think I will be able to get both a ferry and a bus up to Punta del Diablo all in one day? and will there be buses running?

    Reply
    • The Guru of Guru'Guay

      October 28, 2016

      Hi Max, buses will be running but make sure you have ferry and bus tickets bought in advance if you plan to do everything on one day. At this time of the year there is huge demand.

      It will be a long day which you might want to break up by staying in Montevideo, or you might want to power through. You can cut the journey slightly by taking the direct ferry to Montevideo which takes just 2.25 hours but it’s quite a bit more expensive. See two options for travelling from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and then on to the coast (remember you also need to factor in waiting times):
      1. 2.25 hour direct ferry to MVD + 15 min taxi ride from port to bus station + 4-5 hour bus ride to Punta del Diablo versus
      2. 4.5 hour ferry/bus combo to Montevideo (via Colonia) + 4-5 hour bus ride to Punta del Diablo.
      Hope this helps. — Karen

      Reply
      • Max Carleton-Smith

        November 9, 2016

        thanks very much

        Reply
  9. Jes

    August 2, 2016

    Strange question – but do most of the buses have bathrooms on them? I am looking at going from Montevideo to Colonia this Sept.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Welshwitch in Uruguay

      August 2, 2016

      Perfectly good question, Jess. Yes, all long distance buses have toilets. As well as wifi – ha ha! 🙂 The bus stations in Colonia and Montevideo also have very good facilities.

      Reply
      • Ted

        September 30, 2016

        Do the buses in Uruguay have lift capabilities to handle my wife’s wheelchair?

        Reply
        • Welshwitch in Uruguay

          September 30, 2016

          Dear Ted, I’m afraid I don’t recall seeing long distance buses with wheelchair lifts. There are city buses in Montevideo but there are not many of them so they are infrequent. Uruguay is currently working hard to become an accessible country, but I would say even the capital has a long way to go yet to becoming easily manageable to a wheelchair user. All the best, Karen

          Reply
  10. Josh W.

    November 28, 2015

    Hey guys, I´am planning a trip to Uruguay for next mounth, and I was looking for online bus ticket, and I could find this website. http://www.bookbusworld.com they offer tickets for many countries in South America, incluiding Uruguay, so I thought it will nice to share with you.
    Hope this tip can help someone.

    See you guys in SA

    Reply
    • Welshwitch in Uruguay

      December 4, 2015

      Hey Josh, thanks for the tip! It worked for finding a ticket from BA to Montevideo which is very helpful. Cost 61 USD one way. However that’s about the same price as the ferry which is faster… It didn’t for travel inside Uruguay or to coming from Brazil. I guess it will get better as they add more transporation companies… Nice idea though, and thanks for sharing! Karen

      Reply
  11. keith

    September 5, 2015

    Thanks for the info! I’m looking forward to our upcoming trip.

    Reply
  12. Dennis Dingle

    February 23, 2014

    Thank you for the very useful information on your site. Unfortunately (for me) the links for “the comforts of bus travel in Uruguay” and “getting from Colonia to Montevideo” did not connect.

    Reply
    • Welshwitch in Uruguay

      February 23, 2014

      Thanks, Dennis, for alerting me to the problem links. They are now fixed. So glad you are finding the information helpful. — All the best Karen

      Reply

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