Top 5 Scenic Bus Journeys

Top 5 Scenic Bus Journeys – getting the sugar ready on my rural Paraguay bus in 2010

As a traveller, long distance buses become a way of life and part of the travel routine. I personally love them – a great way to sit back, relax and let someone else drive you to your destination. Almost every bus journey I take becomes a real chance to see unique scenery from a distance. I never view a bus journey as a burden or a waste of time, I see them as an amazing adventure and just another way to see the world.

Boarding yet another Slow Bus to China. Got to love bus travel!

Rather than drift away to sleep and miss it, keep your eyes open and enjoy the wonderful landscape. This list could be endless but I’ve gone for a top 5 (and thrown in an “also ran”), trying to make them a bit more random. Next time you get told your bus will take 18 hours or so, don’t complain. Your bus might break down, you might need to transfer buses, but this is all part of the amazing travel experience. Take a book, take a snack, take a drink, take a camera and yes in today’s world, take your iPod 😉 RELAX!

1. Taidong to Hualien (East Coast, TAIWAN)

My view over the road on the marvellous Taidong to Hualien bus on the East Coast of Taiwan

Oh the magic of Taiwan! And any excuse to write about it again. I love the island, it is one of the world’s truly beautiful and welcoming places. My tour of Taiwan took me to places like Kaohsiung, Shinying, Eluanbi and Changhua. However an unforeseen highlight was my bus journey up the East Coast…in typhoon season! Yes the road was waterlogged and we ended up changing buses at Shitiping, but hey…we saw the Tropic of Cancer.

The Tropic of Cancer marker on the East Coast of Taiwan

Highlights – seeing the Tropic of Cancer marker monument, the view out to sea and the locals on board!

Travel Tips – At Taidong Station (commonly spelt Taitung, but pronounced ‘Taidong’), get a one way bus ticket to Hualien. Tell them you are heading to Tailuga, also known as Taroko Gorge. You can get a connecting Tailuga bus from Hualien. Bring a guide book with Chinese translations just to be sure (or travel with a local like I did) as it’s not the easiest. On the East Coast of Taiwan, it’s rare to find an English speaker. I wrote a decent report on it here: Bus Tripping Taiwan East Coast.

2. Ciudad del Este to Asuncion (Rural PARAGUAY).

Eating Chipa, somewhere between Ciudad del Este and Asuncion in Paraguay

Paraguay was one of the surprising highlights from my time in South America. From the crazy border city of Ciudad del Este, I caught a bus to the rather unknown capital city of Asuncion. As a quiet man on the bus,  I just sat to my heart’s content getting a scenic drive through rural Paraguay. A very basic existence in Paraguay. Watching them pack on the sugar which was grown in Brazil, families relaxing by their farms, ladies selling some gorgeous ‘Chipa’ (well recommended local bread), free Coca Cola half way because “sorry the bus is late” and the totally sublime arrival in a wet Asuncion at dusk.

Basic, relaxing and lots of unusual sights in rural Paraguay

Highlights – Trying Chipa and just witnessing a number of rural absurdities out my window. 

Travel Tips – At Ciudad del Este station, shop around to get a decent bus first. Many of them will be overcrowded and for the same price you can get a decent top deck window seat. The company I used was Expreso Guarani, I’d recommend using them. I wrote a bit more detail on that bus trip here: Rural Paraguay by bus.

3. Rimini to San Marino City (ITALY up into SAN MARINO)

Our Rimini to San Marino bus – we left Italy in rain…

Essentially a border crossing bus that you would never even know you’ve crossed a border. No visas needed, no passport control, no change of currency, no change of language. In fact the only thing that is different is the views become higher and more spectacular. Our bus broke down a few times on the slow climb up to our home for the night in San Marino City. We travelled there in Winter and outside a wonderland of snow slowed our bus down, but enhanced our terrific views over the immense countryside. This is actually the first time I’ve written about that bus journey,which I did in February 2009.

…and we arrived in San Marino City after a few breakdowns in gorgeous snow!

Highlights – The steep slow climb to San Marino City, having a few beers on board and the immense arrival in thick constant snow in the capital of such a small country.

Travel Tips – Take some food and drink in case it breaks down. Carry a map of San Marino City and book your hostel beforehand – it can be a hard city to navigate round in the snow. Having said that, in calmer weather, it could well be easy…

4. Franz Josef to Queenstown via Lake Wanaka (South Island, NEW ZEALAND)

New Zealand – very scenic by bus, my favourite was Franz Josef to Queenstown via Lake Wanaka

It would be a shame to neglect New Zealand in my wonderful scenic bus journeys top 5 as I have been on so many bus trips in New Zealand and have LOVED the views out my bus window every time. The South Island tends to be more beautiful scenery wise than the north, and I’ve gone for Franz Josef. Equally I could have said Christchurch to Greymouth, or even Taupo to Wellington.

Outstanding mountains near Queenstown in New Zealand

What you will see on these bus journeys is fields, mountains and endless picturesque landscape. The buses are also very safe and well run. You will also have the pleasure of stopping off in some old style towns on the way. I ended up in Lawrence, Lake Wanaka and Makarora at some point. Although I didn’t actually stay overnight in Lake Wanaka.

Highlights – I’ll make it easy for you – there were NO lowlights!

Travel Tips – Seriously – get a map and follow it when you can, take notes, have a drink, and try not to sleep. You will LOVE the scenery out the window. Make some videos too, so you can really reflect on the immense views you saw with your own eyes…

5. Pretoria to Gaborone (SOUTH AFRICA to BOTSWANA)

My first ever African border crossing was with Intercape from South Africa to Botswana

I made the border crossing into Botswana at a place called Tlokweng. This bus journey was a typically relaxing one. OK, you might be surprised that no it’s not a FREE SAFARI bus tour I’m promoting here, as you will not seeing galloping Botswanese Zebras. But this was the first ever border crossing I did in Africa, so I have fond memories of the trip.

My South Africa to Botswana bus took us via some Dutch Windmills at Groot Marico!

I used Intercape as my bus company and they left from central Pretoria. We stopped off a few times before we reached the border, once at Johannesburg and another time a longer stop at Groot Marico, where Dutch windmills gave the journey some peculiarity! It shouldn’t matter, but for the record there was another white person (a Dutch girl) on my bus. Border formalities were relatively easy (on a UK passport) and the bus waits for you in Tlokweng having left South Africa at Kopfontein. I would recommend Intercape by the way.

Highlights – It was my first border crossing in Africa, the fact that my seat had a table, night time arrival in Gaborone and the peculiar windmills!

Travel tips – Ask if they have a seat with a table – normally the seat in front of the half way door, bring some drinks and food to save  money.

Also Ran –

A Slow Bus to Cuzco (crossing from BOLIVIA to PERU)

And on a closing note – by no means are these the best of most scenic bus journeys you will ever see. I just loved them and enjoyed them and wanted to share them with you. I just love my buses and trains. Oh, I will have to compile a similar list of trains sometime…

Here are some of my videos, one each from the above 6 (yes I’ve included a Cuzco one!):

1. Taidong to Hualien: TAIWAN

2. Ciudad del Este to Asuncion: PARAGUAY

3. Rimini, ITALY to San Marino City, SAN MARINO

4. Franz Josef to Queenstown: NEW ZEALAND

5. Pretoria, SOUTH AFRICA to Gaborone, BOTSWANA

ALSO RAN:
La Paz, BOLIVIA to Cuzco, PERU

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 Scenic Bus Journeys

  • Hi Jonny, I met your mum and dad in Bangor a few days ago. We were in a shop in Bloomfield looking at rucksacks and started to chat as you do in Nordern Ireland?
    I said my partner and I were hiking around South America and they told me about your website. I just love it.
    We arrive in Santiago on 18th.Jan. then fly out of Rio on 20th.March.We have made no plans, but thought we might go south to patagonia, then Buenos Aries, then make our way to Brazil, doing the falls, etc. en route.
    We had thought about Inca trail, but maybe weather not good then, misty, wet, etc. and it closes in Feb. Also maybe costly to fly there. I have looked at flights from Santiago to Africa, then bussing it.Maybe leave it for another time. Advice?
    We will be doing bus journeys and staying in cheapy hotels/hostels. We are both in our 50,s so oldy hikers? but young at heart!!
    How did you work with currency? I dont like carrying much cash.
    We don’t really like big cities either. A couple of nights in Buenos might be enough. Maybe not the cleanest place or safest?
    Any tips or advise would be very much appreciated.
    You can thank Joe and Muriel for getting bombarded with all these questions.
    Look forward to hearing from you,
    Charlie
    Ps I live in Holywood and have 2 sons, Barry 33 yrs and Alan 30yrs. Campbellians.

  • Hi Charlie, What a wonderful story!! Thanks for your comments! I’m a travelling Northern Irishman and yes I LOVED South America. Two months is great! I’m jealous!! DON’T MISS THE INCA TRAIL!!! It’s amazing (don’t worry about the weather either – check out my Inca Trail stuff here: “> (make sure to do the REAL Inca Trail and not a fake one). Cuzco has an airport – or you can head to La Paz and get a bus (the journey I did is in my Bolivian section). I loved Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay the most.

    Currency – take my advice here: “> To cut a long story short – take lots of US Dollars.

    Buenos Aires – good for the Maradona statue, La Boca, the beef steak, a pub crawl and watching Tango dancing – other than that, don’t linger. It’s smelly, dirty and arrogant! (that’s my take on it).

    My Mum and Dad are always out and about round Bangor – it’s my home too when I get back and I feel proud of Northern Ireland.

    I will drop you an e-mail too!

    Safe travels! Jonny

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