Bus travel in South America is incredibly nice. Before coming here I´d heard a lot of praise for Argentine buses but I´d also read about buses in other countries falling off mountains and being held up. Which does happen but not all that often I think.
Buses in South America are very nice and more comfortable than any other mode of long haul travel I have gotten because you get so much leg room. The seats also recline, depending on the class you are travelling in. In semi-cama, the seats recline halfway and in cama, the seats recline all the way.
When I was in Argentina, I only took semi-camas, even though cama buses only cost about $5 more as I was under the impression that the buses in Bolivia and Peru would be terrible and I figured I might as well prepare myself in advance by getting the most basic services available. This was fine as I can sleep upright and don´t mind whether my seat reclines as long as I have adequate leg room.
The only downside is that you are not given blankets on semi-cama buses so on every bus ride, I would wake up from the cold in the middle of the night and have to put on more clothes. There was one time that I was so cold that after waking up several times and running out of layers, I put on my trainers thinking they might help.
I was usually the only non-South American on semi-cama buses as most tourists in Argentina obviously pay a little extra for the better ones. On one bus, I had a strange Paraguayan guy move to sit next to me, which was especially uncomfortable as I was sitting right at the back.
I´ve also had two weird bus drivers take an interest in me; one gave me his number and another one kept on trying to talk to me and touch my hair. He came around with a bowl of sweets to offer to people, which is normal enough on buses there, but after I had taken one, he stood there and picked out all the ones in the same flavour to give to me. It was really weird. I was glad when the bus filled up as he seemed like the sort of person who would have sat next to me and watched me sleep.
Since leaving Argentina, I have mostly only taken cama buses and they have been great. I took one that had wifi and even a separate VIP waiting lounge in the bus station, like the ones in airports. I have found bus travel in Peru and Bolivia to be so safe that most of the buses I have taken have been overnight ones.
So far there has only been one terrible bus. It was one that went from Copacabana to Cusco, crossing the Bolivia-Peru border. I was in a rush and had booked the first semi-cama bus I could find. Although the bus was supposed to be direct, it stopped in Puno, which was fine for the people who had paid to get off there. The rest of us had to wait 2 hours for the next leg.
It was obvious the company had just booked us with the cheapest bus with a different company for the second leg and pocketed the difference. The connecting bus was not a semi-cama but rather a local economy bus, which had cramped seats and constantly stopped to let people on and off.
First it was fine as there were only two people sitting in the aisle. But after a while I woke up and there were about thirty locals crammed in the aisle. I had an aisle seat so people were constantly brushing into me. Then the police came on and tried to search everyone for drugs which was impossible as the bus was too full. To make matters worse, part of the wheel fell off and we had to wait about half an hour for them to fix it.
Fortunately the buses I have gotten since have been great as I have made sure to book with the most reputable companies. Because the roads are usually paved, bus rides in South America are far better than the ones I took in Asia. I would even say that they are better than the ones I´ve gotten in Europe and back home.