Argentina is the world’s eighth largest country and one of the most popular places to visit in South America – whether you are backpacking the continent or just on a short, budget holiday. From the café culture of Buenos Aires to the natural beauty of the Iguazu Waterfalls and the Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina has something to offer visitors of all kinds. Some of the world’s most dramatic scenery can be found here in the Patagonian Stepp, the Andes, and the lush Lake District. It is also often viewed as the most cosmopolitan and “European” country in the region. Take your time exploring – the vast landscape takes time to get to and is worth all the distractions you’ll find along the way. This travel guide to Argentina will help you plan your trip to the land of steak, wine, and mountains!
Destination Guides for Argentina
Accommodation – Hostels are widespread throughout the country, and they start at about 80-100 ARS for a dormitory room in Buenos Aires. Private rooms with a shared bath are generally double the price of dorm rooms. Hotels in more expensive places like Mendoza and Patagonia cost upwards of 415 ARS per night. Homestays are a popular option here, too. Generally, a homestay is done for a week at minimum. You’ll stay in an extra bedroom of a local host family, and the price includes three meals a day. Check out sites via Craigslist or Home Stay Web for reservation information and specific costs.
Food – Unfortunately, inflation is rampant here with food prices rising every month. As a result, good food is tough to come by with prices rising up to 30% per month in some cases. Meal prices for even a cheap restaurant will begin at around 90 ARS. If you are looking for a really nice sit down meal with good steak and wine, expect to pay 320 ARS. It costs about 370 ARS per week for groceries. Always good to know how much a drink will cost – expect about 36 ARS for a beer, 28 ARS for a cappuccino and 14 ARS for a water.
Transportation – Argentina boasts an outstanding short and long-distance bus network. The more expensive buses generally offer high-quality service, and for distances longer than 200km, it is common to have food served on board as well as wifi and alcohol. Trains are experiencing something of a revival since the government intends to re-establish long-distance passenger trains between all major cities. There is already rail service between the country’s three largest cities: Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Rosario. The most popular train service right now is the Train to the Clouds, a scenic tourist train that begins in Salta, and passes through the Andes. As one of the highest railways in the world, this day long round trip is worth it for 2,600 ARS. The long distance routes (think Buenos Aires to the tip in Patagonia) are also a good deal.
Sights – Activities here are generally more expensive than in other South American countries, but if you do your research and plan ahead, you can get quite the bang for your buck. A Patagonia 3-4 day tour will average about 3,900 ARS, and a Mendoza day wine tour will be around 1,560 ARS. Museum entry ranges between 15-60 ARS.
Money Saving Tips
Tenedor Parrilla Libre – These all-you-can-eat style buffet restaurants are ideal for keeping your budget in check at around 28 ARS!
Bus journeys – If you’re traveling long distances, try to get the overnight bus as this will save you the cost of a night’s accommodation.
Travel off season – March-June and September-November are the low season when you can find cheaper accommodations and enjoy less crowds at attractions.
Avoid being overcharged – Some merchants are known to charge Argentinians in pesos, and foreigners in dollars. Always pay with local currency.
Use discount cards – Student and teacher discounts will get you incredible savings. You can also use the La Nacion Club and La Nacion Premium Club Cards, associated with La Nacion Newspaper, for discounts. Every week, the La Nacion Club Card website lists participating establishments who give discounts to card members. This is good for travelers spending a long time in the country as you have to sign up for the newspaper.
Top Things to See and Do in Argentina
Buenos Aires – Nicknamed the “Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires is an amazing city with a lot of class and culture. There is fantastic nightlife, food, and shopping! Everyone here loves to eat and drink and does so late into the night! You’ll hear music blasting throughout the city, everyone here dresses well, and it’s cafe culture will make you feel in Europe. Watch out for inflation though – it can be a killer.
The Waterfalls of Iguazu – Probably the most popular day trip out of Buenos Aires is to the magnificent Iguazu Waterfalls. The falls are higher and twice as wide as the Niagara (which astounded me having seen both, I still can’t believe how much water comes out of Iguazu), so the area has been nicknamed “Niagara on Viagra”. With 450,000 cubic feet of water thundering down the 275 cascades every second, its pretty easy to see why! You can find several types of guided trips leaving from Buenos Aires online, or just go on the local bus yourself. It costs 60 ARS to enter the Iguazú National Park for foreigners. It’s 100000% one of the best things in Argentina to see!
Train to the Clouds – Sure, it’s a train built for tourists and crazily overpriced, but taking this train through the clouds and lush forest is so breathtaking I don’t mind. El Tren a Las Nubes (the Train to the Clouds) is a 400 kilometer, 16 hour round trip into the Andes from the town of Salta. As the train climbs to 4200 meters, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular mountain, forests, and valleys. Operation is seasonal, so be sure to check before you decide to go.
Visit a winery – Argentina is one of the most famous wine-making regions in the world, and a trip to a winery is a must for fans of vinob (like me). If you’re a real wine connoisseur, the Wine Harvest Festival (“Fiesta de la Vendimia”) is held in February and March every year and has Tango, ethnic dance, and colorful parades. Mendoza is the most famous wine region in the country, and the best spot to check out for first timers. There are a lot of tours that will take you to a few wineries, talk about wine production, and give you free samples. If you don’t have time to visit any wineries, make sure you at least drink the cheap wine from the country’s famous regions!
Cerro Aconcagua – At almost 7,000 meters tall, Cerro Aconcagua is not only the country’s highest mountain, but also the highest in the Western Hemisphere. This climb isn’t for the faint hearted and is probably only for those very experienced, as it’s estimated to take 2 weeks to reach the summit and acclimatize to the altitude!
Perito Moreno Glacier – Located within the expansive Los Glaciares National Park is the impressive Perito Moreno glacier. The glacier is almost 15,000 feet wide and 200 feet tall, and one of the coolest sights I’ve ever seen.
Valle de la Luna – Translated as ‘valley of the moon’, this dramatic landscape dates back to the Triassic period. Winds and rain have carved the rocks into strange formations which gives this place the look of a lunar landscape. Despite the arid conditions, the area is great for wildlife spotting as it’s home to foxes, owls, armadillos, and condors.
Check out the markets – For the best cultural shopping experience in Buenos Aires, make your way to San Telmo and the Sunday antiques fair at Plaza Dorrego. Artisans, musicians, stilt walkers, and other street performers line the streets creating an incredible scene. Souvenirs including silver, paintings, and sculptures can be picked up here for reasonable prices.
Whale watching – From June to December, whale watching season in Patagonia is at its peak as the whales make their way to the coast to mate. Whale watching is an expensive excursion, but well worth it during this migration time when you’re guaranteed to spot a few whales.
Ushuaia – Ushuaia is the most southerly city in the world and the largest city in Tierra del Fuego. This is a very popular town for travelers coming to the end of their South American journey, or for those traveling to Antarctica (this is the launch point for all Antarctica cruises). Aside from the usual tourist traps of museums, the city is quite picturesque with colorful clapboard houses and the Andes as the backdrop.
Learn to tango – Argentina is famous for the tango, and you’re bound to run into it everywhere you go with people practicing in the streets – literally! There are many studios that offer lessons if you want to learn and plenty of places to watch the natives dance away. If you find yourself smitten with a beautiful local, you don’t stand a chance if you don’t try their native step. Be bold and give it a shot-the tango is in their soul.
Visit the Andes – Whether you are going to walk around the base or scale to great heights, visiting the Andes is a magnificent, natural attraction. Beautiful and a can’t miss, these mountains are sure to captivate you.
Quebrada de Humhuaca – A deep valley carved out by the Rio Grande, the Quebrada de Humahuaca is an area rich in ancient Incan history and culture. Exploring the colonial streets and architecture of Humahuaza, as well as the surrounding area, is an amazing adventure.
Cajon del Azul – Located in El Bolson, a “hippie” town near the Andes Mountains, The Blue Canyon boasts beautiful translucent turquoise waters that are flanked by rustic suspension bridges, alcoves and cliffs. It’s a little more deserted than other natural reserves in Argentina. If you go, this area is worth spending at least a few days in. The best way to save money here is by camping in a tent near a Refugio (a wooden hut). Be sure to check with the tourist information areas to see which Refugios are open ahead of time.