Argentina is 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 to the vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina has something to offer all visiters. Some of the world’s most dramatic scenery can be found here in the Patagonian Stepp, the Andes, and the lush Lake District. Take your time exploring this wonderful country – the vast landscape takes time to get around and is worth all the distractions you’ll find along the way. I loved the food, hospitality, and positive energy the locals here. (The beautiful natural backdrop doesn’t hurt either!) This travel guide to Argentina will help you plan your trip to the land of steak, wine, and mountains!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Argentina
1. Buenos Aires
2. Iguazu Waterfalls
3. Wander Salta
4. Learn to tango
5. Visit Mendoza
Other Things to See and Do
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1. 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. This 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. It costs 2,850 ARS ($104 USD).
2. 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 wine. 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.
3. 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!
4. 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.
5. 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. You can hike on the glacier (it’s epic) or take up close boat ride.
6. San Rafael
Located a few hours from Mendoza, this tiny little town (don’t expect to do much after sunset or on a Sunday!) is a wonderful place to see wineries, go on a bike ride, or explore the nearby stunning Atuel Canyon.
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). The city is picturesque with its colorful clapboard houses and the Andes as the backdrop.
8. 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.
9. Quebrada de Humahuaca
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.
10. 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).
11. Casa Rosada
Dominating the city’s Plaza de Mayo is Casa Rosada, arguably the city’s most notable landmark. The building has played a starring role in the country’s history, quite literally. It was where Madonna re-enacted Eva Perón’s addressing of the crowds of workers in Evita. Open weekends from 10am-6pm.
12. La Recoleta Cemetery
It might seem a bit morbid to visit a cemetery for pleasure, but Recoleta is one of the city’s most visited attractions. The cemetery is the final resting place of many of the city’s most notable citizens, including Eva Perón and the Paz family. Also worth seeing is the tomb of Rufina Cambaceres, who was tragically buried alive according to legends. It’s open daily from 7am-5:30pm.
13. San Ignacio Miní
Located in San Iganacio, these mission ruins are the most complete in Argentina and have a lot of carved ornamentation still visible. These ruins are pretty amazing and look like something out of historic Europe! The visitor center has a lot of background information on the old mission, and the ruins have interactive panels. Admission is 200 ARS (7 USD) and it’s open daily 7am-5:30pm.
Accommodation – Hostels are widespread throughout the country, and start at about 140-300 ARS (5-11 USD) for a dormitory room in Buenos Aires. Private rooms in a hostel with a shared bath are generally double the price of dorm rooms. Hotels in more expensive places like Mendoza and Patagonia cost upwards of 410 ARS (15 USD) per night. You will find that a vast number of hotels in the country that fall under 840 ARS (30 USD). Homestays are a popular option in the country and can be found via Craigslist or Home Stay Web. Airbnb averages for the country are 270 ARS (10 USD) for a shared room, 1575 ARS (57 USD) for an entire apartment. Camping is widespread in all the natural parks. If you have a tent, campgrounds are available all around the country (including the notable Patagonia region) for around 60-274 ARS (2-10 USD). My suggested places are:
Food – Food is fairly expensive in Argentina. Meals at cheap cafe begin at around 90 ARS (3 USD). If you add a drink, expect to pay 100-180 ARS (4-7 USD). If you are looking for a really nice sit down meal with good steak and wine, expect to pay 320 ARS (12 USD). Empanada, choripán (sausage on bread) stands, and local hole-in-the-wall burger and pizza shops are economical and tasty! Empanadas go for around 8-15 ARS (less than $1 USD), choripán for 25 ARS (1 USD), and pizza and burgers lunch specials for around 40 ARS (2 USD). If you’re going to grocery shop, expect to spend about 370 ARS (13 USD) per week for groceries.
Transportation – Argentina boasts an outstanding short and long-distance bus network. It is common to have food served on board as well as wifi and alcohol on long distance buses. As an example, the bus ride from Buenos Aires to Mendoza takes about 14.5 hours and tickets begin at 1050 ARS (38 USD). Trains are experiencing something of a revival and there is rail service between the country’s three largest cities: Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Rosario. A train ride between Buenos Aires and Cordoba costs around 340 ARS (12 USD) The Train to the Clouds, a scenic tourist train that begins in Salta, and passes through the Andes, is one of the highest railways in the world, costs 2,850 ARS ($104 USD). Inner-city travel is pretty affordable. In Buenos Aires, a one-way trip on local transit is between 6-6.50 ARS ($0.22-24 USD). A bus from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (Patagonia) is 2,986-6,457 ARS (109-235 USD).
Sights – Activities here are generally more expensive than in other South American countries. You can find a Patagonia 3-4 day tour that starts at 6,689 ARS (242 USD), but most will be around 12,900 ARS (466 USD) and up. A Mendoza day wine tour will be around 4,150 ARS (150 USD). Museum entry ranges between 15-60 ARS (0.50-2 USD). National Park entrance fees range from 50-609 ARS (2-22 USD) per person.
Suggested daily budget
760-910 ARS / 50-60 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- 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.
- Hitchhike – While not common in the north of the country, if you’re in Patagonia, you’ll see many locals and tourists alike hitchhiking, as long-distance buses in that part of the country can be very expensive and infrequent. It’s simply more convenient to hitchhike. This common way to get around is highly recommended.
- Travel off-season – March-June and September-November are the low season when you can find cheaper accommodations and enjoy less crowds at attractions.
- Find the cheap eats – Empanada, choripán (sausage on bread) stands, and local hole-in-the-wall burger and pizza shops are your best options. It’s not the healthiest food, but it’s economical and tasty! Empanadas go for around 8-15 ARS (less than 1 USD), choripán for 25 ARS (2 USD), and pizza and burgers lunch specials for around 40 ARS (3 USD).
- Eat out at fancy meals – Argentina was a weird paradox. What is cheap elsewhere is expensive here, and vice versa. At 100-130 ARS (6-8 USD) for a sandwich and drink at a cafe, lunch is not cheap. That’s not going to break the bank, but you can dine on expensive steaks, wine, and sides for 500 ARS (30 USD)! You get more value on the higher end! Splurge on steaks and fancy dinners in this budget tip turned upside-down.
- Rent a bike – You can rent bicycles from hostels and rental shops for 150 ARS (10 USD) a day in most major cities. It’s an inexpensive way to get around and also out of the cities. This is especially useful when you’re in Mendoza’s wine country and you’re trying to get from winery to winery.
- Camp – As you start to travel south to Patagonia, accommodation costs get higher and higher. Hostels are often 250 ARS (17 USD) or more a night here (as opposed to as cheap as 90 (6 USD) a night in Buenos Aires). Look for camping opportunities as often as possible. When you aren’t in the national parks (where you can obviously camp), many hostels will let you pitch your tent for a small fee.
- Stick to Wine – 100 ARS (4 USD) bottles of wine in the supermarket is a phenomenal deal. Grab a bottle, drink it up. It’s really good too!
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay, but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.
- Try out Airbnb – If hostels (or camping) aren’t your jam, I found a ton of Airbnb opportunities throughout the country starting at 270 ARS (10 USD) a night for your own apartment.
- Explore the outdoors – Hiking is free, and throughout the country you’ll find plenty of opportunities to enjoy this and other outdoor activities since Argentina is blessed with many city parks and nature reserves where you can spend the day wandering around and relaxing. (And, of course, there are a plethora of national parks where you can do multi-day treks!).
- Don’t fly domestically – Thanks to a tax on foreigners, airfare in Argentina for non-residents is quite expensive. A two-hour flight can cost as much as 3,200 ARS (115 USD)! Unless you are in a rush, don’t fly. Take the bus.
- Dance for free – If you find yourself in Buenos Aries on a Sunday, you can find free tango events in San Telmo at 8pm on Sundays. (On Monday, there’s the famous La Bomba de Tiempo, a music and dance event. It’s 150 ARS (5 USD) but completely worth every penny! It was an unreal dance and music show!)
- Stay at a Hola Hostel – Hola Hostels is a network of hostels predominantly in South and Central America. They offer 10% off to their members, as well as other local discounts for food and activities. Joining is free, and their hostels are also committed to environmentally sustainable practices.
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