Argentina is one of the most popular countries to visit in South America – whether you are backpacking the continent, backpacking Argentina, or just on a short, budget holiday looking to drink wine, eat steak, and do some hiking.
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 is a wonderfully beautiful country with a rich history that is a must for any foodie to visit.
When I first came to backpack Argentina, I was nervous.
Would the country match my expectations?
It did. I’d never seen so much beauty in the south, ate such delicious steaks, and or drank so much wine all in one place.
Argentina isn’t perfect – it has its social, economic, and political difficulties. There’s always a low roar of turmoil here.
But the locals are always in good spirits and love sharing their country with visits.
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.
This travel guide to Argentina will help you plan your trip to the land of steak, wine, and mountains!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Argentina
1. Buenos Aires
2. Iguazu Falls
3. Wander Salta
4. Learn to tango
5. Visit Mendoza
Other Things to See and Do in Argentina
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 4,200 meters, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular mountain, forests, and valleys. The operation is seasonal, so be sure to check before you decide to go. It costs 4,200ARS ($105 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 nature 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 ($5 USD) and it’s open daily 7am-5:30pm.
Argentina Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostels are widespread throughout the country, and start at about 200-400 ARS ($5-10 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 500 ARS ($15 USD) per night. You will find that a vast number of hotels in the country that fall under 1,200 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 400 ARS ($10 USD) for a shared room, 2,200 ARS ($55 USD) for an entire apartment. Camping is widespread in all the national parks. If you have a tent, campgrounds are available all around the country (including the notable Patagonia region) for around 80-400 ARS ($2-10 USD).
Food – Food is fairly expensive in Argentina. Meals at a cheap cafe begin at around 90 ARS ($2 USD). If you add a drink, expect to pay 150-300 ARS ($4-8 USD). If you are looking for a really nice sit-down meal with good steak and wine, expect to pay 475 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 ($0.75 USD), and pizza and burgers lunch specials for around 80 ARS ($2 USD). If you’re going to grocery shop, expect to spend about 515 ARS ($13 USD) per week for groceries.
Attractions – Activities here are generally more expensive than in other South American countries. You can find a Patagonia 3-4 day tour that starts at 9,600 ARS ($240 USD), but most will be around 18,300 ARS ($460 USD) and up. A Mendoza day wine tour will be around 6,000 ARS ($150 USD). Museum entry ranges between 20-80 ARS ($.50-2 USD). National Park entrance fees range from 80-900 ARS ($2-22 USD) per person.
Backpacking Argentina Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker’s budget, you will spend between 1,600-2,400 ARS ($40-60 USD) per day. On this suggested budget, you’re staying in a hostel dorms, eating out at the cheap hole in the wall restaurants, cooking some of your meals, and using cheap local transportation.
On a mid-range budget of 4,000 ARS ($100 USD) per day, you can afford a private room at a hostel/cheap Airbnb/hotel, eat anywhere you want within reason (splurge once in a while), take intercity buses, and do an occasional tour.
For a luxury budget of 10,000+ ARS ($200+ USD) per day, you can do quite a lot. You will enjoy nicer hotels or Airbnbs, fancier sit-down restaurants, splurge on wine, hop on a multi-day tours, and fly between cities.
Argentina Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
How do you save money in Argentina then? Here are a few hacks to cut down your costs – because all those tours and wine and steak dinners can add up if you aren’t careful:
- 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 seasonw when you can find cheaper accommodations and enjoy fewer 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 80 ARS ($2 USD), and pizza and burgers lunch specials for around 120 ARS ($3 USD).
- Eat out at fancy meals – Argentina was a weird paradox. What is cheap elsewhere is expensive here, and vice versa. At 240-320 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 1,200 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 400 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 670 ARS ($17 USD) or more a night here (as opposed to as cheap as 240 ($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 – 150 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 400 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 4,600 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 200 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.
Where To Stay in Argentina
Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Argentina:
How to Get Around Argentina
Public Transit – Buenos Aires is the only city in Argentina with a subway system (the Subte). Otherwise, public buses are the most common way to travel within the cities. Both options are cheap and convenient! In Buenos Aires, a one-way fare is between 6-6.50 ARS ($0.22-0.24 USD). In Mendoza, fares start at 5 ARS ($0.15 USD). In Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Mar del Plata you need a transit card to use the public transit, while smaller areas take cash. You can find these cards at kiosks all over the place!
Taxis are also very affordable in Argentina. A 3-kilometer journey will cost you only about 90 ARS ($2.50 USD)! If you are outside the city and have to take a taxi that is unmetered, negotiate the fare up front.
Buses – 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 1,050 ARS ($38 USD). A 10-hour trip from Bariloche to El Calafate (in Patagonia) starts from 3,940 ARS ($105 USD), while the bus from Buenos Aires to El Calafate is 2,986-6,457 ARS ($109-235 USD). A “shorter” journey like Mendoza to Salta in 7 hours costs about 3,580 ARS ($95 USD). You can take the overnight bus and then save on accommodations.
Air – Flying around South America isn’t very cheap, and Argentina is no exception as fares are taxed highly for foreigners (it subsidizes cheap fares for residents). However, it might be worth it for you if you’re short on time as those 14-hour bus rides are not an efficient way to travel. Argentina’s two most popular airlines are Aerolíneas Argentinas (the domestic carrier), and LAN.
You can fly from Argentina to El Calafate for 17,760 ARS ($470 USD) return, or Buenos Aires to Bariloche for 9,255 ARS ($245 USD) return.
Train – Argentina’s rail system only goes three places: Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Rosario. The train from Buenos Aires to Cordoba costs about 340 ARS ($12 USD). There are also train journeys aimed specifically at travelers, like the epic Train to the Clouds that begins in Salta, passes through the Andres, and costs 2,850 ARS ($104 USD). It’s one of the highest railways in the world! There’s also La Trochita, the Old Patagonian Express between Esquel and El Maiten for 1,260 ARS ($33 USD).
Hitchhike — Argentina is easy and safe for hitchhikers. You can find rides throughout the country, and Argentines are naturally curious about foreigners. There’s a good chance you’ll end up crammed into a car with an entire family! HitchWiki has a lot of information on hitchhiking in Argentina.
When to Go to Argentina
Argentina is enormous. The best time of year to visit entirely depends on what regions you plan on traveling around.
Argentina’s spring is from September to November, and is one of the best times to visit overall (although it’s still very cold in Patagonia). Average temperatures range from 57°F (14°C) in the center, 46-57°F (8-14°C) in Patagonia, and about 68°F (20°C in the north.
Summer is from December to February, and is the best season for spending time in the Andean mountains. It’s also the best time to travel to Tierra del Fuego, although there still might be snow. The north is a lot warmer, and Buenos Aires can get hot and sticky. Temperatures can get as high as 79°F (26°C).
Autumn (March-April) is another great time to visit, especially in the San Juan and Mendoza regions for the wine harvests. Patagonia is stunning this time of year with its bright autumn colors as well. Winter is from June to August, and is ideal if you’re a skier hoping to hit up the ski resorts. It’s not a great time for visiting Patagonia, however; bad weather can leave you stranded, and a lot of places are closed from Easter to October.
How to Stay Safe in Argentina
Argentina is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Your biggest worry will be petty theft. Don’t flaunt expensive jewellery or belongings. Cell phone theft is incredibly common, and thieves will sometimes literally snatch the phone right from your hand in broad daylight. Just watch your stuff at all times! Lock your bags on overnight buses.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Argentina. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Argentina Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Argentina. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Argentina, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Argentina Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Argentina Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
A classic bit of travel writing, Bruce Chatwin’s account of his time in Patagonia is full of beautiful descriptive writing, tidbits of history, and plenty of personal anecdotes. This book perfectly captures the mystique and exoticness of Patagonia – especially when it was still mostly untouched by tourism. Chatwin’s trek through Patagonia will make you immediately want to pack your bags and go.
The Motorcycle Diaries, by Ernesto Che Guevara
This is the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s eight-month motorcycle journey across South America as a 23-year-old medical student in 1951-52. Guevara left home with a doctor friend of his, and this eight-month motorcycle trip was the start of his path towards becoming a revolutionary. He explores Inca ruins, visits a leper colony, and helps miners and farm workers. Whatever you want to say about his future politics, this story is about a man discovering that the world is bigger than himself and I think that is something we all pick up from travel….and a good message to remember.
A Beautiful Young Woman, by Julián López
A Beautiful Young Woman is set int he middle of Argentina’s military dictatorship, and is centered around the themes of family and political violence. With the world in chaos around them, a young boy and his single mother live alone in an apartment in Buenos Aires (which is now under military rule). One day the boy comes home to find his mother has disappeared. The story leaps forward in time to follow the boy (now a man) as he pieces together his mother’s activism while struggling to retain her memory. It’s a sad read, but you’ll get some great insight into Argentina’s dictatorship past.
Santa Evita, by Tomas Eloy Martinez
This book is about legendary Eva Peron, a poor girl who became a beautiful icon and then a leader of the people before dying from cancer in 1952. But that’s where things get weird. After her death, Peron was elevated nearly to sainthood – and so her corpse was seized by the army after her dictator husband was ousted in 1955. While the army wanted to keep the corpse away from fanatical “Peronists,” they also didn’t want to destroy it for fear of the backlash. This is the story of Peron’s corpse, its disappearance, and one of the most bizarre political moments in South American history.
Bad Times in Buenos Aires, by Miranda France
When Miranda France moved to South America in 1933, where she was drawn to Buenos Aires because of its intellectual appeal chocked full of writers, romance, passion, and tragedy. Buenos Aires is all of those things, but as France experienced, it’s also full of “famously unhappy” inhabitants and lots of rage (also known as “bronca”). Don’t take this book too seriously – it’s a comical read about one woman’s struggles with adjusting to life in Buenos Aires as an expat, and she tells the story with a lot of humor.
Argentina Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Argentina travel and continue planning your trip: