Wow, what a journey that was! Argentina jumps effortlessly into the list of my top 5 destinations of all time, and for scenery, it would be No. 1. However, this trip required lots of planning, and I also learnt a lot as I was travelling. In this post I list my personal highlights and give some tips for planning (valid as of November 2022).
To help you plan your trip, here is my ranking of the places I visited on this trip:
- Quebrada de Humahuaca (northwest Argentina)
- Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
- Foz Iguazu
- Mount Fitzroy, Patagonia
- Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia
- The drive from Mendoza to Aconcagua
- The drive from Salta to Cachi
- Puerto Varas and the Chilean Lake District
- Buenos Aires
- Mendoza’s vineyards
- Bariloche and the Argentine Lake District
I put Bariloche and Salta bottom because there are places in Europe a bit like them, whilst the other places are unique in the world. But I really enjoyed even my lower-ranked locations on this trip – I simply didn’t have a single bad travelling day.
TROUSPINET’S TOP TIPS
Be Selective – Distances are huge, as is the choice of places to visit.
Unless you have the time (and endurance) for 12-36 hour bus rides, you will need to fly if you want to see many of the country’s highlights. I went for nearly one month, usually flew between destinations, but still did not have time to see everything I wanted to. After much thought, I regretfully excluded Ushuaia and some of the national parks from my list. You will also have to make some hard choices.
Check which Internal Flights operate
The main flight operators in Argentina are Aerolineas Argentinas, JetSmart and FlyBondi. Argentine airlines have a bad reputation for reliability and punctuality, but I had no major delays in any of my seven internal flights.
Check when flights go direct from one regional destination to another (eg Salta to Mendoza), without having to go back to Buenos Aires and out again. These flights will save you a lot of time and money, but they don’t operate every day. The popular and very convenient Bariloche-El Calafate flight only operates in the peak tourist season – late November to February. If you do have to fly back to Buenos Aires, remember it has two airports – the very convenient Aeroparque Newberry (AEP) located in the city, and Ezeiza (EZE), which is a long way out of town. Book ahead for anything In, To or From Patagonia over November – February. The region is hugely and justifiably popular in the southern summer. I went in November – not the peak season – and even then, I heard that the buses from El Calafate to Bariloche were fully booked for several days.
Cut your Costs by 50% using the “Blue Dollar”
Argentina has two exchange rates. The official rate is what you get for foreign currency in a bank, or if you pay by credit card. It is also applied to cash withdrawals by a credit card – which are a very bad idea since local bank fees for these transactions are also very high.
The unofficial exchange rate (or “blue dollar”) is nearly twice as good. You can get the “blue” rate from money changers offering their services on Calle Florida in Buenos Aires. Avoid them – they all look shady and are notorious for cheating customers. By far the best way to change money at the unofficial rate is by Western Union money transfer. Set up an account (important – do this in your home country before you leave), transfer money to yourself for pick up as cash in Argentina. You will need your passport and transfer details to collect the cash. It sounds easy, but there are a few complications:
- Western Union’s website lists lots of agencies, but many of these are very small and don’t have money. Pick the biggest agencies, which are listed as “C.S” on their site.
- Agencies are shut at weekends, except a few in Buenos Aires that open Saturday morning
- Expect big queues on Mondays and the first and last days of the month.
- There are no facilities in Patagonia.
- You will get bulky wads of hundreds of banknotes. Argentina’s most valuable note, the 1000 peso, is worth only 3€ at the unofficial rate. And that’s if they give you 1000 notes – I often received 500s or even 100s.
All of the above means that you will need to plan in advance when and where you will get cash, particularly if you are going to Patagonia.
Accommodation – Check the Exchange Rate when you book
I used Booking.com to book hotels. You get quoted a price in US$. Once you have made a booking, contact the hotel to ask if they apply the official exchange rate if you choose to pay in pesos. Most of my hotels agreed to this; only one asked for the blue rate (so I cancelled and booked somewhere else). If you pay like this, you save 50%! More expensive hotels add 20% VAT to their bills, which can you avoid by paying with a foreign credit (but then you get the official exchange rate, so it is still better to pay with cash).
AirBnB is not recommended, because you pay in advance in your own currency. It may have been bad luck, but the one place I booked with them was of very poor quality and seemed more aimed at local tourists.
Don’t Rely too much on Guidebooks
Things change quickly in Argentina. Our guidebook claimed to have been reprinted in January 2022, but was hopelessly out of date.
Check average weather conditions and pack accordingly. Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego are cold even in the southern summer and need very warm clothing and waterproofs. Aerolineas Argentinas (but not the other airlines) has a limit of 15kg for checked baggage, so you may also need to pack light and fully use the allowances of 8kg for carry-on baggage and 3kg for a personal item. The 15kg rule is not strictly enforced – we were usually a couple of kilos over, but the check-in staff ignored this.
Learn some (Argentine) Spanish
In touristy areas like Patagonia and parts of Buenos Aires, you can get by with English. But in most other places, few people other than hotel staff spoke a second language. If you already speak some Castilian Spanish, be aware that there are big differences in the pronunciation of “y” and “ll”, and that the second person singular “tu” is replaced by “vos” – with different verb endings. I didn’t find any good books on Argentine Spanish, but I found this website (for intermediate speakers) to be very good- https://argentalk.com
That’s all for now. I could write a lot more, but I am worried I will bore my readers. If anyone has a question, please leave a reply at the bottom of this page. Happy Travelling!