Argentina is often type cast in the minds of travellers as
the home to Evita, the tango and the gaucho,
an expensive facsimile of a European nation in the southern
hemisphere. But travellers who explore beyond the country's
classic icons will stumble upon some of the most stunning
scenery in South America and get a chance to soak up some
Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world and stretches
from the humid cataracts and waterfalls of Iguazu all
the way down to Ushuaia, the gateway to the windswept
region of Patagonia, on the doorstep of the Antarctic.
In between these extremes are terrains as diverse as the dry
deserts of the Andean Northwest where unusual cactus
crafts are sold and the soaring peaks in the Andes, where
Swiss inspired villages like El Bolson host skiing
and winter sports in July. The flat and fertile Pampas
are home to huge estancias (ranches) staffed with gauchos,
who ensure the uninterrupted supply of beef consumed by their
The capital city of Buenos Aires offers a slice of
Parisian chic on the banks of the Rio de la Plata.
Here you can grab a local for a night of sensuous tango,
the nation's most famous dance, leaving room afterwards to
explore one of the world's most serious café cultures.
Glaciers, rainforests, majestic Andean peaks and Jesuit ruins
combined with healthy doses of sensualismo and machismo make
Argentina a must see on any visit to South America.
Queen of the Cactus: Justine Shapiro in the Andean Northwest
The currency of Argentina is the Peso. Until December
2001, when the 1:1 pegging of the peso to the US dollar was
abandoned, Argentina was one of the most expensive countries
in South America. Budget travel was around $50 per person
per day, excluding transportation. Since then the currency
has plunged in value making it a bargain for overseas travellers;
pushing the budget costs to around $20 per person, per day.
Nowadays costs are often a third of what they were before,
however many hotels now demand guests pay for all services
in US dollars.
For high end travel, hotel prices will be fixed in US dollars
so there are no bargains to be had there. This situation is
very much in flux so it is wise to check exchange rates before
With the current economic crisis affecting Argentina, it is
wise to bring a higher proportion of cash and travellers cheques
than normal; relying heavily on cash machines and credit card
advances could be a problem. Since the devaluation of the
peso cash machines have been closed numerous times and they
may not be operating when you need them. Still, long waits
to exchange foreign currency may be common so exchanging more
money in one go could be a smart way to save time in the long
run. However with fluctuating exchange rates it may be better
to change a little at a time; therefore it's imperative to
stay tuned to the current situation. Large denomination bills
with no tears or marks are prefered by banks so try to bring
as many new notes as possible.
With a population of just under 40 million, Argentinians are
a broad mixture of Spanish, Italian and other Southern
European nationalities who immigrated to the South American
nation in the last century. More than three quarters are of
direct European descent.
Tiny immigrant communities like the Welsh also exist
in the southern reaches of Argentina, and many Jews
escaped the Nazis by emigrating there in the 1930's. Today
many small villages still speak the language of their home
Particularly while in Buenos Aires, travellers won't feel
conspicious compared with other countries in the region and
will often be mistaken for locals. The Europeanness of Argentina
is still very strong and most people are either Catholic or
Protestant. The country has numerous historic churches and
Small communities from the indigenous population still exist
in the Andean Northwest, making up just over 15% of
the country's population. Known as mestizo, these people
are descendents of the first inhabitants of the country and
continue to speak Guarani and Quechua.
While the people of Argentina are deeply religious and exude
a conservative air, a very strong machismo streak flows through
the male portion of the population. Lone female travellers
may be the the recipient of unwanted looks and attention but
do as the local women do and ignore it.
For such a large country, travelling by air is recommended
to cover the large distances quickly and comfortably. Though
individual domestic air tickets are expensive, they will be
required by anyone on a tight time budget.
Some airpasses may be available for purchase outside the country
in conjunction with an international ticket. One such pass
is the Mercosur Pass, an excellent value for anyone visiting
one or more of the Mercosur countries: Brazil, Paraguay, Chile
and Argentina. Based on miles, the Mercosur Pass is
a cheap way to get around these countries. They work particularly
well for openjaw tickets (when flying into Rio De Janiero
and doing overland travel before flying out of Buenos Aires,
for example). The traveller can fly to Sao Paulo from Rio,
then to Iguazu, overland to Asunscion, then fly to Buenos
Aires for about $220 US dollars. There are no limit of flight
coupons within each tier of permitted miles as long as all
taxes are paid, and each itinerary must have at least one
Travellers who have more time than money will benefit from
an extensive bus system that covers every corner of
the country, fanning out from Buenos Aires. Prices can be
expensive so if you know where youre going before you leave
home try to work in a Mercosur Airpass, which is often the
same price as a bus ticket.
Trains also operate in certain regions but are under
intense pressure due to the economic problems, and some lines
may be abandoned in the near future. Buenos Aires has
an interesting and historic Metro system that covers
most of the central city. Buses can get you around too but
the number system is often confusing; taxis are plentiful
and easy to find, are reasonably cheap and are great for those
travelling in a group.
'Meat, and lots of it' defines the Argentinian diet, whose
appetite for steak and other grilled meats is perhaps
the highest in the world. Despite this even vegetarians can
find suitable food like pasta and salads across the country.
Italian, French, and other European foods are also widely
eaten reflecting the immigrant nature of the country's population.
With such a strong coffee culture, the brewed drink
is readily available in cafes reminiscent of Vienna or Paris,
yet the country's people have taken this pleasure a step further
and have created a national pastime: the scene of elegant
portenos whiling away the early hours in a Buenos Aires café
will be an entertaining and memorable experience.
Spanish is the official language of the country, but
English is widely spoken in the major cities, particularly
among university students. It is wise to carry a phrasebook
or dictionary for the more remote regions where English is
not understood so frequently. Due to the country's immigrant
population many residents in remote towns still speak their
native languages like German and Welsh.
The country stretches from tropical rainforests of the north
all the way to the frozen islands of Tierra Del Fuego,
with an extremely varied mix of vegetation and animal life.
The weather extremes are therefore vast and varied. Whatever
time of year you visit Argentina, come prepared for anything:
on a hot summers day in Buenos Aires you could be baking
in the heat while a few hours later be freezing in Ushuaia,
so warm layers of clothing are essential to beat the cold.
The best times to visit are between December and February,
the summer season. At this time much of the southern provinces,
off limits due to bad weather in the winter, are easily accessible,
though still subject to severe temperature fluctuations. The
Pampas and the Andean Northwest are very hot
and dry at this time.
The country is popular in the winter months of July and August,
especially for skiiers who shoosh the slopes of Balioloche
and other Andean mountain villages. Buenos Aires is not too
cold at this time, but the city's famous café culture
is more subdued and the city is more grey and withdrawn.
Argentina is quite a conservative country when it comes to
dress. Especially in Buenos Aires, where people dress very
elegantly, travellers should bring at least one set of dress
clothes in case they receive an invite from a local to eat
out. For day to day sightseeing its ok to dress casually but
for Argentina this means slacks and a collared shirt. Flip
flops and tank tops are a no-no in the capital.
Late night cafes, even in midweek, can be crowded with tie
and jacketed men and well dressed women so turning up in shorts
on your own or for an appointment would be a mistake. When
in doubt in Argentina, dress up rather than down and this
is particularly important when visiting churches or cemetaries,
Because of the austral seasons (summer in December, winter
in July) its very important to be prepared for cold weather
especially in Patagonia and the Andes mountains where the
weather is extremely unpredictable, even at the height of
summer. Ski jackets, gloves and wool hats are a very good
idea for a casual visit but absolutely essential if heading
for the higher mountains in any season. Warm loose clothing
is best for the summer.
Argentina is a very healthy country in which to travel and
health problems related to food are rare, however in the rural
areas cholera outbreaks sometimes occur. While visiting
the Iguazu falls, it's wise to cover up against mosquito
bites as dengue fever is sometimes reported there.
In the major cities quality medical help is available on par
with the USA or Europe; carrying medical insurance is always
a good idea. City water is drinkable but bottled water should
be consumed when trekking or camping in remote areas like
Patagonia as supplies are not always safe.
Most North American and European nationals do not require
visas for up to 90 days in Argentina, and are granted a 3
month stay on arrival. However this situation may change so
always contact the nearest Argentinian Embassy or consulate