Argentina

Argentina
image: Queen of the Cactus: Justine Shapiro in the Andean Northwest

Queen of the Cactus: Justine Shapiro in the Andean Northwest

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 serious culture.

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 fellow Argentinians.

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.

Cash

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 you go.
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.

People

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 country.

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 Jesuit ruins.

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.

Travel

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 international flight.

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.

Food

‘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.

Language

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.

Climate

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.

Dress

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, like Recoleta.

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.

Health

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.

Visas

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 before travelling.

Buenos Aires City Guide

Read guide

La Ruta 40

Read guide

Argentina

Globe Trekker

View episode

Best Treks

Globe Trekker

View episode

Buenos Aires City Guide

Globe Trekker

View episode

Great Journeys: Planes,...

Globe Trekker

View episode

Great Journeys: Planes,...

Globe Trekker

View episode

Great Natural Wonders

Globe Trekker

View episode

Music Travel Videos 2

Globe Trekker

View episode

Ruta 40 Road Trip: Patagonia

Globe Trekker

View episode

Ruta 40 Road Trip: The Andes

Globe Trekker

View episode

The Good and Bad Food Guide

Globe Trekker

View episode

Top Ten South American...

Globe Trekker

View episode

Wine Trails: The New World

Pilot Globe Guides

View episode

The Story of... Beef

The Story Of…

View episode

Buenos Aires

Bazaar

View episode

Argentina - Locations

Argentina - Locations

Read article

Argentina - Food and Drink Specialities

Argentina - Food and Drink...

Read article

Prickly Presents: Shopping for Cactus Crafts

Prickly Presents: Shopping...

Read article

Travel Writers: An Argentinian Wedding By Brandon Mc Allister

Travel Writers: An...

Read article

Euro Cool, Gaucho Passion: The Tango

Euro Cool, Gaucho Passion:...

Read article

Ice Hiking in Argentina

Ice Hiking in Argentina

Read article

Pilgrimage to the Virgin of the Valley

Pilgrimage to the Virgin of...

Read article

Globe Trekker at 20

Globe Trekker at 20

Read article

The Landscapes of Ruta 40 North

The Landscapes of Ruta 40...

Read article

A home from home, Welshmen in Patagonia

A home from home, Welshmen in...

Read article

Destination of the Month: Alaska

Destination of the Month:...

Read article

Barlioche: an unsuspecting past

Barlioche: an unsuspecting...

Read article

Butch Cassidy's Patagonian Hideout

Butch Cassidy's Patagonian...

Read article

Top 10 South American Adventures

Top 10 South American...

Read article

Welcome the sun with Inti Raymi

Welcome the sun with Inti...

Read article

Ultimate Guide to South America

Ultimate Guide to South...

Read article

Children of Llullaillaco

Children of Llullaillaco

Read article

Arts, Crafts and Pachamama in Argentina

Arts, Crafts and Pachamama in...

Read article

Argentina's Salt Flats: On the Map, Out of this World

Argentina's Salt Flats: On...

Read article

Wining and Dining on the Ruta 40

Wining and Dining on the Ruta...

Read article

A Taste of Brazil

A Taste of Brazil

Read article

Buenos Aires Shopping Guide

Buenos Aires Shopping Guide

Read article

The world’s 10 best places to try tea

The world’s 10 best places...

Read news