Argentina is an amazing country to visit, and it is certainly worth a visit. Some things are a little different though, so it is worth reading up. To get you started, here are the most important things to know before you go to Argentina.
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Money is Confusing
Working out how to get cash and how to pay for everything was the thing that was most stressful and confusing for me before our trip visiting Argentina.
I’m going to give a short version here, because this really can be complicated, and is possibly worth a post all on its own! Basically, there are around twenty different exchange rates in Argentina – and they vary widely. Due to the economic instability in the country and the demand for foreign currency, the government has limited to amount of currency Argentinians can exchange – this has created a black market.
Sounds dodgy, but while it may not be totally legal, it is so common and there is nothing hidden about it at all. The officials seem to turn a blind eye. Walking down Florida Street, the main tourist street, you will hear calls of “cambio, cambio” (meaning “exchange”) as the unofficial money-changers vie for business.
There are two particular exchange rates that visitors need to understand – the official rate & the blue rate.
The official rate is what banks use. This also means ATMs, and is the rate you will get if you take cash out of an ATM with your debit or credit card.
The blue rate is that used by the black market, and it is usually around double the official rate. So by using this rate, everything will be half price – and that can make a huge difference for your holiday budget.
The best two ways to get cash in Argentina are:
- Bring USD (or Euros) and exchange them on the street to Argentinian Pesos
- Use Western Union to transfer money to yourself. When you pick it up it will be at the blue rate (or just slightly below it)
Until recently (January 2023) credit cards used the official rate, so you would want to use cash for absolutely everything to get the best value. But thankfully that has changed. Now both Visa and Mastercard are using rates that are closer to the blue rate. We were losing around 6% compared to the Western Union rate, but it was well worth it for us to pay for the major things with credit card.
Amex are still working on getting the changes set up in their system, but apparently it is coming.
I purposely haven’t given any rates of exchange here – because of inflation, the rates I had during my visit less than a month ago have already changed, and they will continue to change. (I recommend XE as the best place to check the official rates online). In fact, this whole situation could change overnight, so make sure you research up-to-date information before you go to Argentina.
The Political Situation is…Tumultuous
The last one hundred years or so in Argentina has been pretty crazy. In the late 1800s, this was a rich, stable, cultured city, on par with London, Paris and New York. But things have kind of gone downhill since then.
The twentieth century saw six dictatorships in Argentina, and there is still much left over from them.
One of the most prominent and poignant issues is that of “The Disappeared”. All over the country you will find mention of the 30 000 people who simply “went missing” from 1976-1983. There are some glimmers of hope though. Not from The Disappeared themselves, but their children. Up to 500 of the women were pregnant at the time they went missing, and they were allowed to give birth. The children were given to other people to raise as their own.
Today there is a movement looking for those children. Anyone of the right age can request a free DNA test to confirm their parentage. To date 132 of the children have been found, two just in January 2023, and there is a nationwide celebration whenever a new one comes to light. This is just one small effort to reconcile the events of the past.
While there is no mass kidnapping happening right now, there are some other issues. The crazy inflation happening right now though (around 100% in 2022) is not the worst inflation the country has faced. From my limited perspective as a visitor, this seems to have given the Argentinian people a sense of resilience and resourcefulness that allows them to get on with life under these trying times.
So today, there are certainly issues, and you will likely see some sort of protest happening somewhere when you go to Argentina. I saw large protests in both Buenos Aires and Mendoza, and both seemed peaceful and easy to avoid. (I never recommend getting caught up in local issues).
Is it safe to visit Argentina now?
This was one I was a little nervous about before we went. We had never been to South America before, and you know what it’s like listening to the media (about any place really!).
Our first stay was in Buenos Aires, and we were wary. But we had researched and prepared, and within a day or two we had settled into our usual “alert but not alarmed” routine that we would use in any city – including our own at times.
Buenos Aires didn’t feel any different to me than any other big city. There are some dodgy areas that it’s best not to hang around, like the bus station and the train station, and some other places we were warned to stick to the tourist areas (in La Boca for example) but in general we did not feel unsafe.
The other places we visited – Ushuaia, Puerto Madryn, Iguazu, Bariloche, Córdoba and Mendoza – felt even more relaxed.
Now I’m not saying these places are all perfectly safe, but just that with common sense, Argentina is no worse than many other places around the world.
My top travel tips when you go to Argentina – and for keeping safe anywhere are:
- Leave all the flashy jewellery, clothes and electrical items home
- Stay aware of your surroundings
- Catch taxis or Ubers after dark if you are unsure of the area
- Don’t go to places locals have warned you against
- Keep your belongings close
- Keep phones out of sight if you can. Don’t set them down on tables when eating, or walk with them in your hands
- Keep well away from local disturbances
- Always, always, always get travel insurance (we use CoverMore)
Argentina is (Mostly) Cheap
You might be wondering is Argentina expensive to visit? If you are using the blue rate of exchange, visitors will find Argentina to be really cheap to travel in.
We found good mid-range accommodation for around $70AUD/night, meals were around $10AUD/person, a Latte about $2.50AUD. Taxis were just a couple of dollars.
We found tours could be incredibly cheap or incredibly expensive, and the difference was often the amount of English spoken. We did find free walking tours everywhere though, so that helped a lot with the budget.
One thing you have to do when you go to Argentina is eat Asado, the delicious grilled meat available all over the country. A whole plate for two people in a nice restaurant was 5000 pesos, or around $20AUD – and we couldn’t eat it all. It would have been four times this price in Australia.
What isn’t cheap is anything imported, or name-brand. As as example, a Hard Rock t-shirt was 9700 Pesos during our visit. Using the official rate this was around $75AUD. With the blue rate it came down to about $40AUD. Still not what I would call cheap – but on par with elsewhere.
Argentina is Huge
Coming from Australia, I felt right at home with the distances in Argentina, but it could certainly take some getting used to when you go to Argentina if you are from (say) Europe where everything is close.
Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world, but it’s kinda long and skinny, so to travel north to south it’s around 3650km. This means that it’s not somewhere you can visit in just a few days and cover most of the country.
Argentina has a population of around 46 million, around a third of them live in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Both Córdoba and Rosario have populations greater than 1 million but after that, there are only smaller cities and towns. So distances between those large centres can be long and boring.
Argentina is Incredibly Diverse
Because it is long it covers a huge range of climates, which makes for a hugely diverse environment and lots of different things to do in Argentina.
In the north it is tropical. On our visit to Iguazu I could have sworn we were in South East Asia. It’s wet and rainy and the big attraction is of course Iguazu Falls
The central areas, so when we were in Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Mendoza reminded me a lot of our climate here in Adelaide, Australia. We were there in summer and mostly had temperatures in the 30s (celsius) but is does get cold in winter. This is where most of the wine regions in Argentina are found, and of course the bigger cities.
Patagonia is a huge region in the south which tends to be mostly dry and it’s one of the must-see places to visit in Argentina. The areas we drove through around Puerto Madryn were flat and desolate with small scrubby trees and vegetation. But there are areas of Patagonia that could be just like Europe – such as the lake districts around Bariloche. During winter this turns into the best ski resorts in Argentina
Then there’s the city at the end of the world – Ushuaia. This is mostly a stopping-off point for all the cruises to Antarctica, but it also the getaway to the Tierra del Fuego national park.
With so much to see and do, it’s hard to choose just one part to visit – so when you go to Argentina, you will want to go all over.
Argentinian Food and Wine to Try
Argentina is not really known as a food destination, but there are some things I recommend you definitely try while you are here
- Asado – this is the traditional BBQ meat and you can’t go to Argentina without trying it. It is often a range of different meats grilled to perfection. Often a “mixed grill” plate would include beef, lamb, pork, chorizo and blood sausage, but you could order just one variety if you preferred. We tried a few different versions of it and it was always delicious.
- Empanadas – these tasty little parcels are the Argentinian street food. They were available everywhere, but the flavours and styles changed from city to city. They are a great light lunch or quick snack on the go, and usually only cost a couple of dollars. We regularly found lunch deals at restaurants such as 2 empanadas plus a drink for a really good price.
- Alfajores – these are again available just about everywhere and they come in all different sorts of styles and flavours. Basically they are two biscuits with a filling inside. Usually the filling is dulce de leche, an Argentinian invention like caramel, but tit can also be other things too. We tried some with pear in them in Córdoba.
- Malbec – this is Argentina’s wine, and it is worth trying if you haven’t before. I like to choose local if I can so I had many different glasses of Malbec over my month in Argentina, and I don’t think there was a single bad glass. It was consistently good and cheap too. A bottle at a supermarket could be as low as a couple of dollars. The most we paid was for a premium wine at one of the wineries we went to – and it was about $20AUD.
- Mate – or as you will often see it, Yerba Mate. This is a tea-like drink that everyone in Argentina seems to always have at hand. It’s sipped through a straw out of a gourd-like cup. To try it yourself you will need to buy the gourd, a bombilla (the straw) and some mate (bought from nearly any shop in a bag like tea leaves). Or you might be lucky and a local may offer to share with you. Take them up on it, at least to give it a try.
Which to Choose: Buses vs Planes
This was a conversation we had a few times during our trip – which is the best way to get around Argentina on a budget, catching a bus or flying?
It’s easy to think that clearly the buses will be the way to go. Sure it might take you 24 hours or more, but it will save you a bundle. And really, the buses are comfy, with large seats, some of which lay almost flat. In fact, it’s possible to purchase seats that are beds on some routes.
But it is always worth checking the flight prices too. With the budget airlines now flying – Fly Bondi for example – sometimes it its possible to fly for around the same price as the bus. The time savings could make it worth it.
Of course there are other considerations too, such as the environmental impact of flying and the savings on accommodation. But either way, it’s a good idea to check each option rather than just opt for one or the other.
Oh, one trip I suggest you do by bus – if you are going from Argentina to Chile, the trip over the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago or vice versa if you go to Argentina in the opposite direction. The views are worth the extra time.
Spanish is a Little Different Here
Let me preface this by saying I don’t speak Spanish, not even a little bit. But my husband did spend a few months trying to learn the basics. It was all going well until a couple of weeks before our trip I came across a Youtube video that mentioned Spanish is different in Argentina.
So while I can’t give you all the specifics, I do know that one of the things that was different was how the “ll” was pronounced. So pollo (chicken) which tends to be pronounced poy-o or poy-jo instead sounds like poy-sho.
There is also something different about the form of “you” used and that changes some other words (vague I know, but as a non-Spanish speaker it’s all I remember 😂)
So, if you speak Spanish, you might want to brush up a little on the pronunciation and use before you go to Argentina.
As an aside, we found English to be relatively limited. In most places we could get by with Simon’s simple Spanish, had signals and the little English most people spoke. Do not expect taxi drivers or people in shops to have any English at all.
Using Public Transport in Argentina
This is another thing I would love to tell you a whole lot more about, but unfortunately my experience was limited.
To use public transport in Argentina, you will need to get a SUBE card and load some money onto it. The problem is, at least at the time of my visit, finding the cards was almost impossible. Research told me that we should have been able to pick up a card at many Kiosks across the city, or at metro stations.
The cards also need to be acquired while you are in Buenos Aires as they are even harder to find elsewhere. This meant that when we couldn’t find the cards, we were unable to catch public transport anywhere in Argentina, which was a bit of a bummer.
We were told on our last morning visiting Buenos Aires that the best place to try to get the SUBE cards is at the major metro stations at the ends of the lines in the city centre area. We did not have time to go and check this out though.
If you DO manage to get a card, the metro and buses are a great way to get around. They seem to go everywhere. The buses are a good option in Bariloche and Córdoba too, and available in all the other places we went too. Rides apparently cost something like $0.25USD, so crazy cheap.
If you can’t get a card, don’t worry too much. We used taxis and Ubers to get around, and I have to say, while not as cheap as public transport, they were still a lot cheaper than what we pay at home.
Phones, SIM cards and How to Communicate
I recommend getting yourself a local SIM card when you are visiting Argentina. You will want data to help you get around with Uber and to message people.
I found WhatsApp was used for pretty much all communication, from tours and accomodation contacting me in advance to it being the only way to book restaurants. So if you don’t already use it (Aussie’s, I’m talking to you here because I think the rest of the world does!) download and set up the app before you go.
The main phone companies in Argentina are Movistar and Claro, and there were stores all over, so it would be easy to find a SIM card on arrival. That would mostly likely be the most economical solution, and best if you are going to be in Argentina for a good amount of time.
Another option – the one I went with – is to pick up an eSIM from Airalo. I got a regional one since I was visiting more than one country in South America, but you can get country-specific ones too. This also allowed my to leave my home SIM in my phone to receive those pesky texts containing codes needed to log into some websites.
Want more Argentina travel tips? These might help
TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs
Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.
Hire a rental car – RentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.
Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.
Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.
Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.
Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.