From the title of this post I’m sure you’ve probably figured out that Argentina was expensive. I don’t want to judge Argentina solely on their ability to charge crazy amounts of money for things like transportation (more on that later), so I’ll also tell you about the things we liked (the good) and the things we didn’t like so much (the bad).
Let’s start out on a positive note with the things we liked about Argentina. Many people that visit Argentina love it, and in some ways it’s not hard to see why.
We drank more wine in Argentina than we have in the last three years combined. Ok, that’s probably not true, but we drank a lot of wine. Amazingly, wine is pretty much the only thing in Argentina that is not expensive. In fact, it’s cheap, and it’s good. You can buy a pretty decent bottle of wine for around $5… or less. If it was socially acceptable and socially responsible, we probably would have bought wine instead of water… it was almost cheaper. In some places I think it was.
We loved drinking wine in Argentina so much that we spent time in two different wine regions. Our first stop was in Mendoza around Christmas where we did a wine bus tour and visited 4 different wineries. A week later we hit our second wine region in Cafayate, where we rented bikes and peddled around in the scorching heat to taste wine at multiple wineries.
Everyone says that the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile is beautiful, and they’re not lying. Unlike the wine, Patagonia is not cheap. You will pay for the beauty, but I still think that the money we spent in El Calafate and El Chalten was well worth it.
We had some of the crappiest weather during our tour to see the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, but it was still one of the coolest (pun intended) things I’ve seen during our trip.
In terms of weather, we had just the opposite in El Chalten. The day we arrived we had the most perfect day. We hiked for 9 hours that day and saw some of the most breathtaking scenery we’ve seen on our trip.
Duh, everyone knows that they have good steak in Argentina. Other countries in South America even seem to be jealous of how good the steak is in Argentina. Hey, I’m just going by what a local in Peru told us.
Our first steak was actually in El Calafate, where we decided to split a filet for dinner. Our waiter proceeded to bring out two decent size filets… we wondered if the waiter had understood what we wanted. Yes, he did, that’s just how they do it in Argentina.
Two weeks later in Cafayate, we both ordered the filet again. This time each getting our own, but we probably could have split one. The filets were each the size of a fist and cooked to perfection. We both commented on how we’ve never had a steak cooked so perfectly before.
When you’re traveling for 7 months, the little things are important. We’ve had our fair share of low pressure (Quito, Ecuador) and/or cold (Cusco, Peru) showers throughout our trip. One of the great things about the places we stayed in Argentina was that the showers, for the most part, were consistently hot and had great water pressure.
Some times all you want (or need) is a hot shower, which is why I nearly had a breakdown in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile when every shower I took was ice cold. Luckily, I never really had to worry about that in Argentina, which I am very thankful for.
Now, the bad is not really bad, but more of just an annoyance.
Majority of the Food
I’ve already complimented them on their steak, but unfortunately that is all the praise I have for the food. Since everyone raved about the food in Argentina we thought that we would have new things to try and maybe even experience some dishes with a little more flavor than what we had been eating throughout the rest of South America. This was not the case. We still found ourselves passing restaurant after restaurant offering the same food:
- Fried food (empanadas)
- Some type of breaded meat (milanesa)
- Pasta (very little sauce… even less flavor)
- Pizza (and for some reason in Argentina all pizza came with no sauce, only crushed tomatoes & olives on top… unpitted)
All of South America as some weird business hours, but in Argentina we were lucky to find anything open when we needed something.
Everything closes on Sunday – I’m talking ghost town. Unfortunately, we arrived in Salta on a Sunday. Every single storefront was gated and locked up. Trying to find a place to eat? Nearly impossible. I guess we were lucky our hotel had someone working at the front desk to check us in.
1-2 hours closed for lunch – There are actually many places in cities and towns that close for an hour or two during lunch. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but a lot of times restaurants close during this same time. Where does one eat lunch if all the restaurants need to close to eat lunch as well?
Buses Were Not So Spectacular
Since the beginning of our trip all we kept hearing about was how amazing the buses in Argentina were. People compared the buses to international first class. Well, this was not the case for the majority of our bus rides. After our time in Argentina we would say that the best buses we had were in Peru.
The majority of our buses in Argentina were older, had poor service, and did not offer the same level of comfort that buses in Peru did. They were also quite dirty on a few different occasions. I had to actually brush cookie crumbs and a bunch of other crap off my seat on our bus from Bariloche to Mendoza.
One other thing that bothered us about the buses in Argentina was that the luggage people asked for tips. In all of the other countries we were never asked for tips, nor was it ever expected. The luggage people in Argentina would not give you the luggage tag until you tipped them, saying rudely, “Tip, tip.” It seemed crazy to tip for something like that especially after how much we paid for the bus… plus, if I could have done it myself I would have.
Interestingly, the last bus we had in Argentina was exactly what we had been expecting all our other buses to be. We finally got the 180 degree lie flat seats, hot meals and free wine. If only all the buses had been like that!
Still terrible. We keep trying and keep being disappointed. Two key ingredients are needed: Sugar and butter. Thank you.
Also, it was really hard to find a Snickers… what kind of a civilized society is this?
Argentina is currently having a lot of issues with their government and their currency. When we arrived there were two exchange prices. One was the official exchange price that was around 9.5 pesos per US dollar. The other was what they called the blue dollar, which was an exchange rate you could get illegally on the street… this exchange price was set at around 15 pesos per US dollar. Within four days of us being in Argentina the government decided to put an end to the blue dollar and lowered the exchange rate to around 14 pesos per US dollar.
With the US dollar being so strong in Argentina one would think that our money would go a long way, which is exactly what everyone told us before we arrived. This was not the case. What everyone forgets to mention is that the financial crisis is causing serious inflation as well.
It doesn’t matter if the dollar is strong when all of the businesses raise their prices to keep up with the falling value of the peso. We saw this everywhere we went in Argentina, where most menus had white stickers over the prices so they could write in the new price. It didn’t stop there though…
Bus transportation ended up being 4-5 times more expensive than other countries. In Peru we could take an overnight bus for $30-40 per person. In Argentina, a similar bus was costing us $120-160. That was more than we would pay for a flight in the US. Unfortunately, flying in Argentina was even more expensive.
I already mentioned above that white stickers were placed on menus to change prices, but the prices were so high it didn’t make sense. In the rest of South America we could get a decent size meal for the two of us for around $15-20 at a nice restaurant. In Argentina we were looking at $20-25 per person. This probably still seems reasonable to some people, but you can’t compare it to restaurants in the US, you have to compare it to other countries in South America.
Lynn had a hard time finding places to stay within our $50 per day budget that we set for lodging. The main reason for this is because Argentina has a 21% lodging tax for hotel and hostels. In order to avoid this lodging tax we booked Airbnb apartments when we could. Staying in apartments with our own kitchen also helped us to keep costs down on food.
Looking at Some Numbers
Even though we tried to find ways to cut costs and not spend as much in Argentina, we still spent way more than we had budgeted. Even though we spent more time in Argentina than we had planned, we also spent 4 times more than we had budgeted. Fortunately, we were well below budget for the beginning of our trip, so even with the overage in Argentina, we’re still below our estimated budget.
Let’s compare Argentina to Peru… During the 24 days we spent in Peru, we ended up spending 29% less than we did during the 20 days we spent in Argentina. Had we not gone to Machu Picchu (the most expensive part of Peru), the difference would be around 40% less than all of Argentina.
So, I’m adding in a little bonus section here because these last few things were not good or bad, but more strange than anything else.
Different Power Plug than Every Other Country
For some reason, Argentina uses the Australian power plug instead of the European plug that every other country in South America uses. Not sure why this is, but we found it odd.
Argentina was really the only country in all of South America that had bidets at the places we stayed. Ok, so Uruguay had bidets as well, but it’s practically Argentina.
The maté is not unique to Argentina, but it was the first time that we were introduced to this tea like drink in South America. I never tried maté, so I can’t really say that I have anything against it, but it just seems so strange to me.
The thing I don’t understand is what people actually go through to drink this drink. It would make sense if it was something that people drank at home or when they were out for special occasions, but that is not the case. People will carry around (on the train, bus, or just walking down the street) the traditional maté cup, a container of yerba (the tea like herbs), and a thermos of hot water. Below is an picture of a guy we saw carrying around his thermos of hot water at Iguazu Falls in Argentina. We saw many people carrying these around the park during their visit.
The crazy thing is not that they were carrying these around, it was the atmosphere in which they were carrying them around. The temperature was around 34°C that day (98°F). Why someone would want to carry around, and drink a warm beverage in that kind of heat makes no sense to me.
Don’t take my post the wrong way, because we both have fond memories of Argentina. We just wish that it hadn’t been so expensive. When you’re trying to travel for 7 months and keep to a budget it makes it hard to choose where to stay, what to eat, and what to see and do when everything is more expensive than you thought it would be.
If we were to do Argentina over again, we would probably do a lot of the same things we did, but we would make some small changes. There were cities and towns that we spent time in, that we didn’t need to. Salta was one of them, and it was expensive there as well. Spending a little less time (and money) in Argentina would have maybe given us a little more time in Brazil… which was cheaper, and a place we wish we had more time to spend.