Click the dots on the map above to view pictures I have taken in these locations.
The 8th largest country in the world by land area, Argentina is big, and equally as diverse. From the bustling capital of Buenos Aires to the vineyards in Mendoza, and from the Iguazu Falls waterfalls to the towering mountain tops of Patagonia, Argentina offers a lot to the traveler.
On the outside, the people sometimes seem arrogant, loud, and obnoxious. But once you get to know the people and the culture, you’ll begin to better understand their sense of humor and (hopefully) embrace it all. They talk fast, are passionate about soccer, and, if you’re lucky, they’ll invite you to share mate, an extremely popular herbal tea.
I crossed into Argentina from the Bolivian town of Villazon. I was greeted by a sign in Argentina, “Bienvenidos a La Quiaca (Argentina). Ushuaia 5,121 km.” Over 3,000 miles to the southern most city in the world, where I was heading to. I just didn’t have a plan in between there.
I was immediately shocked by two things in Argentina. The first was the prices. I was used to Bolivia prices, and crossing the border quadrupled the prices on many things. Eating at a restaurant now turned into $8 USD compared to $2 USD in Bolivia. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s easy to get used to low prices. It forces one to change the way of travel. The second thing that shocked me was the speed of the language. I had just spent three months in Peru and one month in Bolivia, and I had a pretty good handle of Spanish. At least I thought so. As soon as I crossed the border, my level of understanding changed from 80% to 20%. My confidence was crushed; it was like starting over.
I spent two days in Salta, a city in the northern Argentina. I was lucky to meet four Argentines in my hostel who were nice enough to take me out to a peña, a night out in a bar where anyone can bring instruments to play for anyone that will listen. This particular peña had several separate rooms featuring various bands. They never played on a stage; just sitting around a table and playing as if hanging out with friends. I’m extremely happy to have had the chance to experience this. I must’ve put on a good show by trying to act like I could understand the Argentines!
From Salta, I took an overnight bus to Cordoba, a city full of beautiful people and beautiful architecture. The spacious main plaza is surrounded by government buildings and the gorgeous Cordoba Cathedral. Many streets surrounding the plaza are pedestrian-only, making it a perfect place to eat lunch outside or grab a coffee.
Being a frugal traveler and traveling a more expensive country, I did whatever I could to save money. A great way to do this in Argentina is by taking overnight buses. The buses in Argentina is extremely comfortable, safe, and overnight buses do not typically cost any more than daytime buses. Not only does this save money, but it also saves time. Rather than staying overnight in a city and taking a 12 hour bus ride the entire next day, an overnight bus gives you that full day to explore.
Buenos Aires is, simply put, a fun city. Many consider it to be one of the best cities in the world. It’s one of those cities that just has the buzz, that energy. Streets are lined with cafes, musicians play on the sidewalks, and the bars are packed until the early hours of the morning. Late one night, I was sitting outside with several Couchsurfers having a great time just talking around a table. I look around, all the tables are full at this bar, the next bar, and so on. I look at my clock. It was almost 4am. That’s just how they do it in Buenos Aires.
One splurge I made (and that everyone should make) was going out to eat for a steak. Argentina is known for their asados, and with good reason. Sitting outside on a warm evening in Buenos Aires, enjoying a beer and an Argentine steak. It just feels right.
To avoid a 38 hour bus ride, I took a 4 hour flight from Buenos Aires down to Ushuaia. Had the price been right, I probably would’ve opted for the bus ride. But I was happy to pay just $50 more to save 34 hours of my life (and sore, tired legs).
I did not know what to expect in Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world. Leaving the airport, it did seem like the end of the world. Looking around, all I saw was mountains, lakes, and the ocean. Oh, and down in the distance was a small city. Surrounded by this scenery, it seemed tiny and unimportant. I was wearing most of the clothes that I had to try to keep warm in the 35 F (1 C) weather, a shock when coming from the 100 degree (34 C) heat of Buenos Aires.
Ushuaia is a tourist town. People come here for one of two reasons; to say they have been to the most southern city in the world, or to go to Antarctica. Being just 720 miles (1,200 km) from the Antarctic Peninsula, it’s half the distance than other spots like South Africa and New Zealand. Going by ship is a cheaper option, so many people use the port in Ushuaia as the starting point for their Antarctica tour.
Learning about these types of trips a month earlier, I went to Ushuaia with the intention of booking a last minute deal to Antarctica. Within 36 hours of arriving in Ushuaia, I was on a boat heading south! That is worth a different blog post, though!
My time in Ushuaia is a perfect example of what Couchsurfing is all about. I stayed with a guy who happens to be a chef. Immediately, we connected. We have very similar values and views on life. We had great conversations. With him being a chef, I was happy to keep him company while he whipped up some ridiculously delicious meals in the kitchen. He never wanted anything in return, as he was hosting me from the good in his heart. He had lived in Ushuaia for many years but had never been to Antarcica. After my returning from the frozen tundra, I raved and raved about it. A few months later, he was working as a chef on a ship going down to Antarctica. Although we spent just a few days hanging out, we still keep in contact to this day.
Patagonia, it’s what many people think when they hear about Argentina. Don’t listen to what you’ve heard. It’s so much better than that.
Patagonia is full of towering mountains, sky-blue lakes, and world-class hiking. The accessibility to these trails makes getting into the wild easy, so you can spend less time in a car and more time hiking. The best I found was in El Chalten, a small town at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy. From El Chalten, there are numerous hikes of tremendous quality. I stayed in a hostel in El Chalten and did 3 day-hikes. Looking back, I should’ve rented equipment and backpacked into the wild. There are many designated locations to camp, and most are in very beautiful spots.
El Calafate, another town in Patagonia, is another touristy town but with access to a nearby glacier. Because I had just seen some glaciers in Antarctica, I saved $100 by not taking this trip. I did make it to a traditional rodeo, though, where local cowboys did their best to ride wild horses before hitting the ground. Interesting to see this all take place, I took down a few chorizo sandwiches and wished I had some mate to wash it down.
Speaking of mate…this is something I knew nothing about, but I have grown to love it. The delicious, bitter taste of the dried yerba leaves sipped through a metal straw out of a hallow calabash gourd. No doubt that it’s an acquired taste. For most people, the bitterness is overpowering. But in Argentina, mate is not just a tea. It’s a social necessity, best when shared with friends. The person who brings the mate has a special job. They slip in some dried mate into the gourd, fill it with hot water, and pass it to whoever is next, typically working its way around the circle. When given to you, you’re expected to drink the entire cup out of the metal straw. Not too slow, though, but no pressure. Chatting with friends around a table or a lazy day at the park, mate is there for almost every occasion. To the outsider, it seems like just a drink. But it’s something more when you’re invited to join in. They’re inviting you to chat, to share stories, to talk about Argentina and the world. Argentines are tough to read. But when you’re invited for a mate, you know you’ve made a friend.
When traveling frugally, there are many times that you see or experience something special, something normal travelers would not have experienced. I arrived at 6:30am after an overnight bus ride to Bariloche, a city in the heart of the lakes district. Rather than taking a taxi, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the city center. The street led me to a view of Nahuel Huapi Lake. The sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon, and moisture the overnight rains created a bright rainbow from high in the overcast sky down into the middle of the lake. It’s one of those moments when traveling that just confirms your reason to keep traveling!
In Bariloche, I’d highly recommend renting a bicycle and doing the Small Circuit (Circuito Chico) of 27km (16 miles). There are several bike rental places where the Small Circuit begins. The road passes around many lakes with absolutely beautiful views. Some of the lakes feel more like the Caribbean Sea, and you’ll find yourself with stunning views.
Finally, I made it to Mendoza. Mendoza should be recognized by wine-drinkers, as the city is a major producer of Malbec wines shipped worldwide. An area just outside of Mendoza, called Los Caminos Del Vino, houses many vineyards, wineries, and olive oil producers. What’s the best way to get from winery to winery? By bicycle of course. For anyone looking for an adventurous day, go to Mr. Hugo Bicycle Rentals where Mr. Hugo and his family will hook you up with a bicycle for the day along with an informative map. He’ll even get you started with a glass of wine before even jumping on the bike. You’re free to roam wherever, tour wineries (usually for a fee), taste olive oils and cheeses, etc. The final leg back to Mr. Hugo’s place is an interesting one, to say the least. Afterwards, Mr. Hugo happily serves wine until 9pm when they close. For anyone looking for a great day in Mendoza while touring the wineries, this is a must.
Obviously, Argentina has a lot to offer. The most difficult part of travel in Argentina is the distances between many places. With careful planning, you can take on a variety of adventures in Argentina without spending much money!
Argentina Frugal Travel Tips
- Using overnight buses can save the cost of a night in a hostel and can save a full day of exploring.
- Tip the bus driver! This is normal in Argentina. When the bus driver digs out your bag underneath the bus, it’s typical to give at least 2 pesos ($0.50 USD) as a tip. It’s a small amount but much appreciated by the bus drivers.
- Bicycle rentals are fairly common throughout cities and other attractions. It’s a cheap way to see the city.
- Empanadas are everywhere. They can make for a very cheap meal or a snack to hold you over. I have never eaten so many empanadas in my life as I did in Argentina.
- Have a sweet tooth? Try some facturas. Facturas are pastries or other baked goods sold in most bakeries. Normally, there will be one price for any of assorted facturas. They are typically between 2 or 4 pesos per pastry ($0.50-$1.00 USD each).