We spent a total of 3 weeks in Argentina.
From Ecuador we flew south to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s buzzing capital city. From Buenos Aires we took a weekend trip to San Antonio and then flew to El Calafate (Patagonia) to see the incredible glacier – Perito Moreno. We then travelled north by bus to El Chalten where we hiked to Mount Fitz Roy and returned to Buenos Aires to continue our journey to New Zealand via LA and Fiji.
Need travel tips? Want to know where to go for the BEST steak and where to see the BEST Tango for cheap as chips prices? Read on…
Buenos Aires, along with Mexico City and Sao Paulo is considered one of the three Latin American ‘alpha cities’. It is the most visited city in South America and is known most for its European-style architecture and rich cultural life – not to mention the wine, and delicious, HUGE juicy steaks available on every street corner.
I quite liked Buenos Aires but it reminded me a lot of London, only more compact. The pubs and bars are very much like the ones you would find in the UK, only the wine was a heck of a lot cheaper. It was nice to begin with, an exciting place to be – and I could see why South Americans rave about it – it’s just SO different. But to me it was the same as home and there were some cultural changes that I just couldn’t adapt to; eating dinner at 11.00 pm, going out at 1.00 am and going to bed at 5.00 am. Once a week I can manage but every day?
You don’t need long in Buenos Aires – a week tops to fill your boots. Any longer (especially if you’re hosteling it) can wear you down.
Following the economic crisis earlier in the century, Argentina continues to suffer from soaring inflation rates. Don’t go by what your guide book tells you is the price for a taxi ride, for example – within a year it would have doubled…trippled! Budgeting is hard and the only way you can make your money last is by exchanging it on the black market. Sounds dodgy but everyone does it. You have to really. We worked out that we saved around £500 each across the 3 weeks because the ‘legal’ exchange rate was so bad.
- When you enter the country bring in as many US Dollars or Euros as you can in cash.
- Before you arrive, work out how much you need to get you into the city (transport from the airport) and add that to your first few nights accommodation and food and drink budget. Best way to get a rough idea may be just to do an internet or trip adviser search.
- Take that amount out of a cash machine or see if the taxi driver will accept dollars (he should do).
- Don’t exchange money at the airport – you’ll be massively ripped off.
Listed below are some good sites I found that tell you about the ‘Blue Rate’ and how to get your money exchanged.
I had a friend in Buenos Aires who helped us to exchange money in the back office of a betting shop. The second time I needed to exchange money, our hostel owner did it for us. Hostel/hotel owners can’t advertise this service as it is technically illegal and they could have their business shut down. It’s just worth asking.
Travelling around Buenos Aires
At first it seems people are hailing a bus from any old place in the street, however, there are usually signs sticking out of the wall or numbered stickers stuck to the walls indicating bus numbers that stop at that particular site. Buses will only stop at their designated sticker/sign and the signs are tiny so watch out for them.
You can purchase a travel swipe card for the buses/metro from any metro station. Bus journeys cost an average of 3 pesos. 2 people can travel on one card.
Places to Stay
Artistic, bohemian and hipster meets 17th century mansions and cobbled streets. This is old mixed with new and it really works. Despite being the historical centre of Buenos Aires, here you can find some of the cheapest and best bars and restaurants in the city.
Every Sunday a market takes over the whole of Defensa street. Art, antiques, jewelry, records, food, drink, live music, Tango… This is Argentina’s answer to London’s Brick Lane…though dare I say, it may be better!
The Tango show, which takes place in the Feria de San Pedro Telmo Square is considered the best Tango in the city – according to my Buenos Aires friend’s house mate – an Argentinian dancer.
For the buzz, the cheap eats, drinks, and markets, San Telmo is definitely a good place to base yourself.
From here the number 29 bus can get you to the famous La Boca in 15 minutes and Palermo/Plaza Italia near the big park in about 30 minutes depending on traffic. The 64 also goes to the park from San Telmo but goes round the houses a bit.
It used to be door number 579 but has now changed location and is on the other side of the street (Number 556). There is nothing on the front of the building to say it is a hostel. (That was the case when we stayed in March 2015).
The owners don’t let people in before 8.30 am or after 9.00 pm unless they are a registered guest with a key (no 24 hour reception) which is a bit crap but you might be able to arrange late/early check-in via email. The rooms, however are really, really nice – superb, infact – like a hotel.
Another option is this place just around the corner where we also stayed:
This was definitely more of a hostel and could get quite loud at night. The owner was lovely though and he helped us with money exchange, the room was big and well, what more do you need?
Things to See and Do
Grab the PERFECT STEAK
You can find steak everywhere in Buenos Aires but if you want to find the best steak you go to La Cabrera. It is SENSATIONAL and MASSIVE! On a weekday there is a 50% off deal – check when you go, although I’d pay full whack it tasted so good. Try the steak with blue cheese sauce – Oh My God.
See the BEST Tango in Buenos Aires
Hit the Feria de San Pedro Telmo Square on Sunday from about 4.00 pm to 5.30 pm for some incredible Tango performances. This is the type of Tango you’d expect to see at one of those ‘dinner included’ shows, and all you pay is a tip in a basket at the end – brilliant!
The Tango show here is considered (by the locals) to be the best Tango in the city – so if you’re on a budget, get to the market for some incredible dancing and forget paying top dollar for a show!
The dancers who performed at the market distributed business cards at the end of their performance. If you want to learn to Tango – these guys are probably the best!
San Telmo Sunday Market and La Boca
Traders start from around 10.00 am and wrap up at around 5.00 pm.
Here’s how we did it:
10.00 am – The market hadn’t really kicked off so we caught the 29 bus from San Telmo to La Boca. Tell the bus driver to let you off at Caminito. It’s not a terribly safe area but the driver will let you know where’s best to get off.
The buildings and streets here are stunning and colourful.
The vibe however is completely fake and the area is overrun with tourists, so if it’s authenticity you’re after you won’t find it here but that’s not to say you won’t have a good time. Consider La Boca a big colourful open air museum with tatty gift shops littered throughout with some staged tango dancing on the side.
Fab picture taking opportunities (if you can get a shot past the hoards of people).
11.15 am – We hopped on a bus and made our way back to San Telmo for the market. By 11.30 the streets were really busy and vibrant.
Hungry? Best place to grab a snack is Nuestra Parrilla (aka Parrilla Fredy)
The meat is incredible, as is the pesto sauce that goes with it. The wine is a bit hit and miss but at £1 a glass you can’t grumble. The beer is also pretty good. It was all SO GOOD and cheap we even went back for dinner!
WALK the City to take in all the major monuments
Walking through the streets of Buenos Aires is a great way to see the city. We walked all the way from San Telmo to Plaza Italia and the Tres de Febrero Park and Palermo. It took about 3-4 hours with stops in between. If you’re feet aren’t quite up for it there is a city tour bus that seemed like a fun option. However, walking has its charms and you’re bound to be entertained along the way.
Check out La Recoleta Cemetrary
This is probably one of the oddest cemeteries I’ve ever visited. It’s smack bang in the middle of the city and there’s hardly a patch of green to be seen inside the walls.
It’s full of concrete tombs and mausoleums. Some are so run down the coffins inside are smashed and broken and have not been repaired. It’s just odd. I half expected to see old bones flopping out of the rotting boxes – thankfully, I didn’t.
Worth visiting though. It’s free and it’s where Evita Peron is buried.
Spend an afternoon in the park
Go to the market – pick up some wine, cheese and picnic food and take a stroll around one of the many city parks. There are a few to choose from, and they’re not amazing but in a city like Buenos Aires it’s almost essential to find yourself a bit of open space to escape the hectic city life. We went to the Tres de Febrero Park.
Go to Uruaguay
I can’t tell you much about it as I didn’t go. Easter holidays were approaching and all the ferry companies from where we could book tickets were closed, so we missed out. I heard it’s a good day trip out though; nothing super special but you get another stamp in the passport.
Visit the Delta el Tigre
Another highly recommended trip but again, we didn’t do it as we’d done a few canal boat trips elsewhere in other countries and we wanted to focus our attention more on the city streets.
I think this is a place that is meant to be taken seriously but…you just can’t. It is well worth a visit just for the experience of seeing a staged crucifixion of Jesus (with real actors) and to behold a 20ft plastic illuminated statue of Jesus emerge from the grounds.
Get away from it all – go cowboy in San Antonio de Areco
San Antonio de Areco is a town in northern Buenos Aires, just 113 km – roughly 2 hours drive away by bus from the city centre. If you’re looking for a change of scenery and need to get away from busy city life, then head to San Antonio. It’s where local BA city dwellers choose to escape to for a weekend break.
The city is the home of the Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güiraldes. Each year in November, the city holds the Día de la Tradición (Tradition Day) gaucho celebration.
If you arrive on a weekend expect live music, entertainment and flocks of Argentinian Guachos donning their finest. During the week it’s completely dead! Most places are closed and aside from the odd local, and stray dog – it’s a bit of a ghost town. We arrived on a weekday and despite there being not a lot to do we had a lovely time. There are some lovely little cafes and restaurants serving gorgeous food, a lovely little park, and we were staying in a beautiful hostel with a huge double room backing onto a garden with a pool.
Places to Eat, Drink and be Merry
For the PERFECT STEAK…
For good vibes, wine, cozy pub feel…
Bar El Federal
Carlos Calvo, 599, C1102AAK CABA, Argentina
For on-the-go street food…
Nuestra Parrilla (aka Parrilla Fredy)
For the best burger…
Burger Joint – Palermo
Considered the best burger joint in Buenos Aires
From Buenos Aires we flew to El Calafate in Patagonia to visit the magnificent Glacier Perito Moreno in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
From El Calafate we travelled by bus to the town of El Chalten where we spent a few days hiking around Mount Fitz Roy. JUST BEAUTIFUL!
If you go to Argentina and don’t travel to the end of the earth…you’re missing out. BUT prepare yourself for an expensive trip. Yes – expensive but oh so worth it.
When you arrive at the airport you can either take a taxi or a mini bus into town. All very expensive and you can’t negotiate on cost.
Where you can save money
Try and prepare your own meals whenever you can and shop at the supermarket. We survived on bread and cheese for a couple of days…and wine.
Pay for tours in dollars rather than paying by card – you get discounts. People love dollars in Argentina as they can exchange them for more on the black market.
There’s really just one reason to come here – and that’s to see the glacier Perito Merino
When the birds take flight suddenly, you know something big is going down…
Places to Stay
Double room with private bathroom £8.95 per night pp. Bookings can be made via Hostelbookers.
Beautiful hostel set just outside of town, away from the tourists with the most extraordinary views and sunsets. The hostel is run by a very sweet family, always willing to go the extra mile.
The facilities were also great. A bar area, pool table, comfortable sofas and cushions, wifi. Lovely.
The tour to the glacier is a one day tour. Click here for a bit more information about what’s included.
Try and book your tour or at least reserve your space in advance. We travelled in April, and when booking the day before we missed out on one tour option and only just made it onto another tour. Remember to pay in cash, and in dollars to get discounts on tickets.
At the time, the best deal we got was with a company called ‘Always Glaciers.’ There are several tour companies in town, all operating exactly the same tours – only the price differs – so expect more-or-less the same quality of tour.
So here’s the thing – in Argentina the exchange rate bounces around so much that it’s difficult to quote how much a one day tour to the glacier will cost, and of course you’ll get a 20% discount (maybe more) if you pay in cash with dollars, so there are variables to consider – but I would maybe put aside £150. You can always enquire with hostels at the time of booking to get a ballpark figure.
But it is completely and utterly worth it!
Unless you don’t have time on your side and you need to book in advance, avoid booking activities through your hostels as you may end up paying a big commission fee and won’t get the dollar discount you could get when booking direct with the agency. If you want to book through them to make life easier, ask maybe if you can pay in dollars (cash) on arrival – and could they give you a discount for that, as agencies in town offer discounts. They will more than likely say that they will.
What type of tour?
The tour we missed out on was walking on the actual glacier. Seriously – glad we did miss it, because firstly, it’s more expensive, and secondly you’d totally miss all the action – and i’m talking 60 feet of solid ice exploding and collapsing right in front of your eyes!
Using the same agency, ‘Always Glaciers‘ we booked return bus tickets to the town of El Chalten, a small mountain village 220 km away from El Calafate, located within the Los Glaciares National Park at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains.
El Chalten is known as Argentina’s Trekking Capital. The hike to Mount Fitzy Roy is probably the most beautiful hike I have done in my life.
There are a lot of accommodation options in El Chalten. All ‘supposedly’ budget options are a bit naff. Just aim to pick a hostel that has a kitchen, as the restaurants are extortionate and there are a few small supermarkets in town – great if you really are on a tight budget.
There are several short, relatively easy hikes you can do from the town of El Chalten. These are well worth doing before embarking on the 12 hour round hike to Mount Fitz Roy. All trails are marked and you do not need a guide.
Keep your eyes peeled for giant condors
Hike to Mount Fitz Roy
12 hours return.
Difficulty: Moderate – average level of fitness needed.
Most of the hike was actually quite flat but the last hour was a steep climb. You definitely feel it on the way back. The trail is marked and other hikers pass by, so there is very little chance of getting lost.
Quite frankly – the most stunning hike I have ever done in my life. The sky and the landscape was changing constantly. Beautiful.
Reach the top – incredible…
Next stop: Los Angeles