The Breakdown: Argentina
Exchange Rate $1 = 5.7 ARS (Argentine Peso)
We planned the largest part of our South American leg for Argentina, but it still wasn’t enough time to explore the length and breadth of the country, by far. With huge distances to cover, prohibitive transport costs, and winter at our heels, we were, sadly, forced to cut Bariloche and Patagonia from our travel itinerary.
Instead, we concentrated our time in Buenos Aires, a city we thought we might want to live in eventually, world famous Iguazu Falls and the northwestern province of Salta, with it’s stunning gorges and the Torrontes wine producing region of Cafayate.
We enjoyed roaming around Argentina, but were shocked at the steep increase in prices for bus travel and food. We couldn’t help but feel a sense of despair and pessimism, from the citizens of a country struggling under the weight of an economic burden growing more and more difficult to carry with each passing year.
We’d had such high hopes for Argentina, that perhaps it’s not surprising that out of all the countries we visited in South America, it was the one that least lived up to our expectations.
What We Did
We started our Argentinian adventure in peaceful Cordoba, her 2nd largest city, where Agri participated in the Global Marijuana March, partied until dawn with the locals and discovered the addictive after party snack – the choripan (like a hot dog, but 10x more delicious).
Though we could’ve hung out with super personable Joshua at his Luna India Hostel for much, much longer, the fascinating landscapes of northwestern Argentina were calling us, so it was off to greener pastures (and truthfully, there wasn’t much to do in Cordoba).
Another looong overnight bus ride later, and we arrived in pretty little Salta la Linda. We spent 3 restful days wandering through the town’s quiet streets, exploring it’s well-preserved colonial buildings, and relaxing in the sunny central square, taking in cup after cup of cafe con leche.
We rented our first car of the trip in Salta, and made the 183 kilometre drive south to Cafayate, passing through the dramatically stunning, weird and wonderful, landscapes of the Quebrada de Las Conchas, on the way.
Sun-drenched Cafayate, with it’s walking distance winery tours, slow pace and divine empanadas was the perfect place to rest and recover from our first 3 months on the road, so though we’d planned only a few days there, we ultimately decided to trade a rushed week in Bolivia for the tranquility of the little town.
Cafayate is also where we made the first major mistake of our trip. Reading the time wrong on our very expensive overnight bus tickets to Puerto Iguazu, cost us hundreds of dollars, a day of time, and all the associated stress and aggravation. Total bummer.
After all that commotion, we finally made it to new wonder of nature, Igauzu Falls, and thankfully, it was worth all the prior chaos. We spent 2 full days in the huge National Park, meeting strange animals and getting sprayed by mist at the roaring Garganta del Diablo.
We took our last and best overnight bus trip (on Cruzero del Norte, NOT Andesmar), to Buenos Aires, where we wrapped up our time in Argentina, at 150 year old Cafe Tortoni, the Recoleta Cemetery and just wandering the gorgeous streets. Buenos Aires was also the grand finale to the South American leg of our journey; and just in time too – snowflakes arrived on the day we left!
Food and Drink
When people found out we were heading to Argentina, everybody started raving about it’s huge and delicious steaks, particularly with regards to the cost to quality ratio. The thought of kicking back with a steak bigger than our plate and a strong glass of Malbec red, was something we were definitely looking forward to.
Perhaps it was because we’d just come from the meat nirvana of Uruguay, or perhaps it’s because we’re Canadians used to good ole’ Alberta beef, but I’m afraid to report that we were sadly underwhelmed by the steak in Argentina. It’s not that they were disgustingly unappetizing and inedible. Of course, they weren’t. Mostly, they were pretty good, but they just weren’t the tantalizing morsels of red meat juiciness we were expecting. And they definitely weren’t cheap. (A cheaper, fast food alternative is the lomito sandwich – basically a steak sandwich with a number of different toppings).
Unfortunately, the restaurants mostly seemed to serve only meat, meat and more meat, along with a side of potatoes or other starch, or carb-heavy pastas. Salads and vegetables were in short supply. And while the idea of eating a steak every night might seem like some kind of food paradise, it actually gets old pretty darn fast. The diet, coupled with the Argentinian habit of eating dinner at 9:30 or 10:00 at night, makes for one very unhappy digestive system.
It wasn’t until we reached Northwestern Argentina that we found something we could really sink our teeth into – empanadas. Though these tasty little bundles can be found all over the country, it’s in the Salta province, that they’ve really turned them into an art form. Baked or fried, super affordable, and stuffed with a huge variety of different ingredients, we often made a meal of them, along with a fresh salad we’d make in the kitchen of our hostel.
And though we weren’t hugely impressed with Argentinian cuisine as a whole, one area in which it definitely excels gastronomically, is ice cream! With so many Italian immigrants, it only makes sense that the country’s helado, is almost as good as gelato. There are a whole host of independent ice cream shops, but with price tags as high as 100 pesos/kilo, we chose to get our fix at Grido, an affordable and delicious chain with 1000 branches across the country.
In our preplanning we’d classified Argentina as one of our ‘budget’ destinations, but the reality was much, much more expensive than we’d anticipated. Over the course of our 37 day stay, we managed to spend a grand total of $3,757.88, or $108.78 a day – over our attempted $100/day budget.
The largest portion was consumed in the area of transport, with a huge 35% of our money used to travel between and within cities. Replacing our misread bus tickets to Puerto Iguazu cost us an additional 8% of our budget (plus a stolen iPod!). The next biggest expenditures were on food and accommodation, with 29% and 21% spent respectively.
Now, going $8 over our budget everyday might not seem like such a big deal, but if you look more closely at our expense chart, you’ll see that we spent just $60 on entertainment, didn’t drink very much Argentinian vino ($50), and traveled relatively slowly, visiting just 5 cities during our 37 days in the country.
We were able to keep our food costs down to $1100 by cooking a lot of our own meals, and brewing coffee in our rented apartment, particularly in Buenos Aires. If we’d eaten every meal in a restaurant or cafe, this expense would’ve been significantly higher.
Bus travel was the single most expensive item in our budget, and also the most frustrating. And while we could’ve saved a few pesos by only traveling in semi-cama class, the difference in fare was often less than 100 pesos. It just wasn’t worth the sacrifice in comfort, food, and quiet, especially on a 24 hour overnight bus ride.
However, when you do pay upwards of $300 for 2 bus fares, you expect a certain level of service and comfort, and in Argentina, it just wasn’t the case. Unfortunately it was also one of the things that was completely unavoidable. We were there to travel, and travel we did.
All of the gory, gory, gory details can be found here on the Budget Your Trip website.
Plan out your entire Argentina itinerary before you book any bus travel. There aren’t direct routes between certain cities, which we found out the hard way, when we tried to travel between Salta and Puerto Iguazu. It wasn’t impossible, but it necessitated booking 2 separate bus routes with all of the associated extra costs of time and money.
We used Plataforma 10 to search for and book all of our bus travel in Argentina, and it was easy to use, in English and accepted foreign credit cards.
A summary of our tips for bus travel, as well as the different Argentinian bus classes can be found here.
The sultry tango is completely mesmerizing, Mendoza red wine and juicy steaks are a perfect complement, and Parisian style Haussman architecture stuns all over Buenos Aires. For us though, these cosmopolitan delights paled in comparison to Argentina’s spectacular natural bounty.
World famous Iguazu Falls is easily the most obvious of these, and spectacularly worth the trip. However, it was in the less trafficked northwestern region, that the country really shone for us.
The astonishing scenery of the Quebrada de las Conchas was like no other we’ve seen in the 50 plus countries we’ve visited, and the golden light of easygoing Cafayate was nothing less than completely restorative. So appealing was our time there, that a few days quickly turned into a full week.
When in Argentina
Use Dulce de Leche on everything.
Basically a slowly heated mixture of milk and sugar, dulce de leche becomes smooth and caramel-like during the process of cooking. Creamy and not overly sweet, Argentinians use it as a filling for pastries, mix it into their ice creams, or simply spread it onto breads or crackers. Don’t be shy!
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