Argentina was our temporary home for just over five weeks, which seemed so long at the time but is barely enough to do even just the north of this impressive country justice. We visited 5 main areas during that time, crossing into Chile from Mendoza and then nipping back across the border (mistake. Argie borders are an arse-ache) to see Bariloche on our way down to Chiloé. Bariloche was the furthest south we went, mainly because we’re not really into 4 day hikes, the cold, or spending all of our money. However, if any of these things floats your boat, the travellers we met along the way highly recommended El Bolsón, El Calafate and Ushuaia. Here are 6 pointers to note before you travel to Argentina.
1. Cash will be the bane of your life
Both inside and outside of the capital, many establishments still insist on cash-only payments, so you’ll find yourself needing to find an ATM pretty quickly once you arrive. Unfortunately, there are three things in your way:
Cash machines are few and far between, and when you do find one, it’s normal for the last person to use it to inform the other 30 people in the queue that it’s out of cash. Argentina’s economy is infamous for being instable, and in fact it’s complete nosedived since 2018.
Extortionate fees. Depending on the area you’re taking cash out in, the ATMs can add as much as £8 to any transaction – that’s on top of whatever charges your own bank gives you for withdrawing abroad. We compiled a list of transaction-free ATMs in each country to help you out. Before you go, we really recommend getting a Revolut card, as this doesn’t charge any commission on foreign exchange and gives you free withdrawals and card transactions in any country. You can get a free Revolut card here.
Withdrawal limit is £90 a day. Only £90! So, if you find yourself in the situation we did in Córdoba where Happy Happy Hostel (name and shame) pretended their card machine wasn’t working and demanded all 7 days be paid for upfront in cash (plus around 20% more than we reserved them for on Booking.com just for the sake of it), you will soon find yourself leaving said hostel with a $30 cancellation fee because the hostel were arseholes about the fact that you couldn’t physically pay even if you wanted to (but lo and behold, a card payment portal appeared just as we decided to leave…).
2. There is more than one plug type in Argentina
Just to be difficult, Argentinians use a variety of different plug types (mostly European and American), so make sure you have an international multi-adaptor with you when you travel to Argentina. Some houses will have multiple types of plug, and others will have just picked one and run with it.
3. Be extra careful with your phone and other tech
Although violent crime doesn’t seem to be a huge problem in Argentina (allowing for the fact that there are always going to be some sketchy parts in every city of the world), phone theft is. Almost every traveller we met passing through the city said they had a phone stolen in Buenos Aires. Most of the international students say they use a spare phone to take out with them on nights out, and always make sure they keep it in a deep front pocket or in a zipped-up handbag. Taxes are so high in Argentina that an iPhone 5S can apparently be sold for $700 USD. Imagine what a latest model iPhone could be worth to a thief…
4. Travel within Argentina is mostly easy
Buses in Argentina
Long-haul buses are super easy; we recommend booking bus tickets online to guarantee seats and compare prices. You may have to try a few times to pay as it sometimes declines foreign cards for no apparent reason, but once you manage it you feel more secure. For day buses, try and get the seats at the front row of the top deck for incredible views. For night buses go a few rows back so that the bright lights of the TV and LED signs don’t shine in your face. Companies normally offer semi-cama (‘half-bed’, with seat reclining around 140 degrees and breakfast on overnight journeys), full cama (180 degrees and breakfast) or Ejectivo (180 degrees, bigger leather seats on the lower deck, breakfast and a hot dinner). These do vary slightly depending on the company, so make sure you check. Read our guide to staying safe & comfortable on a night bus here.
Trains in Argentina
There is a train system, but some trains to major cities only go once a week, and they usually take longer than buses.
Metros in the capital are also very easy, though there aren’t that many stations for such a huge city, so you may have to walk up to 15 minutes from your stop to your final destination. Buy a top-up card from the metro station and keep this when you go to other places (including Patagonia) as you will need it for some local buses.
Taxis in Argentina – scam alert!
Within minutes of our travel to Argentina, when we first got into the port of Buenos Aires, we jumped in the only taxi that would stop for us in the pouring rain. The driver was nice, and was giving us a few tips and pointers about the city. We knew BA was going to be expensive, and since London taxis are so eye-wateringly dear, we didn’t bat an eyelid when the taxi driver charged us 8000 pesos (in fact, we even gave him a tip for his troubles of having to find us an ATM first). However, upon talking to one of Andy’s friends who lives in the city, we realised that journey should have been more like 1000 pesos, and what we had got into was just a taxi, not a ‘Radio Taxi’, which are more professional in their organisation and won’t rack up the meter 8x for foreigners. Look for ‘Radio Taxi’ written in the logo of the car’s doors, or you can ask an occupied radio taxi driver to call in another car for you.
5. Tipping is expected for anything and everything
Outside the capital, make sure you have some spare coins with you. Argentinians tend to expect tips (or ‘propina’) for doing absolutely anything – read, nothing. When you get in a queue at the taxi rank and your taxi pulls up, a little unofficial, non-uniformed worker will point to your taxi to indicate that this is yours, and for that he requests a tip (yes, it’s not rude here to ask). If you hire a car and wish to park it anywhere along the streets (which, officially speaking, is free), you will need to tip the man or woman who directs you into a space (even if they only pointed). Some of these parking monitors mays charge you a set fee as they will often also guard your car from harm throughout the day and night.
You will also find that non-uniformed men will put your bags into a long-haul bus and then others take them out at the destination. These are not official workers of the bus company, so their only salary is tips, therefore you need to pay them. If you don’t tip – or do tip but not well enough – you might expect to be publicly humiliated by a shout-out. 10-20 pesos is about right in most cases. If you’re near a border, they will usually take foreign notes as well.
Story time. At one bus in Bariloche, the bag-loader didn’t turn up for 15 minutes, so the queue that had formed decided to load all our bags ourselves. When the loader did eventually make an entrance, he made us all take our bags out, so that he could put them back in on the other side of the bus, and request a tip. The French couple in front of us rooted around in their jangly purse and gave him 2 pesos (8p), and got the most almighty berating for being rich foreigners who chose not to pay their way for honest work done by people who struggle to eat. The couple may not have understood all the Spanish thrown at them, but the tone was clear and it must have been extremely embarrassing to walk back past the line.
6. Don’t mention the war
This should probably go without saying, but hey, just in case. FYI, Spanish for the Falklands Islands is ‘Las Malvinas’. When you travel to Argentina, you’ll see this everywhere, in the names of roads, restaurants, hotels; everywhere. And while there are Argentinian people who see the 74 day war as an embarrassing legacy of a government they didn’t agree with, there are still a small number of people (even if they hadn’t actually been born at the time) who still get heated in their claim to the islands. We’ve even seen people wearing t-shirts that say ‘Falklands: the lost pearl of Argentina.’ Awkward.
In all honesty, we don’t think this war is taught enough in British schools (we weren’t really aware of many details before coming out here), but the awful fact is that in the grand scheme of British wars in modern history, the Falklands War is a mere speck. Argentina has had much less military involvement on an international scale, and so for them it stands out as being more important. Either way, it’s a sensitive subject, and you’re best not to mention it.
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