How to prepare for the Argentinean trip, what to buy, how to move around and then – where to sleep, what to eat and how to do it the cheap way – we gathered all the necessary information in order to make your life and preparations easier. Take it and enjoy.
Every week we keep getting questions about Argentina. We’re very happy that so many people want to go there. Great! However, Argentina is an expensive country and you have to know that in the very beginning. If you exchange dollars using the unofficial, more profitable exchange rate, you’ll pay for food pretty much the same money as in Poland. Services are more expensive and the tech stuff is the most expensive. But let’s start at the beginning.
On our seconds week in Buenos Aires, we decided we want to drive Ruta 40 through. Preparations had begun.
A tent, sleeping bags, flashlights, USB coil heater, foam mattresses, gas canister, gas stove, gas, food for us and for Amelia – we bought all these practical stuff in Salta where we started our journey towards Ruta 40. We bought most of the stuff for pretty much the same money as in Poland. Apart from a 10-litre gas canister that cost us PLN 200 – about 5 times more than in Poland. It’s worth mentioning that it’s much cheaper in the supermarkets. ‘Easy’ is a large construction department store with camping alleys and lots of cheap equipment available. However, you will (unfortunately) feel the difference in quality. We bought some of the stuff there and some in a sort of ‘traveller’s shop’. The prices in the latter were outrageous. Even using the unofficial exchange rate it was 2- 3 times more expensive than in Poland.
Other important thing – we always had food for Amelia (lunches) on us and something small for us (cans, bread, cereals). If you encounter a shop on Ruta 40, buy everything you need because he next one may be a few hundred kilometres from here, understocked or closed.
- hitchhiking – when we made the decision to drive through Argentina and Chile on Ruta 40 we already knew that we won’t make it hitchhiking since we had too much stuff on us. Our stuff wasn’t that much of the problem, Amelia’s – that’s a completely different story. And we didn’t have enough time to wait and waste time before somebody pities us and stops to take us further down the road. But we met plenty of hitchhikers on the road, especially in Patagonia, and nobody said it was dangerous or impossible to make. Of course, there are parts on Ruta with close to no traffic and it’s better to catch something earlier around Mendoza or near the border with Chile.
- bicycle – that was also out of the question because of the abovementioned luggage, luggage and more luggage. Also, driving with a then 9-month old Amelia during 40 degrees heat or cold and windy weather didn’t seem like a good idea. We had a lot of respect for those riding a bike in such conditions. It’s an incredible challenge, mainly staminawise,
- motorcycle – see above, only you don’t need the stamina. We passed many groups of biker driving to the world’s end. Nice people,
- train – we knew we wanted to get anywhere we like to, so trains were out of the question as well since the railway network in Argentina is pretty poor and the trains leave 2-3 times a week. But riding a train is cheaper than travelling by bus. Argentina used to have an exceptional and well-developed railway network. Right now you can take a train to Mar de Plata, Daireaux and Bahia Blanca from Plaza Constitución in Buenos Aires and to Mendoza, Tucuman, Alberdia and Cordoba Rosario from Retiro (also in BA). Ferrobaires i Satélite Ferroviario are the most popuar operators.
Classic train railway connections in Argentina aren’t perfect, but you will find plenty of tourist routes. The most popular are:
- Tren a las Nubes, ‘A train to the clouds’, which starts in Salta at 1187 amsl and ends on La Polvorilla viaduct (a masterpiece!) at 4200 amsl. The route is 217 km long but it takes 16 hours! It’s worth a try though. From the driver’s point of view we have to admit that we’re feeling a bit envious since those travelling by train saw much more – 29 bridges, 21 tunnels, 13 viaducts and also looked into chasms and enjoyed some breathtaking views.
- La Trochita also known as ‘Old Patagonian Express’. Another trip with a vibe since the passengers sit in ‘retro’ carts towed by a steam car. The train operates on Esquel – Nahuel Pan and El Maitén – Desvío Thomae routes. The route isn’t long but people we met who took the trip, generally had positive opinions. Schedule and prices are available here.
- Tren del Fin del Mundo, ‘A train to the world’s end’ that leaves from around Ushuaia – the world’s furthest city in the south. The name sounds pompous and proud but it’s a very short trip from Fin del Mundo station to National Park station. On your way, you will see a rebuilt village of the Yamana tribe who used to live here, a peat bog and subantarctic forest.
- bus is the most popular and most developed from all the means of transportation in Argentina (apart from the car). It will get you anywhere in the country, you can choose from plenty of lines and classes. Travelling by bus is very comfortable since the seats can be unfolded nicely so that you can get some sleep. It’s not cheap though. One hour drive costs more or less 6-7 American dollars. Operators’ websites: Teba SA, Omnilineas,
- ship or ferry – in many parks you can move over the huge lakes – especially in Patagonia. Remember one thing though – it’s completely different in high season and off season. While we were in Los Alerces Park we couldn’t see the old trees because the next boat was leaving in 6 days while in ‘high season’ they leave on a daily basis. On the other hand, there’s a few operators sailing to El Calafate glaciers but the prices are optimised to drain you and reach as much as ARS 600 or even 2000 depending on the type of ticker. Try to calculate it using the official exchange rate without getting a heart attack. Also, if you’re travelling to Tierra del Fuego you will have to take a ferry, but in Chile. After crossing the border you’ll get two options – a short one (20 minutes) or the one located further in Punta Arenas which takes about 2 hours,
- plane – Argentina is a huge country which makes people fly for weekend trips in order not to spend two days on the road. It’s also quite an attractive way since the government subsidises the tickets. It’s also good for foreigners, especially when you decide to check out the connections in the very last moment when some plane tickets cost less than bus equivalents. Addresses of two Argentinean operators: Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN Argentina Airlines.
Attention! You will find information online that there are some websites that allow you to book tickets at the prices dedicated to citizens of Argentina. Indeed, we managed to book such tickets once, but then they asked us to send passport scans and ultimately cancelled our tickets. Supposedly, there are tricks that make such a transaction possible, but you still have to count on the customs officer’s good mood at the airport in the end. They may let you get away with it or ask you to pay the missing amount.
Very import ant thing about baggage – excess baggage to be clear. On international flights, you need to pay standard, rather expensive fees but within Argentina you pay per kilogram if you exceed 40 kg. If you fit between 20 and 40 you’ll pay a fixed fee of approx. ARS 300 – PLN 130 (official exchange rate) or PLN 40 (unofficial).
- car – as soon as we decided that we’ll drive through Argentina by car, we made an attempt to rent one. We recommend Localiza and Say Hueque agency from Buenos Aires. They helped us negotiate some really good prices even though it took three weeks of negotiations and some serious haggling. If you get the opportunity, try renting a car in Uruguay or Chile and crossing the border with it as it is much more affordable. International agents are usually quite surprised when you ask them to rent a car for more than a week. Also, be sure that you have all the appropriate documents needed to cross the border. After all the discounts, we paid around PLN 7000 for renting a car for 2 months. Obviously at unofficial exchange rate. Normally it would have cost us more than 13 thousand. Add PLN 2600 deposit blocked on the credit card which we got back in full after returning the car. We also thought about buying a car but the formalities for foreigners where much too difficult as for ‘such a short period’.
The most undervalued position in our budget. Initial calculations stated that we should be filling our tank more or less every 3 days. In reality we had to do it every two days. Additionally, we extended our trip by another 15 days and made 13 000 km instead of 10 000 we planned to. Average petrol price was ARS 12 per litre which makes approx. ARS 600 for a full tank. However the prices varied nationwide. We Got Best prices close to Chilean border.
Practical advice – fill your tank as soon as you use half of it since you never know how far is the next petrol station. On two occasions we were unable to find petrol in time. First time it was a local breakdown, then the station simply ran out of petrol.
Documents required to cross the border in a car
We had to double back twice at the border with Chile. Once – we had no documents at all, even though we expressed it quite clear to the agent that we were planning to cross the border. Apparently, he forgot about it. The next day, we got a form we could print via e-mail and it all went nice and easy. However we had to double back for the second time when the same documents got out-of-date since they were valid for the time of the contract which cannot exceed 30 days. We had two contracts – one for the first month and one for the next. Operator who issued our documents acted in a hurry and made them valid for the first month only, regardless of the fact that we had another contract. We got quite irritated at this point and decided o try something risky. Having the old PDF with no stamps and signatures, we asked our friend to change the dates in the file and an hour later, feeling a bit nervous, we were watching the lady at the customs looking at our papers on our way to Chile. We made it with no trouble.
It might be hard for you if you don’t know Spanish. Even in big cities people don’t speak English or don’t want to. It’s not about them making it hard on you – they’re afraid they won’t be able to speak good enough because even if they once spoken anything in these language, they have probably forgotten most of the stuff due to the lack of practice. Therefore Spanish is a must.
We never booked accommodation earlier than one day prior to arrival and in most cases we just drove off the main road and looked for a place to stay. Conditions are similar everywhere which makes price the most important factor. It should be as low as possible. Best way to achieve it is by going to the local Tourist Information Office (if possible). Suddenly you realise that you don’t need Booking.com and other similar websites (apart from large cities or tourist resorts). Most of their database is outdated and you’ll only find some of the vacancies. It may be a little bit helpful, but I suggest trying websites such as this one – there, you will find a few lists of cool places to sleep. We also recommend buying road map issued by The Motoring Club of Argentina which contains a proper list of various small places where you can sleep.
Our typical day looked like this: we started off with a typical Argentinean breakfast – croissants (medialunas) with jam, butter and dulce de lece – a type of Argentinean caramel. Coffee to go with it and that was pretty much it. If we were leaving later on, we bought empanadas (dumplings with meat or ham and cheese) which we could eat in the lunchtime because you never know what the road brings. If we could not find anything, we had whatever we could get on the road. Mainly empanadas or lomitos (a bun filled with really tender meat, salad, cheese, tomatoes and an obligatory slice of ham, sometimes we got burgers which weren’t that bad or choripans (buns with sausage). What you have to remember is that Argentina is a land of siesta and kitchens are usually closed until 5 or 7 pm when we usually were the most hungry. Obviously there are fast food bars available with abovementioned food. However, eating only in such establishments may get tiring for a longer while which made as cherish moments when we could cook something ourselves and eat more stationary.
National Parks admission
The most intriguing thing was that not all parks charged for admission. It was particularly weird in El Chalten since there were hordes of people coming for treks. Still, no need to pay for admission. As you can imagine, the prices in glacier parks around El Calafate were the highest – ARS 200 per person.
Rarely available in cafes, only in cities. Plenty of Internet cafes where you could check your e-mail or print something on old machines. Usually available in hotels and hostels, however upload and download speed was far from satisfying. Mobile network – let’s say that in big and small cities it was enough to check Facebook. Kuba wrote more about this matter in his entry.
Some basic prices to finish with
one empanada – from ARS 8 to 14, usually 10
hamburger – ARS 30–50
lomito – ARS 30–50
choripan – ARS 20–35
bottle of water 1.5l – ARS 8
bife de chorizo from ARS 80 to 200
Quilmes beer 0.5l – ARS 12
hostel – from ARS 200 to 600
hotel – from ARS 400 to 600
Wrapping it up – regardless of how much we spent, we still consider our trip amazing and worth all the money. Things we have seen, experienced and brought home with us are simply priceless.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section. It’s hard to exhaust this subject.
All practical information regarding travelling with a child can be found in this entry.
Have a nice trip :)