Argentina recap

When I reflect on my time in Argentina, I split it into two parts: Patagonia and the north. Patagonia was unforgettable, and El Chaltén and Bariloche were among the highlights of my year abroad. In contrast, northern Argentina didn’t make as much of an impression on me. This was wholly my problem, and it wasn’t due to any shortcomings in the north; I was experiencing travel fatigue and had a harder time appreciating natural scenery after seeing the beauty of Patagonia. If I had visited northern Argentina toward the beginning of my trip, I think my feelings about it would have been very different.

[NB: the ARS to USD conversion rate has changed dramatically since my stay in Argentina in February and March 2018. For this post, I converted ARS to USD according to the rates in February 2018.]

El Calafate (February 7 to 10 and February 15 to 16, 2018)

  • Accommodation: America del Sur Hostel (465 ARS/~$24 per night for a four-bed dorm)
    • This was a big hostel with a restaurant and bar. Before I arrived, the hostel emailed info about tours, which was very helpful. Although basic, my dorm met all my needs; the large lockers and heated floors were major pluses. The ensuite bathroom and shower didn’t have locks, which I thought was odd. The free breakfast was a generous spread, and the common area had huge windows that offered a great view of Lago Argentina. The wifi was often spotty, but this wasn’t a big deal—I wasn’t expecting lightning fast Internet in Patagonia.
  • Transport to El Calafate:
    • Seven-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales, Chile, including immigration (20,000 CLP/~$29.50)
  • Tour:
    • Full-day Big Ice tour with Hielo y Aventura (6,448 ARS/~$332 for the tour + 500 ARS/~$25 park entrance fee)
  • Transport within El Calafate:
    • El Calafate is small, so I was able to walk between the bus terminal, hostel, and town center.
    • Hielo y Aventura provided transport to Perito Moreno.
  • Blog post:

El Chaltén (February 10 to 15, 2018)

  • Accommodation: Albergue Aylen-Aike (470 ARS/~$24 per night for a six-bed dorm)
    • The owner Sebastian is a wealth of knowledge about hikes around El Chaltén and encouraged—and, in some cases, strong-armed—guests to go trekking on sunny days. He loved playing rock music videos on the TV in the common room. My dorm was basic, but this was no problem since I had everything I needed. The hot water worked well, which was one of the most important amenities in Patagonia. The kitchen was well stocked, and guests could buy sodas, water, beer, and wine on an honor system. The wifi was spotty (but again, no surprise in Patagonia).
  • Transport to El Chaltén:
    • 3.5-hour bus ride from El Calafate, including a 20-minute stop at the Los Glaciares National Park information office (550 ARS/~$28)
  • Transport within El Chaltén:
    • Walking! The most gorgeous day hikes leave from the town center, and both Sebastian and the Los Glaciares information office gave me tons of hiking info.
  • Blog post:

Bariloche (February 17 to 19 and February 23 to 27, 2018)

  • Accommodation: La Justina Hostel (425 ARS/~$22 per night for a four-bed female dorm)
    • My dorm was spacious and had large lockers. The kitchen was big, and it was easy to chat with other travelers over the free breakfast (bread and cake). The hostel was on a hilly street, but I didn’t mind the walk. Wifi was spotty sometimes.
  • Transport to Bariloche:
    • 27.5-hour bus ride from El Calafate (2,980 ARS/~$153). Yup, 27.5 hours. I felt gross at the end of the trip (brushing my teeth was my #1 priority, and washing my face was #2), but the ride itself wasn’t terrible. It helped that I could invoke my superpower of sleeping in any moving vehicle, so I dozed for most of the ride.
    • Two-hour bus ride from El Bolsón to Bariloche (136 ARS/~$7). The views during the first 30 minutes of this bus ride were spectacular, but then I fell asleep (my M.O., seriously). I’m sure the views for the rest of the ride were great, but I have no way of knowing.
  • Transport within Bariloche:
    • The public bus system is extensive and can take you to national parks, trailheads, and attractions. Before you use the bus, buy a SUBE card (which you can also use for buses and the metro in Buenos Aires) from a kiosk in town.
    • I walked to get around the city center.
  • Blog post:

El Bolsón/El Hoyo (February 19 to 23, 2018)

  • Accommodation: Hostel Luz Clara (237.50 ARS/~$12 per night for a private room)
    • The owners Juan and Juli were so sweet. Juan picked me up from the bus stop in El Bolsón to get to the hostel, which was about a 20-minute drive away. My room was clean, and the bathrooms were large and spotless. The kitchen was well stocked, and homemade bread was served every day for breakfast. The hostel had a lot of outdoor space, and I staked out one of the hammocks during my stay. Wifi—you guessed it—was spotty. The hostel was in the middle of nowhere, but a ten-minute walk led to a main road, where we could catch buses to attractions and El Bolsón.
  • Transport to El Bolsón/El Hoyo:
    • 2.5-hour bus ride from Bariloche to El Bolsón (135 ARS/~$7) and then a 20-minute car ride (provided for free by Hostel Luz Clara) to El Hoyo.
  • Transport within El Bolsón/El Hoyo:
    • I took the La Golondrina bus to get between El Hoyo, El Bolsón, and Lago Puelo.
    • I walked to El Hoyo, Catarata Corbata Blanca, and Lago Espejo.
  • Blog post:

Buenos Aires (February 27 to March 3 and March 15 to 23, 2018)

  • Accommodations:
    • Circus Hostel & Hotel (February 27 to March 3; $42 per night for a private room). This hostel was large and located in San Telmo, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. The hostel had a pool, which I didn’t use, and decent wifi. The staff hosted events (walking tour, tango show, orchestra concert, BBQ) every day. My room had an ensuite bathroom and air conditioning. I didn’t love staying in San Telmo, but I thought my room was a decent value.
    • Recoleta Apartamento (March 15 to 17; 1,300 ARS/~$67 per night for a one-bedroom apartment). I loved this apartment. It was cute and had plenty of space for one person, with two twin beds, a bathroom, chairs, table, and kitchen. The apartment was equipped with good wifi and cable TV. (I didn’t pay much attention to any programs, but I liked having background noise when I was puttering around the apartment.) Alicia (oh hai, shared name!), the owner, was patient, even when I arrived 30 minutes after my scheduled arrival due to a late bus from Mendoza. The apartment was in a great location, with easy access to the Recoleta cemetery, city center, and San Telmo. Instead of staying in San Telmo, I should have used this apartment as my base for sights around the city center.
    • AirBnB in Palermo Viejo (March 17 to 20; $35 per night for a single room). My room in the apartment was cozy and had a powder room, closet, and TV. The shower was in a separate full bathroom. The apartment was in an awesome location, close to shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. My host Luba was kind and respected my privacy. I loved her Pomeranian Boris, who didn’t know me from Adam but was still excited whenever I returned to the apartment.
    • Malevo Muraña Hostel (March 20 to 23; 563 ARS/~$29 per night for a six-bed female dorm). This hostel was in a fantastic location in Palermo Soho, in an alley adorned with street art. My dorm was clean, although the space between bunks was very narrow. Each bunk had an electrical outlet, small shelf, and large locker. Having an ensuite bathroom was nice, but the shower had no door, which meant the floor was flooded every time someone took a shower. I preferred using the shared restroom, even though the showers had the same flooding problem. The hostel had a lot of common areas, including a kitchen, patio, and rooftop. The free breakfast included cereal, bread, alfajores (nom), and yogurt. The wifi was good. This wasn’t the most social hostel since there were no organized events, but I still met some people and enjoyed a BBQ prepared by a fellow guest.
  • Transport to Buenos Aires:
    • Two-hour flight from Bariloche ($236.40)
    • 16-hour, overnight bus ride from Mendoza (1,946 ARS/~$100)
  • Tours:
    • Half-day tour of Recoleta with Free Walks Buenos Aires
    • Half-day city center tour with Free Walks Buenos Aires
    • Half-day street art tour with Free Walks Buenos Aires (200 ARS/~$10)
  • Transport within Buenos Aires:
    • I walked through San Telmo, San Nicolás, Montserrat, Retiro, Recoleta, and Palermo.
    • For longer trips, I used Subte, the metro. I was too intimidated to use the bus because there were so many bus lines and companies.
  • Blog post:

Córdoba (March 3 to 6, 2018)

  • Accommodation: Casa Helsinki (848 ARS/~$43.50 per night for a private room)
    • I loved this guesthouse. As its name suggests, the guesthouse had a modern and airy Scandinavian aesthetic. My room was spacious and spotless, with a desk and wardrobe. The shared bathrooms were clean. The kitchen was free to use, and there was a lot of outdoor space, although I didn’t take advantage of either of these features. The free breakfast included homemade bread, cake, fruit, and cereal. The guesthouse had the fastest wifi I had found in South America. There was no air conditioning, but my room had a powerful fan. It takes a lot for my allergic heart to warm up to a cat, but the resident Siamese cat was just adorable.
  • Transport to Córdoba:
    • 13.5-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires (1,102.50 ARS/~$57). Toward the beginning of the trip, we were stuck at a rest stop for 2.5 hours. I had no idea what was going on, and I initially blamed my shaky grasp of Spanish; however, it turned out that none of the other passengers knew what the problem was either. A new bus eventually arrived at the rest stop, and we all resumed the trip. We made it to Córdoba an hour and 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival.
  • Transport within Córdoba:
    • I walked. The city has a bus system, but I didn’t want to buy another transport card.
  • Blog post:

Salta (March 7 to 10, 2018)

  • Accommodation: Hostal All Norte (703 ARS/~$36 per night for a private room)
    • The hostel was quiet and clean. The owner Fernando took care of everything from check-in to breakfast. The free breakfast included two pastries, fruit, and cereal. I was lucky; most of the rooms didn’t have windows, but my room had one that looked into the backyard. Fernando had two very well-behaved black Labs named Hómero and Uma. Good wifi here.
  • Transport to Salta:
    • 11-hour, overnight bus ride from Córdoba (1,737 ARS/~$89)
  • Tours:
    • Full-day tour of Cafayate with Turismo Responsable (800 ARS/~$41)
    • Full-day tour of Humahuaca with Turismo Responsable (950 ARS/~$49 + 150 ARS/~$8 for Pucará de Tilcara entrance fee)
  • Transport within Salta:
    • I walked within the city.
    • Turismo Responsable provided transport to Cafayate and Humahuaca.
  • Blog post:

Mendoza (March 11 to 14, 2018)

  • Accommodation: Hostel Windmill (240 ARS/~$12 per night for a four-bed dorm)
    • I met some nice people here, but I didn’t love the facilities. The whole building was a little worn and not perfectly clean (fruit flies were in kitchen; throw pillows in the TV room were ragged and stained; the lids on the trash cans in the bathrooms were pretty gross). My dorm had big lockers and a powerful fan. The free breakfast (bread, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, fruit) and wifi were decent. The hostel had a rooftop terrace and ping pong table. The staff was great at matching people up for a wine-tasting bike tour at breakfast. One night, the hostel hosted an all-you-can-eat BBQ, with salad, tough meat, and wine.
  • Transport to Mendoza:
    • 18-hour, overnight bus ride from Salta (3,310 ARS/~$170)
  • Tours:
  • Transport within Mendoza:
    • I took the bus between the city center and Maipú, which was a 30-minute trip.
    • I walked within the city center.
  • Blog post:

Expenses

During my 45 days in Argentina (the longest time I spent in a country during my trip), I spent about $4,095.55 or $91 per day. This was my highest total in any country I visited, although I spent more per day in a couple of other countries (Japan still wins at $120.55 per day).

My expenses were categorized as follows:

  • Accommodation: $1,350.90
    • Prices ranged from 240 ARS ($12) to 563 ARS ($29) per night for dorms and 237.50 ARS ($12) to 1,300 ARS ($67) per night for a private accommodation.
  • Transport: $1,057.96
    • This category consisted of a flight from Bariloche to Buenos Aires ($236.40), buses, taxis, and metro fares.
    • To state the obvious, Argentina is a large country, and getting around isn’t cheap. I had to decide whether I’d prefer to spend more money for a quicker flight or (a little) less money for a long bus trip. Buses in Argentina were pricier than other South American countries that I had visited. For instance, a 27.5-hour bus from Calafate to Bariloche cost 2,980 ARS (~$153), and an 18-hour bus ride from Salta to Mendoza cost 3,310 ARS (~$170). I got reclining seats for longer trips, so I was usually pretty comfortable.
  • Food: $999.72
    • I spent about $22.30 per day on food. Meriendas and ice cream were a big portion of my food costs. (I’m not kidding—some days I spent more on a merienda than my regular meals combined.) A dessert and coffee/tea cost between 102 ARS ($5) and 225 ARS ($12), and ice cream was 55 ARS ($3) to 75 ARS ($4).
    • My meals in southern Argentina generally cost more than my meals in the north. These were my most expensive meals:
      • Bariloche: 440 ARS (~$23) for 13-piece nigiri set and tea from Sushi Bar. I was missing sushi, so I went here on my first night in Bariloche. I didn’t have high hopes for sushi in a small mountain town, but I was so pleased with my meal that I went for a return visit on another night. I was touched that one of the owners remembered my order from the first night.
      • El Chaltén: 415 ARS (~$21) for mushroom gnocchi with saffron sauce and tea from Maffia. Dat saffron sauce, tho. I mean, I’d eat saffron sauce spooned over cardboard, but a (very nice) mother and daughter sitting at the table next to mine had major plate envy when they saw my gnocchi.
      • Buenos Aires: 410 (~$21) for a salmon salad, tiramisu, and coffee; 410 ARS (~$21) for a mushroom pizza from Cosi Mi Piace (the best pizza I had in Argentina).
    • Similar to the other countries I had visited in South America, empanadas were an affordable meal in Argentina. I could get two or three for dinner for 35 to 85 ARS ($2 to $4), and I’d be good for the night.
    • Craving sugar is just normal life for me, but hiking made it an even bigger itch. On the day I hiked to Laguna Torre in El Chaltén, I guzzled down two apple juices, a frappuccino, a slice of apple pie, a dulce de leche alfajor, and a Coke. This was overkill—even for me—but I needed sugar that day. (I’ll admit that my wine consumption from the night before might have contributed to my hankering for sugar.)
    • “Bleh, ham,” was how I felt at the end of my stay in Argentina. I’m a creature of habit and usually don’t mind eating the same thing every day, but I don’t have ham much in my everyday life. I had a bunch of ham and cheese sandwiches while hiking in southern Argentina, and they tested my limits more than the trekking did. I got so sick of them that I abstained from ham for a while afterward. (I just broke this streak last month, when I had my first ham and cheese sandwich—praise be that it was grilled and not cold—for the first time in almost a year and a half.)
    • Like in Chile, I did a little bit of “cooking” in Argentina, which mainly consisted of avocado toast.
  • Entertainment: $545.95
    • This category consisted of tours (including tips), entrance fees, wine tastings, and a movie (I, Tonya).
    • My biggest expenditure—by far—was the Big Ice trek at Perito Moreno (500 ARS/~$332 for the tour + 500 ARS/~$25 park entrance fee). Hiking in El Chaltén was the biggest steal since it was free. I couldn’t believe it when I found out there was no park entrance or hiking fee.
  • Miscellaneous: $141.04
    • I bought a Personal SIM card in Bariloche for 130 ARS ($7), which worked well throughout my time in Argentina.
    • This category also consisted of a replacement adapter (my original broke in Chile), towel rentals, toiletries, pants rental for Perito Moreno, laundry, restroom fees, postcards, and personal care treatments.

Finally, here are some general observations about Argentina:

  • Service in restaurants
    • Some travelers complained about bad service in Argentinean restaurants, but I found it to be perfectly fine (with a couple of exceptions). The protocol seemed similar to a fine dining restaurant: once you take a seat, someone will bring you a menu and then take your order once you close it. If you want the check, just ask the staff.
  • Safety
    • Cat calls (whistles, “Hola!”) were noticeably more common in northern Argentina, particularly in Córdoba, Salta, and Mendoza. Attire could have been a factor: the hot weather brought out the shorts, compared to the pants and jackets in the south. As far as I could tell, short sleeves weren’t taboo in northern Argentina, but cat callers gonna call. Now, I’m all about wearing what you want in your free time without having to worry about being creeped on. That said, I recognize there are different cultural norms, and I knew I wasn’t going to change anyone’s perspective by giving a lecture in mangled Spanish. Although I let the cat calls slide, I did pay more attention to my surroundings when walking around in the north.
    • I had heard a few first- and secondhand stories of travelers having their stuff stolen at the Retiro bus station in Buenos Aires, so I was extra alert whenever I went there and kept an iron grip on my bags. I didn’t find Retiro to be much different from other bus stations I had been to, though.
  • Breakfast
    • It tends to be small and carb-heavy. Don’t expect eggs.
  • Argentinean Spanish
    • Even my novice ear could pick up the Buenos Aires accent, where “ll” was pronounced with a “sh” sound. I didn’t have too much trouble understanding the “vos” conjugation, and Argentines had no problem understanding my use of “tú.”
  • Imbibing
    • I didn’t drink much in Argentina—and when I did, I usually stuck to wine—but fernet and Coke seems to be the thing there. Sadly, I’m not cool enough for fernet.

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