Backpacking in Argentina
Argentina can confidently be called one of the most exciting backpacker travel countries in the world. Why, you wonder? Simply because this huge country has everything a traveler’s heart desires in terms of geography and climate. Not to mention that you will get to know immense cultural differences in this multifaceted country.
Travelling as a backpacker in Argentina is not exactly super cheap, but still bearable. The range of means of transport leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre for every budget. This means that you can tackle any type of travel, from hitchhiking for the absolute low budget backpackers to the cost-intensive First Class domestic flight, according to your wallet.
What applies to the type of trip also applies to the overnight accommodations. If you want to camp wild for free, you can’t do this everywhere, but in many places. Besides camping, almost every nest offers cheap hostels and hotels.
One has to convince oneself of the Latin American cuisine. Especially in Argentina, the tasty meat is certainly to be emphasized. Also a multiplicity of wine sorts, above all from Mendoza, are well-known from Argentina and popular in the world of the Gourmets. As in many other countries in South America there are also here classical stews, which are particularly popular in the working class. Let’s take a look at what Argentina has to offer you.
Tradition and Culture in Argentina
Like most South American countries, Argentina is a centrally governed democratic republic. We don’t want to be here with politics, but this is important to understand the huge social and cultural difference between the capital and the different provinces, which still have much of their own competence. And it is clear to everyone that the North has little in common with the South, thousands of kilometres away, in cultural terms. But this does not mean that there are still a few points of intersection that are of equal importance in all regions.
These include the mate and its ceremony, the wild gauchotum and the slope to eat grilled meat. Tango, on the other hand, is an Argentinean cultural asset, but it is more common in the north of the country. Buenos Aires and its inhabitants, commonly known as the Porteños, do not enjoy a high reputation in the rest of the republic because of their alleged arrogance. You as tourists, on the other hand, do. Anyway, on your journey through the country you will find that you will encounter many European influences.
There are plenty of backpacker routes for Argentina. Since the country is very big, there are countless combinations of different routes. As always, when planning the backpacker route it is crucial how much time and budget is available. Of course, what you want to see is also important. A mixture of culture, adventure and activities in each city or region you would have to find yourself. But now a few suggestions for a few backpacker routes with and without suggestions for activities and trips:
Route 1: The classic (15-20 days)
- 4-5 days: Buenos Aires – incl. day trip to Colonia del Sacramento
- 3-4 days: Iguazu
- 3-4 days: Salta (Purmamarca, Salinas Grandes)
- 2-3 days: Calafate / Perito Moreno Glacier
- 3-5 days: Ushuaia (Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, Penguins + Estancia)
Route 2: All or Nothing (32-42 days)
- 4-5 days: Buenos Aires
- 3-4 days: Iguazu
- 6-7 days: Salta
- 2 -3 days: Cordoba
- 1-2 days: Rosario
- 2-3 days: Mar de Plata
- 3-4 days: Puerto Madryn and the Peninsula Valdes
- 3-4 days: Ushuaia
- 2-3 days: El Calafate
- 3-4 days: Bariloche
- 3-4 days: Mendoza with the Aconcagua
Travel times in Argentina
The country can be visited all year round. However, you should know that during the European summer it is winter there. Weatherproof clothing is always essential, especially for the south of Argentina. While it is tropical hot in the north, the south is arctic cold. In Buenos Aires it can come to snowfall in July.
Life in Argentina is relatively expensive for the locals compared to other countries in South America. Besides Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, Argentina is one of the most expensive countries in South America (when things are going well again), but this can also be compensated if you prepare for it.
One cannot compare the cost of living in Buenos Aires with those in the distant corners of Patagonia. Due to the long transport distance of over 4,000 kilometres, many things are much more expensive than in the capital or in other economic centres such as Rosario or Mendoza. Inflation should not be ignored either. To give you an impression of what you will have to pay for as a backpacker in Argentina, here is a small overview:
- Daily budget € 22.75
- Accommodation € 11.00
- One meal € 5.47
- 1L water € 0.50
- Public transport € 3.07
- Entertainment € 14.14
Bus and domestic fares in Argentina
Since most of you will certainly take the bus, which is also recommended for comfortable buses, here is a reference to a website (Omnilineas), which will help you with the price question. A tip: Don’t save at the wrong end, and always take the best seat, if the budget allows it. It’s worth it. You’ll save one night in a hostel anyway. If you want to find out the prices for a domestic flight, then take a look at the website of Aerolineas Argentina or LAN.
Other domestic airlines are LADE or Andes Lineas Aereas which operates between Buenos Aires, Salta and Puerto Madryn. With Sol Lineas Aereas you can fly from Rosario to Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santa fe, Marde Plata, or Mendoza, as well as abroad to Montevideo and Punta del Este. Cata Lineas Aereas flies from Buenos Aires to Viedma, Bariloche, Cordoba, Corrientes, Santa Teresita, Iguazu, Posadas and Santa Rosa.
In a country like Argentina there are all kinds of accommodations. Whether 5 star hotel or camping, whether log cabin at the lake or hostel in the city, each accommodation is to the choice. Beds in a dorm of a hostel cost between 6 and 10 euros.
Hotels and hostels in Argentina
In Argentina there are several types of accommodation besides normal hotels. Hosterías are mostly larger country hotels with gardens and often with swimming pools, but less comfortable than in normal hotels, whereby the two terms hotel and hostería overlap to some extent. Hotels and Hosterías are categorized with stars (one to five stars), which give information about price and services and correspond approximately with the international “star categories”.
Residenciales and Hospedajes are small, rather simple hotels; often the bathroom has to be shared here. They are divided into categories “A” and “B”. Albergues and Hosteles are similar to youth hostels, but accommodate guests of all ages. They often have to share a room, but the operators are often able to speak foreign languages.
The hotel prices are very favourable compared to Europe, with the exception of the highest price class. A double room with its own bathroom can be found from about 25 pesos in “Residenciales B”, with a shared bathroom from 15 pesos (without breakfast). In Hosteles and Albergues you have to expect between 10 and 20 pesos per person. Most middle class hotels (2 stars) charge between 50 and 80 pesos for a double room.
Please note that hourly hotels also refer to themselves as “hotels”. They are mostly recognizable by their lighting (red-pink), their name and the addition “albergue transistorio” or “hotel alojamiento”. They are commonly called “telo” (from hotel).
In some Argentinian cities, especially on busy highways, there are also motels after the US-American model, where you can drive up to the bedroom.
Camping in Argentina
There are plenty of campsites in Argentina, almost every village has a campsite somewhere. There are two price systems: either you pay per person and per tent or car (the normal case) or you pay a flat rate for a plot (parcela). The latter system is especially common in big tourist places. The price of a pitch usually depends more on its location than on its comfort, but only a few pitches deviate significantly from the standard (4-6 pesos per person or 15 pesos for the pitch).
Camping Municipal are usually called very cheap campsites, which are administered by the respective municipality. With the exception of the high price pitches in the tourist areas, the equipment of the campsites is not quite comparable with Europe; many campsites in remote areas offer only minimal comfort (e.g. no hot water) and are sometimes completely shadowless. But especially these places are often located in very idyllic natural landscapes.
Free camping is actually only allowed where it is expressly indicated – especially in nature and national parks, where there are almost always small camping areas. In practice, however, this ban is almost never observed in lonely areas. If an area is clearly recognizable as a private property (e.g. by a fence or a house), you should always ask the owner for permission to camp and also to enter the area – otherwise you risk being mistaken for a thief or tramp!
Tip: In many areas, especially in the centre and west of Argentina, the danger of forest fires is very high! One should therefore pay attention when making fire and consider appropriate prohibitions! Due to the careless behaviour of campers, tens of thousands of hectares of forest and bush land burn down every year!
In Argentina there is a lot to see for backpackers. Standard are trips from Buenos Aires over the Iguazu waterfalls to Patagonia. In the Highlights section there are more trips, which we would like to highlight in particular. Here it is necessary to introduce individual areas and tours bit by bit. Please understand if this process takes a while, because we only report on tours that have already been made by other backpackers or are more or less known and worthy of realization:
A great destination as a backpacker is the highest mountain in America: the Aconcagua. Also a real natural hammer is the trip to the Peninsula de Valdez in Chubut, where you can look forward to the huge whales with their babies in the months of June to December. Oh yes, seals, orcas, dolphins and much more are still there.
Trekking enthusiasts can walk or drive the great Route de los Siete Lagos. Another destination on Argentina trip is a ride with the famous Tren a las Nubes. 15 hours goes with the train into the high mountains, whereby countless gorges and bridges are crossed from the city Salta up to the viaduct in La Polvorilla.
If you want to see the end of the world, you have to go to the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia. From there it is only a stone’s throw to Antarctica. The Quebrada de Humahuaca in the province of Jujuy belongs to the travel highlights as well as a visit to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Santa Cruz and a detour to the Jesuit missions in the province of the same name Misiones.
Backpacker Insider Tips in Argentina
There are not only well-known places to see in Argentina. If you are a backpacker and bring some time with you, you can also see and experience some extraordinary locations and things in Argentina. For you we have therefore also some absolute insider tips, which you will certainly not find everywhere. But as always, it is not always easy to reach these places, because as I said, not so many backpackers have these destinations on their screens. The fun of exploring them should be all the greater.
Untouched National Park in Salta – Parque nacional Baritú
Close to the Bolivian border at Los Toldos, about 155 km from Orán, you can go on an adventure tour in one of the most untouched national parks of the entire continent. Created in 1974, the park covers 74,000 hectares. Jungle and densely wooded mountain ridges provide the setting for a magnificent natural spectacle. Nothing with infrastructure, hardly any hiking trails – full of bush. Therefore the exploration will only be possible with a park guard. The boys can be found in the village El Lipeo at the Routa Nacional RN 50 from Orán towards the border crossing Aguas Blancas-Bermejo. In Los Toldos you will find everything you need. The best time is from March to October. Then you can also see the jaguars.
Volcanic landscape La Payunia in Mendoza
About 130 kilometers from Malargüe and about 300 km from the city of San Rafael in the province of Mendoza lies one of the most extraordinary regions of Argentina. More than 450,000 hectares are covered with a desert-like lava layer that forms bizarre landscapes. The sharpest are the more than 800 single small volcanic cones that testify to an intense fire-breathing earth history in the region. However, the access is not quite easy, as you have to go to Payún Liso at an altitude of 3.680 metres. The air up there is quite thin. Without a guide there’s not much to do. You can get there via the RN 40.
The diamond lagoon
You will find the Laguna Diamante about 73 km from the village El Peñón. Also this time you have to go far up again. The impressive Diamond Lagoon is waiting for you in the middle of the 4000 meter high Galán Volcano. However, the volcano is even with scarcely 6000 meters still somewhat higher. The many flamingos offer an unbelievable natural spectacle, which stand out rich in contrast from the dazzling crater lake. The crater interior stretches over a gigantic 35 x 20 km. How do you get there? The best way is via RP 43 to El Peñón and then on with the guides from the village. Most flamingos are there in November and December, by the way. Even the poet Antoine de Saint Exupéry impressively described the lagoon in his work “Wind, Sand and Stars”: “…he [Guillaumet] caught sight of a dark horizontal blot which he recognized as a lake Laguna Diamante.”.
Hiking and Trekking in Argentina
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of short or long trekking tours in Argentina, but I would like to point to one in particular. The tour is called “Huella Andina”. If you want to walk it, you have to take some time, because the Huella Andina leads over 500 kilometers through Patagonia. You can pick out individual parts or completely hike off the 24 sections. You will pass mountain lakes, volcanoes, picturesque villages and dense forests. You march on signposted paths through the Argentine provinces of Chubut, Río Negro and Neuquén. You will also pass the popular destinations of San Martín de Los Andes, Villa la angostura and San Carlos de Baroliche. Take your time and discover Argentina in a different way.
Backpacker Highlights in Argentina
Actually, it’s presumptuous to say what you should have seen in Argentina. As you will see later, there is so much to see that it is hard to decide which are the “Must Go” goals. Anyway, I think that the best spots are always off the beaten track. But more about that in the next section. I just wanted to make your nose long. Here you can find an overview of the absolute hits in Argentina.
The Argentine capital Buenos Aires is diverse in its culture. However, everything in Buenos Aires is always somewhat different and somewhat larger and more unusual than in other South American metropolises. Also the openness of the people and the contact with strangers has led to the fact that in Buenos Aires a very individual lifestyle has developed, which only reveals itself to the visitor by means of behaviours and localities, if he is pointed out to it or lives there for a longer time.
Those who want to explore Buenos Aires on different city tours will be able to participate in the Pope Tour, the Mystical Tour or also the erotic city tour. Friends of alternative art will also get their money’s worth. Also underground and alternative theaters are just as component like underground galleries.
To Buenos Aires belongs the Tango and the Milonga like the salt in the soup. Guests, who want to take Tango dance courses directly locally with the genuine Könnern, will be able to take lessons, where also Madonna and Robert Duvall already the Tanzbein swung. Buenos Aires offers something to feel comfortable for every taste and backpacker and is certainly unique in its kind. A recommendable city guide that will lead you to the extraordinary Buenos Aires highlights here.
Waterfalls of Iguazu
The nature reserve with the widest waterfalls in the world, which is one of the classic highlights of a round trip through Argentina and Brazil, must always be on the visitor agenda. At the same time, the Unesco-protected rainforest area is the heart of the tropical Mesopotamia of Argentina, located between the rivers Paraná and Uruguay.
The main season is from the end of November to mid-March (best time to visit until around the beginning of June). Later the winter starts and it rains more. After the high season it is nice and quiet in the park. On Monday and Tuesday the waterfalls often have less water, because the dam accumulates more, so it is better to visit the park during these days.
It is advisable to stay several days and look at both sides. It is best to start in Foz do Iguacu. From the Brazilian side you get a great overview of the Iguacu waterfalls. In the morning you can visit the bird park opposite the entrance to the waterfalls. For the Argentine side often one day is not enough to enjoy everything in peace. For the 2nd day you only have to pay half if you say at the entrance that you will come tomorrow. If you don’t have much time, visit the Argentine side, you’ll get closer to the falls and have several ways to explore.
Yummy for all who like to eat meat. The Gaucholand is known for its good beef. Everything is grilled. Those who are invited to an Asado will find themselves at a barbecue. But also chicken – Pollo or pig – Cerdo, as well as fish – Pescado is grilled. Empanadas are filled dumplings. Cheese, ham, chicken and much more is put into it. Argentine cuisine is based on Spanish and Italian cuisine. There are also indigenous influences. Meanwhile, many Asian tendencies can be found. One should definitely try a mate once. The Argentine wines from the Andes regions have meanwhile reached a top level.
Food in Argentina
An Asado is a typical grill meal of the country. It is often organized and often forms the Sunday meal in the extended family or in the circle of friends. Each Asador (“grill master”) has his own way of preparing grilled food, but the grilling usually lasts hours and is a small social event.
The ingredients consist of everything a beef, a sheep or a pig provides for grilling. The classic ingredients in the Buenos Aires area are various meats such as matambre (pork or veal belly), tira de asado (flat rib), rumpsteak (bife de chorizo) and lomo (loin) as well as chorizos, blood sausages (morcillas) and various offal such as intestines (chinchulines), kidneys (riñones) or sweetbreads (molleja).
However, there are no limits to the choice of ingredients. Chimichurri (sauce) is often eaten with grilled meat. The oil that has settled above the sauce is added to the meat before or during the grilling. The pesto-like base is eaten with the meat or with white bread during grilling. Used oil can be refilled within limits.
In Patagonia, lamb is usually used instead of beef because it is cheaper than beef. As side dishes there are usually only light salads, white bread and red wine.
Empanadas are crescent-shaped or round dumplings with various fillings (minced meat, ham/cheese, corn, vegetables, etc.). They are available both baked and fried. Especially the province of Salta is known for its fried empanades. They are usually eaten as a starter or as a snack between meals. A speciality are the Empanadas Árabes in Córdoba, which are triangular and without dough cover and are refined with lemon. In the larger cities there are also several chains that sell empanadas as fast food.
There are various stews in Argentina that are very traditional and popular, especially in the working class kitchen. The most important are Locro, Puchero and Guiso.
The Locro is a stew from the north of Argentina. It consists of very varied ingredients, mainly corn grains, various types of sausages, pieces of meat and pumpkin. It is usually spiced very spicy. Locro is traditionally eaten on May 1st and the national holidays of Argentina (May 25th, July 9th), where in some cities the Locro is distributed free of charge in the center.
A Puchero is a vegetable and meat stew that is popular throughout Argentina. It usually contains the following ingredients: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, pieces of meat (ossobuco), chard and eggs.
Guisos are stews that use either noodles or rice as a base and are usually cooked in tomato sauce. The guiso de mondongo is considered to be particularly traditional, where beef stomach (mondongo) is the main ingredient. There are also guisos with other types of beef meat and those with chicken meat.
Drinks in Argentina
Argentina’s national drink is the mate tea, which is also popular in neighbouring Uruguay and Paraguay. It is said to take away the feeling of hunger and has a stimulating effect due to its caffeine content. The mate is drunk in a calabash with a tube, the bombilla, whereby the mate is shared at convivial gatherings. A cold variant is the tereré, in which the yerba is not infused with hot water, but with cold juice or lemonade.
Wine is also cultivated in Argentina. The cultivation areas are mainly in the west of the country. World-class wines are cultivated around Mendoza.
The Argentine beer market is controlled by a few companies. By far the most popular is lager, which is offered by numerous companies (Quilmes, Isenbeck, Brahma etc.); other types of beer occupy only niche markets and are often only sold by small breweries.
Entry requirements for German nationals: Entry is possible for German nationals with the following documents:
- Passport: Yes
- Provisional passport: Yes
- Identity card: No
- Temporary identity card: No
- Children’s passport: Yes
- Still valid child ID card according to old model (the child ID card has not been issued since 1 January 2006): Yes
The entry permit for German citizens is valid for 90 days and can be extended locally for up to 6 months. It simply crosses the border once and back again. Thus one saves oneself the course and the queue standing at the immigration authority. Your own passport must be valid for at least another six months at the time of entry.
Since May 2012 there are new regulations for the entry to Argentina. The fingerprints of every traveller are digitally scanned at the airport of entry / seaport and a digital portrait photo is taken.
Vaccination protection and medical information
When travelling to the designated yellow fever endemic areas of Argentina, e.g. for the Iguaçu waterfalls, a timely vaccination is recommended for all travellers from the age of one, i.e. 10 days before entry.
Coming from Argentina, the vaccination can be required for onward travel to a third country. Neither when entering from a yellow fever area (often the neighbouring countries) nor when entering directly from Germany, proof of a valid yellow fever vaccination is currently required by the authorities.
As travel vaccinations Hepatitis A, with long-term stay also Hepatitis B, as well as only in individual cases with special exposure rabies and typhoid are recommended.
Dengue is transmitted in large parts of the country by the bite of the diurnal mosquito Aedes aegypti.
There is a minimal risk in the north of the province of Salta and isolated cases in the Depto. Iguaçu in Misiones. The other regions including the Iguaçu waterfalls are malaria free.
This rare disease can lead to flu-like symptoms such as headache and aching limbs in rural areas of the country after an average of 2-4 weeks after ingestion of Hantavirus-contaminated secretions of infected rodents via the respiratory tract or the gastrointestinal tract.
Transmission from person to person only occurs in extremely rare cases. There is no vaccination or drug prophylaxis.