Argentina is a vibrant land of ivory Andean peaks and tango dancers, gauchos and grill houses and roaring fútbol fans. The next time you’re on the hunt for a destination that will engage your senses and captivate your imagination, put Argentina right at the top of the list. Our Insider’s Guide to Argentina will help you get acquainted with this colorful, delicious, visually magnetic country.
Argentina sits in the southern portion of South America. It shares borders with Chile to the east and south, Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, and Brazil, Uruguay, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The country features a range of diverse ecosystems: lush tropical wetlands in the north, verdant pampas in the central region, and arid Patagonian desert in the south. The Andes Mountains tower over the western portion of the country, and at Argentina’s tip, the Tierra del Fuego archipelago dips its toe in the Antarctic.
Weather & When to Go
Given the vast size of the country, you’ll encounter varied climates. With subtropical conditions in the north and subarctic in the south, you should plan for a variety of temperatures. Patagonia is usually quite mild, while the central part of Argentina is temperate with cold winters and brutally hot summers.
Because of its location south of the Equator, Argentina’s seasons are opposite of those in the United States. The expensive high season is November to February. Spring and fall are both cheaper and less crowded. Peak skiing months are June through August.
The official language of Argentina is Spanish, but it’s heavily influenced by other European languages. Argentinian Spanish is similar to Italian, with singsong intonations and expressive gestures. An influx of Italian immigrants to the country in the 19th and 20th centuries helped created this unique dialect, which also includes slang unknown to other Spanish-speakers. For example, “che” roughly translates to “man” or “pal” and can be used to address everyone except those at the very highest echelons of society. You might not be asked “¿Cómo estás?” as you would in other Spanish-speaking countries. Rather, Argentinians ask “¿Cómo andás?” or “How’s it going?” Reply by saying, “Todo bien, vos?”
Unlike many other South American countries, much of Argentina’s population is of European descent. People here speak their minds without reservation, but they’re tactful and diplomatic. During conversations, they stand or sit closer than Americans. Because the majority of the population is Roman Catholic, clothing is conservative—especially outside of big cities. Direct eye contact is a sign of respect. Yawning is considered rude, as is standing with your hands on your hips.
When meeting someone new, offer a handshake. If you’re greeting someone familiar, a light hug is the norm. If you know someone very well or are family, you may receive a kiss on the right cheek. Wait for your host or hostess to introduce you to others at a small gathering, and when leaving, say goodbye to each person individually. If you’re invited to a dinner at someone’s house, arrive late and with a small gift. Wait for the host to tell you where to sit and don’t take a drink until a toast is made. There are many rituals associated with pouring wine, so avoid it if at all possible. Unlike in America, cleaning your plate is not standard. It’s polite to leave a little food at the end of the meal.
Argentina is notorious for its bureaucratic red tape, so if you must deal with a governmental entity—say, getting a visa if your visits extends past 90 days—expect inconvenience. Ironically, many Argentinians have a laid back attitude regarding safety. Driving can be a chaotic experience for first-time visitors, and don’t be surprised to encounter exposed wiring or rickety fences on overlooks.
Argentinians are night owls, especially in Buenos Aires. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8pm or later, with people still filing in well after midnight. You can order breakfast until 10am, and lunch from noon until 3pm. If you get hungry before restaurants re-open in the evening, head to a cafe for merienda—tea and snacks served in the late afternoon.
Beef, usually in the form of steak, dominates many Argentinian restaurant menus. For snacks and street food, try beef-filled empanadas, hamburger-like barrolucas, and lomito—a steak-filled pita bread. Given the Italian influence in the country, you’ll also encounter a fair amount of thick-crust pizza and fresh pasta. Look for regional parrillas or restaurants serving local asado or barbecued meat. In the northwest, sample humitas—cornhusks filled with creamed corn—and locro, a hearty stew. Barbecued lamb is a specialty in Patagonia.
The national currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso. The country eliminated its official exchange rate in 2015, so you can now change currency on the open market. The state-owned bank, Banco de la Nación, is a good option for exchanging cash. You can also withdraw pesos from ATMs in major cities, but remember that there is a foreign transaction fee. Many establishments in Argentina operate on a cash-only basis. Haggling is not widespread, but you might be able to bargain with tour operators and hotels, especially in the low season. Taxis, buses, small restaurants and shops, and certain tour operators don’t accept credit cards at all.
Tip your restaurant and cafe servers 10% (and up to 15% in high-end establishments). Tips must be in cash as most restaurants don’t allow you to add gratuity to the check. When the server takes the bill and your cash away from the table, if you say “Gracias,” he or she will keep the change. If you want change, say “Cambio, por favor.” In some restaurants, you’ll see a charge on your bill called a cubierto. This is a service charge for bread, utensils, and other items shared by the table. Expect this charge to be between 5 and 10 pesos per person.
You should tip between 10 and 15% to bus and hotel porters, delivery persons, salon and spa personnel, and tour guides. Taxi drivers don’t generally expect a tip but Argentinians may round the fare up to the next whole peso.
Adventure and Exploration
Visitors to Argentina will want to visit Buenos Aires, the country’s capital city and home to nearly three million people. From museums and art galleries to high-end restaurants and intense nightlife, Buenos Aires serves as the country’s cosmopolitan hub. However, don’t get so caught up learning to tango that you neglect country’s other unique and exciting regions.
Located in the Northeastern part of the country, the Litoral Region offers travelers the chance to see powerful wonders of nature at the Iguazu or Mocona Falls, explore the landscapes of several national parks and reserves, and visit the ruins of historic Jesuit settlements.
With volcanic peaks, plateaus, and Andean foothills, northwest Argentina is a treasure for travelers. Don’t miss Campo de Piedra Pomez, a massive field of pumice stone created by a volcanic explosion 20 million years ago. Over the millennia, wind and rains have carved the pink-hued stones into remarkable formations.
Evidence of past geologic activity abounds in the Cuyo region. The Quebrada del la Troya is a mountain labyrinth featuring a perfect pyramid sculpted by wind and rain. The Corona del Inca Crater was created by a volcano and holds one of the highest lakes in the world. Cuyo is also home to the El Leoncito Astronomical Observatory, an abundance of vineyards, and Mt. Aconcagua—the highest peak in the western hemisphere.
The city of the same name is the second-largest in Argentina and boasts impressive Spanish colonial architecture and a fascinating Jesuit quarter. Elsewhere in the region, you’ll find fruit orchards, canals, and several villages founded by Welsh immigrants. Beltrán is the least visited among these.
A breathtaking, bumpy drive along the Route of the Seven Lakes delivers visitors to a stunning landscape of glacial lakes and volcanic sand beaches. If you have a car, head to Camarones, a laid-back, uncrowded beach town where friendly locals welcome visitors. You’ll also be close to the Cabo Dos Bahias, a nature reserve where 25,000 penguin pairs nest in the spring. While you’re here, don’t miss the famous Mount Fitz Roy, especially at sunset!
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