We have a difficult mission ahead: we want to try and tell you why we love Argentina so much. The country doesn’t scream ‘holidays’ as loud as other nations in South America. It’s not tightly associated with sun and beaches like Colombia or Brazil; or to cultural wow’s like Peru; and it’s not a life experience like Bolivia can be. But maybe that’s precisely the reason why. Argentine towns are really liveable, safe, and the nature has a variety of landscapes to offer. In fact, several times during our 2 months backpacking in Argentina, we felt like we could put down our bags and live there. We’ve put together this guide to share our love for Argentina, our best backpacking travel tips and our favourite destinations in the country.
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A few things to know before backpacking in Argentina
Argentinians are very friendly
All along our backpacking trip, we were positively impressed at how friendly and helpful people are in Argentina. This might come as a surprise to many of their neighbours, who often find them arrogant and uneducated.
Argentinians aren’t very much appreciated in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru; Brazilians make fun of them and Uruguayans see them as bullying pricks. That wasn’t our experience at all! It’s customary in Argentina to greet people everywhere you go and ask them how they are. Many of them come out of their way to help you, even in Buenos Aires.
Is backpacking in Argentina safe?
In general, Argentina is very safe, probably one of the safest on the continent. We believe that people would take care of you if something should happen, so in general, it just won’t. You could definitely travel one month in Argentina without seeing any violence or theft. Of course, a reliable travel insurance is always recommended.
Here again though, the usual rules apply, in Argentina as anywhere else. Don’t show off your valuables; keep an eye on your belongings; follow your instinct and wander off the crowded parts of towns only as long as you feel confident.
Some neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires are better left alone, but they’re usually far from the centre. It’s said that muggings happen in La Boca outside the touristic area. It’s more likely that you (don’t) see pickpockets in San Telmo and other crowded places.
We’ve seen warnings in several cities against the so-called “distraction thefts“. A friendly local captures your attention while an accomplice captures what’s in your pocket. A famous trick is to drop ketchup or mayo on you and to help you clean it; in the meantime, someone else is doing your pockets or even your backpack. Stay alert!
Many attractions in Argentina are free
Surprisingly for a nation that’s so deep in a financial mess, many tourist sites and cultural events are absolutely free, or at best donation-based.
In fact, you could spend a week in Buenos Aires hopping from one free event to another. Or a week in the Lake District, hitchhiking from one trek to the other without spending a peso. It’s good to save money where you can, so you can give it away where it’s needed.
Argentina looks like Europe
If you’ve been backpacking through South America and got used to the Indigenous faces, the African heritage and the mud houses, you might expect that in Argentina too. That remains true only in the Northwest, close to the Bolivian border.
Apart from that, the country looks pretty much like Europe. In fact, 90% of the population has European roots. This is very obvious in the people’s traits, in their names and that of their towns; but also in the customs, the gastronomy and the architecture. It comes as no surprise that Buenos Aires is called “the Paris of South America“.
The country is also more developed than the Andean countries, maybe at the same level as Ecuador. That means fewer street sellers and markets but more WiFi. For example’s sake.
Drinking Yerba Mate is an everyday habit
Yerba mate tea is an infusion made of a plant that grows on the continent. It was a tradition among the Tupi Guaraní people long before the Spanish Jesuits took it over (and made loads of cash with its production). Nowadays, it’s a daily habit for almost every Argentine, whatever their age, gender or social background.
People drink it at home, at the park, at school, in the office… probably even in court, in jail or at the brothel. (Uruguayans go one step further and drink it while walking on the street.)
It’s also part of the habit to share a mate. When people gather, there’s usually a mate going around. It’s a great way to meet people in the park during your Argentina backpacking trip!
Learn more about yerba mate tea and its benefits
You can practise Argentine tango
You don’t have to show interest in tango just because you’re planning a trip to Argentina. If that’s not your thing, fair enough. But be prepared to hear more tango during your stay in Buenos Aires than in your entire life; it’s absolutely everywhere!
If you’re interested in doing some leg-kicking on the sounds of a bandoneon, many dancing schools offer a first class for free. We promise you’ll have loads of fun and will get a first grasp of the atmosphere that is so specific to tango.
Check our post about tango in Argentina
Cost of backpacking in Argentina
Unfortunately, the country has known several very hard economic crises in the last decades. As of December 2019, it’s still in a tough situation. For the people of Argentina, it means high unemployment and low salaries; and constant inflation doubled the prices of things over a few months.
For you as a visitor, the peso loses its value, so everything becomes even cheaper. As a matter of example, when we visited Argentina in December 2018, 1 Euro got us 40 Argentine pesos; one year later, the same Euro is worth 66 pesos.
For us as travel bloggers, it means the prices we’re giving you now might be wrong in a few weeks, as the exchange rate keeps on changing… Here’s anyway a list of average prices in Argentina in December 2019. The currency in Argentina is the Argentine peso.
|Water bottle (33 cl)||$44.50 ARS||$0.74 USD||0.67€|
|Cappuccino||$94 ARS||$1.57 USD||1.42€|
|National beer||$100 ARS||$1.67 USD||1.51€|
|Menu in a cheap restaurant||$350 ARS||$5.84 USD||5.27€|
|1 way in public transport||$21.20 ARS||$0.35 USD||0.32€|
|Bus Córdoba to Buenos Aires||$1900 ARS||$31.76 USD||28.64€|
|1 night in a hostel dorm||$500 ARS||$8.36 USD||7.54€|
Read more things to know about Argentina that we contributed on StreetTrotter
Prepare well before backpacking Argentina
You don’t need to worry any about hygiene in Argentina. There again, it’s pretty much to Western standards.
The tap water is safe to drink, with the exception of a few places in the North. In general, you’ll see that the north of Argentina is less developed; but here, the hot and dry climate might have something to do with it.
Food places are also very clean and there’s no particular risk of food poisoning. With all the gorgeous Argentinian food, all you risk is a change in your silhouette!
To get prepared, read our ultimate guide to pastries from Argentine bakeries
Of course, there are internal flights in Argentina. But with this financial commotion, they tend to be rather pricey. We never advise taking an extra plane anyway, when you can go anywhere with a single bus trip.
The only reason to fly would be if you travel to Ushuaia, at the bottom end of the continent. On a bus from Buenos Aires, it takes 45+ hours including a change at Río Gallegos, a border crossing with Chile and ferry crossing. By plane, it takes only 3.5 hours.
The Iguazú Falls are the other remote destination that might require taking the plane or planning time in the Northeast.
Other than that, you can well rely on buses. They’re affordable, very comfortable and include tea or coffee, food and a film projection. By the way, if you have any special diet, make sure to say it when you buy the ticket. In Argentina, buses are called “micros“.
Read more on our guide to bus transportation in South America
Hitchhiking tend to be fairly easy, especially in Patagonia (provided that there’s any traffic at all) and in the north. Check some tips and experiences here.
It is very easy to couchsurf in Argentina. Most towns have many hosts, so with 1-week anticipation you should be able to find a couch anywhere.
During our 2 months backpacking through Argentina, we found a 2nd home in Buenos Aires; stayed in a gated community near Mendoza; in a mud-brick eco house in Bariloche; and were received by a vegan brewer in San Martín de los Andes.
One day, we were also invited to a house party and could borrow a tent for wonderful wild camping in Patagonia.
How long do I need to backpack Argentina
We recommend planning 3 weeks of backpacking in Argentina, concentrating on a region. Here are some possible Argentina itineraries:
- Visit Buenos Aires, Córdoba and the sierra, Mendoza and the Aconcagua, and Talampaya Provincial Park.
- Follow the Andes from Mendoza and the Aconcagua down to the extreme South, Perito Moreno glacier, Mount Fitz Roy and Ushuaia; or the other way round.
- See the north, from Ischigualasto Park, via Cordoba and the sierra, up to Salta, Cachi and the other 3 villages.
Each of these itineraries keeps you in a specific “atmosphere”. Of course, you can mix things up to have an overview of the different treasures of the country. In that case, indulge in at least 4-6 weeks travelling.
Start planning: Our recommended 2 and 3 weeks in Argentina itinerary
Backpacking destinations in Argentina
It’s no mystery that we deeply and completely fell in love with Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina has everything we love in a city, without the chaos of other large conurbations.
Culture. With many museums, some of them count among the best we’ve visited in South America. There’s music everywhere, but also history and stunning neoclassical buildings, of the kind we know from Paris, London or Washington DC.
Nature. Despite being a metropolis, Buenos Aires boasts of many parks, some of them really big. Besides a Botanical Park, a Japanese garden, several city parks, there’s also a nature reserve and a long waterfront.
Cheap food. Empanadas, tortas pascualinas, dulce de leche and alfajores are a few of our favourites. Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular, is the best place to go out as a vegetarian in South America.
Patagonia, a name that inspires adventure, gigantic icebergs and warm fleeces. That region corresponds basically to the whole southern tip of the continent, divided into Chile and Argentina. Perfect if you’re backpacking Argentina and Chile together.
While the Chilean Patagonia starts only right under the port city of Puerto Montt, the Argentine Patagonia stretches as far north as the province of Neuquén. One thing for sure: Patagonia means South.
It’s home to myriad lakes and the snowy Andes mountains; to legendary glaciers like Perito Moreno; to the mythical island of Tierra del Fuego and to Ushuaia, the world’ southernmost town. A Patagonia travel also means exquisite wildlife, like penguins at the southern tip or whales at Puerto Madryn. You can also book a tour to Antarctica from Ushuaia.
The best way to visit Patagonia is with a tent, lots of time and many layers of clothes. It’s cold all year round in that part of the world.
Officially part of Patagonia, the Lake District of Argentina is the name given to the region around Bariloche. It’s a wonderful region of crystal-clear lakes tucked in snow-capped mountains that offer outdoors activities to everyone all year round. It’s definitely part of our Argentina highlights!
Whether you like hiking, skiing, bird-watching, rafting, good chocolate or craft beer, the Lake District has it all. Add to this friendly people and easy hitchhiking and we see no reason to skip this part of Argentina on your backpacking trip!
The towns of interest in the Lake District are Bariloche, San Martín de los Andes, El Bolsón and Villa la Angostura.
Read more tips on backpacking the Argentine Lake District
What can we tell you about the Iguazù Falls that you haven’t read anywhere yet? They’re huge, yes. In fact, the largest waterfall complex in the world. You can see them from either Brazil or Argentina, yes. But the biggest part is in Argentina.
One thing we can tell you: their immensity acts like a magnet on your soul. It will remind you of your real size and position in the universal scheme of things. If you can make it, visit both sides, as they offer a different experience.
You’ll find accommodation and nightlife on both sides, with slightly cheaper prices in Argentina.
Read our post about visiting the Iguazu Falls
Aconcagua Provincial Park
Mount Aconcagua is another of nature’s giants in South America. With a summit at 6,960.8 metres (22,837 ft), it’s merely the world’s highest mountain outside of Asia. Well, what we said above, that nonsense about feeling small in front of the universe, applies here just as well.
The “Sentinel of Stone” has long been deemed inaccessible but is now open to all levels of hikers and mountaineers. The Aconcagua Provincial Park (officially not a national park) offers several hikes, from half-a-day to 7 days, in a gorgeous landscape of red rocks and ice-cold lakes.
For the real stuff, climbing tours leave Mendoza on a regular basis; prepare with good acclimatisation to the height, good gear, and a sh*tload of dollars.
Read more tips on backpacking the Aconcagua Provincial Park
In such a large country, you can expect some pretty diverse landscapes. The Northwest of Argentina is a series of canyons of colourful rocks at high altitude, with cacti and llamas dotting them. Even the people and their culture resemble nothing else in the country; it reminds more of Bolivia, Peru and the Andean culture.
Besides the pretty city of Salta, the main attractions in the Northwest are:
- the region of Cafayate with the scenic canyon Quebrada de las Conchas;
- the secluded village of Cachi, that looks like the setting of a Western movie (read more about it in “off the beaten path”);
- the villages of Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca, surrounded with many-coloured mountains
If you can rent a car, you’ll be free to roam on desert roads and through sleepy hamlets. Hitchhiking is also an option.
Read about our road trip in the northwest of Argentina
Backpacking Argentina off the beaten path
The town of Mendoza is getting its fame through wine production, and many people come to visit its vineyards. Yet, it’s often a short
boozing tasting stopover on an Argentina backpacking trip.
Now, I might be biased because I spent 4 months in Mendoza as a student; but I think this relaxed university town has a lot more to offer than a few glasses of wine. First of all, it’s full of parks, bars, eateries, bookshops and restaurants.
The Parque San Martín is one of the largest city parks we’ve ever seen. The Andes mountains and the imposing Aconcagua are right at the city gate. The nearby Mendoza River and the Potrerillos Reservoir promise many outdoor activities like rafting, hiking, paragliding, etc. If you’re into extreme sports, you’ll find everything you like as a day trip from Mendoza.
Salinas Grandes near Salta
Like Salar de Uyuni‘s forgotten sister, Salinas Grandes are wide expanses of salt that form a gigantic white lake. Complete with salt houses and salt sculptures, it’s really a cheaper and smaller variation of its Bolivian counterpart, without the crowds. There’s even a mirror reflection in the rainy season (from January to March).
Here though, it seems to be possible to visit with your own car. Otherwise, you will need to book a tour from Salta, but that includes many hours on the road. As a day road trip, you can include a visit to San Antonio de Los Cobres and Purmamarca.
Córdoba and its Sierra
Córdoba hasn’t got a great rep’ and is known nationally as a party city. Sure enough, you can find there more bars and clubs than you can take on a wild weekend.
What makes Córdoba attractive is surely not the city itself; despite a beautiful Capuchin church, the outstanding Palacio Ferreyra fine arts museum (es) and the large Sarmiento Park, from which sunsets take on an exquisite tint.
We recommend particularly the surrounding mountains, what locals call “sierra de Córdoba“. The most famous area is the one around Villa Carlos Paz; but go a bit further on the same bus to Cuesta Blanca. You can find a beautiful hike along the San Antonio river, leading to Playa de los Hippies and Playa Lejana. You’ll probably find other visitors on those beaches, but also peacefulness and a lovely setting to bath and wild camp.
Check out our picture post about backpacking Córdoba and the Sierra
Ischigualasto & Talampaya Provincial Parks
South West of La Rioja lie the 2 neighbouring Provincial Parks of Ischigualasto and Talampaya. Although divided, both parks offer very similar landscapes and are both on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It’s a scenery of red rocks with fantastic formations that could well be on another planet. You drive through empty canyons of high ochre cliffs and learn about how dinosaurs lived here back in the day. In such a deserted area, you can really imagine one of them popping out from behind the rocks!
There’s no public transportation to get to either of the parks. You can either go with your own car; arrange to hitchhike or join people from your hostels; or book a 2.5-hour tour from the nearby town of Villa San Agustín. You can also hitch a ride to the entrance and then rent a bike to visit the park.
Note that both parks can close a few days because of the rain in February and March. Speaking of water, it’s important that you bring enough for your visit, and that you cover your head and skin; in the summer, temperatures can go as high as 60ºC.
Read more about visiting Ischigualasto and Talampaya on Happy Frog Travels.
We mentioned Cachi before, the small desert town in Argentina’s northwest, that comes straight out of a John Wayne movie. It’s definitely not a party or adventure place – it’s a place to relax and enjoy your time.
We won’t lie to you, it’s rather touristic. You’ll find many hotels, restaurants, craft sellers on and around the main square, which is spacious and is the beating heart of the village. Don’t miss the delicious “tortilla a la parrilla“, a pastry filled with cheese and grilled on fire.
When you’ve spent a day or 2 soaking in the special atmosphere of Cachi, try hitchhiking to Salta; or even better, to Cafayate in the south. That’s some adventure for you!
Eco backpacking travels in Argentina
We don’t want to bore you again with the same usual recommendations. We know you are a responsible traveller – otherwise you wouldn’t be reading Green Mochila.
Of course, you don’t camp in protected areas where it’s not allowed and don’t start a fire where it’s forbidden.
You pick up your rubbish when you hike; maybe even pick up what inconsiderate hikers have left before you. Basically, you leave the spot as nice and tidy as when you found it, right?
The only thing we really want to focus on is the plague that is plastic. Argentina isn’t as bad as other South American countries when it comes to plastic in the daily life. But it can still do better, and it’s our duty as travellers to show the way – at least for our own sake.
So be ready with your own reusable cup for takeaway drinks, your own cutlery for the food and your own foldaway bags. And If you don’t have a travel bottle yet, consider getting one because they’re very handy when you’re out hiking; or even for a day in the city.
Please read again our eco travels tips for responsible tourism
Are you planning a backpacking trip to Argentina? Do you have any question we’re not answering here?
Feel free to ask us in the comments!
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