Argentina’s magnificent landscapes create memorable backdrops for amazing experiences. Wine lovers can sample world-class Malbecs at Mendoza’s high-altitude vineyards with Andes Mountain views; adventure seekers revel in the colorful canyons of the Northwest, and nature lovers marvel at the thundering torrents of Iguazú Falls. In Patagonia, top-notch outdoor activities beckon, from scaling translucent glaciers to spotting penguins and whales. Urban adventures also await in Buenos Aires, with its thriving foodie scene, chic shopping districts, and vibrant nightlife.
There are direct daily flights between Buenos Aires and several North American cities, with New York and Miami being primary departure points. Many airlines also serve Buenos Aires via Santiago de Chile or São Paulo in Brazil, which adds only a little to your trip time.
Aerolíneas Argentinas, the flagship airline, operates direct flights between Buenos Aires and JFK once a day and Miami twice a day. Since its renationalization in 2008, Aerolíneas’ reputation for chronic delays has greatly improved, although strikes do still ground planes.
Chilean airline LAN is Aerolíneas’ biggest local competition. LAN flies direct from Buenos Aires to Miami, and via Santiago de Chile or Lima to JFK, Dallas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, often in partnership with Brazilian airline TAM. LAN also allows you to bypass Buenos Aires by flying into Mendoza and Córdoba from JFK and Miami, both via Santiago de Chile.
U.S. carriers serve Buenos Aires, too. There are direct flights from Atlanta on Delta and from Houston on United; American flies nonstop from JFK, Miami, and Dallas.
Flying times to Buenos Aires are 11–12 hours from New York, 10½ hours from Atlanta, Dallas or Houston, and 9 hours from Miami.
Most domestic flights operate from Buenos Aires, so to fly from the extreme south of the country to the extreme north, you often have to change planes here.
Aerolíneas Argentinas and its partner Austral link Buenos Aires to more Argentine cities than any other airline, with flights running to Puerto Iguazú, Salta, Mendoza, Córdoba, Bariloche, Ushuaia, and El Calafate at least once a day. LAN also flies to these cities. Andes Líneas Aéreas operates flights between Buenos Aires, Salta, and Puerto Madryn; and sometimes provides direct service between Puerto Iguazú and Salta and Córdoba, bypassing Buenos Aires.
Aerolíneas Argentinas has two coupon-based air passes, the South American Pass and the Visit Argentina Pass, both of which must be purchased before you arrive. Although you do not need to fly in and out of the continent with Aerolíneas to take advantage of either, prices are cheaper if you do. Each allows you to travel to between three and 12 destinations, using one coupon per flight; coupons from the two passes may also be combined.
The South American Pass includes all countries the carrier serves within the region (Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela). All routes operate from Buenos Aires, except Rio de Janeiro to Puerto Iguazú and Santiago de Chile to Mendoza. Coupons cost between $90 and $250. The Visit Argentina Pass is valid for domestic flights. Coupons cost $180 each except for ones covering Patagonia, which cost $220 (prices drop to $150 and $200, respectively, if you fly into Argentina with Aerolíneas). The downside with these passes is that each connection you make through Buenos Aires counts as a flight and, therefore, requires a coupon. If you want to visit Buenos Aires, El Calafate, and Iguazú with the Visit Argentina Pass, for example, you would need to buy four coupons.
If you plan to take at least three flights within Argentina or South America in general, you might save money with Visit South America pass offered by the OneWorld Alliance (of which LAN is a member). Flights are categorized by mileage; segments (both domestic and international) start at $160.
Airports in Argentina are mostly small, well maintained, and easy to get around. Security at most isn’t as stringent as it is in the States—computers stay in cases, shoes stay on your feet, and there are no random searches.
Buenos Aires’ Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza Ministro Pistarini (EZE)—known as Ezeiza—is 35 km (22 miles) southwest of the city center. Ezeiza is the base for international flights operated by Aerolíneas Argentinas and its partner Austral; both airlines run a limited number of domestic flights to Puerto Iguazú, El Calafate, Bariloche, Trelew, Córdoba, Ushuaia, and Rosario from here as well. These all depart from the newest terminal, C; inbound international flights on Aerolíneas, however, arrive at Terminal A, a pleasant, glass-sided building. Other major international carriers also use Ezeiza’s Terminal A. SkyTeam-member airlines (including Delta) are the notable exception: they operate entirely out of Terminal C. At this writing, Terminal B is being renovated.
A covered walkway connects all three terminals. Both A and C have a few small snack bars, a small range of shops—including a pharmacy—a public phone center with Internet services, and a tourist information booth. The ATM, 24-hour luggage storage and car-rental agencies are in Terminal A.
Avoid changing money in the baggage claim area. The best exchange rates are at the small Banco de la Nación in the Terminal A arrivals area; it’s open round the clock.
Most domestic flights operate out of Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP). It’s next to the Río de la Plata in northeast Palermo, about 8 km (5 miles) north of the city center. Both it and Ezeiza are run by the private company Aeropuertos Argentinos 2000.
Elsewhere in Argentina
Several other airports in Argentina are technically international, but only because they have a few flights to neighboring countries; most flights are domestic.
Aeropuerto Internacional de Puerto Iguazú (IGR) is close to Iguazú Falls; it’s 20 km (12 miles) from Puerto Iguazú and 10 km (6 miles) from the park entrance. The northwest is served by Salta’s Aeropuerto Internacional Martín Miguel de Güemes (SLA), 7 km (4½ miles) west of the city of Salta.
The airport for the wine region and western Argentina is Aeropuerto Internacional de Mendoza Francisco Gabrieli (MDZ), usually known as El Plumerillo. It’s 10 km (6 miles) north of Mendoza. Northern Patagonia’s hub is Bariloche, 13 km (8 miles) west of which is the Aeropuerto Internacional San Carlos de Bariloche Teniente Luis Candelaria (BRC), known as the Aeropuerto de Bariloche. The gateway to southern Patagonia is Aeropuerto Internacional de El Calafate Comandante Armando Tola (ECA), 18 km (11 miles) east of El Calafate itself.
Ferries run frequently across the Río de la Plata between Buenos Aires and the Uruguayan cities of Colonia and Montevideo. Seacat or Colonia Express catamarans, which take an hour or less to Colonia and three hours to Montevideo, offer the best value. Full-price round-trip tickets cost around 1,000 and 1,250 pesos, respectively, but they often drop as low as 650 and 770 pesos if you book online (same-day return tickets are sometimes even less). Buquebus offers similar services on high-speed ferries. Round-trip tickets cost 1,350 pesos to Colonia and 1,550 pesos to Montevideo, but there are substantial off-peak and midweek discounts.
All three companies also sell packages that include bus tickets to La Paloma, Montevideo, and Punta del Este direct from Colonia’s ferry terminal. You can order tickets by phone or online. Buquebus and Seacat leave from a terminal at the northern end of Puerto Madero. The Colonia Express terminal is on Avenida Pedro de Mendoza (the extension of Avenida Huergo) at 20 de Septiembre, south of Puerto Madero. It’s best reached by taxi.
Frequent, comfortable, and dependable long-distance buses connect Buenos Aires with cities all over Argentina and with neighboring countries. Bus travel can be substantially cheaper than air travel and far less prone to delays. As a result, locals and visitors alike often choose overnight sleeper services for trips up to 14 hours long.
The Plataforma 10 website lets you assess routes, compare prices, and buy tickets for long-distance bus rides throughout Argentina, as well as ones to top international destinations like Montevideo. Most major bus companies have their own online timetables; some allow you to purchase tickets online or by phone. Websites also list alternative puntos de venta (sales offices)—in many cases, you can buy tickets from booths in shopping malls or subway stations, though outside of peak season you can usually buy them at the terminal right up until departure time. Many now accept credit cards; even so, you should be prepared to pay in cash. In January, February, and July, get your ticket as far in advance as possible (a week or more, at least) and arrive at the terminal extra early.
Most long-distance buses depart Buenos Aires from the Terminal de Omnibus de Retiro, which is often referred to as the Terminal de Retiro or simply Retiro. Ramps and stairs from the street lead you to a huge concourse where buses leave from more than 60 numbered platforms. There are restrooms, restaurants, public phones, lockers, news kiosks, and a tourist office on this floor.
If you didn’t buy tickets in advance, you can get them from the boleterías (ticket offices) on the upper level; there are also two ATMs here. Each company has its own ticket booth; they’re arranged in zones according to the destinations served, which makes price comparisons easy. The terminal’s comprehensive Spanish-language website lists bus companies by destination, including their phone number and ticket booth location. Keep your wits about you in the terminal: pickpockets and bag-snatchers often prey on distracted travelers.
Long-distance buses have toilets, air-conditioning, videos, and snacks. The most basic service is semi-cama, which has minimally reclining seats and often takes a little longer than more luxurious services. It’s worth paying the bit extra for coche cama (also called ejecutivo), which has large, business-class-style seats and, sometimes, pillows and blankets. The best rides of all are on cama suite services, where fully reclinable seats are often contained in their own little booth.
On routes between nearby towns, you can usually choose between regular buses (común) and air-conditioned or heated ones with reclining seats (diferencial). The companies that run local services rarely have websites—you buy tickets directly from the bus station.
Argentina’s long highways and fabulous scenery make it a great place for road trips. However, if you’re only going to be staying in Buenos Aires and other big cities, parking limitations and downright crazy traffic make renting a car more trouble than it’s worth. Stick with public transportation, including taxis, or hire a remis (car and driver), which can take you around the countryside, too.
Gas stations (estaciones de servicio) are in and near most towns and along major highways. Most are open 24 hours and include full service, convenience stores, and sometimes ATMs. In rural areas, stations have small shops and toilets; however, they are few and far between and have reduced hours.
On long trips, fill your tank whenever you can, even if you’ve still got gas left, as the next station could be a long way away (signs at stations often tell you how far). Attendants always pump the gas and don’t expect a tip, though most locals add a few pesos for a full tank. Credit cards often aren’t accepted—look for signs reading “Tarjetas de crédito suspendidas” (“No credit cards”) or “Solo efectivo” (“Cash only”).
The major service stations are YPF, Shell, Petrobras, and Esso. Locals say that YPF gas is the highest quality; it is also the cheapest. Prices are often higher in the north of Argentina. South of an imaginary line between Bariloche and Puerto Madryn, gas is heavily subsidized and costs roughly half what it does elsewhere. There are three grades of unleaded fuels, as well as diesel and biodiesel. GNC is compressed natural gas, an alternative fuel. Stations with GNC signs may sell only this, or both this and regular gas.
On-street parking is limited in big cities. Some have meter systems or tickets that you buy from kiosks and display on the dashboard. In meter-free spots there’s often an informal “caretaker” who guides you into your spot and charges 2–5 pesos to watch your car, which you pay when you leave.
Car theft is common, so many agencies insist that you park rental cars in a guarded lot. Many hotels have their own lots, and there are plenty in major cities: look for a circular blue sign with a white “E” for estacionamiento (parking). In downtown Buenos Aires, expect to pay 25–30 pesos per hour, or 70–120 pesos for 12 hours. Rates are much lower elsewhere. Illegally parked cars are towed only from restricted parking areas in city centers. Getting your car back is a bureaucratic nightmare and costs around 450 pesos.
The streets of many Argentine cities are notorious for potholes, uneven surfaces, and poorly marked intersections. Most major cities have a one-way system whereby parallel streets run in opposite directions: never going the wrong way along a street is one of the few rules that Argentineans abide by. Where there are no traffic lights at an intersection, you give way to drivers coming from the right, but have priority over those coming from the left.
Two kinds of roads connect major cities: autopistas (two- or three-lane freeways) and rutas (single or dual carriageways) or rutas nacionales (main “national routes,” usually indicated with an “RN” before the route number). Both types of roads are subject to regular tolls. Autopistas are well maintained, but the state of rutas varies hugely. In more remote locations even rutas that look like major highways on maps may be narrow roads with no central division. Always travel with a map, as signposts for turnoffs are scarce.
Night driving can be hazardous: some highways and routes are poorly lighted, routes sometimes cut through the center of towns, cattle often get onto the roads, and in rural areas farm trucks and old cars seldom have all their lights working. Outside of the city of Buenos Aires, be especially watchful at traffic lights, as crossing on red lights at night is common practice. A useful road-trip website is www.ruta0.com , which calculates distances and tolls between places and offers several route options.
All rental-car agencies have an emergency help line in case of breakdowns or accidents—some services take longer than others to arrive. The best roadside assistance is usually that of the Automóvil Club Argentina (ACA), which sends mechanics and tow trucks to members traveling anywhere in the country. The ACA also offers free roadside assistance to members of North American clubs and automobile associations. However, bear in mind when you call for assistance that most operators speak only Spanish.
If you have an accident on the highway, stay by your vehicle until the police arrive, which could take a while, depending on where you are. If your car is stolen, you should report it to the closest police station.
Rules of the Road
You drive on the right in Argentina, as in the United States. Seatbelts are required by law for front-seat passengers. You must use your headlights on highways at all times. The use of cellular phones while driving is forbidden, and turning left on two-way avenues is prohibited unless there’s a left-turn signal; there are no right turns on red. Traffic lights turn yellow before they turn red, but also before turning green, which is interpreted by drivers as an extra margin to get through the intersection, so take precautions.
The legal blood-alcohol limit is 500 mg of alcohol per liter of blood, but in practice breathalyzing is common only in Buenos Aires and along the highways of the Atlantic coast during January and February. In towns and cities a 40-kph (25-mph) speed limit applies on streets and a 60-kph (37-mph) limit is in effect on avenues. On autopistas the limit is 130 kph (80 mph), and on rutas it ranges between 100 kph (62 mph) and 120 kph (75 mph). On smaller roads and highways out of town it’s 80 kph (50 mph). Locals take speed-limit signs, the ban on driving with cell phones, and drunk driving lightly, so drive very defensively.
Police tend to be forgiving of foreigners’ driving faults and often waive tickets and fines when they see your passport. If you do get a traffic ticket, don’t argue. Most tickets aren’t payable on the spot, but some police officers offer “reduced” on-the-spot fines in lieu of a ticket: it’s bribery, and you’d do best to insist on receiving the proper ticket.
In Buenos Aires, buses and taxis have exclusive lanes on major avenues. On other streets they often drive as though they have priority, and it’s good to defer to them for your own safety.
If you experience a small accident, jot down the other driver’s information (full name, license number, insurance provider, and policy number) and supply your own. In cities, the standard procedure is to call the police and wait for them at the site of the accident. Otherwise, go to the nearest police station in the area to file a report. Contact your rental agency immediately.
Paved highways run from Argentina to the Chilean, Bolivian, Paraguayan, and Brazilian borders. If you do cross the border by land, you’ll be required to present your passport, documentation of car ownership, and insurance paperwork at immigration and customs checkpoints. It’s also common for cars and bags to be searched for contraband, such as food, livestock, and drugs.
Daily rates range from 430 pesos to 1,550 pesos, depending on the type of car and the distance you plan to travel. This generally includes tax and 200 free km (125 free miles) daily. Note that most cars have manual transmissions; if you need an automatic, request one in advance and be prepared to pay extra—usually only the more expensive vehicle categories have them.
Reputable firms don’t rent to drivers under 21, and drivers under 23 often have to pay a daily surcharge. Children’s car seats are not compulsory but are available for about 35 to 50 pesos per day. Some agencies charge a 10% surcharge for picking up a car from the airport.
A collision damage waiver (CDW) is mandatory and is usually included in standard rental prices. However, you may still be responsible for a deductible fee (known locally as a franquicia or deducible)—a maximum amount that you’ll have to pay if damage occurs. It ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 pesos for a car and can be much higher for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. You can reduce the figure substantially or altogether by paying an insurance premium (anywhere from 40 to 1,000 pesos per day); some companies have lower deductibles than others.
In general, you cannot cross the border in a rental car. Many rental companies don’t insure you on unpaved roads and have special insurance clauses that make you responsible for most of the value of the car if it flips over in an accident, which is commonplace on unpaved roads in Patagonia. Discuss your itinerary with the agent to be certain you’re always covered.
Free or inexpensive Internet access is widely available in major urban centers. Both budget establishments and high-end hotels tend to have free Wi-Fi, though connection quality varies greatly. Many bars and restaurants in big cities also have free Wi-Fi—look for stickers on their windows; these are typically open networks and you don’t need to ask for a password to use them.
In the capital, wider coverage comes courtesy of BA WiFi, a free service provided by the city government in many subte stations, Metrobus shelters, public libraries, museums, cultural centers, and even major streets and squares. The BA WiFi website lists an ever-growing number of hot spots. Civic and provincial governments elsewhere in the country offer similar services on major public thoroughfares or in libraries. You can also find Wi-Fi in many business and event centers, some airports, and in other public spaces—piggybacking is common practice.
If you’re traveling without a laptop or smartphone, some hotels provide Internet access through room televisions; many also have a PC in the lobby for guests to use. Using a locutorio (telephone and Internet center) is another option, although these are becoming less common. Expect to pay between 6 and 15 pesos per hour to surf the Web.
The country code for Argentina is 54. To call landlines in Argentina from the United States, dial the international access code (011) followed by the country code (54), the two- to four-digit area code without the initial 0, then the six- to eight-digit phone number. For example, to call the Buenos Aires number 011/4123–4567, you would dial 011–54–11–4123–4567.
Any number that is prefixed by a 15 is a cell-phone number. To call cell phones from the United States, dial the international access code (011) followed by the country code (54), Argentina’s cell-phone code (9), the area code without the initial 0, then the seven- or eight-digit cell-phone number without the initial 15. For example, to call the Buenos Aires cell phone (011) 15/5123–4567, you would dial 011–54–9–11–5123–4567.
Calling Within Argentina
Argentina’s phone service is run by the duopoly of Telecom and Telefónica. Telecom covers the northern half of Argentina (including the northern half of the city of Buenos Aires) and Telefónica covers the south. However, both companies operate public phones and phone centers throughout Argentina, called locutorios or telecentros.
Service is efficient, and direct dialing—both long-distance and international—is universal. You can make local and long-distance calls from your hotel (usually with a surcharge) and from any public phone or locutorio. Public phones are increasingly rare and usually broken; those that aren’t accept coins. Phone cards can be used from both public and private phones by calling a free access number and entering the card code number.
At locutorios, ask the receptionist for una cabina (a booth), make as many local, long-distance, or international calls as you like (a small LCD display tracks how much you’ve spent), then pay as you leave. There’s no charge if you don’t get through. Note that many locutorios don’t allow you to call free numbers, so you can’t use prepaid calling cards from them.
All of Argentina’s area codes are prefixed with a 0, which you need to include when dialing another area within Argentina. You don’t need to dial the area code to call a local number. Confusingly, area codes and phone numbers don’t all have the same number of digits. The area code for Buenos Aires is 011, and phone numbers have 8 digits. Area codes for the rest of the country have three or four digits, and start with 02 (the southern provinces) or 03 (the northern provinces); phone numbers have six or seven digits.
For local directory assistance (in Spanish), dial 110. Local calls cost 23 centavos for two minutes at peak periods (weekdays 8–8 and Saturday 8–1) or four minutes the rest of the time. Long-distance calls cost 57 centavos per ficha (unit)—the farther the distance, the less time each unit lasts. For example, 57 centavos lasts about two minutes to places less than 55 km (35 miles) away, but only half a minute to somewhere more than 250 km (155 miles) away.
To make international calls from Argentina, dial 00, then the country code, area code, and number. The country code for the United States is 1.
You can use prepaid calling cards (tarjetas prepagas) to make local and international calls from public phones, but not locutorios. All cards come with a scratch-off panel, which reveals a PIN. You dial a free access number, the PIN, and the number you wish to call.
Many kioscos (convenience stores) and small supermarkets sell a variety of prepaid calling cards: specify it’s for llamadas internacionales (international calls), and compare each card’s per-minute rates to the country you want to call. Many cost as little as 9 centavos per minute for calls to the United States. Telecom and Telefónica also sell prepaid 5-, 10-, and 20-peso calling cards from kioscos and locutorios. They’re called Tarjeta Ciudades and Geo Destinos, respectively.
All cell phones in Argentina are GSM 850/1900 Mhz. Cell numbers use a local area code, then the cell-phone prefix (15), then a seven- or eight-digit number. To call a cell in the same area as you, dial 15 and the number. To call a cell in a different area, dial the area code, including the initial 0, then 15, then the number.
There are three main phone companies here: Movistar (owned by Telefónica), Claro, and Personal. Although they’re similar, Claro has the most users and is said to have the best rates, while Movistar has the best coverage, and Personal the best customer service. All three offer 3G, but service is patchy even in the big cities, and most local users complain that they spend more time on 2G than 3G.
The best way to use your own smartphone in Argentina is to get it unlocked before you travel, then purchase a prepaid local SIM card (tarjeta SIM) once you land. You can buy one for 15 to 20 pesos from any of the companies’ offices and sales stands, which are easy to find country-wide. Top up credit by purchasing pay-as-you-go cards (tarjetas de celular), available from kioscos, locutorios, supermarkets, and gas stations, or by carga virtual (virtual top-ups) at kioscos and locutorios, where sales clerks add credit to your line directly while you wait.
Pickpockets often target tourists for their cell phones, so consider leaving your latest-generation model at home and packing an older one instead. Alternately, you can buy a basic pay-as-you-go handset and SIM card on arrival for about 400 pesos.
Using data packages for anything other than, say, email eats your pay-as-you-go credit quickly. The wisest strategy is to save your credit for local calls and restrict internet use to times when you have Wi-Fi access. While connected to Wi-Fi take advantage of services like Skype or Google Hangouts that let you touch base with folks back home for free (or a fraction of what roaming would cost).
Local charges for calling a cell phone from a landline depend on factors like the company and time of day, but most cost between 50 centavos and 1.50 pesos per minute. In general, you pay only for outgoing calls from cell phones, which cost around 3 pesos a minute. Calls from pay-as-you-go phones are the most expensive and calls to phones from the same company as yours are usually cheaper.
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
Customs uses a random inspection system that requires you to push a button at the inspection bay—if a green light appears, you walk through; if a red light appears, your bags are X-rayed (and very occasionally opened). Officially, foreign tourists are allowed to bring up to 2 liters of alcoholic beverages, 400 cigarettes, and 50 cigars into the country duty-free. You are also allowed another $300 worth of purchases from the duty-free shops, which most of Argentina’s international airports have, after you land. In practice, however, most officials wave foreigners through customs controls and are rarely interested in alcohol or tobacco. Personal clothing and effects are admitted duty-free, provided they have been used, as are personal jewelry and professional equipment. Fishing gear and skis present no problems.
If you enter the country by bus from Bolivia, Brazil, or Paraguay, you, your bags, and the vehicle may be subject to lengthy searches by officials looking for drugs and smuggled goods.
Argentina has strict regulations designed to prevent the illicit trafficking of antiques, fossils, and other items of cultural and historical importance. For more information, contact the Dirección Nacional de Patrimonio y Museos (National Heritage and Museums Board).
The electrical current is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC), so most North American appliances can’t be used without a converter. Older wall outlets take continental-type plugs, with two round prongs, whereas newer buildings take plugs with three flat, angled prongs or two flat prongs set at a “v” angle.
Brief power outages (and surges when the power comes back) are fairly regular occurrences, especially outside of Buenos Aires, so it’s a good idea to use a surge protector with your laptop.
In a medical emergency, taking a taxi to the nearest hospital—drivers usually know where to go—can be quicker than waiting for an ambulance. If you do call an ambulance, it will transport you to the nearest hospital—possibly a public one that may well look run-down; don’t worry, though, as the medical care will be excellent. Alternatively, you can call a private hospital directly.
For theft, wallet loss, small road accidents, and minor emergencies, contact the nearest police station. Expect all dealings with the police to be a lengthy, bureaucratic business—it’s probably only worth bothering if you need the report for insurance claims.
No vaccinations are required for travel to Argentina. However, the National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommend vaccinations against hepatitis A and B and typhoid for all travelers. A yellow fever vaccine is also advisable if you’re traveling to Iguazú. Each year there are cases of cholera in northern Argentina, mostly in the indigenous communities near the Bolivian border; your best protection is to avoid eating raw seafood.
Malaria is a threat only in low-lying rural areas near the borders of Bolivia and Paraguay. In 2009 outbreaks of dengue fever (another mosquito-borne disease) were widespread in northern Argentina, especially in Misiones Province (where Iguazú Falls is), but following comprehensive public health campaigns, there have been no more serious outbreaks. All the same, cases are regularly reported as far south as Buenos Aires. The best preventive measure against both dengue and malaria is to cover your arms and legs, use a good mosquito repellent containing DEET, and stay inside at dusk.
American trypanosomiasis, or Chagas’ disease, is present in remote rural areas. The CDC recommends chloroquine as a preventive antimalarial for adults and infants in Argentina. To be effective, the weekly doses must start a week before you travel and continue four weeks after your return. There is no preventive medication for dengue or Chagas’. Children traveling to Argentina should have current inoculations against measles, mumps, rubella, and polio.
In most urban areas in Argentina, including Buenos Aires, people drink tap water and eat uncooked fruits and vegetables. However, if you’re prone to tummy trouble, stick to bottled water. Take standard flu-avoidance precautions such as hand-washing and cough-covering, and consider contacting your doctor for a flu shot if you’re traveling during the austral winter.
Apunamiento, or altitude sickness, which results in shortness of breath and headaches, may be a problem when you visit high altitudes in the Andes. To remedy any discomfort, walk slowly, eat lightly, and drink plenty of fluids (avoid alcohol). In northwestern Argentina, coca leaves are widely available (don’t worry, it’s totally legal). Follow the locals’ example and chew a wad mixed with a dab of bicarbonate of soda on hiking trips: it does wonders for altitude problems. You can also order tea made from coca leaves (maté de coca), which has the same effect. If you experience an extended period of nausea, dehydration, dizziness, or severe headache or weakness while in a high-altitude area, seek medical attention. Dehydration, sunstroke, frostbite, and heatstroke are all dangers of outdoor recreation at high altitudes. Awareness and caution are the best preventive measures.
The sun is a significant health hazard, especially in southern Patagonia, where the ozone layer is said to be thinning. Stay out of the sun at midday and wear plenty of good-quality sunblock. A limited selection is available in most supermarkets and pharmacies, but if you use high SPF factors or have sensitive skin, bring your favorite brands with you. A hat and decent sunglasses are also essential.
Argentina has free national health care that also provides foreigners with free outpatient care. Although the medical practitioners working at hospitales públicos (public hospitals) are first-rate, the institutions themselves are often underfunded: bed space and basic supplies are at a minimum. Except in emergencies you should consider leaving these resources for the people who really need them. World-class private clinics and hospitals are plentiful, and consultation and treatment fees are low compared with those in North America. Still, it’s good to have some kind of medical insurance.
In non-emergency situations, you’ll be seen much quicker at a private clinic or hospital, and overnight stays are more comfortable. Many doctors at private hospitals speak at least some English. Note that only cities have hospitals; smaller towns may have a sala de primeros auxilios (first-aid post).
Medical Insurance and Assistance
Consider buying trip insurance with medical-only coverage. Neither Medicare nor some private insurers cover medical expenses anywhere outside of the United States. Medical-only policies typically reimburse you for medical care (excluding that related to preexisting conditions) and hospitalization abroad, and provide for evacuation. You still have to pay the bills and await reimbursement from the insurer, though.
Another option is to sign up with a medical-evacuation assistance company. Membership gets you doctor referrals, emergency evacuation or repatriation, 24-hour hotlines for medical consultation, and other assistance. International SOS and AirMed International provide evacuation services and medical referrals. MedjetAssist offers medical evacuation.
Towns and cities have a 24-hour pharmacy system: each night there’s one farmacia de turno (on-duty pharmacy) for prescriptions and emergency supplies.
In Argentina, farmacias (pharmacies) carry painkillers, first-aid supplies, contraceptives, diarrhea treatments, and a range of other over-the-counter treatments, including some drugs that would require a prescription in the United States (many antibiotics, for example). Note that acetaminophen—or Tylenol—is known as paracetamol in Spanish. If you think you’ll need to have prescriptions filled while you’re in Argentina, be sure to have your doctor write down the generic name of the drug, not just the brand name.
Farmacity is a supermarket-style drugstore chain with branches all over Buenos Aires and other major cities, including Córdoba, Mendoza, and Salta; many of them are open 24 hours and offer a delivery service.
January through March is the summer holiday season for Argentines. Winter holidays fall toward the end of July and beginning of August. Most public holidays are celebrated on their actual date, except August 17, October 12, and November 20, which move to the following Monday. When public holidays fall on a Thursday or Tuesday, the following Friday or preceding Monday, respectively, is also declared a holiday, creating a four-day weekend known as a feriado puente.
Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day), January 1. Carnaval (Carnival), Monday and Tuesday six weeks before Easter. Día Nacional de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia (National Memorial Day for Truth and Justice; commemoration of the start of the 1976–83 dictatorship), March 24. Día del Veterano y de los Caídos en la Guerra de Malvinas (Malvinas Veterans’ Day), April 2. Viernes Santo (Good Friday), March or April. Día del Trabajador(Labor Day), May 1. Día de la Revolución de Mayo (Anniversary of the 1810 Revolution), May 25. Día de la Bandera (Flag Day), June 20. Día de la Independencia (Independence Day), July 9. Paso a la Inmortalidad del General José de San Martín (Anniversary of General José de San Martín’s Death), August 17. Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity), October 12. Día de la Soberanía Nacional(National Sovereignty Day; Anniversary of the Battle of Vuelta de Obligado), November 20. Inmaculada Concepción de María (Immaculate Conception), December 8. Christmas, December 25.
Although prices here have been steadily rising, the number of pesos you get for your dollar has been increasing as well. So Argentina is still a good value if you’re coming from a country with a strong currency. Eating out is very affordable, as are mid-range hotels. Prices are usually significantly lower outside Buenos Aires and other large cities. Room rates at first-class hotels all over the country approach those in the United States, however.
You can plan your trip around ATMs—cash is king for day-to-day dealings. Always withdraw more money well before your current supply is spent, particularly in small towns with few ATMs, as these often run out of money, especially over weekends or during the holiday season. U.S. dollars can be changed at any bank and are often accepted as payment in clothing stores, souvenir shops, and supermarkets.
Note that there’s a perennial shortage of change in Argentina. Hundred-peso bills can be hard to get rid of, so ask for 50s when you change money. Traveler’s checks are useful only as an emergency reserve.
You can usually pay by credit card in high-end hotels countrywide and in nicer restaurants and stores in big cities. But be advised that even establishments displaying stickers from different card companies may suddenly stop accepting them: look out for signs reading tarjetas de crédito suspendidas (credit card purchases temporarily unavailable). Outside of urban areas, plastic is less widely accepted.
Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, followed closely by MasterCard. American Express is also accepted in hotels and restaurants, but Diners Club and Discover might not even be recognized. If possible, bring more than one credit card, as some establishments accept a single type. You usually have to produce photo ID—preferably a passport, but otherwise a driver’s license—when making credit card purchases.
Nonchain stores often display two prices for goods: precio de lista (the standard price, valid if you pay by credit card) and a discounted price if you pay in efectivo (cash). Many travel services and even some hotels also offer cash discounts—it’s always worth asking about.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
ATMs, called cajeros automáticos, are found all over Buenos Aires and other big cities. Most smaller towns have at least one ATM; gas stations on major highways also sometimes have them. If you plan to be away from urban areas or major tourist destinations for long, take ample cash with you. There are two main systems. Banelco, indicated by a burgundy-color sign with white lettering, is used by Banco Comafi, Citibank, BBVA Banco Francés, HSBC, Banco Galicia, ICBC, Banco Itaú, Banco Macro, Banco Santander Río, and Banco Patagonia. Link, recognizable by a green-and-yellow sign, is the system used by Banco Provincia, Credicoop, Banco Hipotecario, and Banco de la Nación, as well as nearly all banks belonging to other provinces. Cards on the Cirrus and Plus networks can be used on both systems.
Many banks have daily withdrawal limits of 2,000 pesos or less. Sometimes ATMs will impose unexpectedly low withdrawal limits (say, 600 pesos) on international cards—this is more common on Banelco than Link machines. You can get around it by requesting a further transaction before the machine returns your card, but first check whether your bank back home charges high per-withdrawal fees. It’s safer to make withdrawals from ATMs in daylight hours.
Currency and Exchange
Argentina’s currency is the peso, which equals 100 centavos. Bills come in denominations of 100 (violet), 50 (navy blue), 20 (red), 10 (ocher), 5 (green), and 2 (light blue) pesos. Coins are in denominations of 2 pesos and 1 peso (both heavy and bimetallic), as well as 50, 25, and 10 centavos. U.S. dollars are widely accepted in big-city stores, supermarkets, and at hotels and top-end restaurants (usually at a slightly worse exchange rate than you’d get at a bank). You always receive change in pesos, even when you pay with U.S. dollars.
You can change dollars at this rate at most banks (between 10 am and 3 pm), at a casa de cambio (money changer), or at your hotel. All currency exchange involves fees, but as a rule banks charge the least and hotels the most. You need to show your passport to complete the transaction.
Heavy restrictions on locals buying U.S. dollars has led to a parallel—i.e., black market—exchange rate, known locally as the “dólar blue,” usually about 20% above the official rate. Although technically illegal, the dólar blue is so well established that major newspapers publish it alongside the official exchange rate. Many establishments are keen to bypass the lengthy bureaucracy involved in buying dollars officially and may offer to accept payment in them at the blue rate. On busy streets (like Calle Florida in Buenos Aires), you’ll likely be propositioned by touts from small shops that are referred to locally as “cuevas,” or caves. Most are safe, but try to change relatively small amounts regularly to minimize any possible trouble.
You may not be able to change currency in rural areas at all, so don’t leave major cities without adequate amounts of pesos in small denominations.
Argentinean city dwellers are an appearance-conscious bunch who choose fashion over comfort any day. Though locals are stylish, they’re usually fairly casual. Your nicer jeans or khakis, capris, skirts, and dress shorts are perfect for urban sightseeing. Combine them with stylish walking shoes or leather flats; sneakers are fine if they’re out-about-town and hip. In summer, many local women seem to live in nice flip-flops or sandals. With the exception of truly posh establishments, a dirty look is usually the only punishment restaurants give the underdressed; refusing entry is almost unheard-of. A jacket and tie or stylish dress is necessary only if you plan on some seriously fine dining.
In most smaller towns and villages dress is more practical and sometimes more conservative. Wherever you go in the country, take good-quality sunglasses, sunblock, and a cap or hat: the sun can be strong. A good insect repellent is useful in Buenos Aires in the summer and invaluable in Iguazú year-round.
If you’re visiting the northern half of Argentina, temperatures in lower-lying areas (including Buenos Aires) rarely fall below freezing, but a heavier coat or jacket is still a must in winter; in the high-altitude towns of the northwest, temperatures drop dramatically at night, so bring a jacket even in summer. In southern Patagonia, proper cold-weather gear is essential regardless of the season.
Pharmacies in major cities stock a good range of toiletries and hygiene products (note that only no-applicator tampons are available, however). Pharmacies, supermarkets, and kiosks sell condoms (preservativos), and oral contraceptive pills are available over the counter.
Toilet paper is rare in public restrooms, but you can buy pocket packs of tissues (known as pañuelos descartables or by their brand name, Carilinas) in kiosks. Antibacterial wipes and alcohol gel, available in pharmacies, can make bathroom trips more pleasant in remote areas.
As a U.S. citizen, you need a passport valid for at least six months to enter Argentina for visits of up to 90 days. Argentina operates a reciprocal entry fee scheme for citizens of countries that charge Argentineans for visas, which includes U.S. citizens. At this writing, the fee (valid for multiple entries over a 10-year period) is $160. You pay in cash or by credit card at booths near immigration, after which you receive a tourist visa stamp on your passport. You can also pay the fee online before you travel, through the Dirección Nacional de Migraciones (National Directorate for Migrations) website.
If you need to stay longer, you can apply for a 90-day extension (prórroga) to your tourist visa at the Dirección Nacional de Migraciones. The process takes a morning and costs about 300 pesos. Alternatively, you can exit the country (by taking a boat trip to Uruguay from Buenos Aires, or crossing into Brazil near Iguazú, for example); upon reentering Argentina, your passport will be stamped allowing an additional 90 days. Overstaying your tourist visa is illegal and incurs a fine of 300 pesos, which you must pay at the Dirección Nacional de Migraciones. Once you have done so, you must leave the country within 10 days. You should carry your passport or other photo ID with you at all times: you need it to make credit-card purchases, change money, and send parcels, as well as in the unlikely event that the police stop you.
Officially, children visiting Argentina with only one parent do not need a signed and notarized permission-to-travel letter from the other parent. However, as Argentinean citizens are required to have such documentation, it’s worth carrying a letter just in case laws change or border officials get confused. Single Parent Travel is a useful online resource that provides advice and downloadable sample permission letters.
Argentina is safer than many Latin American countries. However, street crime is still a concern—mainly pickpocketing, bag snatching, and occasionally mugging—especially in Buenos Aires. Taking a few precautions when traveling in the region is usually enough to keep you out of harm’s way.
Walk with purpose; if you don’t look like a target, you’ll likely be left alone. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry. Keep a grip on your purse or bag, and keep it in your lap if you’re sitting (never leave it hanging on the back of a chair or on the floor). Try to keep your cash and credit cards in different places about your person (and always leave one card in your hotel safe, if possible), so that if one gets stolen you can fall back on the other.
Tickets and other valuables are best left in hotel safes, too. Avoid carrying large sums of money around, but always keep enough to have something to hand over in the unlikely event of a mugging. Another time-honored tactic is to keep a dummy wallet (an old one containing an expired credit card and a small amount of cash) in your pocket, with your real cash in an inside or vest pocket: if your “wallet” gets stolen you have little to lose.
Women can expect pointed looks, the occasional piropo (a flirtatious remark, usually alluding to some physical aspect), and some advances. These catcalls rarely escalate into actual physical harassment. The best reaction is to make like local women and ignore them; reply only if you’re really confident with Spanish curse words. If you’re heading out for the night, it’s wise to take a taxi.
There’s usually a notable police presence in areas popular with tourists, such as San Telmo and Palermo in Buenos Aires. This deters potential pickpockets and hustlers somewhat. However, Argentineans have little faith in their police forces: officers are often corrupt, and at best, the police are well-meaning but underequipped.
The most important advice we can give you is to not put up a struggle in the unlikely event that you are mugged. Nearly all physical attacks on tourists are the direct result of their resisting would-be pickpockets or muggers. Comply with demands, hand over your stuff, and try to get the situation over with as quickly as possible—then let your travel insurance take care of it.
Argentineans like to speak their minds, and protesters frequently cause major traffic jams by blocking streets or clogging squares in downtown Buenos Aires. Some denounce government policies; others may show support for them. Demonstrations are usually peaceful, but exercise caution if you happen across one.
Beware of scams such as a kindly passer-by offering to help you clean a stain that has somehow appeared on your clothes: while your attention is occupied, an accomplice picks your pocket or snatches your bag.
Taxi drivers in big cities are usually honest, but occasionally they decide to take people for a ride, literally. All official cabs have meters, so make sure this is turned on. It helps to have an idea where you’re going and how long it will take. Local lore says that if you’re hailing taxis on the street, those with lights on top (usually labeled “Radio Taxi”) are more trustworthy. Late at night, try to call for a cab—all hotels and restaurants, no matter how cheap, have a number and will usually call for you.
When asking for price quotes while shopping in touristy areas, always confirm whether the amount is given in dollars or pesos. Some salespeople, especially street vendors, have found that they can take advantage of confused tourists by charging dollars for goods that are actually priced in pesos.
Argentina has a $29 departure tax for international flights and an $8 departure tax for domestic flights. These are included in your ticket price when you fly from some airports, including Buenos Aires’. Otherwise you can pay by credit card or in cash at booths in airports (pesos, dollars, and euros are accepted). Hotel rooms carry a 21% tax. Cheaper hotels and hostels tend to include this in their quoted rates; more expensive hotels add it to your bill.
Argentina has 21% V.A.T. (known as IVA) on most consumer goods and services. The tax is usually included in the price of goods and noted on your receipt. You can get nearly all the IVA back on locally manufactured goods if you spend more than 70 pesos at stores displaying a Global Blue duty-free sign. You’ll be given a Global Blue refund check for the amount you’re entitled to; then, after getting it stamped by a customs official at the airport, you can cash it at the clearly signed tax refund booths. Allow an extra hour to complete the process.
Propinas (tips) are a question of rewarding good service rather than an obligation. Restaurant bills—even those that have a cubierto (bread and service charge)—don’t include gratuities; locals usually add 10% to 15%. Bellhops and maids expect tips only in the very expensive hotels, where a tip in dollars is appreciated. You can also give a small tip (10% or less) to tour guides. Porteños round off taxi fares, though some cabbies who frequent hotels popular with tourists seem to expect more. Tipping is a nice gesture with beauty and barbershop personnel—5% to 10% is fine.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.