Updated October 18th, 2018.
“As close to Europe as you’re going to get, well at least while you’re in South America.”
In our ultimate backpacker’s guide to Argentina, we cover all the need to know info to help you plan your backpacking trip. From when to travel, to where to travel, how to travel, and what to do, see, eat, where and beware of when you’re there…
EAT! Steak. Argentina’s signature food is without a doubt the steak, called un lomo. Not always the cheapest option it is a must-try dish and is usually served on a wooden or metal block with a side portion of chips. It is every carnivore’s dream. Vegetarians beware in this meat-eating country – you will often be met with perplexed stares when trying to explain your veggie-loving tendencies.
DRINK! Mate (mah-teh). A herbal drink similar to tea that is shared around a group in a pot and drunk through a metal straw. You’ll probably see people carrying these pots on public transport, especially around the cities.
WEAR! The number 10 Maradona football shirt. Maradona, along with Lionel Messi, is probably Argentina’s most famous footballing export, not to mention his infamous ‘hand of God’ against England in the 1986 World Cup. Argentinean markets are full of them (well, mostly cheap knockoffs). An absolute must for any football fan.
BEWARE! The Falkland’s War. It may be over 30 years since it happened but it’s still a sore topic in Argentina. If you do have to mention it remember they call the Falklands the Islas Malvinas and if you’re British it’s probably worth steering clear of the topic altogether.
KEEP! Those coins. Change is gold dust in Argentina; buses will only accept coins and shopkeepers will often refuse some sales if it involves giving you change.
An introduction to backpacking Argentina!
“Italians who speak Spanish and think they’re British living in Paris”.
That’s how the saying goes. Basically, Argentina was a former Spanish colony that was flooded by Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. About half of today’s Argentineans have Italian ancestry and this is obvious from anything to the Spanish they speak to the food on offer, especially in the larger cities.
The British thing comes from the fact Argentina was highly influenced by British culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and even today there seems to be some general consensus that Argentina doesn’t belong stuck on its own on the bottom of the world.
It likes to be portrayed as having a cosmopolitan, progressive European society and yes and to be fair, Buenos Aires does have some strong similarities to the French capital, especially in some of the older colonial districts like San Telmo. So let’s delve into the colourful country of Argentina…
The best time of year to travel Argentina:
In order to avoid the peak times and high prices, and stretch your backpacker budget as far as possible, we would recommend travelling to Argentina in Spring (October to mid-December) or Autumn (April to mid-June). If you’re a fan of crisp, clear weather then aim to visit Argentina in Spring (our favourite time of year). The vineyards are lush and green, the lakes are crystal clear, and the evenings are warm enough to sit outside and enjoy an asado. The country really comes to life, and springtime is the perfect time to trek your way around Argentina, stopping off here and there for a dip in a waterfall, lake or stream!
Due to the sheer size of Argentina (the 8th largest country in the World) the weather can vary dramatically and largely depends on where you are in relation to sea level. For example, if you’re planning to take a trip to Patagonia in the south of the country, then try to visit from December to March, when the mountains are most accessible. Other times of year access to the mountains can be restricted by snowfall or ice – perfect if you’re planning a snowsports trip!
Best time of year for events in Argentina…
If you want to plan your backpacking trip around the Argentine calendar, then don’t miss these key carnivals, festivals and events:
- JANUARY / FEBRUARY – The Cosquin Folk Festival: January / February are the months to visit Cosquin, as they celebrate with traditional folklore dance and song for nine days straight.
- FEBRUARY – Carnival: Watch out Brazil, Argentina’s Carnival is not to be ignored! Taking place at the end of February, the main celebrations can be found in Gualeguaychu, but there are parties to be found all over the country.
- MARCH – Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia: If wine is your thing, then be sure to visit Mendoza in March. This month sees grapes being turned into wine, and the farmers celebrate in style. Starting way back in 1963, this festival now involves shows, concerts, live music, and plenty of wine.
- AUGUST – Tango Buenos Aires: In August, Buenos Aires hosts the world’s largest tango festival, drawing in crowds of up to half a million tourists! Join the crowds and watch competitors tango their way around the city. Why not give it a go?
- OCTOBER – Oktoberfest: You’ll find this festival of beer taking place wherever you are in the world, and Argentina is no exception. This German festival is a weekend dedicated to beer! In Argentina, they celebrate in Cordoba, a city founded by the Germans. Except traditional German food and plenty of booze.
The cost of backpacking in Argentina:
Backpacking in Argentina is far cheaper than it’s neighbour, Brazil. Expect to budget around $40-50 per day, or more if you’re doing tours and treks. Remember to fact in the cost of travel. Argentina is a huge country – so include buses, trains or internal flights into your budgetting (and your time, too!). Overnight buses are a good way to travel, saving time and money on accommodation. The buses are comfortable too, with fully reclining seats, personal TV screens and catering provided by many bus companies.
When it comes to accommodation, there are some bargains to be found. Expect to pay $10-20 depending on your requirements and location! Remember how little time you spend in bed, and don’t splash the cash on accommodation in Argentina. Save your pesos for meat and wine.
The best places to visit in Argentina!
As is usually the case with large countries, Argentina has a lot to offer. From snow-tipped mountains to lakes and streams, bustling towering cities and rural villages. So where to start?
A country of extremes:
Even if this were completely true cosmopolitan cities don’t even cover half of what Argentina is about. The world’s eighth largest country has so much to offer travellers from the extremes of humid rainforests to world-class glaciers.
Name it and you can probably do it Argentina: in the northwest spend time with indigenous tribes in their secluded rural communities or spend a few days exploring the mighty Iguazu Falls on your way down from Brazil, visit cattle ranches in the vast Pampas plains, wine tasting in the foothills of the Andes… and that’s just in the North!
Moving south you can go from the snowy Andean Peaks to the scorching Monte Desert in just a few hours, spend a day on one Perito Moreno, just one of 48 Patagonian Glaciers.
Finish and chill with some Penguins at the bottom of the Americas: earth’s most southerly city, Ushuaia.
It’s not all about outdoor activities though, Argentina has some of South America’s most exciting cities such as the buzzing university city Córdoba with over 200,000 students, the chilled northern city of Salta with surrounded by the Andes, the sophisticated wine capital of Argentina, Mendoza or the melting pot of the capital, Buenos Aires.
Check out our Travel Guides to Argentina…
Is it safe to go backpacking in Argentina?
Argentina is relatively safe, especially in comparison to its neighbours (like Brazil). However the country suffers from high unemployment and also high inflation – so a lot of people are struggling. Most crime occurs in the busy cities, such as Buenos Aires, where pickpocketing and petty theft is fairly common. However violent crime levels are relatively low, and a good dose of common sense should keep you safe in Argentina.
Top tips for staying safe in Argentina:
Be subtle with expensive items. Don’t wear your flashy watch or hang a camera around your neck, or you might as well stick a target on your chest! Argentina is a country of low wealth, so don’t flash the cash.
Motorcycle theft is common, so stay alert at road crossings and when you’re walking along pavements. Walk away from the road side.
Don’t carry more cash than you need. Leave it in the bank!
Argentina is fairly volatile when it comes to politics. Keep an eye on the news, and keep out of the cities when things are kicking off.
Drivers are dangerous in Argentina. Road safety is not a priority for many of those on the road in this country, so beware of drunk drivers or those not following the highway code.
Keep belongings on your person, in a secure place (i.e. not in the front pocket of your backpack, or in a cross-body bag slung around your back).
Use your hotel or hostel safe. Many insurance policies will only pay out if your valuables were in the safe, so if you find one in your room, use it.
Email yourself (and your loved ones back at home) a copy of your passport. Then if you lose it, or it’s stolen, you’ve got a backup to take to the nearest embassy or passport office.
If you’re taking a taxi, try and book it in advance. Don’t get in an unmarked car (look out for the words ‘Radio Taxi’ and take note of the company name), and don’t share your cab with strangers.
Don’t go wandering alone. This is not a sensible idea in any country, let alone Argentina! Stick to well lit areas, and don’t get lost. If in doubt, get a Radio Taxi.
What to pack for a backpacking trip to Argentina?
With so many terrains, climates and experiences to be had, it’s hard to know what to pack for a trip to Argentina. From the fast-paced cities to the snow-tipped peaks of Patagonia… here’s our top things to pack for Argentina:
- A lightweight waterproof jacket. It could be raining one minute, sunny the next. The climate really varies in this South American country!
- Thin layers. With the unpredictable temperature, thin layers are key (and also save space in your backpack). And thin layers dry quickly – so if you get caught out in the rain you’ll soon dry out. Pack layers that can be interchanged to suit all weathers.
- Good quality sunglasses. Don’t damage your eyes! Invest in a good pair of sunglasses that protect your eyes from both UVA and UVB light – and a hard case to protect them (trust us, it’s worth the space in your bag).
- A filtering water bottle. We don’t travel anywhere without these nowadays. This will stop you from getting unpleasant stomach upsets, and put your mind at ease when brushing your teeth in the hostel sink! Worth every penny (and they help to stop clogging up our oceans with plastic).
- A microfibre towel. When you’re sweaty on a hike they’re the perfect gym towel. If you’re cold on the overnight bus to Iguazu they’re the perfect blanket. Then when you’re trying to cover up they’re the perfect scarf. A microfibre towel is the ultimate backpacker space hack.
- Compression sacks or packing cubes. These will help to organise your backpack, make it easier to find things, and give you a place to store soggy clothing.
Which backpack should I take to Argentina?
Aside from our number one top rated backpacker luggage choice, the Osprey Farpoint 40, there are a few other bags that our backpacker readers can vouch for:High Sierra Sentinel 65L Top Load Backpack:If you are looking for a large, traditional style backpack, then our readers recommend the High Sierra Sentinel 65L Top Load Backpack. High Sierra also do a whole range of other sizes and styles. Timbuk2 Command: This is our digital-nomad top scorer! A smart looking backpack with padded shoulder straps, a ventilated back and waterproof zips. Designed to carry a laptop, so it’s well padded, top loading and super secure. Downsides are that this is small. More a day pack than a proper backpacking backpack – although it makes a super smart carry on. North Face Surge: We love this one. If you’re committed to travelling with hand luggage only (and saving on those internal flight costs) then this is the one for you. At 33L it comes in smart colourways and with plenty of pockets for stashing electrical items, passports and more. There’s a TSA approved laptop compartment too.
Or why not go for the wild card! Some backpackers recommend travelling with a multifunctional bag, instead of a traditional backpack. Introducing the North Face Base Camp Duffel…
Do I need a VISA to visit Argentina?
Most nationalities won’t need a VISA to visit Argentina. You should be granted a 90-day stay in the country, but you may be required to show proof of onward travel when entering the country. Extensions beyond the initial 90-day period can be applied for, but check with your embassy for the latest VISA requirements before you travel to Argentina.
Do I need to get vaccinations for a trip to Argentina?
About to take a trip to Argentina? It’s sensible to check that your immunisations are up to date, including the following:
MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
Yellow Fever (although note a certificate is not required to enter Argentina)
Is there Malaria in Argentina?
The risk of malaria across Argentina (including Iguazu Falls) is slow. It is not recommended that backpackers take antimalarials whilst visiting Argentina. However it is advised to take precautions against mosquito bites, including wearing long sleeved clothing in the evenings, using mosquito nets and using insect repellents.
Dengue fever can also be spread by mosquitoes, and symptoms include fever, headaches and body aches.
Currently, there is a moderate risk of the Zika virus (ZIKV) in Argentina. Pregnant women are advised not to travel to the country.
Always remember to protect yourself against mosquitoes. A pop up mosquito net can help (especially at night) if you’re willing to give up the backpack space. If not, remember to cover up in the evenings (thin, long layers are most practical) and use an insect repellant.
5 Fun Facts about Argentina
1. Argentina’s most famous freedom fighter Che Guevara’s name was actually Ernesto Guevara but earned his name Che because of his frequent use of the expression meaning ‘mate’ or ‘friend’.
2. It wasn’t Disney but Argentina that produced the world’s first animated feature film in 1917. The 70-minute film El Aposol told the story of high levels of corruption and immorality in Argentina at the time.
3. Argentina has always been the world’s top consumer of beef per head (once at 70kg (11 stone!) per person) but in 2010 it lost its crown to small neighbour Uruguay as prices have risen by 70%.
4. Buenos Aires, the capital, literally means the ‘good airs’ or ‘fair winds’ and is named after a 14th Century Spanish settlement on the Italian island of Sardinia.
5. Anglo-Argentinean relations weren’t always bad. Britain helped make Argentina one of the richest countries in the world in the early 20th Century and investors and migrants built the country’s railways, started the first football club and even opened the first and only Harrods department store outside the UK in 1912.
Written by: Harry Van Schaick.