15 days in Argentina (Patagonia & lake region): Itinerary, assessment, budget, guide, advice (1/2)
I was very hesitant to write this report only for Argentina, especially since this first trip to Argentina has many border crossings with Chile. But then again, the budgets are really not the same as in Chile so Argentina deserves to have its own article.
These 15 days in Argentina cover only the Lakes Region and Patagonia, we will come back here in a few months to explore Buenos Aires & Iguazu and will put online the 2nd part of the article.
- Ushuaia (2 days including 1 day of bus): 16h of bus from Punta Arenas (Chile). We had only 1 day of visit to go around the city and get our passports stamped. The weather was too bad to explore Tierra del Fuego.
- El Calafate (4 days including 1 day of bus): 18h of bus from Ushuaia with a change in Rio Gallegos. We visited the Perito Merino glacier, made the day trip to Torres del Paine (Chile) and rested.
- El Chaltén (3 days) : 3h of bus from El Calafate. We made 2 treks between 3h30-4h30 round trip each.
- Bariloche (3 days including 1 day by bus): 24h of bus from El Chaltén. We have rented a car to do the Circuito Chico
- Ruta de los 7 lagos (2,5 days): we visited Villa la Agostura, Villa Traful and San Martin de los Andes with a car
- Bariloche (0.5 day) : Back to Bariloche to take a bus to Puerto Montt in Chile.
Some pictures to make you want to
Bariloche (Circuito Chico)
La ruta de los 7 lagos
Argentina is a very expensive destination compared to its neighboring countries. Many times we have asked ourselves if we were not rather in Europe.
The distances are enormous and the buses are very expensive (even if they are comfortable). However, the food is good and the Argentines are very nice. In Patagonia, in high season, even the dormitories are expensive.
Rates for December 2016 (high season). Conversion rate: 1€ = 16.6$AR
Beware, inflation in Argentina is terrible, but experience shows that the equivalent in euros doesn’t change much, but the exchange rate is very different => the figure in Argentine pesos changes. So take into account instead the value I have marked in euros and convert it yourself into Argentine pesos.
- TOTAL of 1900€ for two for 15 days all inclusive
- of which 376€ for visits/excursions
- Torres del Paine : 2300$AR/person + 21000$CH entrance fee/person -> 168€/person
- National Glacier Park (for the Perito Moreno glacier): 330$AR/person or 19,7€/person
- of which 376€ for visits/excursions
- of which 386€ for dormitory accommodation (always paid in cash, the actual price is to be increased to +19% VAT vs. the price excluding tax seen on Booking). The price varies between 210$AR and 310$AR/person
- including 677.4€for transport
- Puerto Arenas -> Ushuaia : 35000$CH or 49,7€/person
- Ushuaia -> El Calafate : 1140$AR or 68€/person
- Transfer to the Perito Moreno glacier: 500$AR or 30€/person
- El Calafate -> El Chalten : 500$AR or 30€/person
- El Chalten -> Bariloche : 1020$AR or 61€/person
- Car rental: 3315$AR or 200€ for 3 days
- including 28€ withdrawal fee (96$AR fixed fee per withdrawal to withdraw maximum 2000$AR !!) see our tips to pay less expensive withdrawals
- including 420€ of food (usually we go to the restaurant every two days: 15€/flat + 10% tip. The portions are so generous that the following days, we are satisfied to eat sandwiches that we prepare ourselves. My sweet sin is however the home-made ice cream).
- of which 2 laundry detergents at 80$AR/laye or 4,8€
- TOTAL of 1900€ for two for 15 days all inclusive
I only give you the hotels that I highly recommend. Be careful, in summer, the rates are more expensive than usual.
- Ushuaia : Los Cosmoranes 10€/bed (link Agoda)
- El Calafate : Nakel Yenu 310$AR/bed (Booking link)
- Bariloche: Periko’s Youth Hostal 250$AR/bed, we have been upgraded to a private room at no extra cost (Booking link)
- Villa La Angostura : hostel Don Pilon 250$AR/bed, super nice and quiet (link Agoda)
- San Martin de los Andes: Cabañas Duplex del Chapelco 44$US a private house for 6 (link Agoda)
If Wifi is available in hotels, you should not count on it for Skype for example. 3G is cheap but it isn’t very fast either.
The purchase of a SIM card at Claro costs 9$AR, and a 100$AR recharge is enough for a moderate use of 3G (50MB/day for 7 days) and a few calls. When you buy a recharge, you have to give your phone number. Then you text a number to select your offer (add 50MB/day, or add the Whatsapp unlimited offer etc.)
Plane: Aerolineas offers very interesting rates. In last-minute, tickets can cost less than the bus. As we had a lot of difficulties to buy the tickets on their official website, we gave up (it seems that we must necessarily go to an agency to book a flight which takes off within 48 hours). However, you can either go through online flight comparators, Aerolineas agencies in big cities, or tourist agencies to buy your tickets.
Buses: Buses in Argentina are very comfortable, with toilets, reclining seats and snacks are provided for long distances. Fares differ from one company to another, from one timetable to another, from one seat to another (e.g. semi-cama is cheaper than cama). Don’t hesitate to ask for information by going around the companies at the bus terminal. There will surely be prices/timetables that suit you better.
Which seats to choose? The 4 seats on the 2nd floor in front offer a panoramic view, but you will be a little warmer (sun in the front, even if there are curtains) and less leg room. To be reserved for short distances (< 3h). In any case, you should avoid places near the toilets, i.e. at the very back of the bus (for the 2nd floor), and places at the very beginning (for the 1st floor). When buying tickets, I always ask on which side we will have a better view.
Which schedule to choose? It only depends on you and your wallet because the buses very early in the morning cost a little less. Driving at night is very safe, the road is in excellent condition and the drivers take turns regularly. In addition, it allows you to save a night in a hostel. However, I found the snacks a little light and I tend to fast in spite of myself; JB has trouble sleeping in the bus, so we made a night bus once, but in the future we will avoid it because it takes a day of recovery afterwards.
Where and when to buy the tickets? I noticed that the timetables indicated online were not very reliable (in summer, there were many more buses than you could find online). It is better to buy the tickets directly from travel agencies (they do not take any commission) or at the bus terminal. We always buy the tickets the day before. In December, all seats are full.
Which company to choose? We travel a lot in Patagonia and Taqsa Marga is a company we highly recommend. It is one of the only ones that accept to travel very long distances without forcing us to spend a night in a hostel. We also took Via Bariloche. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to test Andesmar which has a good reputation too.
Car rental/campervan : We rented a car in Bariloche for more or less 50€/day. The rates are degressive according to the duration. I know that Wicked (campervan rental) is available in Argentina (and Chile) and if you let them know in advance they can prepare the paperwork so you can cross the border without any worries. That said, I do not recommend renting a car for a very long distance. Argentina is huge, and the landscapes stay the same for 1000km, it’s very boring and the risk of falling asleep is very real. When we take the bus, even if we are very motivated to look at the landscapes, we always end up falling asleep because the landscapes are so monotonous.
Taxi/Discounts: As everywhere in South America, you have to agree on the price before getting into the cab. Discounts are cabs but without meter and number.
Public transportation: Don’t count on it to get around, the schedules are anything but reliable. I haven’t tested many buses, but in any case, those in Bariloche ask for a reloadable (Sube) card, you can’t pay in cash.
- Inflation is enormous in Argentina, so the figures given here may increase further.
- An effective way to save money is to pay for accommodation in USD, in cash (room prices are already in USD anyway). In this way, you avoid the 19% VAT, which is quite legal.
- Most hostels/hotels do not accept credit cards at all.
- The black market no longer exists for the exchange of dollars. Now, there are official exchange offices, but you can change your dollars anywhere, at the restaurant, at the hostel… everyone likes USD here.
- Withdrawing money from ATMs is a big deal . ATMs are often empty. HSBC in Ushuaia and El Calafate lets you withdraw 2 times $2,000AR, with a fee of about 96AR$/withdrawal. The other banks let you withdraw between 1500$AR and 1700$AR, for the same fees.
- However, it is possible to pay most bus companies/agencies by credit card (and some mid-range restaurants).
- If withdrawing money is a problem for you, you can send money via Azimo (better rate than Western Union but only exists in big cities like Mendoza, Buenos Aires…), it will cost less.
- Spend every last penny before leaving Argentina, nobody wants it abroad, exchange rates will be extremely low for the Argentine Peso
I wrote a long article about what you can eat here in Chile and Argentina
You have to make the most of Argentine meat, you never get tired of it. The portions are very generous, be careful not to order too much.
Tipping(propina) of 10% at the restaurant is strongly recommended. Sometimes it’s written on the bill, sometimes not.
There are a lot of small supermarkets, but we see especially Carrefour (yes yes, our Carrefour), Todo (which sells from time to time real sausages, the opening hours are better too), La Anónima (large choice and butcher’s shop). In case of doubt, type “supermercado” on Google Maps and you will find plenty of them.
- Here, in some places, toilet paper is thrown in the trash can, not directly into the toilet, so please advise according to the toilet (public toilet => trash can)
- Heating and hot water work wonderfully in Patagonia, you won’t die of cold.
- On the other hand, to go out, even in December, it’s better to get as much equipment as possible, there is always wind in Patagonia, it’s painful. In the lake region, it can be sunny during the day and very cold in the evening.
- Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Argentina
What we liked
- The Perito Moreno glacier <3<3<3<3
- Food !!!!! <3<3<3
- The Lakes Region
- The zenitude and security that reign in this part of the country
- Underfloor heating in hostels in Patagonia
What we liked less
- This permanent feeling of running out of cash
- The exorbitant price of the buses (we pay twice as much as the Argentinians)
- The 26h trip (bus 2 hours late) between El Chalten and Bariloche
- The wind! and that feeling of being dirty all the time because of the dust raised by the wind
If you liked this article, check out our guides to Buenos Aires and the Iguazu Falls
1 week in Argentina (Iguazú & Buenos Aires): Itinerary, assessment, budget, guide, advice (2/2)
Iguazú Falls (Brazil & Argentina): Practical Travel Guide (Rates 2020)