Argentina looks like Europe, and has prices like Europe, too. And if I wanted to go to Europe, I would have gone to Europe. No offense, Argentina. You’re great (kinda like how Europe is great), but working with a daily budget around $60 USD per day, which is generous compared to some, I still couldn’t afford to spend much time there.
Due to budget constraints and the vast distances between major destinations, I chose the few I was most interested in and skipped the rest. In total, I spent just 12 days in Argentina.
I crossed the border from Brazil into Argentina at Iguazú Falls, spending a day exploring the falls on each side. From there, I flew to Buenos Aires where I spent a fun 5 days exploring the expansive port city, watching Tango dancing, and drinking my fair share of cheap, tasty wine. I spent 2 days in Mendoza, drinking even more cheap, tasty wine, before finally making the LONG journey south to El Calafate in the Patagonia region– one of my most anticipated destinations during my four-month trip around South America.
What I would have done different
Argentina is a large country, and one could easily spend months there and still not see everything. However, I don’t feel much regret about missing most of it, with one exception: not spending more time in Patagonia.
Growing up as a Minnesota flat-lander in a non-outdoorsy family, I didn’t have much experience with “real” hiking. In fact, most of my experience was limited to a few day hikes in the Rocky Mountain foothills outside Denver, which I didn’t find very exciting. But, hiking in Patagonia, I learned, is quite different than hiking in the Rocky Mountain foothills outside Denver or in Minnesota state parks, if you can even call that hiking– “nature walks” is probably a better description, but I digress.
As a non-experienced hiker, I was easily overwhelmed while researching Patagonia. Because I was dealing with time constraints, I wanted to book my flight well in advance to save money, so I just booked five days (not including travel days) without having a concrete plan on how I would spend them. After arriving in South America and talking to others who had recently been in Patagonia, I started to get the feeling I’d want more time, and I was right.
Based on my own online research and talking to other backpackers, El Chaltén and Ushuaia are the two places I regret missing most. Fitz Roy in El Chaltén is (again, based on everything I’ve read and heard) a lesser-known but equally amazing brother to the famous Mirador del Torres in Torres del Paine, Chile, which I did go to. Stunning as the Mirador del Torres was, it was really crowded. During the 7-hour hike, there was not more than 15 minutes that we were alone on the trail– I don’t mean at a time, I mean 15 minutes total. Needless to say, it was not the serene hiking experience I imagined.
Overall, I think 7 to 10 days would be the ideal amount of time to spend in Patagonia for anyone who enjoys being active and the outdoors, but also doesn’t consider themselves a hardcore outdoors[wo]man.
The US Department of State website gives Argentina a level 1 out of 4 (4 being most dangerous) travel advisory rating, which means “exercise normal precautions” when visiting. In the Global Peace Index, which measures various safety attributes such as homicide rate, violent crime, terrorism, and internal and external conflict, Argentina is ranked #66 out of 163. Not bad considering Thailand is ranked #113 and the United States is ranked even lower at #121!
The Recoleta Cemetery is ranked #5 under top Sights and Landmarks in Buenos Aires on TripAdvisor, and if you take any city tour, odds are good you’ll stop here.
If you like dark, creepy things, the assemblage of impressive tombs is an interesting place to wander for an hour or two. But, the real reason it’s so famous is because Eva Perón is buried there (amongst other important Argentinian public figures). If you have no idea who the HECK that is, don’t worry–you’re not alone– I had never heard of her either.
So, just do yourself a favor and watch “Evita,” starring Madonna, before visiting Buenos Aires and you might feel a little less lost than I did.