Argentina - South America's Italy

From October 2022 to February ’23, we spent about six weeks visiting Argentina.

Here is some practical information about our overlanding journey. For more detailed information and pics, please refer to our respective posts.

Please note that all information provided is based on our personal perceptions and observations. Of course, you may experience things differently and have different opinions about situations.

Coming from Chile – What a Difference

Living permanently in a crisis, considering the government’s work to be a form of entertainment for citizens, and preferring to elect comedians as their rulers, only to be surprised when these comedians turn out to be simple crooks. Complaining every day about the economic situation, politicians, and corruption, and yet still being extremely happy that nobody even thinks about changing anything. Spending all their money on expensive restaurants, trendy lounges, and posh shops while bills pile up at home. Laughing off all of these small but oppressive problems and enjoying life as it is.

Where the hell can you observe such a lifestyle? Of course, in Italy and Argentina? Probably nowhere else. It’s true, this description may be a bit stereotypical and exaggerated. But not too much.

Okay, enough complaining or admiring Italy’n’Argentina. Let’s focus on our experiences in Argentina.

Are There Only Good Girls in Argentina?

Of course not. However, we never had any problems when sneaking around. We even felt much safer than in many South or North American countries. Especially in Patagonia. It looks like these places are just too small and under too close social control to allow for many bad things to happen.

True, there are certainly bad girls hanging around in big cities, like Buenos Aires. By South American standards, it’s still considered a pretty safe city. Nevertheless, many visitors report various approaches to give innocent tourists a general cleaning. For instance, spilling a stinking fluid on your valuable clothes and then offering to help clean you and especially your belongings is a pretty hip tactic among bad girls in Buenos Aires. Now that you know about it, you’ll be prepared.

Border Control – Just Established to Wellcome You

Typically in South America, you’ll need a small slip for all kinds of stamps from the all-important administration to enter the country. But don’t worry, someone will provide you with this piece of paper. And all you have to do is collect the stamps.

The Argies are aware of how pricey new passports can be. And they’d prefer if you spent your money on their beer rather than paying exorbitant passport fees in your own country. However, they still require everyone – even US citizens – to have a valid passport. But don’t expect them to stamp it – instead, they’ll input all the relevant information into their computers. Later you’ll receive an electronic confirmation –  if you’re lucky. And even if you don’t get it, don’t worry – if you’re questioned upon leaving the country, simply present the exit stamp from the country you entered Argentina.

And just know: immigration queues are usually short, and it typically only takes a minute or 2 for your grandma’s birthday to be registered. Then you’re officially entitled to explore Argentina for the next 3 months.

Your Car Wants to Accompany You 

Definitely, you don’t want to enter Argentina without your beloved car.

For that, you just move from the immigration counter to customs. Show them the car’s document, they prepare a beautiful TIP within minutes. You’ll get anything between 3 and 8 months for the vehicle. Probably 8. No idea on what criteria they base their decision on. Sometimes they even tell you that you’re not really allowed to leave the country without your car. Even if nobody will ever check that. 

Of course, you also need an insurance. Before you arrive at the border. Even if they normally don’t check that at the border. The easiest way to obtain it is with gisela@speiserseguros.com.ar. About 80 USD for 4 months, payable within a month. If you pay it in Argentina with money changed at the blue-dollar rate it’s even cut it down to just 40 USD. 

Still, a word of warning: during high season (January, and February) they check the insurance much more often. Looks like most of the numerous Chilis visiting Argentina generally believe that their car insurance is valid worldwide.  As the Argies don’t appreciate them too much, they’re all sent back home to regularize their papers. Probably you wouldn’t like to be among them.


Your Car Remains in Argentina While You Enjoy the Caribbean Sun

Leaving your car behind is technically illegal. But it’s generally not a problem as long as you return within the validity period of your TIP. While there are many places to leave your car in the Buenos Aires area (check out iOverlander), most people choose to leave their vehicles in neighboring Uruguay where it’s legal to do so. And your TIP will remain valid for 12 months.

You Even Want to Drive Your Car in Argentina

Driving in Argentina is nothing special. Quite civilized. While it may not be as extremely lawful as in Chile, there’s nothing to worry about. And this is THE huge difference from Italy.

Roads in Argentina are pretty decent, mostly paved.  But the pavement is often a bit old and shows signs of its age. Some stretches are still gravel, including parts of the famous Ruta 40. However, nowadays most of Argentina’s Patagonia can be crossed on tarmac.

Road taxes? Currently there are only a few in the Buenos Aires area. But quite a number of toll stations are under construction. So better to visit Argentina soon.

Now to the real thing: Argentina is a huge country. So you’ll need a certain quantity of fuel. But don’t worry, just pay with their beautiful pesos that you changed at the blue-dollar rate. And fuel will be among the cheapest in South America.

Finally, a word about the police: we never had a chance for small talk with those girls, sorry.

Money in Argentina – the Proof That Hell and Heaven Are Next to Each Other

With the exception of many innocent and clueless US tourists and some naive backpackers, everyone knows Argentina’s real specialty: the blue dollar. It’s probably the only country in the world where anyone can legally exchange money on a greyish black market to get double the official rate. Or even better, go to any Western Union office to receive even more. This is absolutely legal. Since January ’23, even certain foreign credit cards provide an exchange rate that is not too far from the blue dollar rate. However, it’s still not really known which banks still stick to the official exchange rate – and for all others, the rate is about 20% lower than Western Union.

True, it’s a situation that’s a bit unusual. But pretty understandable if you consider Argentina’s continuous high inflation rate and its tendency to develop into hyperinflation. Probably, the government would immediately face another collapse of the economy should they no longer tolerate this situation.

Given these circumstances, you definitely want to avoid changing any money at the official rate.

Preferably, you send money to yourself with Western Union and pick it up where you are. However, you’re not the only 1 having this great idea. Thus, Western Unions at tourist hotspots (especially in Patagonia) regularly run out of funds. Knowing this, cost-conscious guys queue up early in the morning to increase their chance of withdrawing some funds the same day. If you’re interested in this kind of adventure, you may try Western Union at Walmart in Ushuaia, or the 1s in El Chaltén and El Calafate – although they are said not to function at all.

But don’t be afraid. In most other places, Western Union works without problems. Just go into their office, ask if they have the funds you require, and order them on the spot with the WU App. You’ll have the confirmation within minutes.

So, what are the alternatives to Western Union? Of course, US$ in cash with big denominations. Many shops, hotels, or restaurants are more than happy to offer you a rate next to the blue dollar. In Buenos Aires, there’s even a blue dollar-exchange-road: Calle Florida. Every 2nd Argie hanging around there will ask you if you would like to change money. Normally, it’s no problem, but be aware that among the nice boys, there may be some bad girls.

Finally, you can try using your credit card to pay for something. Just check out the rate applied by your bank.

However, what you should never ever do – at least currently – is go to an ATM to withdraw some money. Normally their limit is 100 US dollars, and they apply the official exchange rate. As a small gift, they charge you around 15 dollars for each withdrawal.

Thus, Argentina will be pretty cheap for you if you’re on the blue dollar rate. But pretty expensive if not. Consequently, you’ll need some time to organize your Pesos. Don’t think you can just change a big amount and that’s it for a few weeks. It doesn’t work. Inflation makes it impossible. In a week, the exchange rate could increase by 10%. So after a month, you would have lost nearly half of the initial value.

Any other issues? Yes, of course. In tourist hotspots and backpacker hostels, Argentines have learned that foreigners change at the blue dollar rate. To optimize profit, some guys try to accept only US dollars from foreigners. E.g., if you think you need to book a tour in El Calafate, you’re not only confronted with their extremely high prices in Pesos, but also they’re smart enough to ask for that amount in dollars from you. Of course, calculated on the official rate. So, be warned.

Unfortunately, it’s true that hostels often take advantage of their sometimes inexperienced and naive clientele. Thus, there are many complaints about them charging innocent backpackers in dollars at the official rate. Still, many accept it because they don’t dare to refuse this malpractice, or simply don’t speak any Spanish.

In sleeperies mainly frequented by locals, we never had that kind of problem. Just remember that if you use a booking platform for reservations, you can’t be sure of the rate they’ll charge you. If you have a credit card applying the blue dollar rate, you won’t lose that much. With Airbnb, it’s always in dollars, so be aware of that.


You Need Internet to Order Money With Western Union

Don’t support your provider back home. You know they just want to rip you off while you’re abroad. Well, surely you already know that.

So, just go to any shop, buy a local SIM card, ask them to register you, and buy some credit for calls and data. It only takes a few minutes and costs next to nothing. When we bought ours, nearly all the customers in the shop participated in a lively discussion on the best network. It took some time. In the end, we followed the recommendation of the majority and bought Personal. It was okay, but we have no idea if it’s any better than other providers. 

Argentina Outdoor – National Parks and Beyond

1 of South America’s most famous national parks is in Argentina – Los Glaciares with its famous Mount Fitz Roy. It’s difficult to believe, but there’s no entrance fee in El Chaltén, even for foreigners.

On the other hand, the entrance fee to the very same national park in El Calafate to visit Glaciar Perito Moreno is as expensive and discriminating as for its counterparts in Chile. No idea what’s behind that. Probably just the number of package tourists arriving from US cruise ships.

So, entrance fees – just depend. But no idea on what basis.

Another specialty is the protected areas under the authority of the Government of Mendoza (eg. Volcán Malacara near Malargüe and Reserva Provincial la Payunia). You’re only allowed to visit them on a tour.  Often not a great option for most overlanders.

Another topic, Ushuaia is well-known as the gateway to the 7th continent. And the place to search for heavily discounted cruises to Antarctica. There are a few travel agencies that specialize in this and offer cruises with a 50-75% discount on the normal fare. Often just for the next day. Normally, you have to go there personally to have the best offers. It’s probably a matter of a few days of asking around – and good luck. We were pretty happy with Freestyle Adventure Travel. They just had an offer for Antarctica and South Georgia on a 25% fare with a super luxury ship. And they even have safe parking for your car and provide you with the necessary clothing to visit the penguins. We booked it within an hour. Two days later, we were off.

Drinking Seriously in Argentina

It’s pretty difficult to leave Argentina without becoming a notorious drunk. There are 2 simple reasons for that: their beer and their wine.

It’s definitely true that in Argentina, you can find excellent artisanal beer everywhere at very affordable prices. Just ask for their drafts. Normally, they have quite a long list of different brews. So, there’s no need to settle for bland industrial beers sold in supermarkets.

The situation is even worse with wines. Everyone knows a few wines from Mendoza, and everyone has heard of the famous Malbec. However, at home, you’re used to selecting from a few different bottles on the supermarket shelf. In Argentina, you go to a wine shop or examine the wine list in a restaurant. You have to choose from 100s of different Malbecs, and all of them for just a handful of dollars.


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