Food

My Argentina Trip in Review – Analyzing One of the World’s Greatest Destination Countries

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

Over the last decade Argentina has gone from quiet tourist destination to one of the world’s most sought after.  With world famous steaks, an absolutely delightful wine industry, and incredibly captivating Argentine Tango the country has stolen the hearts and minds of 20-40 something adventurers throughout the world. I have to admit, I wasn’t any different.  Hailed as the Paris of South America Buenos Aires offers a rich cultural experience and serves as the main draw for aspiring visitors.  In reality, most of the visitors I met in Buenos Aires intended to spend almost all of their time in the city chasing great dances, food, and drink.  I was initially drawn to Argentina by those three factors and in the early stages of my trip planning, envisioned myself spending nearly all of my 21 days in Buenos Aires learning Argentina tango, feasting on cheap meals, and finding grand adventures late into the morning. If I had I would have never truly experienced Argentina and would have made an egregious mistake.

Dinner Cooking - Ushuaia, Argentina

Luckily, as I researched the country in greater depth I had several close friends suggest that I leave the city to explore some of Argentina’s natural beauty.  Driven in no small part by the simple desire to get as far south as possible, I researched the southern Andes and was captivated by Tierra del Fuego, and the world’s southernmost city  – Ushuaia.  As my research unfolded I quickly realized that Argentina is home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders and offers natural landscapes and terrain that can easily give New Zealand a run for its money.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

The incredible thing about Argentina is that it allowed me to go from hiking out to the middle of a glacier and sitting with thousands of penguins on a pebble beach to lazily swimming at the base of one of the world’s most incredible waterfalls situated in the midst of a massive, sprawling jungle filled with vibrantly colored toucans and other exotic wildlife.  I feasted on delicious gas fed steak, mouth watering seafood, and split lamb cooked over an open fire, all washed down with fantastic wines while relaxing after watching a heart stirring Tango. In short. I fell in love with a country I merely expected to enjoy. Sounds good right?  Ready to go?  Before you do here are a few of the surprises I ran into.

Penguin with Woman - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Surprises

The Cost – One of the first things you hear when listening to people talk about Argentina is how cheap it is. I say bullshit.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that its an incredibly expensive country, but its also not an incredibly cheap one.  With massive inflation over the last decade and an incredible surge in the tourism industry prices in all of the places you’ll probably be visiting as a tourist, even an off-the-beaten-path backpacker will still be fairly expensive.  Believe it or not Argentina was my most expensive trip to date, yes, even more so than my recent 18 day trip through Europe and Scandinavia.  In no small part, that was due to airfare, the size of the country and the pace at which I was traveling but it also had a lot to do with the general cost of, well, everything.

Street Food – I love street food. Yeah, that stuff that comes out of a cart, people are afraid will kill them, and which usually tastes absolutely delicious all for dirt cheap.  I had mental images of incredible street side vendors selling mouth watering food lining Buenos Aires’ grand avenues. Unfortunately, they don’t exist. Apparently they’re banned from operating in the city (possibly the entire country).  I was incredibly disappointed.  On the upside, the classic Argentine grills/holes in the wall do exist, typically boasting a large open faced grill covered in the meat(s) and cut(s) of the day.

Steaks – Argentinian steak especially “Bife de Chorizo” really is as good as everyone makes it out to be.  However, to really find a good steak you’re going to need to hunt for it and take care in how you order it.  I ate a LOT of steak during my trip but unfortunately I didn’t figure out how to order it until about half way in. In your standard cafe or low-mid range restaurant in Buenos Aires they will consistently do two things. Under salt, and over cook.  When you order make sure that you specify that you want it medium-rare or pink, they probably wont ask and the default is a great way to waste an even better steak.  It also never hurts to make sure the steak is properly salted to really bring out the flavor. Also, don’t assume that price means anything.  Some of the best steaks I had were also some of the cheapest. Similarly some of the worst were the most expensive.  Also, the stories of $3 steaks? They’re a lie.  Expect to pay at least $7 and usually closer to $12/meal for a decent steak in any of the main cities. 

Spices –  Sure, its a bit dense of me but I honestly assumed all of Latin/South America was powered by strong spices with a passion for spicy food.  Not Argentina. In practice they avoid anything spicy like the plague.Even the various spiced sauces they serve with meats and meals is a bland, but flavorful mixture of spices and ground peppers without any bite or zing.

Buses – I’m a train guy.  To say that I didn’t like traveling by bus before Argentina is an understatement.  That said, you don’t take the trains in Argentina.  It took me a long time and a lot of conversations to finally be dissuaded, but it’s the simple truth of the matter.  You fly, take a bus, a ferry or a taxi.  That’s the bad news. The good news is, if you spend a little extra for an upgrade and skip the chicken buses, the buses are actually fantastic.  They are clean, modern, surprisingly fast, and if you invested in a cheap upgrade you’ll find great food service and an experience that rivals a commuter 1st class on an airline. Those 17 and 26 hour bus rides you hear about?  They’re not a bundle of fun, but they’re not nearly as dreadful as you might imagine.

Distance – While this can’t quite be considered a real surprise, it bears repeating.  Argentina is large. Very large. Massive in fact and getting around isn’t the worlds easiest (or hardest) task.  The nation is also dominated by two major airlines and lacks any major budget airline presence.  So, you’re either left with long-leg, sometimes multi-day bus rides or somewhat expensive flights. It sucks.  It’s also totally worth it.

Tours & Trips – There’s a lot in Argentina you can do on your own as a traveler.  There’s also a lot that you can’t or really just shouldn’t.  For some of you jumping on a guided tour of something may be par for the course, for others it may be the last thing you want to do.  Especially if that tour is relatively expensive ($50-$200 USD).   Do your research, but when it comes down to it, if you’re doing Argentina you need to bite the bullet and do it.  Two of my favorite experiences on the trip were my Penguin adventure and guided hike to the center of the Perito Moreno Glacier.  Neither was something I could have done on my own, and both were well worth their near budget-busting price points.  I spent the extra $50 to do the on-glacier hike, which was a full $130 more than just visiting the national park’s boardwalk across the bay.  It was worth it. It was incredible.  Similarly, the extra money I spent for a guided tour out to an island with 4,000 penguins on it. It was slightly more expensive. It was guided. It was the only one that landed on the island and gave us an hour 2 feet away from the Penguins. They only allow 40 people on the island a day.  Of the places that I visited where I didn’t need a guide and can be done freestyle I strongly suggest doing Tierra del Fuego National Park, the hikes around El Chalten, and Iguazu Falls.

Language – One thing that took me by slight surprise was how difficult it was to speak English in Argentina.  Which is not to say that it was difficult to get around, only that it is fairly common that most Argentinians only speak limited English or none at all.  While this can be a slight challenge in taxi-cabs and elsewhere, I never found it to be anything more slightly surprising.  For those more familiar with traveling in parts of Mexico or Europe, be aware that you may have to do a little more work to ask questions, seek directions, or engage in conversations.  Luckily the Argentinians are delight, friendly and welcoming people.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Must See Destinations

While I feel a bit guilty in constructing this list I have to admit that there wasn’t a single stop along my trip which I would have skipped or shortened.  For the specifics of each stop along the way I encourage you (if you haven’t already) to read my blog posts on that leg of the trip. You’ll note that Buenos Aires is NOT at the top of my list despite being a required starting point for any trip through Argentina.  More on this later.

  1. Iguazu Falls – This is hands down one of the most, if not the most, spectacular place I’ve ever been.  I’m a huge waterfall guy and these falls did absolutely nothing to disappoint. Even if your skeptical about major tourist destinations, this will impress, awe and amaze. It’s a bit hard to get to but well worth the effort.
  2. Perito Moreno Glacier – The Andes are incredible, Glaciers are spectacular and the Perito Moreno Glacier combines the best of both. Accessed through El Calafate this was an amazing experience. Don’t just settle for seeing the glacier though, make sure you book a tour and hike it as well.
  3. Tierra del Fuego – There’s something magical and exciting about being as far south as you can go without heading to Antarctica. The landscape is beautiful, the weather was energizing, and the chance to see and spend time with wild penguins was fantastic. While not as majestic as other National Parks in the area it’s a great starting point (do it first) and I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Also, as the base for most Antarctica trips, be prepared to want to stow away.
  4. Buenos Aires – A great city, especially for those who love a European influenced feel and spirit.  While the city has some historical draws the main things to see are cultural and revolve around tango performances, social dancing, food, and night life.  The city never sleeps and its impossible to experience both the day and night life simultaneously.  Set aside a few days to focus exclusively on one, then on the other.
  5. El Chalten – Located just north of El Calafate the hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy is stunning. If you want nature, awe inspiring grandeur and mountains that look like they’ve been photoshopped this is a must. Make sure to hike, and to set aside some extra time in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires

I’m sure a lot of other travelers who have been to BA will disagree, but I’ve got to beat up on the city a bit.  Buenos Aires was one of my most heavily anticipated destinations. It was also the one disappointment on my trip, though I hesitate to say that as it was still delightful and I’d go back in a heartbeat.  The people I met in BA were incredible, the dancing I did and saw was absolutely some of the best in the world, and the food I found was great. The night life in BA is also some of the best you’ll find anywhere.  The real disappointment for me was the city itself.  La Boca was dirty and seemed more like a cheesy ride  at Disneyland.  People often compare BA to the Paris of the Americas. I disagree. I wasn’t overly impressed and found it to be more like a dirty, run down version of Madrid than anything.  The old districts and the San Telmo market are great, but they’re nothing special. In truth, that’s how I felt about the majority of the city. The main architectural and historical tourist draws are interesting, if nothing to write home about.  So, my final verdict?  It’s a great city with a lot to offer, the safety and security concerns are over stated, but so-too is the city’s character and personality.  Go instead for the food, the people, the dance, and the people’s culture.

Tucan in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

Final Thoughts

Argentina is spectacular. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re a person drawn to natural beauty, rich culture, or food you need to put Argentina at the top of your list.  The language barrier can be more pronounced than in some other areas, but its never insurmountable and always worth it.   I’d go back in a heartbeat and know that for as much as I fit into my brief trip, there’s much, much more which I missed.  I highly encourage you to peruse my videos, photos and previous posts documenting my time in Argentina and invite you to ask any question you may have.  Have an amazing trip and enjoy the adventure!

Debating going? Head on over to Amazon and pick up the Lonely Planet Guide to Argentina.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

20 Comments

  • Nestor
    July 31, 2011

    Great info. Useful for my upcoming trip to South America. I will definitely do the penguin trip, I really want to get close to those little guys. How about drinks, were they affordable? I assume wine should be pretty great there.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      July 31, 2011

      They’re fascinating creatures for sure! Drinks were definitely decently priced. It all depends on the bar, but you’ll end up drinking lots of beer as well if you’re a beer drinker. Liters of Quilmes tend to be a staple!

      Reply
  • Charlie
    August 1, 2011

    My wife and I are headed to Argentina next March. 5 days in Mendoza, and a week in BA. We are going for the things you mentioned, culture, food, wine and color. No time for the southern Andes. Maybe next time.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 1, 2011

      Have an absolutely fantastic trip! I didn’t make it over to Mendoza unfortunately. If you remember, let me know what you think of it! It should be perfect for wine and food! I hear great things! Definitely work the south into a future trip though, it is well worth it!

      Reply
  • Ismail
    August 1, 2011

    I am very surprised that Argentina is the exception to the spicy South American/Latin food.
    Definitely a place to visit making sure your days are well planned.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 2, 2011

      It definitely struck me by surprise. Especially when I tentatively sampled some of the chile sauces expecting pain and fire only to find flavor and a slight chile taste.

      Reply
  • Dan
    August 12, 2011

    Always love the videos you post along with your blog. Makes it seem like we are there experiencing it with you after we read about it.

    Reply
  • Gareth Leonard
    August 29, 2011

    Beautiful video Alex. Argentina is one of my favorite places in the world and I haven’t even been south of Buenos Aires yet! Did you manage to get up North to the Salta and Jujuy region? My personal favorites.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 30, 2011

      I knew i’d enjoy it, but it really shocked me just how much more awe inspiring the natural beauty was than I expected! Unfortunately the only areas to the north I really managed to explore were BA and Iguazu. A lot to see left, so i’m just going to have to go back sometime soon!

      Reply
  • jean claude
    October 27, 2011

    if you like spicy food, you must ask for chimichurri sauce when you visit argentina. They eat it with steak and BBQ.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      October 28, 2011

      Yep, but still never found it to be spicy =( then again. I’m from Arizona.

      Reply
  • Runaway Brit
    March 4, 2012

    I read this article nodding my head in total agreement with everything you said. Like you, I was completely taken aback by the expense of Argentina where I spent a staggering THIRD of my entire travel budget in only 6 weeks (I was being very careful too!); the cost of hostels, buses, trips and food never failed to amaze me and I am convinced that it is now cheaper to travel in Europe than in Argentina.

    Also, despite knowing that the country is large, I was still unprepared for the vast distances we covered – it seems naive really that I didn’t expect it! I too was underwhelmed with Buenos Aires. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I was expecting to be blown away by it and was disappointed that I wasn’t. Mendoza was also another huge disappointment. I had been told to expect wide European avenues and thought I would be breakfasting overlooking sweeping vineyards but instead it was more of a run-down concrete jungle with a VERY expensive taxi ride to any of the vineyards. The only way you might think it resembles anything European is if you have never been to Europe.

    On the plus side, the natural beauty of Argentina is astounding. It is impossible to put into words the power of Iguazu falls, the sound of the Perito Merino glacier as it crumbles into the water, or the feeling of watching a mother and calf Southern Right Whale only metres away. It is still an incredible country.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      March 4, 2012

      Perfectly said =) I never made it to Mendoza (in part because I suspected as much). Glad to hear I didn’t miss out on too much. That adventure with the right whales sounds spectacular!

      Reply
      • Zozo
        July 17, 2015

        Hi

        Alex… I went there for 3 weeks.. I can say I really enjoyed being there. The food, landscape and people.. All amazing. Though I was suffering from cold, but yeah it was worth the cold.

        Big up to Argentina.. 10/10

        Reply
        • Alex Berger
          July 17, 2015

          Zozo, sounds like an amazing trip! It really is a wonderful place! Bummer about the cold, but you know that’s a great place when even despite a cold you give it a 10/10!

          Reply
  • Jona
    August 27, 2015

    Hi, Alex! glad to read this review. Have you known Córdoba. Surely you have, but if you haven’t, you should! it’s an amazing province with its astonishing nature, rivers, hills and beautiful towns, very quiet and peaceful.

    If you’re heading to Córdoba just let me know, will be glad to be recommend some stuff you could do here!

    Regards! Jonathan

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 30, 2015

      Thanks Jona! Afraid I didn’t manage it, but would love to the next time I make it to Argentina. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be super soon.

      Reply
  • Nina Du Toit
    September 7, 2016

    Hi Alex! Thanks for the tips. My husband and I are heading to Argentina for 3weeks in December. Want to fit in Buenos Aires (and maybe cross over to Uruguay for a day or 2), Perito Moreno Glacier, a 4day horseriding trip from El Calafate into Torres del Paine and then…. this is where I need your advice – should we rather go down to Ushuaia/ Tierra del Fuego or go hiking around El Chalten/Ftz Roy? Can’t fit in both due to time and just can’t choose 🤔

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      October 13, 2016

      Had an issue with my comment moderation. So sorry for the long delay in my response. I’d say definitely focus on El Calafate to Torres + Fitz Roy. Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego are dramatic and fun for their location, but if you’re not continuing on with a cruise, the main thing is the small colony of Penguins and you can also catch those in Southern Chile. The landscapes and experience will be much more dramatic in the Fitz Roy area.

      Reply

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