London on a Budget – Day Two – 36 Hours to Explore

36 hours in London, a budget of 150 GBP and a mission to re-discover the best parts of the city. This is part two in my two part look at London. Learn more about the challenge behind this trip, issued by Tune Hotels, in part one as well as a brief overview of my long-standing mixed relationship with the flagship of the British Empire.

The Pride Pooch

My second day in London got a late start. As a general rule of thumb, I’m a B person. This means I prefer late nights and late mornings to early evenings and early starts. So, Tune’s late-checkout was perfect.  My flight back to Copenhagen departed from London Gatwick at 20:35 PM. That left me the majority of the day to relax and explore before catching my train back to the airport around 5:30PM.

The Tower of London and Tower Bridge


London is a Mecca for travel writing talent, so when Dylan of The Traveling Editor and founder of The Ripple Movement heard I’d be in town, he invited me to join him for a quick chat about travel and local’s guide through Soho for lunch.  The day started with a light rain – the type that I’ve become accustomed to in Copenhagen, and which some might say defines London.  You know the type – enough to bespeckle your glasses, but not enough to merit an umbrella or running for the nearest doorway.

The London Underground

The plan was to meet Dylan at Oxford Circus shortly after 12:30. The trip from Liverpool Street Station was effortless and took no more than 15 minutes. Planning to jump around town more than I ultimately would I opted for a full-day metro pass (12 GBP). This, ultimately, was a 9 GBP mistake as I once again only utilized the metro once during the day…not good…but, hindsight is 20/20, right? Live and learn.

London on a Budget – 36 Hours to Explore

There are cities you love the moment you step foot in them.  Then there are other cities that take you a while to warm up to.  Of course, the flip-side of this is that there are also cities you hate instantly or fall out of love with.

My relationship with London has been a complicated one.  It’s not a city that I can say I love, but at the same time it’s also not a city I can say I hate. I’ve now visited London a number of times and each visit seems to launch me to-and-fro from loving the city to mildly disliking it and then somehow winning me back once again.

London's Charm

Of the many European cities I’ve visited as an adult, the city of London is the one I have the most complex relationship with.  In 2004 I returned to Europe for the first time as an adult.  The trip was done through Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College and was a guided six week whirlwind taste of the British Isles with the first three weeks spent in London. Despite the incredible amount of ground we’d covered during the year-long visit to Europe my family and I had engaged in when I was 11, we’d never crossed the channel to explore the British Isles.  This made London extra exotic and the ideal place to re-launch my wanderlust as an adult. 

As you might imagine, I loved London as I wandered from the Tower to its grand Museums and then out into the countryside to Stonehenge, Bath, and the White Cliffs of Dover. Each cobblestone street teased my imagination and inspired me to explore further. Since then my visits have typically, but not always, been more utilitarian.  A trip to London for a conference, to see friends, or for a wedding.  These visits are likely at the heart of my mixed love affair with London.

The visits that have given me the best taste of the city of London as an entity were the ones where I was most involved with as a tourist. It was on many of the  more utilitarian visits that I found myself disgusted by London’s sprawling, slow and at times grossly over-crowded public transportation system. By the ludicrously short hours for the Metro, and by the sense of dystopian bleakness that defines some of the city’s suburbs. Suburbs that often remind me very much of a scifi megalopolis designed for three or four million but now lumbering under the weight of four or five times that all colored by an aging infrastructure, crime, and urban decay. While this, and the reality that Londoners in some areas are lovely, while Londoners in others are…not, is all true but I’ve come to realize misses what the city has to offer.

Copenhagen – Embracing Technology, Exploiting Tourists

Recently we saw the phase-out of Denmark’s klippekort (Clip Cards).  These klippekort allowed commuters to get significantly discounted public transit tickets by purchasing bulk trips 10 at a time.  Like many systems around the world, on-site pricing for buses is higher than tickets purchased in advance.  This discourages people slowing down the loading/boarding process and encourages people to participate in transit programs. All of which is great. However, unlike other programs where the increased pricing is only applied to time-sensitive transit situations (eg: buses) – the Danish system charges the same high rate across the board regardless of if you’re purchasing a one-off ticket on a bus, from a kiosk, or at an automatic vending machine.

It typically costs you 24 DKK for a one-hour two zone ticket in Copenhagen. When calculated using a 10 ticket klippekort the adjusted price typically averaged out to 15 DKK or less. From a pricing standpoint, 24 DKK is quite an excessive price (even by Danish cost-scales) for a ticket, while 15 DKK may not be cheap but is still quite a bit more reasonable.

This is How You Eat in Copenhagen For Less Than 100 DKK

Copenhagen Smørrebrød

There’s one essential rule for enjoying a city: it always looks better on a full stomach. In Copenhagen, that can be surprisingly difficult to accomplish for students and budget travelers alike. With a minimum wage that floats around $21 USD cheap food for the Danes is still quite often expensive food for the rest of us.   There are a few guides to eating on the cheap in Copenhagen floating around, but most are absolute hogwash and seem to fail to understand the concept of “cheap”.  This two-part guide isn’t intended to be exhaustive, but it does share a number of places I’ve discovered and strategies I use for enjoying cheap Danish food. The first post is dedicated to general types of venues with budget friendly food, while the second in this two-part series will outline specific recommendations and venues.

Want specific restaurant recommendations?  Jump straight to part two of this series, “Where To Eat In Copenhagen For Less Than 100 DKK“.

Types of Cheap Food

Hot dog Stands and 7/11 – Danes make great hot dogs. They also offer them in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and forms. Prices typically range from 19-35DKK per dog.  You can also find a beef or “Bøfsandwich” which is a bit like a Danish Sloppy Joe.  These are an ok snack, but most folks will need at least two dogs to fill up which ratchets up the price considerably.  7/11 also offers a mixture of foods including hot dogs, small salads, and other-like kind snacks. It’s not a great option and their prices are a bit high for what you get, but it is still relatively cheap and a good option if you’re in a pinch.

Kebab/Pizza Combo Shops – These are your best bet for a filling budget friendly meal.  They’ll all provide kebab (usually beef/lamb mix) and falafel (vegitarian) while most will also have chicken. While not terribly healthy, these aren’t nearly as unhealthy as many other options. It is also the go-to budget/ethnic/drunk food in Copenhagen.  These shops also, though not always, serve pizza. The kebabs come in one of two formats: Pitabrød or Durum.  The first is the smaller of the two and comes in a pita, the second is larger and wrapped in something resembling a tortilla. Fixings vary but usually include a yogurt sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion and the potential for a tasty but not terribly spicy chili.  There aren’t a ton of kebab or pizza places in the city center, but there are a few. The highest concentrations can be found in Nørrebro and Vesterbro.  Prices will also be cheaper the further you move from the city center. The price of a Pitabrød should range between 20-30DKK and a durum between 30 and 40 DKK. Keep an eye out for a mix option, as that’ll let you pick up a good bit of extra meat for a minimal price increase.  In Nørrebro in particular you’ll find that many of the kebab shops run lunch specials, especially along Nørrebrogade.

Pizza shops typically start at around 50 DKK for a pizza and go up to around 80DKK. Pizzas in Denmark are often roughly plate sized and good for 1-2 people depending on your appetite. It is common to find kebab meat and kebab chicken meat used on the pizzas, so be prepared for slightly different flavors than you may be used to.  Many pizza shops also run lunch specials which can drop the price of a pizza to as low as 39 DKK but often brings them down to around 50 DKK.  If you want to keep to your budget, consider a Pizza for lunch instead of dinner and then rounding the meal out with a kebab for dinner.

A third type of kebab shop can be found that has kebab skewers in addition to pitabrød and durum meat. These are predominantly found in Nørrebro with plates usually falling in the 65-80 DKK range. Plates often include two meat skewers, rice or french fries, and a small salad. The meat is cooked over coals and heavily inspired by Turkish kebab.

Buffets – These are largely confined to the city center and cater predominantly to tourists. Quality varies widely, but in general they’re not likely to kill you and typically range in cost from 50 DKK to 90 DKK for an all you can eat buffet.  The easiest way to find them is to walk Strøget (the main shopping street) while looking for people holding up signs or to visit on of the three I’ll mention in my follow-up post.

Sandwich and Bagel Shops – With the bulk of their prices falling between 40 and 60 DKK sandwich and bagel shops can be found all over the city and usually offer filling, albeit light, options.  Produce in Denmark tends to be very high quality and extremely fresh, so these are often a very popular option among Danes and tourists alike.

Smørrebrød Shops – Small, local, smørrebrød shops are something that you typically have to seek out or research in advance.  They can be found scattered throughout the city, and sell Denmark’s most common lunch-food. Learn more about smørrebrød in my previous post about it, here.  Prices for smørrebrød can fluctuate wildly but budget variations can be found for between 12-15DKK a piece. Expect to eat 3-5 for a meal.  These shops also often close by 2 or 3PM and are lunch/brunch only.

Salad Bars – I’ve only recently discovered these.  As a big guy with a big appetite I spent a lot of time scoffing at the city’s plethora of salad bars. In reality, however, these offer surprisingly tasty and filling options. Particularly because most include a piece of heavy danish rugbrød with your order. The typical format includes a few pre-set menus that let you order three, four, or five different “salads” which range from spinach to chicken and noodles.  A filling three item menu usually runs about 50 DKK and is sufficient for a meal.

Supermarkets – If you’re like me, cooking lunch or making your own sandwiches is all well and good…but sometimes just not something you’re up for. Luckily, while nowhere near as extensive as the Delis in US supermarkets, Danish markets often have a few options available. While you won’t find much of an offering in the budget supermarkets like Netto, Fakta, or Rema 10000 you will find them in some of the larger markets such as Super Brugsen, Føtex, and Kvicky.  Food quality can vary widely, but you’ll also find cheap access to traditional Danish foods such as cooked pork, fish fillets, and some variations of smørrebrød. These are also a great alternative to the fancy Danish bakeries when you go seeking that tasty Danish or dessert.

Ethnic Takeout – Unfortunately, take-out in Copenhagen is still quite expensive. Dominated by Asian and Indian cuisine, meals often start at around 70 DKK.  These qualify as a tasty option for less than 100 DKK, but aren’t anywhere near the cheapest option you’ll have in Copenhagen.  Still, if you’re looking for take-out or a sit down meal, the small ethnic dives that can be found throughout the city and are most common in Nørrebro and Vesterbro are a great option. They’ll also usually provide you with fairly hearty portions.

*American Style Fast Food – McDonalds and Burger King are the default for many travelers when on a budget crunch. However, neither are particularly budget friendly options in Denmark.  With a Medium Big Mac Menu going for around 55-60 DKK and the Whopper Menu starting between 60 and 70 DKK you can get a much better meal for the same money.  Both do have budget menus, but even a basic cheeseburger typical runs around 10 DKK or $2 USD.  Considering KFC?  Good luck.

Ready for my hand picked list of specific places to try?  Jump to part two of this series, “Where To Eat In Copenhagen For Less Than 100 DKK“.

Tallying Up The Cost: 17 Days in Turkey


Turkey:  A country that spans two continents, has seen the rise and fall of numerous empires, and offers an amazing melting pot of contrasting cultures and geographic terrain.  When the time came to choose the destination for my winter break the choice was clear.  After years of dreaming about a visit, I was more than ready to pack my bags for Turkey.  After doing some research, perusing the excellent posts on the Turkish Travel Blog and talking to my brother, David Berger, who recently visited Turkey, I decided on three destinations. Choosing the three was a challenging task.  The rich history of Turkey, combined with its size and geographic location mean that Turkey has an amazing depth and richness which might initially surprise those not overly familiar with the country.  While I considered several popular destinations such as the ruins at Ephesus and the natural hot springs at Pamukkale, I ultimately decided to focus instead on Istanbul, the Cappadocia region, and Antalya.


Istanbul was a must.  The former location of Byzantium and Constantinople, it offered an incredible opportunity to visit one of the centers of modern civilization and the heart of some of history’s most captivating empires. The reports I had from friends and peers in the travel industry also suggested a city that was far more compelling and engaging than your standard capital city.


Cappadocia has captivated me for years.  Fairly unknown outside of Turkey, Cappadocia’s unusual cities are carved into the sides of the local hills and delve deep underground into  sprawling chambers. Ever since stumbling upon the first photos I’ve had it at the top of my list of unique and unusual places to visit.  However, it wasn’t until recently that I learned that Cappadocia is actually a rather large region, which encompasses a number of small towns and not a stand alone town.  After doing my research I eventually decided on the small town of Göreme to serve as my base while exploring the region.


The final city was Antalya.  I chose Antalya, which is situated at the heart of the Turkish Riviera in part due to climate and in part because I had a strong interest in seeing the unusual Lycian ruins at Myra.  Located along Turkey’s southern coast it offered the allure of significantly warmer weather and the chance to catch up on some time in the sun – something I’ve been sorely missing here in Copenhagen.  While far larger and more widely known, my concern about visiting the ruins at Ephesus stemmed from the belief that they are likely heavily stabilized to handle the number of visits they get annually.  I know it is necessary to protect the site but it diminishes the life of a place. The ruins of  Pompeii are another good example. Despite the small size of the ruins at Myra, and the excessive tourist infrastructure in the Antalya region, I still found them to be charming and well worth the visit. Antalya also offered the opportunity to see the Düden Falls which is located in the heart of the city. It is a picturesque waterfall which cascades over the side of the cliffs and into the Mediterranean below.

 Analyzing The Cost

One of the reasons I chose Turkey was the relatively cheap airfare to and from Istanbul from Copenhagen.  My round-trip ticket cost $245 USD. Even though it was slightly more than I might have paid using a budget airline within central Europe, it was still reasonable.  The three cities I selected are relatively far away from each other.  This posed a challenge from a transportation standpoint.  The cities are also connected by long-overnight buses, a viable option, but one which I hoped to avoid.  To my surprise Turkish Airlines and their subsidiary AnadoluJet were running specials which meant I could get airfare from Istanbul to Kayseri (Cappadocia), Kayseri to Antalya, and Antalya to Istanbul for virtually the same price as a bus ticket.  In total these in-country flights ran me $179 USD.  The combined cost of all airfare/long distance transportation, excluding regional tours, was $423 for the trip.

For the duration of my visit the US dollar was performing fairly well against the Turkish lira and was typically about 1.75 lira to the USD.  This gave me a significant amount of added buying power as most Turkish prices are structured at what would be 1:1 between the lira and the dollar.   My hostels were usually 20-30 lira per night.  After facing the brutal food prices here in Copenhagen for 6 months, I was eager to splurge on the relatively cheap food in Istanbul.  As a result, instead of opting for the 2-8 lira kebabs, I tended to seek out more filling meals which ranged anywhere from 10 Lira to 30 Lira a meal. I’ll do a more comprehensive post on food in Turkey at a later date. It is worth noting that the area around Sultan Ahmet Square in Istanbul and the old city in Antalya were significantly more expensive as they cater heavily to tourists.  Another item that was surprisingly expensive (but more available than expected) was alcohol.  Beer was typically priced between 6-10 lira per bottle.

Unfortunately, due to the need to use cash for many of my purchases, I don’t have an accurate breakdown of individual expenses by category (eg: food, lodging, etc.). However, the sum for all non-airfare costs over the 17 day period was $1,086. This includes approximately $100 in added expenses for unnecessary clothing purchases.

The total cost for the trip including all primary and secondary expenses, transportation, food, entertainment, etc. was $1509.55 or about $89 USD per day.  I suspect that a traveler operating on a tighter food budget, and doing fewer organized regional tours (I did two expensive day trips in Cappadocia and Antalya) could drop that fairly easily to $60 a day. Similarly, budget travelers moving at a slower speed and adding more legs to their trip could reduce or at least spread out a significant portion of the $179 USD in transportation costs I paid.

Turkey is a wonderful budget friendly destination that has a lot to offer.  Have a specific question not covered in this post?  Let me know and I’d be happy to answer it if I can.

Renting A Rowboat and Expecting a Luxury Cruise Ship – Let’s Talk Budget Airlines

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

It happened again, I posted an update about an upcoming flight with a budget airline and before long had messages from several friends and readers telling me to be careful or suggesting I book with a traditional airline. I ignored their warnings and happily booked with EasyJet. Why? Not only because they were the cheapest option but because I genuinely like budget airlines.

Wait….what?  Those of you who have been reading for a while will no doubt recall that I have a long history of being disappointed by airline customer service and transparency. From being charged for water by US Airways on a ticket between AZ and Europe to being lied to by British Airways I always groan a little when the time comes to deal with airlines.

I should be the last person ready to sing budget airline’s prices, right? Not exactly. My upbeat opinion seems to lay in managed expectations. When I book with a budget airline I’m not expecting traditional “airline” quality service. I’m booking a ticket on an air-bus. An air-bus that is usually only slightly above the quality of a city bus, lacks the crazy people and has slightly more comfortable seating (though RyanAir is working on “fixing” this). The ticket is cheap, the perks are non-existent, the rules are firm, and it gets me where I want to go. In effect, I book a rowboat to get me where I’m going and expect a rowboat when I arrive. The big problem, and source of endless frustration, complaining, and agitation among travelers seems to stem largely from occasions where people book a rowboat usually knowing it’s a rowboat and then show up expecting a luxury liner.

To be fair, budget airlines don’t make a major effort to differentiate themselves from traditional airlines. Let’s face it, “service for a premium, shitty seats, cramped planes and ridiculous fees but GREAT prices!” isn’t exactly marketing gold. For those who assume most airlines are the same, this can be a massive shock. Especially if they’ve paid sticker price for their ticket and failed to anticipate and incorporate the secondary fees and rules designed to generate the airline significant secondary income.

When I book a budget airline, I book differently.

I do my research on the front end and make sure that I know what the rules are – especially for luggage and check in – and then make sure that I’m well within a safety buffer. If I think there’s a chance I’ll go over weight or that my bag is over sized I don’t assume they’ll overlook it, or that I can just risk it. I incorporate the $10-$20 extra for a checked bag into my fare cost.

I’m also not put off by the $5 credit card fee, the $5 nonsense fee, the $5 made up just because fee or the $7 mickeymouse convenience charge. Again, these are all expenses that I’ve already incorporated into my cost when analyzing which airline I choose to book with. It’s an annoying game and involves some added mickey mouse, but if I can play the game and get a a fare at 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of a conventional carrier then so be it. Bring it on!

Additionally, I almost never book a standard or last minute ticket with a budget airline. Budget airlines are cheap within a certain structure. That does not mean, however, that they’re always going to be the cheapest option. In many ways I view them in the same way as department stores – if you’re paying sticker price and it’s not on sale, you’re tossing money away.

At the end of the day I weigh the actual cost of the fare with a budget airline, the length of the flight, the airports I’m flying between, and the cost of more traditional airlines before booking. The end result? I book about 40%/60% on traditional/budget airlines.  There are also a number of budget airlines I just won’t fly.  Groups like Spirit Airlines have chosen fee structures which I find defeat the purpose of flying on a budget airline entirely.  Others have reliability or safety issues which leave me uncomfortable.

For many of you this may be nothing new. For some of you, hopefully it serves as an invitation to re-frame your personal perspective and approach to engaging with budget airlines. Still not convinced? Share your piece in a comment – I always value your feedback!

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

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


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.

An Intro to Long Distance Argentinian Buses – Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

There is some AMAZING stuff in Argentina. The challenge is that unlike other popular tourist destinations in the world they lack A) An established/useful train system and B) A vibrant discount airline system with cheap regional airfare. Two facts which are made that much more difficult by Argentina’s immense size.

The good news is that Argentina has a fantastic bus system. The bad news is, it’s also surprisingly expensive but while you may find the famous chicken buses of Central American fame in some areas, there are usually options for long haul, first and second class buses which offer quality conditions and excellent service. Before I go further, I’ll share with you that I’m a converted skeptic. I’ve done the Guatemalan colectivo adventure, Belizean and Mexican buses. The price was always right, the experience usually an adventure, and the physical discomfort typically a consideration. At 6’4″ I tend to dread most forms of public transport. The thought of a 3 hour bus ride tends to make me grimmace, let alone the 17+ hour bus rides Argentina is famous for.

So, it was with mixed dread that I set to booking my Bus trip from Buenos Aires up to Iguazu in Argentina’s far north.  A bus ride that typically takes 17-18 hours each way.  Still, the price to fly in and out was about $300 beyond my budget and I’d already blown my spare funds on my flights in the southern part of the country. With no clue what I was doing, I set to the task of booking the BA -> Iguazu leg as everyone had told me that a visit to the Falls was worth it, no matter what. I now gladly give the same advice.

As a quick aside, there IS a train line that goes there.  Usually. If you’re like me and had a strong preference for the train, I can only tell you that every piece of advice I got was that the bus was faster, better, and more comfortable.  Don’t bother research it, just commit to flying or taking the bus.

What you may not know is that Buenos Aires has a massive multi-story bus station.  From their central hub you can travel to just about anywhere in South America. In truth, the station is so large (I believe over 100 bays) that it has several foodcourts and a wealth of shopping venues.  Just make sure to arrive early, as finding the right spot and figuring out which bus is yours can be difficult. There’s also usually a shortage of people available to help point you in the right direction.

In my interactions with the Argentinian bus system there are three levels of Bus service on a third through first class scale.  Based on my (admittedly limited) interaction with the second class tier, it’s suitable for most traveler’s needs and will be a pleasant surprise for budget backpackers.  If you’re looking at a long trip (such as Buenos Aires to Iguazu or the common BA to Bariloche route) a 2nd class ticket is advisable.  These tickets typically provide wider seating which reclines at a near 60-70 degree angle, well maintained and air conditioned buses, drop down LCD TV screens (which played American movies in English with Spanish subtitles), and airplane-like meals and drink service.  On my 18 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires the crew even provided a complimentary Scotch as a nightcap.  The company I traveled with, Crucero del Norte, has a large assortment of pictures available on their website if you’re curious about what the buses look like.

I was so concerned about how miserable the ride might be that I only booked a one way ticket to Iguazu, planning on biting the bullet and booking a return flight if the experience was miserable. Needless to say, not only did I book my return trip on a Bus, but would gladly do it again.

Which brings me to the next key factor.  Price.  I already mentioned that travel in Argentina, even by bus, was surprisingly expensive.  As it turns out locals get a citizen’s price, while tourists are forced to pay a visitors price.  Where in many areas there is a tourist based transport infrastructure and a local tourist infrastructure, the transport system in Argentina has combined the two.  The bad news is, this means that even if you wanted to travel super budget on a more local-oriented bus system, the option isn’t there.  It can also be frustrating because where you’re paying a premium for standard transportation, the locals pricing can be as little as a quarter of the cost for the same ride. On the upside, it’s still affordable and a positive boon for the local economy.

The general price for a one way ticket between BA and Iguazu as of my December 2011 trip was AR 369 for 3rd class (semi-cama), AR 422 for second (Cama) and AR 495 for 1st class (CamaSuite). At an exchange rate of 4 AR pesos to $1 USD that comes out to $92 for 3rd class, $105 for 2nd class and $123.75 for 1st class.  So, for 13 dollars more – less than a dollar an hour, I was able to experience a significant upgrade.  One which included two (quality) meals, drink and some booze.  You’ll note, however, that that’s still $210 for the RT ticket to/from Iguazu which isn’t exactly cheap.

While you should check the accuracy and pricing on your own, I found this list to be extremely helpful and accurate. It shows the time, company, and cost for BA -> Iguazu trips.

I highly recommend Bus travel in Argentina.  Don’t let the distances or the fact that it’s bus travel dissuade you from seeing the country’s spectacular natural and cultural beauty.

Questions?  Have your own experiences with the bus system to share?  Please post them in comment.  I’m eager to hear them.

Need a place to stay in Buenos Aires?  Consider checking out our affiliate partner: Hostel Inn Tango City.