Argentina 2022

So I can write this post a few different ways, but I think (selfishly) the one that is going to be most useful to me is if I write it less as a narrative and more as a travel blog piece (here’s what I did and was it good). 


Things you should absolutely know before you come to Argentina (I’ll put an [x] if I knew them before hand):

  1. [x] Bring a lot of USD. Seriously, I hate carrying cash, and you can google this (blue dollar) but the Argentine government has the weirdest currency exchange in place I’ve ever seen. Basically at the bank, 1 USD = 100 Argentine pesos. But an Argentine exchanging pesos for a dollar gets the price of 200 pesos = 1 USD. The Argentines do not mind (in most cases) getting USD because we (right now) have a more stable currency than they do. You want to look for cuevas or restaurants / people that will exchange dollars for pesos, not banks! 

You’ll feel like you’re being a dick getting such a discount on everything, but you’re actually just not getting scammed by the Argentine government. Tip well if you still feel guilty - the Argentine people deserve it.

  1. Argentines speak beautiful Spanish - it’s clear, it’s easy to understand, and they will (generally) speak very slowly and be patient with you, gringa/gringo. English is common but most people I encountered in Southern Argentina are elementary level at English. It’s worth brushing up on conversational spanish before visiting (I did not, pero, estoy estupida). 


  1. I knew Argentina had strong Italian roots, but it’s really a huge part of their culture. I’ve had some of the best pizzas of my life while here (and I’ve been to Italy!!!), the espresso is quite good too but the national drink is definitely mate (pronounced mah-tay). They also are still quite close with Italians (you can get a second passport as an Italian national, etc.). If you look Italian like me, people will assume you are Argentine. Even more weird for me, a lot of women wore hair bows like I do, I kid you not. 


  1. Like the rest of South America, expect a late mornings to late evenings culture, especially in the summer. Things don’t open till 9 or 10 AM but it’s not uncommon for coffee shops or outdoor gear stores to be open till like 10 PM (!) 


  1. [x] Argentina is +1 on EST (so +4 on PST). None of your friends back home will understand this and will assume you are on -1 PST; we can thank our overly curved “flat earth” maps from elementary school for this. 


  1. [x] buses and taxis are safe. Buses freaked me out a bit because you kind of need to know spanish to get the bus schedule (I got better at this) but taxis are fine - just clear the price with the driver ahead of time if you can. 


  1. On a scale of 1-10, Argentina is like a 4 for vegetarians. Most places had at least one option for vegetarians (papas frites!) It definitely is not the norm, so know you’re vegetarian safe words (no jamon, no carne, no pollo, no pescado, si verduras!) 



Things you should absolutely know before you travel to Patagonia: 


  1. [x] It’s not warm in Patagonia. Like even in high summer, expect strong winds and possible snow. 50-60 F + windy is a great day. It might be 70F and sunny with little wind for a day or two but that’s not something to solely pack for. 


  1. [x] Patagonia is kind of it’s own country. Pandemic times have forced the border issue more to the front (i.e. I couldn’t just switch in and out of countries) but it’s generally a more fluid border that’s not super difficult to cross. 


Ok, now what I did! 


De Los Tres was definitely the most epic photo of the trip, wowowow 

El Calafate 


A 3 hour flight south of Buenos Aires is El Calafate (a Calafate is a local blueberry, so this town is literally “the Blueberry”). It is a small, more luxury tourist town (not quite like Aspen, but picture like Snowmass, CO). There’s a stable year round population here, but it is a lot of tourists and nice hotels/summer homes on Lago Argentino for people coming from BA. 


The main reason I’d recommend at least a day or two in El Calafate is to see Perito Moreno glacier, about a 50 minute drive south of town. Do not skip this - do not blow me off saying “oh but I just want to get to the mountains”. This was probably the best part of my trip - it’s absolutely mindblowing. Even a local from El Chalten described it to me as “I thought it would just be another glacier, and I’ve seen a lot of glaciers but … wowowow Perito Moreno is unreal”. .


Perito Moreno National Park 



You get incredibly close to the front of the glacier, you’ll see it calve, and you can even do a trek on the ice (I didn’t get to do this, but it’s likely worth it, book in advance). You’ll want to spend hours on the park trails just seeing different levels and views of it. I didn’t know this was a bucket list item but holy cow. 


Besides that, things I did that I really enjoyed in El Calafate: 


-> renting a mountain bike and biking in the preserve next to Punta Walichu (this is permisso, I promise) was spectacular 


Wildflowers everywhere in January



-> Kayaking on La Leona River was a fun tour


Kayak and hike on La Leona



-> Laguna Nimez Reserve was great for seeing the flamingos! 


Other than that, its a very walkable resort town with lots of good restaurants. I think if you’re looking for a very comfortable and quiet stay that’s a little more accessible than my other two stays, this could be a great option. But seriously, everyone should see Perito Moreno. 


El Chalten


The gemstone of my stay (El Chalten = smoking mountain). El Chalten is the “trekking capital of Argentina” and it’s easy to understand why immediately. The town is filled with backpack laden, hiking booted tourists from all around the world. There is pretty much 1 main street which has outdoor gear stores, Lavanderias (Laundrymats to wash your smelly clothes), hostels, bars, and cafes. They will accept Dollars and Euros at most restaurants and shops directly. It’s straight out of a backpacking dream.


There’s a lot of reasons to come to El Chalten - you might want to climb Fitz Roy (actual mountaineering), you might want to do a backpacking loop somewhere between 2-5 days, you might want to do a glacier expedition (8+ days), or you might just want to do day hikes and tours. El Chalten has it all. 


I came to do the Huemul Loop and it was absolutely spectacular, but (and my guide Rafael would cringe a bit at this) so were the day hikes and bikes I did too. Every day was a 10/10 and if I had stayed another few days, I would have done more. If you do a stay here, I recommend at least a week - it’s a 3 hour bus or drive from El Calafate that is already a 3 hour plane from Buenos Aires; coming here for a day would be silly in my opinion (and exhausting). 


From the Huemul Loop 



Recommendations: 

-> I mean, I loved the Huemul Loop but it is unmarked for entire sections and does have some sketchy bits (i.e. ziplining and glacier traversing). If you love orienteering/navigating and are comfortable getting lost when it’s raining and 40F, then you don’t need a guide and most the people (in groups) we encountered did not have a guide (and did get lost multiple times). If you’re someone like me who does get lost and/or was solo, I can recommend a fantastic guide, I am sooooooo glad I had Rafael.

If you’re similar fitness to me, Huemul _could_ be done as a 1 nighter but you’d need to have great weather and know where you are going. 2 nights would be hard because of where the campsites are (and you can camp anywhere it’s just the wind that’s going to be your problem. I called these sad campsites when we saw them).

If you’re not as fit as me (let’s say half), Huemul is going to be hard for you, like emotionally and physically. Consider instead to do a backpack that loops around some of the campsites around de Los Tres - you’ll still get in an amazing experience and see a bunch of glacial lakes / astounding experience without blisters/back pain/etc. Or day hikes, which really are incredible here.


Lots to see and do in El Chalten! 



-> De Los Tres is a must see. Start early to beat the crowds on a nice day. It’s not an easy day hike, especially the last ⅓ is steep but it’s stunning at the top.

-> I really enjoyed renting a mountain bike and going out and back to Lago Disierto. Be careful about the winds - this will be impossible outbound if the winds are over 30 mph, which they are regularly. They do offer a one way (they drop you off at the end and you tailwind back) that would be easy / good for kids. There’s a nice restaurant at the end + a boat tour of the Lake.


This was the easiest 50 mile bike ride of my life with views like this



-> Lots of day hikes. Just ask around and pick your hike. It’s all great; I did 3-4 of these and I didn’t regret any of them. 


From an evening hike in El Chalten on condor trail (?)



-> For food, I have no strong recs. Pick whatever looks like a fun bar. I’d definitely recommend going cheap on housing while you’re in El Chalten - the hostels are pretty good and you won’t be spending a lot of time there. 


Ushuaia 

From Cerro Huemul (I know, it’s confusing)





Back to El Calafate airport via bus (this time, with food poisoning on setting en route, oh no!) and then a 1 hour plane more south to Ushuaia. 


Ushuaia is in the Tierra Del Fuego (“land of the fire”) province and during the pandemic was only accessible by plane or ship. The border gets confusing down here - Chile is actually both North and South of Ushuaia (and West) and the ocean is to the East. So Tierra del Fuego is a peninsula that border-wise, acts like an island. 


I liked Ushuaia a lot - this is a place I wouldn’t mind living for a month. It was the largest town (city?) I visited during Argentina - you’ll be able to find full resources here as far as fast internet, hot water, hotels, hospitals, bike shops (at least 2!), restaurants, etc. Most places take credit card here. I even saw signs for botox when I was looking for places I could get a COVID rapid test to fly home. Ushuaia is flanked by snow capped mountains (even in the summer, it snowed while I was here!) and the Atlantic Ocean. As far as climate, I felt like I was in Seattle - Ushuaia is a cold rainforest! 


Cold rainforest!



That being said, it was the most touristy. If you’re kind of looking for less epic but more standard fare incredible vacation at the end of the world (#findelmundo), I think Ushuaia is your winner.  I didn’t do as much in Ushuaia as I wanted to - I think I was pretty tired from the rest of my trip + food poisoning + just missing ‘normal’ life a bit (i.e. I wanted to write) and it’s going to come across as lackluster below, but I would come back here for another vacation, especially if the border was open with Chile. 


Recommendations:

-> Tierra Del Fuego National Park is a must. Plan to spend 1-2 days walking trails and enjoying the views. You don’t need to hike a lot to have an amazing experience here - there were times I would just stop and sit and listen to the birds (there were a lot!). It’s absolutely gorgeous and the must-do of Ushuaia. It’s about 10 km out of town, and you can take a bus from town to get there. 


-> Walk with the Penguins on Martillo Island. This is such an expensive tour (they really charge pretty crazy prices) but worth it. You see 3 types of penguins - Magellan, King, and Gentoo. Beagle Channel tours will pull up right to the island but walking with them is worth it in my opinion. So freaking cute!!! 





-> The hiking trails are OK. I mean, I think I really went all out in El Chalten, but the ones here (outside Tierra del Fuego National Park) were nice but didn’t blow my mind. They are well marked though and very accessible from town (no car needed). 


gorgeous 




And story time!

And for the rest of you - some travel anecdotes and stories that the people who are like "but what are your travel tips???" would have murdered me more if I made this blog post a narrative: 

(1) United neglected to inform me that my connection to El Calafate in Buenos Aires was, oh, you know, in a different airport (AEP) a 45 minute drive away from EZE. Fortunately, they did ask someone in Buenos Aires to meet a confused, non-spanish speaking, sleep deprived Lois at the gate and get her to a taxi. 

My taxi driver really was a great welcome to Argentine. He tried sooooo hard to talk with me even though neither of us spoke each other's primary language particularly well. However, he realized that with the power of google translate, he could still hit on me. My favorite exchange was this: 

Me: "Buenos Aires es muy hermosa" 

Him (with google translate): "You are beautiful too, you have the most beautiful smile" 

I was wearing a mask...

(2) Everyone assumed I was a local and spoke Spanish, and this actually caused me a ton of trouble because I would just blankly stare at them and they'd throw their hands up in the air, thinking I was rude. I was eventually able to work around this problem by just telling them "Estoy estupida (I am stupid)" when they asked me for directions, etc. 

(2.b) My other variation of this was that people would ask me on trails ALL the time "how much longer to the top?" I never understood their logic -- like why would you ask the woman who blew by you on the way up how much longer to the top? "I mean, it took me 10 minutes but it's going to take you somewhere between 30-90 minutes based my estimation of your hiking abilities" 
Again "estoy estupida" saved me again. 

(3) Something I really appreciated about Argentine culture is that strength is admirable and attractive. I don't often get to see this - Germany was similar too, and I like to think Michigan also. But I was called "chica fuerte" and "chica rapido" on the trails a lot and asked about my times to the top of peaks and how far/how long my bike rides took, and it was always said with a tone of respect and admiration. 

(4) I started buying dulche de leche in 1 kg containers by the end of my stay, to eat over the course of a week. I think my body composition is like 50% dulche de leche at the time of writing this post. 









 

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