There are many reasons why Argentina makes it onto so many travel wish lists: the elegant culture, the beautiful scenery, the excellent and inexpensive steak, and of course the red wine. However, if it's your first time visiting the country, or in South America in general, you may experience a bit of culture shock. Here are some important things that first-time visitors should know so that they can truly enjoy this fascinating county.
While most nationalities do not require a visa to enter Argentina, if you are an American, Canadian, or Australian passport holder you are now required to pay a reciprocity fee before entering the country. This fee ($160 for Americans), must be paid ahead of time on the Department of Immigration website, and printed proof or payment should be shown at the border. It is a high fee, but the stamp is good for re-entry for 10 years, or until your passport expires.
Even casual observers can see that Argentina's economy has been on an insane roller coaster ride over the last 15 years. Inflation, corruption, and instability are all huge issues here so you may want to read up on the current situation before you go. You may also want to familiarize yourself with Argentina's "blue market economy" where tourists with physical US dollars can get a far better exchange rate than what is officially posted. Be aware that you can't get US dollars from ATM's anywhere in the country.
While Argentina is mostly very safe, the economic instability has lead to a rise in petty theft, muggings, and scams. This is particularly true in Buenos Aires. This shouldn't discourage you from visiting, but you will want to be on your toes. Research common scams (many of them involve taxis and/or counterfeit money), secure all your belongings and consider insuring any valuables you are traveling with. Be careful when wandering the city outside of tourist areas, particularly around El Boca. There are often political demonstrations downtown and they occasionally turn violent, so try to avoid these if possible. A great way to stay on top of such issues is through the tools and resources found in the RoamRight app.
One of the biggest adjustments to life in Argentina is a biological one. Argentineans, and particularly Portenos (people from Buenos Aires) run on an entirely different clock than most of the world. This is most evident when it comes to food. Breakfast is very light, coffee and toast or pastries. Lunch is usually eaten around 1 or 2 pm and is typically larger. Dinner however, is not served until at least 10 pm, and most restaurants don't begin serving until around that time. As a result it can be very difficult to find a sit-down meal at 6, 7 or even 8 pm. Learn to adjust or carry snacks to tide you over until dinner time.
Because dinner isn't eaten until 10 pm, things really don't get going in the nightlife scene until well past midnight. It's not uncommon to see flyers for clubs where "happy hour" stretches until 1 am. If you're planning to experience the nightlife in Buenos Aires (and it is wild), don't plan on getting a lot of sleep.
More so than any other country in South America, Argentina is known for its food. Empanadas, choripan, and chicken milanesa are all popular and delicious dishes to check out. Argentinean pizza has its own unique style featuring heavy, heavy cheese. Then, there is the meat. A classic asado with perfectly grilled steak and sausage is a quintessential Argentine experience everyone should try at least once.
Argentinean diets are very meat and carb heavy, which can make travel challenging for vegetarians. If that's your preference, seek out vegetarian buffets (usually Chinese themed), which offer a variety of food at reasonable prices. Otherwise, be prepared to eat a lot of pasta.
Argentina also has some of the best ice cream in the world, so be sure to pop into a heladeria for a scoop of dulce de leche during your trip!
Most tourist visits are centered on Buenos Aires, so it can be easy to forget that Argentina is an enormous country (the eighth largest in the world in fact!). If you have time, definitely try to get outside of the Capital Federal and experience more of this diverse country.
Have you been to Argentina? What else would you add to this list?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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