Tag Archives: backpacking in argentina

Money in South America

One of the questions we’ve found a lot of people asking before they go on a trip is “what’s the best way to take money abroad?” For a trip in South America ATMs are plentiful, except for a few, more remote places, so we’d advise using a debit card. Hopefully in this blog we can provide some useful advice as to why, based on our experiences. 

Worried about taking a card abroad

A prepaid cash card is an alternative that some travellers use to access their money abroad. Whilst they can be a useful backup we’d advise against them as your main access to money for a few reasons.

  • There are often quite a few fees involved in using a prepaid card abroad. Yes debit cards have them to, but they can be the same or lower than prepaid cards.
  • They can’t always be used for all types of transaction.
  • They have to be reloaded with money when you run out, which may not be as straight forward or cheap as it seems at first. Some cards can take up to five days to move the money around and charge you a percentage fee.
  • They come loaded either with your home currency, US Dollars or another currency that your provider offers. This means that you can suffer from bad exchange rates, especially if you’re travelling through multiple countries.

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Before you leave

There are several important things you should do before you leave your home country.

  • Work out which debit card has the lowest fees abroad
  • Get some US Dollars (USD)
  • Get some of the local currency of the first country you’ll be visiting. Or even each one you plan on visiting.
  • Tell your bank you’re going abroad and let them know which countries.
  • Make sure you have a reserve way of accessing money, another debit, credit or prepaid cash card.

 

Where to get the foreign currencies

Use the internet to look up the best foreign currency exchange office in your local area. If Google can’t help you out, ask some friends or go on a message board. We’ve found it’s often easier to get some foreign currency before you head abroad. It’ll also give you peace of mind that you’re not at some dodgy street vendor’s mercy. For people heading through London we’d definitely recommend Thomas Exchange Global on the Strand. You can order the money online through their website and it’ll be there when you turn up. They offer excellent exchange rates on commonly used currencies and pretty good rates on the more obscure ones.

 

Debit Cards

If you’re going to take a debit card (we suggest you do) then head on over to London and set up an account with Metrobank. When we first opened our accounts with them they offered free withdrawals abroad. They do now charge £1 per ATM withdrawal or transaction (outside of Europe). This is still far lower than any of the other UK banks, and there aren’t any confusing percentage fees that keep adding up either. For example Lloyds charge an additional 1.5-2.99% non-sterling transaction fee on top of a flat fee, so on one of my transactions i was charged a total of £7.89 on a £150 transaction. Nearly £8 versus £1 is a no brainer really… Of course if you’re not based in the UK, Google the best cards for travel in your country.

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Why USD

You should always have some USD on you. As the worlds base trading currency its easy to exchange pretty much anywhere in the world with good rates. After the USD then the Euro is probably the second best to have on you. Not only is the USD easy to exchange but in lots of countries, especially in tourist hotspots you can usually pay for a lot of things just with it without having to exchange to the local currency first. If you run out then many countries, especially in South America allow you to withdraw USD straight from ATM’s. As a rule your USD will be more useful in poorer countries or those experiencing economic instability.

 

ATM’s abroad

Withdrawing cash from ATM’s abroad isn’t of course as straight forward as in your home country and they react differently to different cards, so offering advice on which banks to use in various countries may not of course be helpful. The best thing to do is ask other travellers and use various machines until you work out which one is the best for your cards. Things to take into account are whether the ATM is going to add an additional fee on top of the one you’re already paying your bank and the maximum it’ll let you withdraw. There’s no point in saving a small amount of money on one withdrawal if you have to make three withdrawals instead of one from a different bank.

 

Let your bank know.

We’ve found a lot of people actually argued against this as they informed their bank they were heading abroad, only to find their cards blocked anyway. This is of course a worst case scenario which is why you should always have some local currency on you. With Metro Bank we have never experienced any problems with using it in over 20 countries. When you ring them up let them know your dates of travel (you can leave it open ended) and which countries you’re likely to be visiting. Lloyds did stop one of my transactions but sent me a text which would allow me to use the card unrestricted in that country if i replied by text. Annoying but i can’t complain too much for them being cautious and it only delayed me by 5 minutes.

 

Using your debit/credit card for payments.

We’ve only paid with card a couple of times as often there are hefty percentage costs for paying with your card abroad. It’s also worth remembering that some places only accept Visa or Mastercard, not both. If you set up a MetroBank account you’ll receive a Mastercard Debit card. Occasionally this can cause a headache as most people are only used to seeing a Mastercard Credit card and will try and charge you a higher credit card transaction rate. Just let them know it’s debit.

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What if my card gets cloned or stolen.

This a worry to everyone, and worse when you consider you could be thousands of miles from home. As long as you’re always safety conscious and keep your main card and your backup separate then the worst this should be is a headache without stranding you abroad. Card cloning is probably a bigger problem is your home country than in South America. In the UK we’re used to ATM’s dotted outside all along the high street.  In South America you’re more likely to find them inside a bank with a couple of security guards in constant attendance. This makes it much more difficult for crooks to set up a system to copy your card.

Some country advice

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Peru

We’ve found that Peruvian ATM’s don’t seem to charge for withdrawals as a rule. The maximum we can withdraw at one time in 700 PEN, equivalent to £150 GBP. ATM’s are usually found inside banks, if the bank is closed there will be a door accessed by scanning your card through a reader. If you’re worried about doing this, just wait for someone else to open the door on the way out. USD are easily exchanged, can be withdrawn from ATM’s and can be used to pay for tours and transportation such as planes and intercity busses.

Chile

Chilean ATM’s did charge us for withdrawals as a rule, but did allow us to take out fairly large amounts in one go. The USD isn’t as accepted as readily as elsewhere in South America due to the strength of Chile’s economy. In especially touristy spots such as San Pedro de Atacama or Torres del Paine national park USD can be used to pay for most tours and activities, just ask.

Bolivia

Some Bolivian ATM’s charged us but not all, other nationalities had different experiences. Your money will go a long way in Bolivia so you won’t be making lots of withdrawals. If you have a lot of USD then chances are you’ll never have to go near an ATM anyway, just exchange it for Bolivianos. Some places actually prefer you to pay in USD but be aware that the exchange rates can be pretty bad.

Argentina

At the time of writing Argentina has been experiencing a period of economic unrest. As such they have introduced numerous sanctions to try and stabilise their economy. These are aimed at their own citizens but affect  tourists just as much. If you’re really interested there are lots of economics articles that will explain it much better than i can. The point is you can’t withdraw much in one go from ATM’s and it’ll probably cost you a fair bit. Don’t be worried though as there is a black market for USD as Argentineans try and ride out the crisis. The Blue Dollar rate will save you 30% or more on your trip to Argentina. Take as many USD as you are comfortable taking and exchange them for the much better Blue Dollar rate on the street. If you run out of USD, pop into Chile or Uruguay to withdraw more. Be aware that the Blue Dollar trade is illegal but exists in a grey zone. As long as the police don’t physically see you exchanging the money they don’t care. They want dollars over pesos as much as anyone else.

Uruguay

We didn’t spend much time in Uruguay, only visiting Colonia. However the shops and cafes there allowed us to pay in USD, Euro, Argentine pesos as well as the local currency. We only tried one ATM and it did charge us quite a bit, but this may not be the rule.

Paraguay

Again we only visited Paraguay briefly. From what we understand the USD is easily accepted. We weren’t charged for our ATM withdrawal and we could withdraw USD. As with Bolivia your money will go a long way. We withdrew £40 for our day in Paraguay, we still had over £30 at the end of the day.

Brazil

Brazil gave us the most hassle when it came to withdrawals. Some ATM’s won’t allow you to withdraw cash. I don’t mean some banks i mean some specific machines. The best thing to do is to try every machine in each bank you visit, when you find one that works remember which one it was. Santander didn’t charge us for withdrawals. The USD is best exchanged into the local currency in cities but tours in more touristy areas can be paid for with it.

Colombia

You can usually withdraw between 300,000 and 600,000 COP in one go from an ATM (£75-£150) BancoColombia ATM’s were really easy to use and didn’t charge us any additional fees. They also allowed us to withdraw the upper amount of 600,000 COP. The ATM’s are nearly always inside a bank or a lobby for use after hours. These lobbies always have excellent air conditioning, great for cooling off when you’re out and about!

Our Top Sights: Argentina

1. Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls

Sitting on the border of Brazil these waterfalls are one of the most impressive in the world. WIth abundant wildlife, pelicans, hummingbirds and the ever present Coatis there’s more than just the falls to photograph. If you’re travelling between Argentina and Brazil then this is a great place to cross the border, but if you’re not it’s still more than worth the detour. Looking for somewhere to stay, the Poramba Hostel offers a relaxed atmosphere towards the edge of town.

2. Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno
Perito Moreno

This 7km wide glacier is still advancing and so you’re all but guaranteed to see chunks of ice breaking off into the lake. The blue of the ice means that even on a grey day it’s an incredible sight to see. Boat trips up to the face of the glacier, or all day hikes across the ice, are easy to arrange and well worth the money. Trips to the glacier can be organised from nearby El Calafate, which is a great town to relax in for a couple of days. We recommend Hospedaje Lautaro, as Belen and Dario are probably the friendliest hostel owners on the continent.

3. El Chalten

El Chalten
El Chalten

The trekking capital of South America is a bold claim but El Chalten’s accessible hikes and stunning views live up to it. The Fitz Roy and Torre mountains tower over the town and short hikes offer crystal clear lagoons, glaciers and abundant wildlife. The small town lacks an ATM or petrol station but don’t let this put you off, there are plenty of good hostels and restaurants. If you fancy camping in the forests then gear rental is easy in town.

4. Cafayate

Cafayate
Cafayate

Fancy sampling some of Argentina’s world famous wine, then Mendoza isn’t the only option. The small town of Cafayate located in the Andean foothills is a small relaxed place where you could easily spend a week visiting the different vineyards. Many can be walked or cycled to and the ones further out often have sampling houses located in the town. We recommend Domingo Molina, up in the hills with unparallel views, or Bodega Nanni, an organic vineyard that is located just off the main square. The Rusky K Hostal is just a couple of streets from the main square and their grape draped courtyard is great for drinking all that wine you will inevitably end up buying.

5. Buenos Aires

La Boca
La Boca

The Argentine capital is worth visiting for more than a couple of days, with museums, great food and varied neighbourhoods, you won’t run out of things to do in a hurry. We recommend the Sunday antiques market in San Telmo and an afternoon walk around La Boca. Whether you’re staying in atmospheric San Telmo, stylish Palermo or colourful La Boca each Barrio has a unique feel and it’s worth moving around and trying a few out. For a better idea of the areas why not check out this post.

6. Tierra del Fuego

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“The End of the World” is a great place to visit no matter the time of year. Whilst the summer will offer whales and dolphins, there is still plenty to see if you go in the winter and the autumn colours are breathtaking. Catching a boat to one of the islands in the Beagle channel offers amazing views of Ushuaia and the snow capped mountains behind. Easy hikes can also be found in the Tierra del Fuego national park, a 30 minute drive from town. La Posta Hostel just outside of town offers the warmest rooms you could hope for on Antarctica’s doorstep.

 

7. Salta

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Nestled in the North West corner of Argentina, Salta is a great getaway from busy Buenos Aires. The old section of town is dominated by wonderful colonial architecture and the Plaza de Armas is lovely in the ever present sun. The cable car up the nearby Cerro San Bernardo or the MAAM museum are must see attractions. If you want to get out of the city, horse riding trips or El Tren a Las Nubes (Train to the clouds) are easily arranged at most hostels.

Argentina in Photos…

Just a select few…

A Few Lazy Days in Bariloche and Puerto Varas

After a few days hiking in El Chalten and a 30hr bus journey we arrived in Bariloche. With the weather set to be pretty poor for the next few days and with Bariloche having a fair amount on offer within walking distance, we settled in for a few days of relaxing, blogging, eating and sampling the chocolate.

Bariloche is famed for its natural beauty but with the weather turning pretty miserable and having done our fair share of hikes over the past few weeks, we settled for Bariloche’s next best things, restaurants and chocolates. And what’s better than good chocolate, good cheap chocolate! It being the week after Easter most chocolate was reduced by 50%!

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Despite our few days being fairly quiet there is plenty on offer to do in Bariloche: there are lots of hikes and lots of organised tours available in the nearby areas. On the one decent afternoon we strolled though the town and lake, and were lucky enough to see sights like this…

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As for the rest…we got, pretty much, up to date with our blogs and spent our evenings sampling the locally brewed beer. We highly recommend anyone visiting spend an evening at Manush, a great atmosphere and delicious food and beer!

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After Bariloche, we set off for Chile and this time we intended to start exploring the country…unlike our brief trip over to visit Torres Del Paine. So we planned two nights in Puerto Varas.

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Puerto Varas is 12 miles from the much larger Puerto Montt and is located on one of the largest natural lakes in South America, Llanquihue Lake.

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Once again the weather was mixed…the first afternoon we arrived was brilliant sunshine, but on our only full day there it didn’t stop raining!

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We don’t seem to be having much luck with the weather in Chile so far! I guess this is what we get for travelling in off-season! So due to the weather yet again we failed to make it out to the National Park, but we did manage to get a pretty good view of the Volcano over the lake…

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Despite the weather Puerto Varas is a lovely place to spend a few nights. With an excellent selection of restaurants on offer and its fair share of Argentina’s natural beauty, it’s certainly worth a visit. We can assure you it made a pleasant second introduction to Chile and a lovely start to our trip through the country. Next stop the island of Chiloé…

How to travel: Buses in Argentina

Argentina is HUGE! I know this might seem like an obvious statement, if you glance at a map for a moment it’s obviously a big place, but maps just don’t get the point across. Coming from a small island in the North Atlantic, it’s very hard to get my head around the distances involved in travelling Argentina. 18, 24 or 32 hour journeys are a matter of course when traversing the world’s eighth largest country. In the course of a week we’ve gone from deserts, cacti and 30°C heat to snow and -2°C on Antarctica’s doorstep. How you’re going to get around this country is one of the first things travellers are going to think about, hopefully this will help.

Buses / Coaches
Unless you’ve got limited time and lots of money then you’re going to be using buses as your mode of transport. Certainly if you come from Britain this is not a pleasant prospect, my experience of busses in the UK are either “rail replacement” or school trips. If this is your expectation then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised.

I felt writing this on a bus would ensure I could write an accurate account of what to expect. I’m currently sitting in what could be best described as a leather armchair, it reclines by 160°. I have my feet on a foot rest and someone has just brought me a glass of wine. This beverage indicates that my evening meal should be here soon, first the cold course then the hot. Sound good?

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Classes
There are multiple classes of coach in Argentina from ordinary single deck with or without air conditioning to full 180° recline, WiFi, steaks and Cognac. Depending on the length of your journey it’s usually better to fork out a bit more cash for comfort, remember this is probably going to be your nights accommodation. I would always suggest that if you plan on sleeping then reserve a “Cama” seat. Usually this is a larger seat with good cushioning for the head and around a 150° recline, you’ll know straight away when you get on the bus as there are only 3 seats to a row instead of 4. In most cases you will get meals and a few drinks included with this seat. If you’re in doubt just ask when you book your ticket, most companies have pictures of their seating options at their offices.

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Semi-Cama are one step down from this. 4 seats to a row, not as spacious and they don’t recline quite enough for a “good” sleep. That isn’t to say that these aren’t comfortable. For journeys during the day or short hops where you’re not trying to catch a nights sleep, they’re absolutely fine and usually a good bit cheaper. You might get offered a biscuit and coffee but not always.

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The top end bus travel seems to be called different things depending on the company, so if you really want it, ask at the desk. Cama-total or Super Cama seating are the 2 that we’ve come across. As Cama-total would suggest the seat converts into a flat “bed”. Champagne and a nightcap is provided for parting with that extra cash. A word of warning for this fully reclined seat though, remember it is still a seat and not a mattress meaning you could wake up more stiff than if you were in Cama seating.

Tickets
Before heading off to buy your tickets, i find its a good idea to have a clue on prices and timings. At some of the bigger bus terminals there will up to 30 companies so it’s better to know which one you’re going to before you get there.

http://www.plataforma10.com/en-US

This website is invaluable for planning your trip around Argentina. Whilst it’s possible to buy tickets direct through their website, we generally just use it as a reference tool. Whilst we’ve found a specific service isn’t always running the prices have been correct on every occasion. Upon deciding which bus you want to catch, you can head straight to the relevant booth at the bus terminal and have a hassle free experience (especially useful if you have limited Spanish).

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Companies

One of the questions i researched a lot was which companies are good to travel with? They’re all fine, sure some are cleaner than others or offer newer coaches, but so far in 2 months in Argentina we haven’t had a single “bad” experience. If you’re really worried just ask other travellers who they used on a specific route. In northern Argentina we used FlechaBus almost exclusively and never had a problem, I wouldn’t say they were the best but there was nothing to complain about. Certain companies specialise in certain routes and generally therefore offer the best service on that route. For trips to Bariloche from BA for example ViaBariloche are meant to offer excellent options.

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Food

As I’ve already mentioned with Cama and above you usually get meals thrown in. If you’re counting on this to be your main form of sustenance on a 24 hour journey you might be disappointed. The food is certainly edible, we haven’t had any problems and its always nice to get a hot meal before you try and sleep. If you’ve got any dietary requirements then the safest option is to bring your own food.

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Safety

We can’t say we’ve had a problem or met anyone who has whilst on the buses. Obviously bus stations are a place to be wary of your bags. If you place bags in the luggage hold then you will generally get a receipt and there’s plenty of space under and above your seat for hand luggage. As the buses are travelling such long distances and everyone is just trying to get some sleep it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any problems.

Toilets

Yes the buses have toilets and they’re generally pretty clean at the start of a journey. (Lauren advises all girls carry toilet paper as after the first hour it’s usually gone!)

Price

Prices are quite expensive for the busses. Don’t expect to travel across the country for £10. Here’s an example of average costs on some of the more popular routes (1st May 14*)

Buenos Aires – Puerto Iguazu: 850 ARS, 106 USD, 63 GBP

Buenos Aires – Bariloche: 1150 ARS, 144 USD, 85 GBP

Buenos AIres – Rosario: 200 ARS, 25 USD, 15 GBP

Buenos AIres – Mendoza: 650 ARS, 81 USD, 48 GBP

 

*With the current inflation in Argentina I’d expect these prices to be wrong quite fast.

 

Autumn Leaves and Sunny Skies: Trekking in El Chalten

After a few days in El Calafate we decided to go check out the “Trekking Capital of South America” El Chalten, located another 200km north in the Glaciers National Park. The weather outlook, in contrast to the last couple of weeks was predicting 4 days of sun and almost cloudless skies. With this in mind we booked onto an early bus and slept the 3 hours to El Chalten. We both awoke as the bus pulled into the last stretch of road leading into town and we’re glad we did. Situated virtually at the base of the Fitz Roy and Torre mountains, El Chalten must have one of the most breathtaking backdrops on the planet. The early morning clear skies made the last 10 minutes an event in their own right.

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Anyone heading to the “town” of El Chalten should be prepared for a change of pace. Only established in 1985 in order to settle border rights with neighbouring Chile, the central authority seemed to lose interest in development after people started living there. The main 3 streets have tarmac, after that it’s dirt tracks. There are no petrol stations, though the remains of one sit by the entrance to town. There is 1 ATM in town, however the chances of it working are so slim you’d do better playing the lottery. Finally most places only accept cash, so take every peso you plan on spending. The power seems to cut out for a bit every now and then as well.

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This all makes it sound far worse than it actually is. Despite the lack of certain amenities the locals have all of your comforts well in hand (as long as you remembered to bring cash.) The hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars and cafes are of a very good standard and you can easily pick up everything you’ll need for your stay in the area.

Trekking

El Chalten advertises itself as the Argentine capital of trekking and you can immediately see why. As our bus pulled into town we were first dropped off at the information center for what can only be described as orientation, it seems every bus El Chalten bound does this and its well worth it. The whole area, including the town, is in the national park so you get a run down of the rules straight away. After this we got a really useful talk through all the different routes and treks available straight from town. This is what I think makes El Chalten so good, most of the trails start from the town, once you’ve arrived and dropped off your bags you can just get walking.

Due to the amazing weather and the fact it was still before midday, we dropped our bags at the hostel and shot straight out of the door to do the short hike to Laguna Capri. Climbing straight up out of town you quickly gain the 350 meters in a series of steep rises before arriving at the viewpoint above Laguna Capri. A description isn’t necessary, here’s the photo.

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Not bad for a 90 minute hike from your bedroom.

After soaking in the view and eating a relaxing lunch we headed down to the lake to soak in the view from a slightly different angle. It is a really good view!

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Heading back into town was done at a much slower pace allowing us to catch all the local wildlife undisturbed. Condors were soaring past the craggy cliff sides and the woodpeckers seemed completely unperturbed by our passing.

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Our favorite trek in the area was undoubtedly the one to Laguna Torre, which we undertook on Day 2. Rising fairly early to beat the crowds we set off on the 6 hour round trip. The walk was described as having a 250 meter elevation out of town and was flat thereafter. This was a lie as its fairly undulating throughout. Despite this it was a lovely walk through the red and orange of the Patagonian Autumn. We recommend getting up early to do this walk not only so you give yourself enough time to enjoy but also because any mud is frozen making it easier. All the water running in the area is glacial melt water and it is perfectly safe to fill up your bottle at any of the streams you come across, which we did with great delight! Nothing beats fresh water from a stream. As we neared the end of the valley Lauren had to put up with me pointing out the interesting glacial geography, (using the same “interested” voice as when I’m trying to point out the local fauna or gaming). The final bit of the walk is up a short slope and then you get the most amazing view. I think the photo says it all again…

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With Glacier Grande at the end of the valley and Cerro Torre partly obscured by cloud we think this has to be one of the most impressive views we’ve had in South America so far. The constant cracking of the glacier resounding across the lake and the gentler sounds of the icebergs melting and bouncing together were the only ones to be heard.

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What made this all the more interesting was the appearance of a hawk, that had it’s sights set on stealing our sandwiches. It failed to get them but had a good stab at turning Mr.Ducky into a meal!

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Out of our Patagonian exploration we think that El Chalten has been the best place so far, here’s why.

Value for Money

Unlike most other places we’d visited, there’s no park entry fee. Once you’ve caught the bus there, your costs are limited to food and accommodation, which are reasonable enough for Patagonia. Since there are campsites out in the wilds that don’t cost you a penny, if you bring a tent you’re not going to be paying much at all.

Ease of access

With loads of really simple day treks, you can go out see amazing views and be back in time for dinner. This also means that unlike Torres del Paine it doesn’t matter if you get soaking wet in the rain, you can just hang your stuff up to dry at the end of the day. Even if you’re camping you’re never more than 6 hours from town.

Spectacular views

We didn’t get great views in Torres del Paine, but we think even if we had then the ones around El Chalten would give them a run for their money. If you can, we’d say go in autumn, the colour on the trees was amazing!

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So if you’re planning a trip down south, don’t leave this little town off your itinerary.

10 Silly Observations About Argentina

1.  You often get your change in sweets

There seems be a real shortage of change in Argentina, and smaller notes and coins are especially hard to come by. Some shops seem to have done away with the coins completely and instead give you your peso change (about 10p) in the form of a few sweets. We approve immensely and think Britain should do away with our 1p and 2p’s in favour of this method.

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2. Their doctors all seem to be under the age of 10 

The common school uniform is what we can only describe as a tiny white old fashioned doctors jacket. Give them a stethoscope and they’re ready to diagnose.

3. There are lots of dogs

Well looked after but free to roam and they love a backpacker as a companion for the day. You do not have a say in the matter. If you’re lucky it will just be the one walking you, if your not, you may find yourself part of a pack.

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4. There are more pharmacies than can possibly be warranted

Even in towns without cash points or phone signal, there will be several of them!

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5. Drinking Mate is a way of life

So much so, many Argentinians carry flasks of hot water everywhere with them, in purpose built satchels. The satchels are gorgeous – we think two bottles of wine would fit in rather nicely…plus we’d look like locals…

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6. Argentinians like queuing more than the Brits do

Orderly queues are formed in most situations including when waiting for buses. Be careful not to skip in front…you will be taken up on it…unless you’re an old lady then you seem to be exempt…

7. Chivalry is taken very seriously

Seats are always given up to your elders or to women. The British commuters could do with taking a leaf out of their book!

8. There is no such thing as a standard opening time

Shops seem to open when they feel like it, usually about an hour after the sign on the door says so. Loosely speaking, it seems common for some shops to stay open until about 1pm then close until about 4 or 5 or sometimes 6pm, when they open again for the evening. This isn’t always the case though. Don’t be surprised if you fancy a late lunch and find everywhere closed.

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9. Don’t expect to dash into a supermarket

The queues are crazy! It seems you can pay various bills, gas and electricity etc, whilst picking up a few groceries so expect to wait in line for a while. If you can keep you items to less than 10 and join the fast track till…though its not always faster…

10. Wine is very cheap

May not be a surprise to most but we have become accustomed to paying no more than £3 for a very decent bottle…at £4 we’d be really splashing out. We may have some adjusting to do when we return to the UK.

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Anyone for ice?! – A Visit to Perito Moreno Glacier and El Calafate

First of all we should probably apologise as our blogs have been pretty sporadic of late. The reason being that we have been enjoying the outdoors a little too much. Despite the cold weather…Lauren is much happier in 30 degrees…we have been out exploring the wilderness of Patagonia and all the sights it has to offer.

After taking in Ushuaia and ourIMG_7778 brief trip over to Chile to visit Torres del Paine (and to not do the W Trek) we arrived in El Calafate. It was s relatively short journey of 5 hours or so, which involved a border crossing where we were forced to consume all the fresh fruit we had on our persons…thankfully just two apples. (Chile and Argentina wont let you bring it across the border, despite each others fruit produce being readily available in the supermarkets either side of the border!?)

Any way with our vitamins topped up we had arrived in El Calafate, a small city in the Santa Cruz province, named after a small blue berry common in Patagonia. A charming little city with enough small shops and restaurants to keep you amused but like Ushuaia it is a gateway for yet more of Argentina’s natural beauty. Like most we were eager to visit the Los Glaciares National Park and its highlight the Perito Moreno Glacier and wow did we pick a good time to visit. It may have been cold but the sun was shinning…

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Buses to the Glacier are easily picked up from town, and your entrance fee is paid upon entering the park. A boat trip to the glacier is also available for an additional fee and we highly recommend doing so. It really is spectacular and gives you a great view and allows you to appreciate the towering height of the ice…even if the wind can get a bit cold…

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After that you can while away the rest of the afternoon, like we did, on the boardwalks through the National Park, taking in different angles of the ice. We recommend finding a quite spot and just listening to the continual thunderous cracks of the ice moving and breaking off. It’s difficult to describe in words just how spectacular this glacier is. To give you an idea it is up there as one of our all time top sights around the world, only narrowly missing out on the top spot to the Angkor Temples. Like the Angkor Temples there was a fair amount of hype that surrounded the glacier…but did it live up…yes one hundred times…

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Back in El Calafate, although our stay was brief, we also had time to visit the local bird sanctuary, Laguna Nimez, and gawp at the flamingos…they really do look bizarre when they fly. It’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours and is only a short walk from town.

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Final tip…

Stay at Hospedaje Lautaro, our home away from home! – a lovely family run guest house, where Dario and Belen go out of their way to make you feel at home. Also only a few minutes walk from the bus station.

Braving the Winter: A few days in Ushuaia, The End of the World

After our brief trip to Uruguay and an overnight wait at the airport in Buenos Aires, we arrived in Ushuaia. In a few hours we went from a lovely 25 degrees to something nearer zero. Ushuaia is about as far south as you can go in Argentina…next stop would be Antarctica! We were prepped for the cold weather and within seconds of landing we had dug out the hats, scarfs and gloves that hadn’t seen daylight since London.

Having glimpsed the mountains as we came into landing and having admired the lake on the walk from the airport we knew Ushuaia was going to impress. Ok so maybe not the city itself…it was pleasant enough but nothing to rave about. It is picturesque, situated amongst the snow-capped mountains but the centre can be covered in an hour or so…unless of course you want to traipse around endless outdoor stores…saying that Iain would have been quite happy too. But like most we had not come to Ushuaia to be wowed by what the city had to offer, despite the cold weather we were determined to see the surrounding natural beauty.

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On our first full day in Ushuaia, IMG_7498Argentina’s national strike was in full swing. No buses, no coaches, no flights, and officially no taxis or supermarkets. Thankfully however a few taxis and stores had persevered despite the burning roadblocks and picket lines throughout the country! A meal of pasta and stir in sauce was purchased for dinner…we wont lie its not the first…and a taxi would be our only hopes to escape the city.

 

IMG_7231We tourists found the strike fascinating and our evenings were spent exchanging stories of travel delays and cancellations. Some had spent several hours at the airports whilst others had to disembark buses and cross the burning roadblocks by foot. With our limited Spanish we never did quite get the full story behind the strike, but most Argentinians seemed more annoyed by it than rallied behind it. Unlike us most of the locals didn’t have the luxury of being on holiday and having time to spare. Many of our fellow travellers found themselves stuck in Ushuaia for a few days more than intended, but as we soon found out the end of the world was not the worst place in the world to be for a few extra days…

Like many who stay in Ushuaia, our intention had been to head to Tierra del Fuego National Park at the earliest opportunity. However with the strike in full swing a group of us from the hostel, settled on visiting the local glacier. Flagging down one of the scarce taxis, we headed off to Martial Glacier, about 15 minutes from town. In the summer months the taxis drop you off at the base of the ski lift however for us brave winter souls, we faced the short hike up the hill. Some say Ushuaia is best visited in the summer months but in April, with winter setting in, the trees or more importantly the colour of them, on the walk up were a sight in themselves…

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Some stunning forest and enough snow to sink in up to your knees, this walk was a pleasant way to spend what otherwise could have been a very dull day. It was made all the better as for one of our group it was the first time they had seen snow!

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The next day we successfully visited Tierra del Fuego. As a light snow fell around us we enjoyed a pleasant walk through yet more stunning forest, stopping at various coves along the way. Most importantly we got our passports stamped from the “End of the World” post office.

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We were amazed at the number IMG_6928of languages on offer in this tiny hut: they had no problem accommodating our friend from Hong Kong’s request as he established they offered stamps in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Although our trip to Tierra del Fuego was somewhat more expensive than the glacier (which is free, just the cost of the taxi) it is certainly worth a visit. Had the weather been better we would have likely spent another day here in order to make the most of the numerous hikes on offer.

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Not put off by the dropping temperature we also embarked upon a boat trip on the Beagle Channel during our stay. Regular trips leave from the port throughout the day, on vessels of varying sizes.

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Wrapped up in every layer of clothing we had with us we set off on one of the smallest in search of sea lions and cormorants. We were not disappointed. We smelt both before we saw them in vast their numbers, and our skilled captain got us close enough to almost touch them (though not advisable with the sea lions).

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Apparently in our pictures there are two types of sea lions, but at dinner with our fellow seafarers later we established none of us had actually understood the difference between them despite our guides thorough explanations – I think we were all too busy being snap happy…sorry Max we will listen better next time!

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Big thanks to Winnie and Danni for the picture! Read about their travels in Ushuaia at oliviaoyster.com

With a quick visit to one of the islands on the Beagle Channel and a quick hike around it we were amazed at Max’s enthusiasm for the wildlife and history of Ushuaia. So much so that we were inspired to visit the local museum when back on the main land that afternoon. Certainly worth a visit, this museum is vast and set in an old prison, however truth be told we would have probably rather listened to Max all afternoon.

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Best of all Max recommended the excellent Chiko for lunch that afternoon. Excellent seafood and with four meals sampled, which we all agreed were delicious, we highly recommended this place in Ushuaia. As for hostels you have to stay at La Posta. A lovely family run business with great facilities and a brilliant atmosphere…aided of course by all the lovely people we met during our stay!

Here are our final tips for Ushuaia…

Bring warm clothes – the wind can be brutal and a boat trip is a must.

Take a boat trip on the Beagle Channel – be wowed by the sea lions.

Eat at Chiko – great seafood. Its Chilean but don’t hold that against it!

Stay at La Posta – great all round hostel with private rooms too.

Change money at the Casino (just off the main street in town) – the southernmost place to find the blue dollar! Open 24/7!

Lollapalooza Festival 2014

As previously mentioned in our Buenos Aires blog we spent two of our wonderful days in the city at this festival in the district of San Isidro. With the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining, booking the tickets before we’d even left UK soil was a no brainer.

At the age of 14 both Iain and I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their 2004 tour: Iain in Manchester and me in Hyde Park. Needless to say in our first year of university we soon discovered our joint love for the band and played their Live At Hyde Park album endlessly. In our (nearly!) 7 years together we’ve never had the chance to see the band live together, so we knew this festival was a must for this trip.

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With a line up that would rival any major festival in the UK, Lollapalooza was sure to be a hit in Argentina. Lollapalooza was also held in various US destinations, as well as in Santiago and Rio de Janeiro but for Buenos Aires this was its debut.

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Despite some major transport issues getting away from the festival each evening (we walked over a mile to find a bust that wasn’t full) the two days were just as expected: a lot of fun, adrenaline and bad singing. Actually I take back bad singing…as certainly during RHCPs set the singing was mostly amusing. Naturally Iain and I knew the songs far too well, so our neighbours’ reinventions of the lyrics made the experience all the more memorable. I’m sure the local population are finding our attempts at Spanish just as funny, however I’m also sure even Antony Kiedis would find the new lyrics being sung at him hilarious. Probably funnier if you were there…

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Anyway everything was to be expected bar one thing…one minor thing that nevertheless took us by surprise and took some adjusting too. It took less than hour into the first band for us to look around and slowly realise we hadn’t seen any alcohol being consumed. Sadly at a British festival even at 1pm there is usually a group nearby already smashed or very nearly there. Clutching on to hope we put it down to 1pm being too early for a lot of people, plus we were on holiday and this is a festival so we headed to the bar and in our best Spanish ordered, “dos cerveza, por favour.” It took three attempts by the kind yet persistent lady behind the bar…but we soon learnt that this was an alcohol-free event.

We were however amazed at the Porteños ability to have a good time totally sober. Although the continuous waft of suspect smoke was certainly helping, the atmosphere was fantastic and despite the generally good weather we even got a little mud to revival any Glastonbury. We felt rather smug in our hiking boots as others struggled in their Converse. Certainly a highlight of the trip so far and we are seriously considering booking a ticket for next year if we can make the money last that long…