Argentina

When We Were There: November 21-23, 2008, December 3-20, 2008, February 27-March 11, 2009

Places We Visited: Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten, Puerto Madryn, Cordoba, Salta, Cachi, Cafayate, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls

View all of our posts about Argentina here.

Exchange Rate: $1 = $3.33 Argentinian pesos
See a breakdown of our Argentinian budget here.

WHAT WE DID:

Ushuaia
Our main activity was taking a hike up Glacier Martial. The hike itself was very scenic through pretty forest and past rushing streams, and the view from the top was excellent (though cold!). We spent the rest of our time just walking around town.

El Calafate
The only reason to come to this tourist-trap town is to visit the nearby Perito Merino Glacier, which we did. The glacier is huge and impressive, especially as it calves. There are many tours out to the glacier, but we went in with three others and rented a car. Arriving early, we beat the park guards and thus didn’t have to pay an admission fee. 225 pesos for the rental car, 25 pesos for gas.

El Chalten
This frontier town doesn’t look like much, but it offers excellent hiking that some say rivals that of Torres del Paine, though we both agree that Torres del Paine wins hands down. The benefit here is that their is no park admission fee, though the town itself is rather pricey. Our big activity here was ice hiking with Senac (300 pesos per person for a full-day trip). The day involved a lot of hiking on the ground, hiking on the glacier, and ice-climbing. It was fun but exhausting, and something I’m glad I did once but don’t really feel I need to do again.

Puerto Madryn
Another gateway town, the reason to come to Puerto Madryn is to go to the wildlife wonderland that is Peninsula Valdez. We visited on a full-day tour with Alora Viaggio (200 pesos each plus a 45 peso admission fee). Our tour included a whale-watching trip, the highlight of the tour), plus visits to seal and penguin colonies.

Cordoba
Despite having trouble finding a decent place to stay, we ended up enjoying Cordoba. The city is pleasant to walk around and has good restaurants. we went to a tango exhibition in the park, which wasn’t all that exciting as the people weren’t very good. We visited two art museums (3 pesos each), each of which was well worth the visit. We also did a tour of the Jesuit Corner, which was very interesting and educational (10 pesos for an English language tour).

Salta
We both very much liked Salta, as it was an interesting city to walk around with nice sites as well as a very authentic feel. The plaza is pretty and the churches in Salta very striking. The park is bustling and has lots of artisan stands as well as food stands. While we were there the theater was having a “Night of Tango.” We were able to get free tickets and very much enjoyed this extensive performance of tango dance, song, and music.

Cachi
This first town of note on the Valles Calchaquies circuit, Cachi is a small but pleasant town that can be explored in half a day. The church, with its cactus wood ceiling and pulpit, was neat, and the cemetery up above town offers great views and interesting insight into the local culture.

Cafayate
Though small, Cafayate is the second-most important wine-producing region in Argentina, and we did what most people do and visit the wineries. We did tastings at two of the in-town wineries, and then walked a bit out of town to the Eckhard Winery for another tasting. We also visited a goat cheese farm, where we had a tour and tasting. (All tastings free.)

Buenos Aires
We had nearly two weeks in Buenos Aires, so we were able to do a lot at a relaxed place. We wandered the San Telmo Sunday fair, watched the horses race at the Hipodromo, took free tours of central Buenos Aires and Recoleta, visited the Museum of Latin American Art, hiked through the ecoreserve at Puerto Maderas, saw a tango show at Cafe Tortoni, strolled through the Botanic Gardens, checked out La Boca, and enjoyed exploring the city and the neighborhood of Palermo. We also took a day trip to the city of Tigre and participated in a very campy Dia del Campo at the La Cina Cina Ranch. Theresa’s parents joined us for this portion of our trip.

Iguazu Falls
Because we opted for the bus (when we should have chosen to fly), we had an abbreviated visit to Iguazu Falls, but it was still very cool. The falls are gorgeous, and the lush jungle scenery makes them even more attractive. On the first evening, we visited the Devil’s Throat, which was insanely powerful. Be prepared to get wet, wet, wet. On the second day, we did the Upper and Lower Circuits and San Martin Island, which allowed us many views of the various falls.

WHERE WE STAYED:
We found it harder to find good places to stay in Argentina, as the cost of a double room was generally much higher than the price of two dorm beds. Additionally, the cost of a room with one double bed was, for some reason, higher than the price of a room with two single beds. The solo traveler or those willing to stay in dorm rooms will find it easier to find a room at a good rate.

Hostal Aonikenk (Ushuaia): A representative from this hostel met us at the bus, and after checking out just about every other place in town, we dubbed it the best deal. Our room was comfortable and quiet, the shared bathroom clean and sufficient, and the breakfast basic but better than nothing. The kitchen was well-stocked but small. You have to make a good uphill walk from the main drag to get here, but the view from the dining area is great. 130 pesos for a double room with wi-fi, shared bathroom, and breakfast.

Hostal La Luna (Punta Arenas): The double rooms in this family-run old house are large and quiet. Not many guests when we were there, and it doesn’t seem to have too social of an atmosphere. The hostal also provides a very inexpensive laundry service. 14,000 pesos for a double room with TV, shared bath, and breakfast.

Los Dos Pinos Hostel (El Calafate): A reasonably-priced option in an over-priced town, this hostel has many rooms in separate buildings spread throughout the property. Our building had three rooms, a shared bathroom (but with the toilet and shower conveniently in separate rooms), and a kitchen. Quality seemed to vary between buildings, but ours was comfortable. Wi-fi in the common area but not the rooms. 80 pesos for a double room with shared bath.

Hostel Aonikenk (El Chalten): We got out of this hostel as soon as we could. A tiny kitchen with a bunsen burner was dirty. The room with bath was okay, except the water didn’t work because they were fixing a leak that was sending dirty water dripping into the dining area, and no one could provide us with any decent information. Though prices in El Chalten are outrageous for doubles and the price here is the best you’ll find (though still high), I’d recommend either paying the high price at a nice place or going for a dorm over staying here. 120 for a double with private bath.

Can’t Remember the Name (El Chalten): After getting out of Hostel Aonikenk, we moved to a nearby hostel with a name we can’t remember. It was on the edge of town with a restaurant in front and nicer private cabins on the side. We got a triple room, but never ended up with another roommate. It was very basic but clean, quiet, and with friendly staff. Very large kitchen. 35 pesos per person for a triple room with shared bath.

La Tosca (Puerto Madryn): This was a very friendly and nice hostel. The double room was clean and comfortable, and though all the bathrooms are shared, they are each only shared with one other room. Nice outside area with tables and hammocks as well as an inside TV lounge area. The kitchen could get crowded but it was well stocked. 140 for a double room with shared bath, breakfast, and wi-fi.

Cordoba Hostel (Cordoba): This Hosteling International location is by far the worst hostel we have stayed at. Our double bed barely fit in the room, which was like a prison cell without any windows. Burning hot at night, we asked for a fan and were told we could have a piece of cardboard to wave over ourselves (while we slept?), though other rooms had fans. Though the rules stated it was to be quiet after midnight, very loud, drunk men were yelling throughout the hostel all night. We left as soon as it was light outside and refused to pay the full price. I would highly discourage anyone from staying here.

Hostel Name I Can’t Remember (Cordoba): After searching all over town after leaving Cordoba Hostel, we ended up here. Finding a good hostel in Cordoba was extremely hard. The room here was comfortable and the shared bathroom large and clean, but the hostel was way out of the edge of town and required long walks to get anywhere. The staff was very friendly. 90 pesos for a double room with shared bath, breakfast, and wi-fi.

Hostel Salta por Siempre (Salta): This hostel was fine, but a bit of a walk from the sights of Salta. They are also currently expanding so you have to deal with a bit of construction. Our room was comfortable and the bathroom was fine, but there are just as good deals closer to the center of town, so we moved after one night. 80 pesos for a double room with private bath and breakfast.

Hostel Nevado de Cachi (Cachi): Right next to where the buses come in, this is one of the few places to stay in town. The room was basic but clean and comfortable and it had a private bathroom that was okay but had a shower that soaked the entire bathroom. 70 pesos for a double room with private bath.

Hotel Asembal (Cafayate): A simple hotel rather than a hostel, this was a comfortable place to spend a few days. The bathroom had a shower that didn’t soak the entire place (rare in these parts). 100 pesos for a double room with private bath, breakfast, TV, and wi-fi.

Hostel del Centro (Salta): We had a rather large room here with a very big bathroom. Very comfortable place, well-located right near the plaza and the main sights of Salta. The only negative was no wi-fi, but we found it pretty impossible to find it anywhere in Salta except at a cafe on the plaza. 80 pesos for a double room with private bath, breakfast, and TV.

Clan House (Buenos Aires): Trying to find a reasonably priced and well-reputed hostel in Buenos Aires proved harder than we thought. For three nights prior to the arrival of Theresa’s parents, we stayed at Clan House, which was okay. Though it advertises itself as a B&B, it’s more of an upgraded hostel. The room with private bathroom was small but cute and clean. The major problem is that it’s located across from a club, which pounds music until 8 a.m. when it’s open. You’d have to be a very deep sleeper to not be bothered by it. On non-party nights, it’s fine, but stay away on weekends. 135 pesos for a double room with private bath, breakfast, TV, and wi-fi.

Apartment Rental  (Buenos Aires): With Theresa’s parents joining us in Buenos Aires, an apartment rental through BYT Argentina proved to be the best option. We chose an apartment in Palermo, which was very conveniently located, close to the Metro as well as restaurants, shopping, and more. The two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment had a TV with DVD player, wi-fi, and a balcony. The kitchen made it convenient to prepare meals for ourselves. $440 for a two-bedroom apartment for one week.

Recoleta Guesthouse (Buenos Aires): Upon returning from Iguazu Falls, we needed a place to stay for one night. This proved to be a wonderful choice. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, and a lovely breakfast with homemade breads and the like was served each morning. The guesthouse was also nice enough to store our bags for us for free while we went to Iguazu. Though the guesthouse is not very convenient to public transportation, it’s easy to get a taxi, and with a little walking, you can get most anywhere. $65 for a double room with private bathroom, free wi-fi, and breakfast.

Los Troncos (Iguazu): I wish we could have stayed another night at this wonderful place in Iguazu. The duplex we reserved was perfect for the four of us with one double bed upstairs and one downstairs and a shared bathroom downstairs. The balconies offered a nice place to relax, and the duplex was clean and comfortable. The breakfast was good, the pool was quite nice, and the staff was so friendly and accommodating. You can easily walk from the hotel to the bus station, though you do have to get off the paved road to do so. Great place. Highly recommended. $80 for duplex that slept four plus breakfast.

PLACES WE ATE:
Argentina has the best food we have had so far, with wine, steak, and gelatto topping the list. I guess that can get repetitive for some, buyt we didn’t really mind. We did cook a lot though, especially in places with limited restaurant choices but good supermarkets. We also grabbed a fair amount of empanadas on the go.

Tante Sara Cafe (Ushuaia): A trendy cafe, this was our first meal in Argentina and a welcome change from the monotony of Chile. We split a salad and a steak sandwich and enjoyed some fresh fruit juice. A bit pricey, but everything in Ushuaia is. 70 pesos for dinner for two.

Parilla La Reuda (Ushuaia): We got our money’s worth at this pricey all-you-can-eat place, where we were the second to arrive and outlasted many, many people that came after us. There’s an extensive salad and sides bar, but we took sparingly from it, saving our room for steak, chorizo, lamb, ribs, and other grilled meats. We also found room for the desert included in the price. 130 pesos for dinner for two.

Pizza Place (El Calafate): Good, but not great or special, the pizza at this place was way overpriced, and the “table service fee” was a turn-off. El Calafate is a tourist trap of a town, and if you have the choice, cook your own meals or grab something prepared from the Abu Gosch grocery store. 66 pesos for a pizza and two drinks.

Il Postino (El Calafate): We bought fresh gnocci and sauce from this place, which also servces pizzas and empanadas and took it back to our hostel to prepare and eat it. Very good. 12 pesos for 500 grams of pasta plus sauce.

Brew House (El Chalten): This German brew house serves us good brews as well as pizzas. They also give you free popcorn and nuts while you wait. 55 pesos for a shared pizza and two drinks.

MegaDoner (Cordoba): One of my favorite foods in the world is the doner kebab, so I was so excited to find this place in Cordoba. The doners were pretty authentic and definitely filling. We went twice, once for dinner and once for lunch. 33 pesos for a combo meal that comes with two doners and a liter of soda.

La Parilla de Raul (Cordoba): The steaks here were delicious, the salad was good, and the wine was reasonably priced. A bit of a walk, but it was worth it. 84 pesos for dinner for two.

La Tradicional (Cordoba): We found the best empanadas here, with a wide variety with everything from the traditional meat to chicken to tuna to napolitana. They are cooked while you wait and are very reasonably priced. They offer nothing but empanadas. 12 pesos for 6 empanandas.

Viejo Jack (Salta): Home of the best steak we had in Argentina, the tenderloin was amazing. All meat dishes are meant to be shared between two people and they are plenty big enough. The salad here is delicious and the lemonade fresh-squeezed. We went twice. 55 pesos for dinner for two.

Lunch at the Salta Market (Salta): Lots of little stands are set up in the market, all serving pretty much the same thing. The plates are huge coming with salad, rice, and potatoes and a main dish. I had chicken and Jeff had a milanese. 25 pesos for lunch for two.

Patio de Empanadas (Salta): Said to be home to the best empanadas in Salta if not all of Argentina, we found them to be just okay. 14 pesos for empanadas and drinks for two.

Luna Cautiva (Cachi): We tried the regional specialty, locro—a corn-based soup—here, as it was highly touted, but we were underwhelmed. Neither of us found it to have much taste at all. 50 pesos for two entrees and glasses of wine.

Las Dos Marias (Cafayate): It was pouring rain when we arrived in Cafayate and we were starving, so we ran to the nearest place. The food—pasta for Theresa, milanese for Jeff—was only so-so. 34 pesos for lunch for two.

Baco (Cafayate): The food here was fine—a sandwich and pasta—but the service was terrible. There was one server for a packed restaurant, and he wasn’t friendly and pretty much ignored us except to bring the food after an extremely long wait. 41 pesos for dinner for two.

Chorizo Stand in the Park (Salta): Excellent chorizo sandwiches. We started with one, but had to get a second. 21 pesos for two sandwiches each and a large soda.

Parilla del Santo (Buenos Aires): Located in San Telmo, we ate lunch here while visiting the fair. We opted for steak and chorizo sandwiches, which were pretty good. Be aware that it can get really hot in here when crowded during the summer. One man actually passed out while we were there. 80 pesos for lunch for four.

La Fabrica del Taco (Buenos Aires): This funky place in Palermo Soho serves authentic tacos in rooms painted bright colors and decorated with Mexican wrestling masks and other kitsch. Choose from barbecued beef, chicken, pork, or vegetable tacos or quesadillas. Though good, portions are a bit small. Good thing there’s always ice cream for dessert. 102 pesos for dinner for four.

Palacio de la Pizza (Buenos Aires): Vested and bow-tied waiters serve pizza and empanadas at this central Buenos Aires institution. We were there once for lunch and once for a late night dinner, and both times it was doing a good business of locals. Pizza, which is sold by the slice, is typical Argentinian style with thin crust and sometimes strange toppings, like non-pitted olives or ham that literally covers the entire pizza. The empanadas are very good. 70 pesos for lunch for four.

La Parilla 22 (Buenos Aires): This steakhouse, which is located in Palermo near our apartment, serves up very hearty meals. All four of us ordered the Bife de Chorizo, and when the order came out, we had eight steaks in total. Apparently each order is two steaks! We also had potatoes and salads. The steak was cooked well, and the leftovers made for good sandwiches the next day. 200 for dinner (and lunch the next day!) for four

California Burrito Co. (Buenos Aires): Think Chipotle. This often busy fast food joint does burritos made to order. They’re not quite as big as the ones at Chipotle, but still quite big, and are very tasty. 95 for lunch for four.

Sarkis (Buenos Aires): A Middle Eastern restaurant in Palermo, Sarkis does very tasty kebabs, stuffed peppers, Greek salads, and hummus. The portions are very large. The place seems to be quite popular with locals. We dined next to some locals who had been eating there every week for years (the tables are quite close together!) and had lots of recommendations for us. 155 for dinner for four.

Des Nivel (Buenos Aires): Your typical parilla, Des Nivel does good steaks, salads, and potatoes. We ate here twice, one just the two of us and once with Theresa’s parents, and enjoyed it both times. 175 for dinner for four.

A Piacere (Iguazu): This steak place in Iguazu turned out some of the best steaks we had in Argentina. Deliciously seasoned and cooked, we had two of our three meals in Iguazu here. They also do very good pizzas. 191 for dinner for four.

Ice Cream: Ice cream was one of our staples in Argentina. I think we had an ice cream a day, seriously. In Buenos Aires, both Freddo and Volta were quite good, though honestly nowhere was bad. Jeff’s favorite flavor was Coco con Dulce de Leche, which seemed to be much more common in southern Argentina than Buenos Aires (only found it at Volta), while Theresa loved a scoop of the Dark Chocolate mixed with a scoop of Passion Fruit. Yum.

NOTES

*Argentinian Spanish is strange and takes some getting used to. All instances of “ll” and “y” are pronounced as “sh”.

*As in Chile, the buses are excellent: reliable, on-time, safe, and comfortable. They aren’t cheap though.

*Bottles of wine can be had for just a few dollars, so it’s practically a sin to cook dinner and not have a bottle of wine with it. Malbec is the specialty of Mendoza, but Cafayate specializes in a dry white wine called Torrontes.

*Being a vegetarian in Argentina would be miserable. The steak is so, so, so good, I can’t imagine passing on it.

*The ice cream in Argentina rivals that in Italy. You practically have to have an ice cream a day.

*Many apartment rentals want payment in U.S. dollars so come prepared. Thought the ATMs seem to give you a choice of getting cash in pesos or U.S. dollars, only Argentinians can actually withdraw U.S. dollars. Strange but true. As American Express card holders, we ended up going to the American Express office, where we were able to get dollars.

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