This guide to backpacking in Argentina will prepare you for navigating this great land of passionate cities, vast distances, world-beating wine and awe-inspiring nature.
Argentina has a little bit of everything. Its cities are vibrant hubs of music, food and dancing, while its scenery features wonders like the spectacular Iguassu Falls, the colossal Perito Moreno Glacier and the otherworldly Hill of Seven Colours. This guide to backpacking in Argentina prepares you for planning the trip of a lifetime. For the vast southern region, you can also see our recommended itineraries for Patagonia.
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Argentina travel: the basics
Currency: Argentine peso (ARS). See today’s exchange rates at xe.com.
Safety: Argentina is generally very safe to visit, although petty street crime can be a nuisance for tourists, particularly in cities. We found this out when we fell victim to a Buenos Aires distraction scam robbery shortly after arriving. After this incident we took care to be alert and savvy, and had no further problems. Prepare by reading these useful Argentina safety tips by our recommended insurer World Nomads.
Language: Spanish is the foremost language in Argentina, spoken by over 95% of the population. Argentine Spanish can be tricky to understand; here are some slang phrases to learn before you go.
Best time to visit: Summer in Argentina (December–February) can get very hot and crowded. The shoulder seasons of September–November (spring) and April–June (fall) are good times for milder weather, fewer crowds and seeing wine country in blooming colour.
Top experiences and attractions in Argentina
Best tours in Argentina
Small group tours are expected to be a popular option as the world adjusts to an era of social distancing. In Argentina we recommend G Adventures, a world-leading organiser of small group tours. Many of its South America packages include highlights of Argentina.
G Adventures works with trusted and knowledgeable local guides to create their tour itineraries and experiences. We chose them for our Inca Trail experience in Peru, largely because of their ethical approach to local workers – and we came away with the experience of a lifetime. These are some of their tours that include Argentina:
There are many more wonders to explore around Argentina, whether independently or in a small group setting. Here are some of the country’s must-see attractions, along with our resources for exploring them and guided tour recommendations:
Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the country’s great natural wonders. Find out more in our things to do in El Calafate, the nearby base town.
Our Patagonia trekking guide features many of the best hikes on the Argentina side of the region, with guidance on going solo.
Argentina’s cities are where the magic happens. From the energetic bustle of Buenos Aires to the wine-drenched serenity of Mendoza, each has its own charm and a wealth of culture, architecture and cuisine to explore. These are the country’s top cities to visit:
Mendoza is not only Argentina’s wine capital, but also a springboard for Andean exploration. Here’s Nomadic Matt’s guide.
Ushuaia, the ‘city at the end of the world’, is a popular entry point for Patagonia. These are the top things to do in Ushuaia.
Córdoba is a colonial city with a big student population and social vibe. See these things to do in Córdoba by Albom Adventures.
Food and drink in Argentina
Argentinian steak holds legendary status all over the world, but it’s not the only thing going for the nation’s wholesome cuisine. While meat is firmly at the heart of Argentina’s culinary culture, soy beans are actually the country’s top-produced food, so there is plenty of variety for veggie explorers too.
What to eat in Argentina
Asado – the national dish and a staple for social gatherings, whereby a variety of meat cuts are slow-cooked over a BBQ grill.
Chimichurri – the famous steak sauce, or “Argentinian pesto”, standard to serve with meat dishes and easy to recreate at home.
Dulce de leche – a caramel made from condensed milk that is the basis for seemingly every sweet dish and snack in the country.
Empanadas – the classic South American snack and a big favourite in Argentina, comprising pastry filled with meat, veg or cheese.
Alfajores – our favourite sweet treat, a biscuit–cake hybrid filled typically with dulce de leche, best when topped with chocolate.
Locro – a hearty corn-based stew popular in the north-west of the country, crammed with various beans, meats and vegetables.
What to drink in Argentina
Malbec – Argentina’s signature red wine; the country produces 75% of the world’s supply of the stuff. Rich, full-bodied and fruity.
Torrontés – a fruity, aromatic white wine produced almost exclusively in Argentina, particularly in the Salta region.
Fernet – a strong and bitter herbal liqueur originating in Italy that has gained huge popularity in Argentina, often mixed with cola.
Yerba mate – this herby leaf tea is an intrinsic part of Argentine culture, slurped through a straw from a gourd (a bowl-like cup).
Festivals, celebrations and other dates for your calendar
You can bring some extra spice to your Argentina experience by combining your trip with a festival or celebration. These are some to consider:
Buenos Aires Tango Festival, August – a two-week celebration of the nation’s favourite dance, with street competitions and lessons.
Oktoberfest, October – a week-long German-inspired beer festival in the village of Villa General Belgrano near Córdoba.
Cosquín Folk Festival, January/February – a nine-day celebration of folklore, music, dance and food.
Vendimia Harvest Festival, March – Mendoza is host to Argentina’s biggest wine celebration, with shows and tastings aplenty.
Carnival, February – crowds gather in the city of Gualeguaychú near Buenos Aires for dancing, drinking and street parties.
Nation Day, 25 May – parades and marches across the country to celebrate the declaration of independence in 1810.
Getting around Argentina
Travelling around Argentina involves covering huge distances, and many visitors prefer to fly. Aerolineas Argentinas is the flag carrier and largest airline, although you can search and compare a range of flight options on Skyscanner.
However, if you’re willing to take the time to travel overland you will be rewarded with some beautiful journeys. For example, the legendary Ruta 40 provides one of the world’s great road trip opportunities, stretching over 5,000 kilometres down the west side of the country along the Andes mountains. You can find and compare the best hire car options using RentalCars.
We usually choose to travel by bus in Argentina. The standard of comfort and service is generally very high, and on long trips you can save a night’s accommodation by travelling overnight. Busbud is a useful tool for finding and comparing bus services.
Accommodation in Argentina
In Argentina you will find some of the best quality accommodation in South America. We have stayed in hotels, apartments and hostels all over the country, we have camped and Couchsurfed, and had positive experiences across the board. Use booking.com to find the best accommodation options in Argentina to suit your travel style.
For budget accommodation in Argentine Patagonia, see our guides to the best hostels in Bariloche and El Calafate. In Buenos Aires, we give a shout-out to Rayuela Hostel, which has a friendly team of staff and runs a brilliant asado night once a week. Similarly, Hostel Lao in Mendoza is great value for money, and hosts regular social events and traditional meals.
Watch this space for our upcoming budget accommodation guides on Argentina’s cities.
Packing for Argentina
Argentina covers a diverse range of climates and terrains, from the tropical regions of the north to the cold extremities of Patagonia in the south, including the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia. With this in mind, your packing needs for Argentina will vary depending on what’s in your travel itinerary. Wander Argentina’s useful packing list offers advice for specific destinations within the country.
Argentina is one of the most expensive countries to travel in South America. Prices in Buenos Aires are comparable to western European cities, while Patagonia is the region with the country’s highest travel costs (see our review of Patagonia trip costs). However, recent years have seen prolonged economic volatility in the country, with the Argentine peso slumping in value over time – resulting in prices dropping quite significantly.
See xe.com for the latest exchange rates. The prices below show general examples based on national averages; Budget Your Trip provides useful cost information by city or region.
Budget: hostel dorm rooms from $6
Mid-range: basic hotel rooms from $20–25
Luxury: high-end hotels from $60
Budget: cheap restaurants from $5 a meal
Mid-range: regular restaurant meal, $10–15
Luxury: fancy restaurant meal from $20
Budget: intercity buses
Mid-range: domestic flights
Most expensive: long-distance car hire
Great books about Argentina
Argentina is a land of many stories, with a history and culture that has deep and fascinating roots. Reading a good book about the country or set in its cities is a great way to absorb yourself in the culture and give you a taster of what to expect. These are our favourite Argentina books:
The Tango Singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez, a fictional tale of a student’s search in Buenos Aires for a legendary tango singer.
The Argentina Reader by Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo, a collection of short works on the country’s history and culture.
The Secret in their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri, a thriller about a retired detective in Buenos Aires, adapted into an Oscar-winning movie.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges, a collection of short stories by one of Argentina’s most celebrated authors.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, a classic travel book focusing largely on his expedition through the Argentina side of the region.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guavara, recounting the revolutionary’s South America travels, beginning in Argentina.
Get our free brief guide to Argentina
We have created a series of brief guides to give you snapshots of information about our favourite destinations. Our Argentina edition combines concise information presented on this page with more essential tips and tricks for travelling in the country.