Argentina came as a surprise to Peter and I. We wanted to go somewhere warm in the fall where we could use miles for free flights. In spring 2022, we found such tickets to Argentina which we thought would be cool since neither of us had been to South America.
We also found that Argentina is a meat-eater’s culinary dream and has many of our favorite outdoor activities, such as some of the world’s best hiking. The country has more cattle than humans and is the second largest consumer market for beef in the world.
We didn’t have many expectations, but Argentina exceeded our imaginations. However, this trip came with some difficulties to overcome. We felt at times as if we were in a game having to solve one challenge after another, and in this article, we’d like to share some things we learned in the hopes of helping some other travelers out and perhaps inspiring some to trek to this gorgeous country.
1. Flight’s delayed? Don’t give up on the airlines
Our first battle came before we left our DC apartment. We received notifications that the first flight of our journey, to Miami, was delayed due to heavy rain at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), and likely would cause us to miss our connection to Buenos Aires. We still left for the airport, thinking it would be better to work directly with customer service at the gates to figure things out.
That was the right move. All the flights were delayed out of DCA. After speaking with multiple American Airlines representatives on the phone and in person at the airport, we rerouted from DCA to JFK, which had a connection to Buenos Aires that night. Everything seemed fine, but that flight was also delayed and we didn’t know if we would make that connection either.
We didn’t. After a couple sprints through the terminal once we landed at JFK, airline reps booked us on a flight to São Paulo, Brazil that night, and we connected from there to Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) in the morning.
Once we arrived in Brazil, airline attendants were waiting with new tickets for us to fly to the city center airport (Aeroparque – AEP) in Buenos Aires instead of EZE, two hours earlier than initially planned. We took those new tickets so we could get to Argentina sooner and arrive within the city where we could then walk to our hotel instead of taking a taxi.
We arrived in Buenos Aires to a warm, sunny summer evening and had a beautiful walk along the water into the city to our hotel. Due to the multiple, quick flight changes, our checked luggage – two large hiking backpacks – did not catch up. So, we traveled light with only a small backpack, a drawstring bag, and the clothes we wore. Everything worked out. We were on schedule for our Argentine adventure thanks to many calls, conversations, and negotiations with the airline’s customer service; it was worth it.
2. You need way less than you think to live
Every travel blog probably says this, for good reason. For five days we lived with only the basic necessities.
We left Buenos Aires the morning after we arrived in Argentina and flew to the town of El Calafate in Patagonia. Our bags did not make it to Buenos Aires before we left. We asked the airline if they could send them to the airport in El Calafate within the four days we’d be in Patagonia. They said they could. We didn’t know if it would actually work out, but we left Buenos Aires anyway, as our adventure was more important than our clothes. We bought a few clothing items along the way as we needed but otherwise didn’t think much about it and became enthralled in the beauty of Patagonia.
3. Double-check your car reservation is for automatic, not manual
When we arrived in El Calafate, our first stop was the airport Hertz stall. We booked a car through them and thought we’d be on our way fast. The woman there asked if we were okay with the car we’d booked and indicated it was a manual. Neither of us know how to drive a manual. We completely forgot that the rest of the world outside of the U.S. and maybe Canada doesn’t drive many automatic cars. Lucky for us, the woman said to try Avis next door, since they usually had automatics. They did, and we were fortunate enough to get one on the spot since they had just gotten a load of brand new automatics. With average wind speeds of 21.8mph, we didn’t think this would be the ideal time to attempt learning to drive a stick shift for the first time.
The freedom of that rental car was immense, and we drove to Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. Having never seen a glacier before, it was magical. It looked like an elevated ice highway with bright blue fissures in the sides that radiated remarkably.
4. Share a meal with other travelers
From the glacier, we drove to the picturesque Estancia La Estela, a ranch bed and breakfast, nestled along the deep blue glacial lake, Lago Viedma. The views and food at the Estancia were breath taking. Our stay there made us fall thoroughly in love with Argentina, and we’d recommend La Estela to everyone. We met a few U.S. travelers over our dinner of ribeyes (cooked perfectly and neat with minimal added ingredients) and provoleta (grilled provolone cheese).
Initially hesitant to share our time with strangers at the La Estela dinner, we were so happy we did. We swapped stories from current and past travels, got tips for the next leg of our journey, and connecting with others made our trip so much richer. When the opportunity presents itself, it is worth meeting fellow travelers over some good food and wine.
Upon leaving the Estancia, we drove to the town of El Chalten, passing llama crossing signs and seeing the famous Mount Fitz Roy in the distance. From the trailhead in El Chalten, we hiked the 14 mile out and back trail for Laguna De Los Tres, to a crystal clear lake near the base of Mount Fitz Roy. It was stunning.
5. Grocery stores for fast, healthy snacks
While near the base of Mount Fitz Roy on our hike, we rested over a lunch of cheese, cured meats, and fruit bought at a local grocery store in El Chalten. This is a great, cheap, and largely universal on-the-go lunch while traveling and something that’s become a habit for us wherever we are.
Some helpful charcuterie words for Spanish-speaking areas:
Bresaola (lean and tender air-dried beef, dark red in color)
Salami Milano (dry-cured pork)
6. Eat the lamb
On our last day in Patagonia, we asked the hotel receptionist at Blanca Patagonia Hotel in El Calafate where to go for the best Patagonian lamb – the region’s most famous meat dish. La Tablita was the restaurant recommended to us – known for its lamb barbecue or parilla, the Spanish word for grill.
It lived up to the hype. We ate Cordero Patagónico (Patagonian lamb) while they slow-roasted an entire lamb over an open fire, carving it for all to see. Peter was thrilled to see they had sweetbreads and tongue on the menu as well, but the lamb was too filling for us to try anything else.
We grabbed a nightcap at Shackleton Solo, an old fashioned lounge bar, with a vast vinyl selection that guests could choose from. It was a bar on the outskirts of El Calafate near our hotel and is named after the Anglo-Irish explorer, Ernest Shackleton, who led expeditions to Antarctica over 100 years ago.
On this last day in Patagonia, we called American Airlines to see where our luggage was and if it made it to the El Calafate airport, a place where American Airlines did not fly itself. Much to our surprise, our bags made it! We were able to pick them up that day at the airport and both audibly exclaimed, “WOW,” upon seeing them in disbelief. We were impressed with American Airlines and with Argentina’s general logistics for pulling off such a feat.
With our luggage in tow, we traveled to Salta in the northern tip of the country, watching Argentina play Australia in the World Cup during a layover at the Cordoba airport. *Bonus tip – watch the world cup outside of the U.S.; it’s way more fun.*
In Salta, there was limited time and car selection and long drives ahead for sightseeing, so we canceled our manual car reservation with Hertz (all three of our car reservations were for manuals). Instead, we booked a day tourbus for the journey four hours north that we wanted to make to Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes.
In Purmamarca, (in Jujuy Province, not Jujuy City, we learned), we ate yummy llama steak and hiked around the multi-colored rocks from millions of years ago. The colors were breathtaking. In Jujuy Province, we also saw and walked around the Salinas Grandes – massive salt mines that covered the ground close to the Bolivian border.
7. Stay at 5-star hotels that include breakfast
When in budget, this saves time, and the higher cost makes up for what you’d pay for breakfast and lunch.
In Salta, we stayed at a swanky hotel, the Sheraton Salta, with a delicious breakfast loaded with plenty of cured meats and eggs, fruits and gorgeous landscape views from the elevator, hotel pool, and stair-hike up the mountain behind the hotel (which also included the Stations of the Cross for all our Catholic friends).
We filled our bellies with the hotel breakfast each morning and didn’t need lunch. Also, the 5-star hotels were half or less of the cost than in the U.S., well within budget. From Salta, we traveled to the wine region of Mendoza known for Malbec, and stayed at another nice hotel with great breakfast so we could operate the same way.
8. Exchange USD for Pesos
In Mendoza, we once again swapped our manual car reservation for an automatic. This time, however, we were told we’d have to pay via credit card only. One way we saved a lot of money in Argentina was from paying cash for everything.
The unofficial/non-government exchange rates there can get you up to double the value for your U.S. Dollars. We first exchanged about $500 USD at a Western Union for a rate of $288 pesos per $1 USD. For reference, the government rate was $160 pesos/$1 USD. A couple days later, we exchanged another $400 USD at a restaurant in Patagonia at the end of our dinner that posted their “blue-rate” exchange rate on the entrance. That rate was $310 pesos/$1 USD. If paying with credit card, you automatically are using the government exchange rate and paying a lot more.
However, there was an exception for the Mendoza rental car. We could pay in cash if we made a cash deposit in pesos to the Avis bank account at a Chinese bank closer to the city center. So, that’s what we did. It seemed shady, but it worked and saved us $250 USD on our rental car. It was well-worth the one-hour drive at 9am into the city since we couldn’t start wine tours that early.
9. Know how you want your steak cooked, in Spanish
We ate several of the best ribeye steaks we’ve ever had in Argentina. From Patagonia to Mendoza, the beef is world class. Our first night in Mendoza, we had a ribeye steak with tomato chutney at our hotel, the Auberge du Vin. Ordering was easy despite the language barrier, but it would have been better had we known these Spanish phrases for ordering steak.
Rare = Bien Jugoso (bee-en who-go-so) (means very juicy)
Medium Rare = Jugoso (who-go-so) (means juicy)
Medium = A Punto (ah poon-toe)
Well-Done = Bien Cocido (bee-yen co-see-doh
10. Try organ meats abroad; they know how to properly cook them
During our one full day in Mendoza, we toured Zorzal Wines in Argentina’s famed Uco Valley, near our hotel. We learned that wineries, called Bodegas in Argentina, are a little different than wineries in the U.S. To do a tasting, you need to make a reservation, and could be the only people touring the winery. Also, don’t expect the winery to serve food, or stay and hang out eating and drinking with friends, particularly without a reservation.
At Zorzal, we learned that they were the first winery in the region to ferment and age their wine in large concrete eggs. A novel and untraditional method when first introduced there, now most wine producers in the region produce some wine in concrete eggs. Zorzal is still breaking the molds though, through their continual innovation and refusal to follow strict, traditional wine-making processes. For example, they use a mix of stainless steel drums, concrete eggs, concrete squares, and wooden barrels for aging, depending on the temperature and taste they’re trying to achieve.
Following Zorzal, we ate the best dinner ever, a five-course meal with wine pairings, at another nearby winery, Casa Petrini. Also requiring a reservation, we had the restaurant all to ourselves indulging in the food and wine while seated on the restaurant porch with some vineyard cats and dogs, looking into the sunset over the Andes Mountains. It was magical.
Dinner included Mojellas (sweetbreads) and bife de lomo (tenderloin) cooked to perfection. It was delicious. I am not as enthusiastic about eating organ meats as my husband, so I regrettably did not order the Mojellas. However, I tasted his and wished that I had. Argentina knows how to make organs desirable. While both eating the tenderloin, we asked our waiter Rodrigo how much Argentine beef is grass-fed, and he said it’s about 50/50 grass-fed v. grain-fed. Remarkable and amazing!
This trip was one of our favorites and one we’ll never forget! We hope to go back, definitely to Patagonia, and hope that these tips will help those visiting this beautiful country. As a final point to visit Argentina, neither of us speak Spanish and were totally fine! Language barriers are easy to overcome :)
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Thank you, Julie!! What an enjoyable read, hearing of your South American adventures with Peter!! Informative and delightful!! Merry, Blessed Christmas to you both!
Great post, thanks for sharing! Definitely on our list of places to visit. The food and nature sound amazing!