A country with a noticeable Italian influence, the tradition of sharing a mate, tango, and good wine.
On our way to Córdoba we had a night in Salta in a hostel. The owner gave us with his friendly nature a great start in Argentina. In Córdoba we were first hosted by Felix from couchsurfing who is very knowledgeable about his country and areas for trekking. We had many nice conversations in his home and out with his friends. After we were hosted by Celeste for almost a week. She is such an amazing and sweet girl with a big heart and cute smile. I loved our stay in Córdoba. The city is modern, historical, has many calm areas, a great nightlife, many trees, and organic stores. Every Wednesday all museums are free. I really enjoyed the Museo Emilio Caraffa (15 ARS). The Paseo del Buen Pastor and the Paseo de las Artes are nice areas to walk around.
Buses inside the city are 12.55 ARS per way. I liked the donation-based La Docta walking tour at 5pm. There is another one at 11am. Both take around 3 hours (https://ladoctafreetour.com/).
When we arrived in Rosario, our couchsurfing host, Franco, welcomed us with a delicious vegan dinner. Together with his boyfriend Federico, they spread a great vibe which made us feel home. One evening they invited us to join them to an event (Ciudades felices) they helped to organize. They work for an NGO that develops citizen participation projects around the country. It was a great and interesting week with them. Rosario is one of the greenest cities in Argentina (e.g. Parque de la Independencia). I loved to walk along the river. People lay on the grass, share mate, and play music. Rosario has a reputation as being a dangerous city. That comes from the surroundings of Rosario where most poor people live. The city centre is safe though. I was positively surprised when I found a commune garden with herbs and vegetables in one of the many parks. A sign of trust. Rosario also has a bike share with tandems (Mi bici, tu bici). You have to register 72 hours ahead for using it. The city also closes one main road for cars every Sunday from 8 am to 12.30 pm so anyone can use it with their skates and scooters. The centro cultural “La Toma” is worth a visit. We bought peanut butter there (69 ARS).
Buenos Aires was built to impress. Some parts of the million city are very modern, others very historical, and others contain slums. Tango is part of the identity of Buenos Aires. One of my hosts is a professional tango dancer and took me to a Milonga. The waterfront of La Boca is famous for its brightly coloured houses, many tourists, and is supposedly where tango originated. Every afternoon at around 4 pm (especially on Sundays) couples dance tango for tips in Plaza Dorrego. The trendy Soho Palermo neighbourhood has some nice coffee shops and some of the best nightlife. The Recoleta Cemetery is interesting in that respect that the people are buried in small, well designed mausoleums. Some were in good condition, others seemed ignored. I liked how plants and trees were growing around them.
The El Ateneo bookshop is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. Converted from a beautiful theatre it has retained many of its original features. Riding the metro put me in a bad mood. Many people are stressed and spread a very negative vibe. But Buenos Aires does have a lot of things to do and many beautiful parks to recharge energy. My favourite was Centenario Park. A great place to lie in the grass, have a picnic, drink mate, listen to street musicians, or exercise. Some people were selling vegan sandwiches.
Buenos Aires has a bicycle share (free the first hour on weekdays). Accessible either by an app (you need internet, BA EcoBici) or with a card (you need to register and pick it up). There are bike lines but I did not feel so safe. Mainly because of pedestrians and motorcycles that are not aware of this bike line. To use the metro (subte) you need to buy a SUBE card (25 ARS, unlimited number of transfers). With each journey costing 7.50 ARS.
One day, through Hangout on couchsurfing, I met Dano in El Tigre. El Tigre is a great, green, and quiet place along the river north of the city for those who would like to escape the busy city life (12 ARS from Retiro with the SUBE card). Dano’s dad used to work for a boat company in El Tigre so he gifted me a free ticket for a boat ride. We were on the boat for 2.5 hours and talked nonstop about nutrition, motivation, psychology, his ketogenic diet, apple cider vinegar, intermitted fasting, writing, and more. It was very inspiring and the next day we met up again with my boyfriend. It was a great day.
We volunteered in Chascomús in a permaculture eco community. I was responsible to cook each day for 15-20 people. Conscious, organic and vegan food based on cereals, legumes, oilseeds, nuts, and seasonal vegetables. I loved it. My boyfriend helped in the beginning building a house with natural construction techniques. Later he helped me in the kitchen. It was a good experience. I learnt a lot about different dynamics in a community.
Mendoza Province is Argentina’s most important wine region. We went with the bus to Maipú for some wine and olive oil tours (bus Nr. 171-173; 11 ARS; ask a local from where). The bus dropped us off very close to Mr. Hugo’s bike rental where we rented a bicycle for the whole day (100 ARS each). Some tasting and tours are free (e.g. Bodegas López). Others between 60 and 200 ARS for 2-6 glasses of wine. Check the opening times. They are usually between 10 am and 6 pm. I enjoyed the tour and tasting in the Bodega Familia Cecchin most. Their wine is organic. They planted fruit trees to attract the insects so they won’t eat the grapes. In between the grapes they planted rosemary and oregano to fight against the bugs. After the fermentation they use the skin and seeds of the grapes as compost. At Atomo Conviene LAUR TURISMO we tried a lot of different olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and a delicious bean and olive paste (50 ARS).
Our couchsurfing host had a beautiful house with garden. He ususally rents it on Airbnb when he is not there. We are very lucky that we could enjoy there some days.
We visited the Dique Valle Grande. A stunning artificial lake with a hike down to a river. For that we took a bus from the Terminal Nestor Kirchner to Valle Grande (last stop, 57 ARS). There are only three buses per day during low-season. The earliest bus leaves at 7.20 am on weekdays and 8.50 am on weekends. Unfortunately, the public transport in San Rafael is not very good (10 ARS per way). Therefore most people use their car, bicycle or walk.
Another day we visited the donation-based wine tasting tour at Finca y Bodega La Abeja. The first opened winery in San Rafael. If you would like a tour in English it is necessary to write them before. I learnt a lot about the history of San Rafael, that the earlier you stop the fermentation process (through cooling it down) the sweeter is the wine, and that the microorganisms turn the sugar of the grapes into alcohol.
Neuquén is a windy city that has a nice river. Sol, our couchsurfing host, welcomed my boyfriend and I with a super delicious vegan cake. She took us to a contemporary museums night where we met up with another couchsurfer. It was a great night. Sol helped us with getting the bus ticket, showed us her art, and even brought us to the bus terminal the next morning.
San Martín de Los Andes
The moment I got off the bus, I had a big grin on my face. Everything seemed familiar to me. I felt at home. The smell of sturdy wooden houses, the lake, the mountains, the forest, the mild climate, the roses. I was surprised what triggered this supposedly familiar environment in me. A peaceful happiness. I realized how much I miss Switzerland. San Martín de Los Andes has a beautiful scenic outpost (Mirador Bandurrias). The hike is around 30 minutes from the city center and leads through a forest. There are a couple of natural food stores (e.g. Mystica Natural), some nice coffee places (e.g. Cafe Danes) and parks.
Christian, our couchsurfing host, was amazing. He invited us to many places and events with friends. We had many meals, laughs, interesting conversation, and walks in the mountains together (e.g. Cerro Colorado for sunset, five hours there and back).
From San Martín de Los Andes we hitchhiked the Route of the Seven Lakes to Bariloche. Some of the lakes around Villa La Angostura are turkish coloured because of the minerals of the volcanic eruption of Puyehue in 2011. Bariloche is a windy city that is mainly famous for its beautiful surrounding nature.
We stayed there with Martina, a friend of mine from primary school. She has lived in Bariloche for more than ten years. She and her mum received us with open arms in their house with a garden full of beautiful roses. Martina showed us some hidden spots in Bariloche, and introduced us to many of her friends. She also plays many instruments. My boyfriend mentioned wanting to learn the basics of playing guitar and she invited a friend over to teach him. One night she invited us to a relaxing gong-bath. It was my first time and I enjoyed it very much.
We made a day trip to El Bolsón together. A city known to be artisanal. Even the hairdresser is artisanal. We booked a tour in the Earthship Patagonia Hostel (each day at 4 pm, free).
After spending Christmas together we all went to Frutillar in Chile where we rented a cabana for a few days. It was a fun and relaxing time with lots of great conversations. For using the bus in Bariloche you can use the same SUBE card as in Buenos Aires.
Mate is a caffeine-rich infused drink that is fundamental to the culture of Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. Over 90% of the population consumes it. It is prepared by filling a container, typically a gourd, up to three-quarters full with dry leaves of the yerba mate, and filling it up with water at a temperature of 70–80 °C usually from a thermos flask. It is served with a long silver straw with a filter at the bottom. Mate is usually shared. It is spending quality time with friends and family. Everyone drinks from the same cup and uses the same straw. You finish the whole cup and give it to the next person. There are unspoken rules. One person acts as the sole server for the group. And if you say “thank you”, you don’t want anymore. The last rule I did not know for a long time and was always wondering why they left me out after my first cup. One guy explained me how to pour and how to rearrange the pile of tea leaves after each serving. The first time I tried Mate I was in Costa Rica. My couchsurfing host was originally from Argentina. It tasted very bitter and I was wondering how it is possible people like it. I had been offered to share a cup many times after and each time I liked it a little bit more and I started to want another sip. Like my experience with coffee. There is no doubt that it has addictive qualities. Later I learnt some people in hotter areas drink mate cold (called tereré), add sugar, dried orange skins, ginger, coconut, or cacao shells. The imagination knows no limits. I really enjoy the mate tradition and I think we can learn a lot from it.
Interesting to know
- In 1947, Argentina got women’s right to vote. In Switzerland only in 1971 (at federal level). At cantonal level 1958-1990.
- Since 2010 same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina. In Switzerland a registered partnerships for same-sex couples is legal since 2007. A constitutional amendment to legalize same-sex marriage is currently pending in the Swiss Parliament.
- In the middle of the 19th century began the Italian immigration and reached its peak in the first two decades of the 20th century. In Argentina live many people from other countries as well (e.g. Germany, Spain). Many native people got killed.
- Universities are free for everybody. Even foreigners.
- Going out dancing starts at around 2 am.
Eating in Argentina has its own blog entry: Vegan eating in Argentina. The tap water at most places is safe to drink. Not in Chascomús.
- Couchsurfing is popular in most bigger cities in Argentina. We found a host in each city besides Salta.
- Hostels are available for 140-240 ARS per night in a dorm. The south of Argentina is more expensive.
- Volunteering is a nice option to spend a few weeks at one place.
The transport system in Argentina is organized for South America. There exist no bus maps but on Google maps are most bus connection with times, numbers, and location from where to take the bus. Long-distance buses are very expensive and cost about 60 to 100 ARS per hour, do not stop, but do have a working on-board toilet. Local collectivos inside a city are usually 8 to 15 ARS.
Buses we took:
- Bus from Salta to Córdoba: 1’197 ARS (12-13h, FlechaBus).
- Bus from Córdoba to Rosario: 520 ARS (7h, Sierras de Cordoba).
- Bus from Buenos Aires (Retiro) to Chascomús: 178 ARS (2h, Condor Estrella).
- Bus from Buenos Aires (Retiro) to Mendoza: 1’050 ARS (17h, Nueva Chevallier).
- Bus from Neuquén to San Martín de Los Andes: 570 ARS (8h, Albus).
Car sharing: CarpooleAR (app and website). Similar to BlaBlaCar in Europe. It is not very known yet. Therefore it works better in the north of Argentina. We used it from Rosario to Buenos Aires (150 ARS each). It is double as fast than the bus.
We hitchhiked for shorter distances (< 3h).
Like anywhere else it is important to be careful and use plain common sense. Ask which the neighbourhoods you should avoid are. Petty theft and slashing (of bags) is rare.
There is a public and a private healthcare. The public one is free. Also for people from other countries. The private healthcare is around 30 USD per consultation (tests, treatments, and operations cost extra). The quality is one of the best in South America.
Argentina’s weather differs greatly depending on topography and degree of latitude of the region. It is the 8th largest country by area with all four seasons. The south of Argentina is best to visit in summer from December to February. In Winter (June to August) the sun goes down very early during the day and therefore it is much colder than it already is. The north of Argentina is nice to visit from Spring to Autumn (September to May).
Spanish is the official and predominant language. English is taught since elementary school. There are at least 40 spoken languages in Argentina. They include indigenous and immigrant languages (e.g. Italian, Arabic, German).
One notable pronunciation difference found in Argentina is the “sh” sounding y and ll (e.g. yo, ella, llave). In most Spanish speaking countries the letters y and ll are pronounced somewhat like the “y” in yo-yo, however in most parts of Argentina they are pronounced such as the sound the “sh” makes in “shoe”. The Italian immigration influenced Lunfardo, the slang spoken in the Río de la Plata region. In Argentina they use the pronoun vos instead of tú (“you”).
Official currency: Peso (ARS). Since the late 20th century, the Argentine peso has experienced a substantial rate of devaluation, reaching 25% in 2017. At most banks it is only possible to withdraw less than 1000 ARS each time.
No entrance or exit fees. The Visa is for 90 days (free for most countries). If you want to stay longer in Argentina you can either leave the country for a few hours and return with a new 90-day visa (free) or you can extend your visa for a fee.