Updated on March 16th, 2020
“Beware of Sundays – many places are closed which being used to UK opening times, I wasn’t expecting. Check websites/guidebooks if you are planning a Sunday excursion as you could be unlucky.”
I chose Buenos Aires (BA) for the city & culture, El Calafate (Patagonia) for the mountains & glaciers, Mendoza for the wine & Iguazu for the waterfalls.
What do you need to know as a first timer?
“Bring US dollars for changing but be aware that although tours etc are often quoted in the books in US dollars everything operates in Pesos (AR$).”
My advice would be to have some AR$ when you arrive (I had to get them ordered at home in the UK). We needed them for the airport taxi & if anyone carries your bag they will expect a tip (so try to get some small notes if you can). The guy expected a tip even though we carried our own bags & all he effectively did was put them in the taxi.
We arrived on a Friday & so by the time we needed cash it was the weekend. We had read that the “blue” market (changing with someone on the street) offers better rates to change money than the banks. We were told by our hosts at the Airbnb that at that time they weren’t offering different rates than the banks, so we decided to “keep it legal”. If you do want to change your money this way, you’ll have plenty of offers along the shopping area in Florida (as I didn’t do this, I can’t vouch for what kinds of rates they offer). Best to check with your accommodation to see what the current situation is so you can make your choices appropriately.
“With the banks shut at the weekend, we thought finding a Cambio would be easy – not so much. We walked a long way in the central area of town & asked numerous people before we found a place to change the US dollars we had (Florida).”
The alternative to changing $US is to use the ATM. Generally, this is my preferred method even though you are charged, to me, it feels a bit safer not carrying around too much cash. My usual method is to get out as much as possible each time so you only take 1 hit on the bank charges. Bear in mind that in Argentina the maximum I could withdraw was AR$2000 (approx. UK£100 or US$130) & each time you are charged AR$93 for the privilege (UK£5 or US$6 approx).
To get around the country I flew, having booked all flights in the UK through Trailfinders (and flying with Aerolineas). Bear in mind that the flight times changed numerous times in the weeks before so if you have booked in advance always check on the airlines’ website ahead of time so you have a clear picture of timings.
From the airports to the accommodation we took taxis for ease & speed. In BA the taxi from the airport to Palermo was AR$480. We had lost patience as one of our bags hadn’t made it, so got the taxi from the kiosk inside the airport. After reading, it appears that (unsurprisingly) if you go out of the airport, taxis are a bit cheaper.
In Iguazu Falls be aware that the airport is in the national park so you are charged AR$25 for leaving the park. Keep your ticket somewhere safe & take it with you when you go to the falls or you will get charged again. For more of my tips for planning a day at the Falls see my article (How to Plan a trip to Iguazu)
“For all taxis check that they have the meter running. We had to ask a couple of times for them to turn this on (particularly on the trips to / from the airport). If you are told that there is a fixed fee to get to BA airport don’t get in the taxi.”
I was charged AR$700 where my friend paid AR$480 (with tolls included) just a few hours before. I hate being scammed but happens to the best of us & chalk it down to experience!
Accommodation in most other places was within walking distance but we used taxis often in BA, especially at night. As in most cities, they have a light saying “Libre” when they are free & you can hail them in the street. We were staying in Palermo & as a rule of thumb, most rides seemed to be AR$100 (UK£5).
In BA we also used the Subte (underground rail) which is a great way to move around the city & a very efficient system. Our first Airbnb gave us a SUBE card, passed on between guests which you need to ride the Subte but we could both use the same card. We received it AR$12 in debt but put AR$50 on using the machine at the station which was straightforward & it did the 2 of us for 6 journeys. You can also top up your card where you see a “SUBE” sign outside kiosks across the city, BUT don’t expect it to be any less busy than the tube in London during rush hour.
“Top tip in restaurants is always check the bill thoroughly – twice we had incorrect items added which were significantly more expensive than we ordered. As a trusting soul, I like to think they were both genuine mistakes(?!)”
Some restaurants may take other currencies (but don’t rely on this), for example in Iguazu we were able to pay with US$ (they also gave us the option of Brazilian Real or Euro)
If you are not a fan of meat you will eat, but don’t expect a huge choice. My friend doesn’t eat red meat & was able to eat very well in Argentina but with a much more limited choice. For strict vegetarians, it could be a struggle if you plan to eat out.
Beware of Sundays – many places are closed which being used to UK opening times, I wasn’t expecting this. Check websites/guidebooks if you are planning a Sunday excursion as you could be unlucky. We had a whole cycling tour of the vineyards around Maipu planned while in Mendoza, only to find the cycle hire place & all the wineries on our plan were closed (lucky we just happened to check with the hotel for directions before we left). To get an alternative suggestion for Sundays in Mendoza see my article (3 Fantastic Day Trips in Mendoza).
If you are a wine lover at any level you are in the right place in Argentina. If you are a wine lover but not a connoisseur, then a great option when offered in restaurants is to go for the ‘pingüino’ of house wine. The wines were good but as its house, it’s a fraction of the price & I found you get a good 4 glasses. The penguin jugs are very cute & you can buy them on the markets in BA.
Where I Slept, Ate & Drank…
I stayed here at the start & end of my trip, in different Airbnb options & although both in Palermo, the areas felt very different. I would recommend either for fantastic hosts & good locations
For specifics about activities in BA please see my article (Top 5 Things To Do in Buenos Aires). This includes more details on some of the options below.
I would also recommend several restaurants:
- Casa Felix – a ‘closed-door’ restaurant where you get to share a 5-course tasting menu in a courtyard around one big table with up to 20 fellow diners. The restaurant specialises in seafood & vegetarian & costs AR$680 per head (cash only), not including drinks. The restaurant is only open from Thurs – Sat & I would recommend booking ahead to avoid disappointment (it was one of the highlights of my time in BA). You are asked to arrive at 9.30pm (& no earlier)!
- Don Julio – a well recommended traditional Parrilla for an excellent steak. Arrive early (before 7.30pm) to avoid a long wait for a table (although they do serve sparkling wine while you wait to ease the pain!), or reserve beforehand.
- Las Pizarras – A small restaurant with a local feel & excellent food. Again, arrive early if you don’t have a booking to avoid disappointment
- La Hormiga – reasonably priced family orientated restaurant in Palermo Soho
- La Panera Rosa – great place for breakfast if you fancy an enormous waffle or crepe in Palermo Soho
- La Biela – big café with outdoor seating next to Recoleta Cemetery. Be warned though it is pricey & a sandwich & a beer cost more than our dinner the night before with wine!
And a few bars…
- Rey de Copas – fantastic cocktails & if the weather is good I would recommend enjoying them on the roof.
- Bar Dorrego – if you are in the mood for a traditional place to watch the world go by with a bit of tango thrown in, in San Telmo.
Where I stayed was South B&B which I booked through Airbnb again. This is a very basic but quirky & friendly B&B run by a brother & sister with character! It’s up the hill from the town but a good location in walking distance (10 – 15 minutes depending on how much you need to stop on the uphill!). Homemade bread, eggs & cake for breakfast.
And some restaurants…
- Mi Rancho – recommended & booked by our B&B. There are 2 & we were strongly advised to go for the original, smaller option. We weren’t disappointed.
- Viva la Pepe – if you fancy a crepe – particularly good vegetarian options
- La Lechuza – a well-advertised pizza restaurant but not brilliant pizzas. But if you’re hungry & love cheese, it’s a good option.
- La Zorra – if you fancy a beer, you can’t beat this place – they brew their own
- Librobar – service was a bit slow but if you like books & fancy a seat upstairs to watch the world go by in the bizarre gnome themed area (?!), this is the place for you!
- La Tienda de Vinos – thoroughly recommended if you are buying a bottle of wine or just want to sit down with a glass. They have just opened the café/bar option & were very friendly, helpful & offer a taste before you buy options.
I stayed at the Bohemia Boutique Hotel & would thoroughly recommend it for the location & the service.
For more details on activities in Mendoza see my article (3 Fantastic Day Trips in Mendoza)
I ate & drank (a lot!!) in…
- Bodega Ruca Malen – 5-course tasting menu perfect for a loose end on a Sunday
- On the wine tour with Trout & Wine, I also visited
- Pulenta Estate
- Finca Sophenia
- Andeluna – (5-course tasting lunch (again!)
- El Mercadito – fantastic salads for once you’ve overindulged on too many 5-course tasting menus!
- El Palenque – excellent food & great spot on the terrace outside for people watching
I stayed at the Cantera Jungle Lodge in a lovely cabin in the rainforest. Very friendly, helpful staff & they offer bus transfers to & from the Falls National Park. Great breakfast also included.
Where I ate…
The hotel restaurant is good but expensive. There is no bar there but you can get drinks to take back to your room if you ask
Color Restaurant in Iguazu Town – Good pizzas & allowed payment in a number of currencies (US$, Brazilian Real, Euro & of course AR$)
Where next time?
I would go back in a second to Argentina to revisit all these places & spend more time exploring. Patagonia could easily take up 2 weeks, then there’s the Lake District, Salta… The list is endless & wherever you go I have no doubt you will eat & drink very well!
What do you think?
Where else should be on the list for first timers visiting Argentina?
What are your top tips & practical advice for first-time visitors to Argentina?
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