Argentines love children and you will generally find them helpful and understanding if you’re travelling as a family. Most hotels have triple rooms or suites with connecting rooms to accommodate families and will be able to provide a cot if you have a small child (ask when you reserve).
When it comes to eating out, only the very snootiest restaurants will turn children away or look pained when you walk in; the vast majority will do their best to make sure you and your offspring are comfortable and entertained. Highchairs are sometimes, but not always, provided. It is quite normal to see children out with their parents until late – you may well see families strolling home at 1 or 2am, especially in summer. Bring any children’s medicines that you are likely to need with you and if your child gets sick, go to a private hospital, preferably in one of the larger cities, where you will be attended by a pediatrician rapidly and professionally. Discreet breastfeeding in public is fine. Supplies such as nappies/diapers are widely available, but changing facilities are practically nonexistent, so you will have to get used to changing on the move.
Argentina’s natural attractions may be your best bet for entertaining your kids – the country has little in the way of amusement parks or specific family destinations, and the ones that do exist are generally rather poor. Consider the waterfalls and jungle critters at Iguazú, the boat rides and glaciers of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares or the whales and penguins near Península Valdés. Areas that provide sports such as skiing and rafting may also be worth considering. Buenos Aires’ somewhat sophisticated attractions will mostly appeal more to adults, but there is enough to keep younger ones amused for a couple of days, including a zoo, a planetarium and a natural history museum. Rosario is unusual among Argentine cities for the amount of child-centred attractions it has – and it’s fun for their parents too. Wherever you go, remember the distances in Argentina are vast and travel times can be lengthy – do not be too ambitious in planning your itinerary. Avoid the summer heat unless you will be spending most of your time in Patagonia.
Argentina cannot really be described as a cheap destination, and with inflation unofficially estimated at around thirty percent it’s getting rapidly more expensive all the time. But the quality of what is on offer is mostly pretty good, and outside Buenos Aires and the main tourist destinations you can find real bargains in shops and hotels.
Adhering to a reasonable daily budget is not impossible, but there are considerable regional variations. As a rule of thumb, the further south you travel the more you will need to stretch your budget. Roughly speaking, on average you’ll need to plan on spending at least $1400/US$280/£180 a week on a tight budget (sharing a dorm, eating snacks, limiting other spending), double that if staying in budget accommodation but not stinting, while to live in the lap of luxury you could easily burn through $14000/US$2800/£1800 in a week.
Camping and self-catering are good ways of saving money, though the now-extensive network of youth hostels enables you to pay little without sleeping rough. Out of season, at weekends and during slow periods it is a good idea to bargain hotel prices down. You can save money on food by having your main meal at lunchtime – especially by opting for the set menu (usually called menúejecutivo). Picnicking is another option; local produce is often world-class and an alfresco meal of bread, cheese, ham or salami with fresh fruit and a bottle of table wine in a great location is a match for any restaurant feast.
Long-distance transport will eat up a considerable chunk of your expenses, particularly if you use internal flights; buses are usually (but not always) cheaper but take far longer. They vary greatly in condition and price from one category to another, though you may find the cheaper fares are a false economy – the better companies usually give you free food and drink (of varying quality) on lengthy journeys, while spacious coche cama comfort overnight enables you to save the price of a room and is worthwhile for covering the longest distances over less interesting terrain. City transport – including taxis and remises (radio taxis) – is inexpensive, but then most cities are compact enough to walk around anyway.
Hotels, restaurants and big stores may ask for a hefty handling fee for credit-card payments (as high as twenty percent), while many businesses – and hotels in particular – will give you a fair-sized discount for cash payments (efectivo or contado) on the quoted price, though they may need prompting. Be aware that some costs, such as air travel and entrance fees, operate on a dual pricing structure – one price for Argentine residents (including foreigners) and another, often as much as three times more, for non-residents.
When you see the $ sign in Argentina – and throughout this online guide – you can safely assume that the currency being referred to is the Argentine peso. Where a price is quoted in US dollars, the normal notation in Argentina – and the notation we use – is US$.
Crime and personal safety
With the effects of economic crises in 2001 and 2009 still lingering, Argentina has lost the reputation it enjoyed for many years as a totally safe destination. However, any concern you have should be kept in perspective – the likelihood of being a victim of crime remains small, because most of the more violent crime (concentrated in the big cities) tends to be directed at wealthy locals rather than foreign visitors.
In Buenos Aires, highly publicized incidents of violence and armed robbery have increased over the years but the vast majority of visitors have no problems. Some potential pitfalls are outlined here – not to induce paranoia, but on the principle that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
The usual precautions should be taken, particularly in the capital, cities like Rosario and Córdoba, and some of the northern border towns (near the frontiers with Paraguay and Brazil). A basic rule is to carry only what you need for that day, and conceal valuable items such as cameras and jewellery. Be cautious when withdrawing cash from ATMs. If you’re not sure about the wisdom of walking somewhere, play it safe and take a cab – but call radio taxis or hail them in the street, rather than taking a waiting one. Remember that pickpockets most commonly hang around subte stations and bus terminals (particularly Retiro in the capital), and on crowded trains and buses.
Theft from hotels is rare, but do not leave valuables lying around. Use the hotel safe if there is one. Compared with other Latin American countries, you’re unlikely to have things stolen on long-distance buses (luggage is checked in and you should get a ticket for each item), but it makes sense to take your daypack with you when you disembark for meal stops, and, particularly at night, to keep your bag by your feet rather than on the overhead rack. Pilfering from checked-in luggage on flights is quite common – don’t leave anything of value in outside pockets, and lock your bag where possible. Car theft has become a very common occurrence; if you are renting a car, check that the insurance will cover you, and always park in a car park or where someone will keep an eye on it. When driving in the city, keep windows closed and doors locked.
Drugs are frowned upon, although perhaps not as much as in other parts of South America. Drug use, particularly of marijuana and cocaine, is fairly common among the younger generation, and quite openly celebrated in some popular song lyrics. Despite court rulings in 2009 interpreted as a step towards decriminalization, Argentine society at large, and the police, don’t draw much of a line between soft drugs and hard drugs, and the penalties for either can be stiff if you get caught. As everywhere else, there are many slang words for drugs: common ones for marijuana include porro, maconia and yerba; for cocaine, merca and papa.
If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of a robbery (asalto) or lose anything of value, you will need to make a report at the nearest police station for insurance purposes. This is usually a time-consuming but fairly straightforward process. Check that the report includes a comprehensive account of everything lost and its value, and that the police add the date and an official stamp (sello). These reports do not cost anything.
As elsewhere in Latin America, you should be aware of the possibility of scams. A popular one, especially in the tourist areas of Buenos Aires, is having mustard, ice cream or some similar substance “spilt” over you. Some person then offers to help clean it off – cleaning you out at the same time. If this happens to you, push them off, get away from them fast and make as much noise as possible, shouting “thief!” (“ladrón!”), “police!” (“policia!”) or for help (“socorro!”). Another well-worked scam involves a regular cab picking you up from the taxi rank outside the airport, driving off the airport grounds (so they’re no longer on CCTV), then the driver taking a call on his mobile phone and suddenly saying that he has to drop you off and can’t take you to your destination. He leaves you stranded at the side of the road to be picked up by a “random” cab he’s in league with, who’ll fleece you. Easily avoided: always make sure you take an official, booked remise rather than waiting for a regular cab.
Note, too, that though the police are entitled to check your documents, they have no right to inspect your money or travellers’ cheques: anyone who does is a con artist, and you should ask for their identification or offer to be taken to the police station (gendarmería). If you ever do get “arrested”, never get into a vehicle other than an official police car.
220V/50Hz is standard throughout the country. Two different types of sockets are found: increasingly rare two-pronged with round pins, but which are different to the two-pin European plugs; and three-pronged, with flat pins, two of which are slanted (Australian adaptors usually work ok with these). Electrical shops along Calle Talcahuano, in Buenos Aires, sell adaptors if you haven’t brought one with you.
Citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries do not currently need a visa for tourist trips to Argentina of up to ninety days. All visitors need a valid passport and, at international airports, have their thumbprint and photo digitally recorded on arrival; passports are stamped on arrival wherever you enter. In theory, this could be for thirty or sixty days, but in practice it’s almost always ninety. If you are travelling alone with a child you must obtain a notarized document before travel certifying both parents’ permission for the child to travel (check with the embassy).
Citizens of Australia, Canada and the US must pay a reciprocity fee (because Argentines are charged a fee or must obtain a visa to visit their countries) of US$100, 70 or 160 respectively if they are entering Argentina at either of the Buenos Aires airports (you do not need to pay if you enter at a land crossing or any other airport, including on an international flight). In the case of US travellers the payment is valid for ten years, but only one entry for the others. Anyone needing to pay must do so online in advance at whttps://virtual.provinciapagos.com.ar/ArgentineTaxes. The rules do change frequently, so it’s best to check the government website for the latest (wargentina.gob.ar).
On entering the country, you will also be given a customs declaration form to fill in and all luggage is scanned on arrival at international airports. Duty is not charged on used personal effects, books and other articles for noncommercial purposes, up to the value of US$300. You might be required to declare any valuable electronic items such as laptop computers or fancy mobile phones but Customs are really looking for large quantities of goods or illicit items.
You can extend your stay for a further ninety days by presenting your passport at the main immigration department, Dirección de Migraciones in Buenos Aires, at Av Antártida Argentina 1350, Retiro (t011 4317 0237). This costs $100 and must be done on weekdays between 8am and 1pm; be prepared for a possible lengthy wait. You can do this extension, called a prórroga, once only. Alternatively, you could try leaving the country (the short hop to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay is a good option) and returning to get a fresh stamp. This usually works, but may be frowned upon if done repeatedly, and the provision of an extra stamp is totally at the discretion of the border guards. If you do overshoot your stay, you pay a moderate fine at Migraciones, who will give you a form that allows you to leave the country within ten days. This was a fairly common practice at the time of publication, but bear in mind that if you do this your stay in the country will be illegal and could potentially cause you problems. If you are crossing into Chile, make sure your papers are in order, as Chilean officials are considerably more scrupulous.
When leaving the country, you must obtain an exit stamp. At certain border controls, particularly in the north of the country, it is often up to you to ensure that the bus driver stops and waits while you get this – otherwise drivers may not stop, assuming that all passengers are Argentine nationals and don’t need stamps. In some places (for example, Clorinda) your Argentine exit stamp is actually given on the far side of the border, but check this with the driver beforehand.
Visas for work or study must be obtained in advance from your consulate. Extensive paperwork, much of which must be translated into Spanish by a certified translator, is required; allow plenty of time before departure to start the process. The websites listed here have details of what documentation is needed, or contact the consulate directly.
Although checks are extremely rare, visitors are legally obliged to carry their passport as ID. You might get away with carrying a photocopy, but don’t forget to copy your entrance stamp and landing card as well.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Despite remarkable progress in recent years, the attitude in Argentina towards homosexuals is generally ambivalent. Discreet relationships are tolerated, but in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation any “deviance”, including any explicit physical contact between members of the same sex (let alone transvestism or overtly intimate behaviour) will be almost universally disapproved of. Violent manifestations of homophobia are rare, however, especially now that the Church and the military exert less influence; homosexual acts between consenting adults have long been legal.
Gay and lesbian associations are springing up in the major cities, notably in Buenos Aires, where nightlife and meeting places are increasingly open, but rural areas still do their best to act as if homosexuality doesn’t exist. Yet a piece of legislation passed by parliament in 2003 afforded all citizens protection from discrimination, making a specific reference to sexual orientation (and making it illegal for hoteliers to turn away same-sex couples, for example). Same-sex marriage with full adoption rights was legalized by constitutional amendment in 2010.
Travel to Argentina doesn’t raise any major health worries and with a small dose of precaution and a handful of standard vaccinations or updates (tetanus, polio, typhoid and hepatitis A) you are unlikely to encounter any serious problems. There have been highly publicized outbreaks of dengue fever in the far north and there were a large number of (again, much publicized) cases of swine flu in mid-2009. Yet a bout of travellers’ diarrhoea, as your body adjusts to local microorganisms in the food and water, is the most you’re likely to have to worry about. The tap water in Argentina is generally safe to drink, if sometimes heavily chlorinated, but you may prefer to err on the side of caution in rural areas in the north of the country. Mineral water is good and widely available.
Argentine pharmacies are plentiful, well-stocked and a useful port of call for help with minor medical problems; the staff may offer simple diagnostic advice and will often help dress wounds, but if in doubt consult a doctor. Medicines and cosmetic products are fairly expensive, however, as they are mostly imported, so if you have room, take plenty of supplies.
The easiest way to get treatment for more serious ailments is to visit the outpatient department of a hospital, where treatment will usually be free. In Buenos Aires, the Hospital de Clínicas, at José de San Martín, Av Córdoba 2351 (t011 4961 6001), is a particularly efficient place to receive medical advice and prescriptions; you can simply walk in and, for a small fee, make an on-the-spot appointment with the relevant specialist department – English-speaking doctors can usually be found. For a list of English-speaking doctors throughout the country, contact your embassy in Buenos Aires. For emergencies or ambulances in Argentina, dial t107.
Among the nasty complaints that exist on Argentine territory are Chagas’ disease, cholera, malaria, dengue, hantavirus, yellow fever and rabies, though are all rare, mostly confined to remote locations off the tourist trail. That said, each is sufficiently serious that you should be aware of their existence and of measures you should take to avoid infection. For up-to-date information on current health risks in Argentina, check wcdc.gov and wmedicineplanet.com.
The incidence of HIV/AIDS is similar to that in most developed countries. As some of the condoms sold in Argentina are of pretty poor quality, it’s wise to bring a reliable brand with you.
PUNA (ALTITUDE SICKNESS)
Altitude sickness is a potentially – if very rarely – fatal condition encountered at anything over 2000m, but likeliest and most serious at altitudes of 4000m and above. It can cause severe difficulties, but a little preparation should help you avoid the worst of its effects. In many South American countries it is known by the Quichoa word soroche, but in Argentina it is most commonly, and confusingly, called puna (the local word for altiplano, or high Andean steppes). You’ll also hear the verb apunar and the word apunamiento, referring to the state of suffering from puna, whether affecting humans or vehicles (which also need to be adjusted for these heights).
First, to avoid the effects of the puna, don’t rush anywhere – walk slowly and breathe steadily – and make things easier on yourself by not smoking. Whenever possible, acclimatize: it’s better to spend a day or two at around 2000m and then 3000–3500m before climbing to 4000m or more rather than force the body to cope with a sudden reduction in oxygen levels. Make sure you’re fully rested; an all-night party isn’t the best preparation for a trip up into the Andes. Alcohol is also best avoided both prior to and during high-altitude travel; the best thing to drink is plenty of still water – never fizzy because it froths over and can even explode at high altitudes – or tea. Eating, too, needs some consideration: digestion uses up considerable quantities of oxygen, so snacking is preferable to copious meals. Carry supplies of high-energy cereal bars, chocolate, dried fruit (the local raisins, prunes and dried apricots are delicious), walnuts or cashews, crackers and biscuits, and avoid anything that ferments in the stomach, such as milk, fresh fruit and juices, vegetables or acidic food – they’re guaranteed to make you throw up if you’re affected. The best form of sugar to ingest is honey, because it’s the least acidic. Grilled meat is fine, so asados are all right, but don’t over-indulge.
Minor symptoms of the puna, such as headaches or a strange feeling of pressure inside the skull, nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia or dizziness, are nothing to worry about, but more severe problems, such as persistent migraines, repeated vomiting, severe breathing difficulties, excessive fatigue and a marked reduction in the need to urinate are of more concern. If you suffer from any of these, return to a lower altitude and seek out medical advice at once. Severe respiratory problems should be treated immediately with oxygen, carried by tour operators on excursions to 3000m or more as a legal requirement, but you’re unlikely ever to need it.
SUNSTROKE AND SUNBURN
You should take the sun very seriously in Argentina. The north of the country, especially the Chaco region and La Rioja Province, is one of the hottest regions of Latin America in summer – temperatures regularly rocket above 40°C; the extended siestas taken by locals are wise precautions against the debilitating effects of the midday heat. Where possible, avoid excessive activity between about 11am and 4pm and when you do have to be out in the sun, wear sunscreen and a hat. You should also drink plenty of liquids – but not alcohol – and always make sure you have a sufficient supply of water when embarking on a hike. Throughout the country, the sun can be extremely fierce and even people with darker skin should use a much higher factor sunscreen than they might normally: using factor 15 or above is a sensible precaution. Remember that the cooler temperatures in the south are deceptive – ozone depletion and long summer days here can be more hazardous than the fierce heat of the north.
It is a good idea to take out an insurance policy before travelling, though always check first to see whether you are already covered by your home insurance, provincial health plan or student/employment insurance. In Argentina, insurance is more important to cover theft or loss of belongings and repatriation than medical treatment – the country has a state medical system that is free for emergencies. It is perfectly adequate, though the technology is not the latest and waits can be long. Most well-off Argentines use private healthcare, which is very good and far cheaper than the equivalent in the US or Europe. Make sure your travel insurance policy includes coverage for any adventure sports you may be planning, such as scuba diving, whitewater rafting, or skiing – you will probably have to pay a premium to have this included. If you need to make a claim, you should keep all receipts, and in the event you have anything stolen, you must obtain an official statement from the police.
Virtually all upmarket hotels offer wi-fi, and most hostels and mid-market hotels now do as well. Cafés with wi-fi are common in Buenos Aires, less so in the interior – try wnavegawifi.com for a hotspot list. Otherwise, you can access the internet via internet cafés, or in locutorios, found in most towns. Rates vary considerably, from $4 to $15 an hour, with the highest rates in Patagonia.
The Spanish keyboard is prevalent; if you have problems locating the “@” symbol (called arroba in Spanish), try holding the “Alt” key down and type 64.
Most towns and cities have a plentiful supply of laundries (lavanderías or lavaderos), especially since not everyone has a washing machine. Some also do dry-cleaning, though you may have to go to a tintorería. Self-service places are almost unheard of; you normally give your name and leave your washing to pick it up later (the service is fast by European standards); some places will deliver to wherever you’re staying. Laundry is either charged by weight or itemized, but rates are not excessive, especially compared with the high prices charged by most hotels. Furthermore, the quality is good and the service is usually reliable. One important word of vocabulary to know is planchado (ironed).
Living and working in Argentina
Many foreigners choose to stay in Argentina long-term, and if you want to take the plunge you will be in good company, particularly if you settle in Buenos Aires or one of the key travel destinations such as Ushuaia or Mendoza. Organizations that cater to expats include the South American Explorers’ Club, the lively internet forum wbaexpats.org and the website wlivinginargentina.com.
Tourist visas are valid for ninety days. You are usually allowed to renew your visa once, although this does mean an encounter with the bureaucratic immigration services. Many medium-term residents simply leave the country every three months (usually hopping across to Colonia, in Uruguay), to get a new stamp, but this approach might not be tolerated over many years. Obtaining a residence permit is time-consuming and is usually granted only if you have an Argentine spouse or child, or make a sizeable investment in the national economy.
As far as working is concerned, remember Argentines themselves compete for the few jobs on offer and your entry into the employment market may not be looked on kindly; also, unless you are on a contract with an international firm or organization, you will be paid in pesos, which will inevitably add up to a pretty low salary by global standards, while currency controls implemented in 2011 mean that you cannot easily change your income into dollars. If you’re determined anyway, many English-speaking foreigners do the obvious thing and teach English. Training in this is an advantage but by no means necessary; the demand for native English-speaking teachers is so high that many soon build up a roster of students via the odd newspaper ad and word of mouth. Working in tourism is another possibility – a fair proportion of agencies and hotels are run by foreigners. Consider also translation if you have the language ability.
If you need a place to live, there are plenty of agencies aimed at foreigners – one is walojargentina.com – offering accommodation in apartments, university residences and B&B-type establishments; more are listed on the forums mentioned above, or you could try wcraigslist.com. Apartments aimed at locals are advertised in newspapers or rented by inmobiliarías (estate agents) and are cheaper, but you will need somebody who owns property to be your guarantor and be prepared to sign a two-year contract.
Argentina’s rather unreliable postal service, Correo Argentino (t011 4891 9191) is the bête noire of many a hapless expat. Not only is it costly to send post to North America or Europe, but many items also never arrive. If you want to send mail abroad, always use the certificado (registered post) system, which costs about $40 for a letter, but increases chances of arrival. Safer still is Correo Argentino’s encomienda system, a courier-style service; if you are sending something important or irreplaceable, it is highly recommended that you use this service or a similar international one such as UPS (t0800 222 2877) or DHL (t0810 222 2345). Packets over 2kg need to be examined by the customs (Aduana) at the Centro Postal Internacional at Antártida Argentina 1900 y Comodoro Py in Retiro, Buenos Aires (Mon–Fri 10am–5pm). For regular airmail, expect delivery times of one to two weeks – the quickest deliveries, unsurprisingly, are those out of Buenos Aires. You are not permitted to seal envelopes with sticky tape: they must be gummed down (glue is usually available at the counter). The good news is that as well as post offices, many locutorios, lottery kiosks and small stores deal with mail, which means you don’t usually have to go very far to find somewhere open.
Receiving mail is generally even more fraught with difficulties than sending it. Again, a courier-style service is your best bet; if not, make sure the sender at least registers the letter or parcel. All parcels go to the international post office at Antártida Argentina 1900 in Retiro, and you will receive a card informing you that it is there; you will have to pay customs duties and should expect a long wait. If you are elsewhere in the country you must find out where your nearest customs office is. All post offices keep poste restante for at least a month. Items should be addressed clearly, with the recipient’s surname in capital letters and underlined, followed by their first name in regular script, then “Poste Restante” or “Lista de Correos”, Correo Central, followed by the rest of the address. Buenos Aires city is normally referred to as Capital Federal to distinguish it from its neighbouring province. Bring your passport to collect items ($6 fee per item).
To send packages within Argentina, your best bet it to use the encomienda services offered by bus companies (seal boxes in brown paper to prevent casual theft). This isn’t a door-to-door service like the post: the recipient must collect the package from its end destination (bring suitable ID). By addressing the package to yourself, this system makes an excellent and remarkably good-value way of reducing the weight in your pack while travelling, but be aware that companies usually keep an encomienda for only one month before returning it to its original sender. If sending an encomienda to Buenos Aires, check whether it gets held at the Retiro bus station (the most convenient) or at a bus depot elsewhere in the capital.
There are a number of country maps available outside Argentina. The best city map of Buenos Aires is the brilliant Insight Fleximap, which is clear, reliable and easy to fold.
Within Argentina, road maps can be obtained at book shops and kiosks in all big towns and cities or at service stations. Many maps aren’t up to date: it’s often a good idea to buy a couple of maps and compare them as you go along, always checking with the locals to see whether a given road does exist and is passable, especially with the vehicle you intend to use. The most reliable maps are those produced by ACA (Automóvil Club), which does individual maps for each province, to varying degrees of accuracy. These are widely available at ACA offices, kiosks on Calle Florida in the capital and service stations. Glossy and fairly clear – but at times erratic – regional road maps (Cuyo, Northwest, Lake District, etc) are produced by AutoMapa and are often available at petrol stations and bookshops. Slightly more detailed but a tad less accurate is the mini-atlas Atlas Vial published by YPF, the national petrol company, which is sold at its service stations.
For 1:100,000 Ordnance Survey-style maps, the Instituto Geográfico Nacional at Av Cabildo 381 in Buenos Aires is the place to go. These topographical and colour satellite maps are great to look at and very detailed, but they are only really practical for trekkers who are used to maps of this type.
Country maps can be found at the University of Texas’s Perry–Castañeda Library: wlib.utexas.edu/maps/argentina.html. A good interactive map of Buenos Aires capital can be found at mapa.buenosaires.gov.ar.
Notes come in 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 denominations, while 1 and 2 peso and (rare) 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavo coins are in circulation. Sometimes people are loath to give change, as coins can be in short supply, so it’s a good idea to have plenty of loose change on your person. Ask for small denomination notes when exchanging if possible, break bigger ones up at places where they obviously have plenty of change (busy shops, supermarkets and post offices), and withdraw odd amounts from ATMs ($190, $340, etc) to avoid getting your cash dispensed in $100 bills only – trying to buy a drink, an empanada or a postcard with a crisp $100 note can be a frustrating ordeal and won’t make you many friends. Since strict currency controls were introduced in 2011, it has become virtually impossible to change pesos back into dollars inside Argentina, let alone outside, so change into pesos only the amounts you need for your stay so that you are not left with unwanted local currency at the end.
IVA (Impuesto de Valor Agregado) is the Argentine equivalent of VAT or sales tax and is usually included in the price for goods and services except food or medicines. The major exceptions are some hotels, which quote their rates before tax, plus airfares and car rental fees. IVA is currently a hefty 21 percent and is added to everything except food and medicines. It is worth knowing that foreigners can often get IVA reimbursed on many purchases, though this is practical only for bigger transactions (over $100) and subject to all kinds of limits and complications. Shops in the more touristy areas will volunteer information and provide the necessary forms, but finding the right place to go to have the final paperwork completed, signed and stamped and to get your money back, at your point of exit (international airports), is a much taller order; ask for instructions when you check in, as you must display your purchases before check-in and then go through the often frustratingly slow formalities once you’ve been given your boarding pass.
ATMS AND CREDIT AND DEBIT CARDS
ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are plentiful in Argentina. It’s rare that you’ll find a town or even a village without one, though you can sometimes be caught out in very remote places, especially in the Northwest, so never rely completely on them. Most machines take all credit cards or display those that can be used: you can nearly always get money out with Visa or MasterCard, or with any cards linked to the Plus or Cirrus systems. Most ATMs are either Banelco or LINK – test the networks to see which works best with your card. Machines are mostly multilingual though some of them use Spanish only, so you might need to have a phrase book or a Spanish-speaker handy.
Credit cards (tarjetas de crédito) are a very handy source of funds, and can be used either in the abundant ATMs (this can be expensive) or for purchases. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are all widely used and recognized. Be warned that you might have to show your ID when making a purchase with plastic, and, especially in small establishments in remote areas, the authorization process can take ages and may not succeed at all. Using your debit card, which is not liable to interest payments like credit cards, is usually the best method to get cash and the flat transaction fee is generally quite small – your bank will able to advise on this. Make sure you have a card and PIN that are designed to work overseas and advise your bank before you depart. Bear in mind that all use of credit cards and ATMs will be at the disadvantageous official exchange rate.
These are not as useful as they can be in some countries, as museums and the like often refuse to give student discounts. Some bus companies, however, do give a ten- to fifteen-percent discount for holders of ISIC cards, as do certain hotels, laundries and outdoor gear shops, and even one or two ice-cream parlours. ASATEJ, Argentina’s student travel agency, issues a booklet that lists partners throughout the country. The international student card often suffices for a discount at youth hostels in the country, though membership of the Youth Hostelling Association may entitle you to even lower rates.
Most shops and services are open Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm, and Saturday 9am to 2pm. Outside the capital, they may close at some point during the afternoon for between one and five hours. As a rule, the further north you go, the longer the siesta – often offset by later closing times in the evening. Supermarkets seldom close during the day and are generally open much later, often until 8 or even 10pm, and on Saturday afternoons. Large shopping malls don’t close before 10pm and their food and drink sections (patios de comida) may stay open as late as midnight. Many of them open on Sundays too. Casas de cambio more or less follow shop hours. However, banks tend to open only on weekdays: opening times depend on the region. In hotter regions, banks open as early as 7am or 8am, but close by noon or 1pm; whereas in many other areas, including Buenos Aires, they’re open from 10am to 3 or 4pm.
The opening hours of attractions are indicated in the text; however, bear in mind that these often change from one season to another. If you are going out of your way to visit something, it is best to check if its opening times have changed. Museums are a law unto themselves, each one having its own timetable, but all commonly close one day a week, usually Monday. Several Buenos Aires museums are also closed for at least a month in January and February. Tourist offices are forever adjusting their opening times, but the trend is towards longer hours and opening daily. Post offices’ hours vary; most should be open between 9am and 6pm on weekdays, with siestas in the hottest places, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Outside these hours, many locutorios will deal with mail.
Argentina operates a GSM 850/1900 mobile phone network, in common with much of Latin America. Most modern mobile phones are tri- or quad-band so should work fine, but if yours is older you should check with your phone provider to confirm it will work. Local mobile numbers are prefixed by the area code, like fixed lines, and then 15. If you are dialling an Argentine mobile number from abroad, omit the 15 and dial 9 before the area code. If you’re likely to use your phone a lot, it may be worth getting an Argentine SIM card to keep costs down. These can be obtained before you travel from various providers, or, cheaper still – though you’ll need some Spanish here – is to get a pre-paid SIM (chip) from a local operator such as Movistar (wmovistar.com.ar) or Personal (wpersonal.com.ar). Movistar is preferable as it will activate your service straight away, whereas you may have to wait a day or two with other providers. It has a large customer service centre in Buenos Aires at Santa Fe 1844 (Mon–Fri 9am–6pm).
In many ways it’s just as cheap and straightforward to make calls from the public call centres known as locutorios. Although they are not as ubiquitous as they once were, they are still widely found throughout the country. You’ll be assigned a cabin with a meter, with which you can monitor your expenditure. Make as many calls as you want and then pay at the counter. You can get significant discounts on international calls with pre-paid phonecards, available at the locutorios. If you are travelling with a laptop, tablet or smartphone, it is even cheaper to use an internet phone service such as Skype, utilizing the free wi-fi provided by most hotels.
Digital memory cards are widely available, although generally more expensive than in places like the US and Europe, especially in the more remote locations and for the larger-memory cards. Most mid-size towns have places where you can burn photos onto DVDs or CDs. Standard photographic film is also still available, but you’re advised to bring specialist films (eg slide film, black-and-white, low-light ASA ratings) from home. The same goes for all camera spares and supplies. Developing and printing are usually of decent quality but are also quite expensive and outside Buenos Aires the situation is erratic. A constant, however, is that you should watch out where you take photos: sensitive border areas and all military installations, including many civilian airports, are camera no-go areas, so watch out for signs and take no risks.
Argentina hasn’t – it seems – settled on a stable pattern of time zones. Officially, there’s supposed to be a unified national time zone (3hr behind GMT), but some provinces have been known to operate separate systems. For the latest information you’re best off checking on the official government site at hidro.gov.ar.
The main national tourist board (wturismo.gov.ar) is in Buenos Aires and is a fairly useful stop for maps and general information. Piles of leaflets, glossy brochures and maps are dished out at provincial and municipal tourist offices (oficinas de turismo) across the country, which vary enormously in quality of service and quantity of information. Don’t rely on staff speaking any language other than Spanish, or on the printed info being translated into foreign languages. In addition, every province maintains a casa de provincia (provincial tourist office) in Buenos Aires.
Travellers with disabilities
Argentina does not have a particularly sophisticated infrastructure for travellers with disabilities, but most Argentines are extremely willing to help anyone experiencing problems and this helpful attitude goes some way to making up for deficiencies in facilities.
Things are beginning to improve, and it is in Buenos Aires that you will find the most notable changes: a recent welcome innovation has been the introduction of wheelchair ramps on the city’s pavements – though unfortunately the pavements are not great. Public transport is less problematic, with many of the new buses that now circulate in the city offering low-floor access. Laws demand that all new hotels now provide at least one room that is accessible for those in wheelchairs, but the only sure-fire option for those with severe mobility problems is at the top end of the price range: many five-star hotels have full wheelchair access, including wide doorways and roll-in showers. Those who have some mobility problems, but do not require full wheelchair access, will find most mid-range hotels are adequate, offering spacious accommodation and lifts.
Outside Buenos Aires, finding facilities for the disabled is pretty much a hit-and-miss affair, although there have been some notable improvements at major tourist attractions such as the Iguazú Falls, where new ramps and catwalks have been constructed, making the vast majority of the falls area accessible by wheelchair. The local branch of Hostelling International can offer information on access at its hostels.
Argentina has no shortage of public holidays dotted throughout the calendar, several of which have been introduced or had their names made more politically correct since 2003. Most services run even on these feriados, with the possible exception of Christmas Day and May Day. Bear in mind that some of these holidays move to the following Monday (or sometimes to another convenient date) and that “bridges” are conceded when certain holidays fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, to form long weekends. There are also several local public holidays, specific to a city or province, throughout the year (those specific to certain communities and non-Christian faiths are also respected by state-run services). Many offices close for the whole of Semana Santa (Holy Week), the week leading up to Easter, while the Thursday is optional, as is New Year’s Eve. Easter Monday is not normally a holiday.
New Year’s Day
Final Monday and Tuesday before Lent (usually Feb)
Friday before Easter
Truth and Justice Day, in commemoration of the 1976 coup
Malvinas Veterans’ Day
Day of the Revolution
Day of the Flag (anniversary of General Belgrano’s death)
Anniversary of San Martín’s death
Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity
Day of National Sovereignty