While some Latin American countries have swept the headlines with multiplying case numbers and death tolls – think: Brazil – Argentina has been quietly under the radar. It locked down early; with a death count confined to the hundreds, businesses began reopening in some provinces in the first half of May – though lockdowns have been much more stringent in the major cities. The country is remaining cautious towards travel, with commercial flights banned until at least 1 September. To find out more, we caught up with Guadalupe, our local expert based in Cordoba, Argentina.
A: We are currently still in isolation due to the Covid outbreak. We’ve been in lockdown since 20 March – it’s due to last until 7 June. We’ll see what happens after that… It has been very strict in the big cities, like Cordoba and Buenos Aires, until two or three weeks ago, when walks were finally allowed during the weekends. Now we are on phase 4, and walks are daily. We are also allowed to practice individual sports – biking, running, tennis, etc. The quarantine is having very good results: luckily people have respected the measures, which helps a lot.
The rest of the country, especially where the main tourist attractions are located, do not have many cases. In fact, some small cities and towns don’t have any, so they have enjoyed more “freedom” since the beginning and can carry on with their normal lives, including going on daily walks, going to work and seeing their families and friends.
Q: How do you spend your time at home at the moment (besides working)? For example improving skills or phoning old friends.
A: I’m doing some exercise, cooking and watching Netflix – which actually helps a lot with training my ear to English. In terms of work, I’m doing some online training and watching webinars to learn about destinations. I’m also learning Italian and German… I can’t have a conversation yet, but I’ve learnt a few words
Q: What is your number one tip for others working from home at the moment?
A: I think it’s very important to have a routine so you can keep the rhythm, like getting up at a normal time, setting schedules, dressing up as if you were going to work (not pajamas every day) – and if you like to do exercise, even better!
Q: Is there any positive news to report from Argentina and its neighbours?
A: The positive news is that the virus hasn’t been very prevalent in the areas where the main attractions are located – for instance Iguazu, the Atacama Desert, or Cusco in Peru. This shows us that these destinations will be safe when the tourists are able to return to South America.
On the other hand, the closure of the national parks and preserved areas has allowed fragile habitats to recover from the impact of tourism. Pollution, for example, has been greatly reduced, while wildlife is slowly returning to its natural environment.
Q: When do you think will you be able to receive tourists again?
We are very keen to welcome tourists back as soon as possible, but because of the news and information that we’ve seen, we believe that we will only be in a position to receive travellers from neighbouring countries in October/November, and visitors from further afield in around January 2021. Of course, this position can change rapidly and depending on the policies of other countries.
In Argentina, all borders have been closed until September, when it’s possible, but not certain, that airlines will start to operate national and regional flights.
In South America more widely, Uruguay is likely to open its borders to visitors the soonest – the country responded particularly quickly and effectively to the Covid threat. Brazil is conversely the most affected, as they have many cases and unfortunately have suffered a high death toll. Nevertheless, they also estimate they will be able to open their borders by September, as do Chile. In Peru, meanwhile, domestic tourism will resume by mid-June/early July. Machu Picchu, for example, will open by then, while international tourism is expected to return by August/September.
Nothing is official or set in stone, however. All this can change as we learn more about the virus behaviour and with the evolution of the measures and protocols that each country is practicing.
Q: Do you have any secret tips for travel in the region once it’s safe to return?
A: At the moment we are recommending self-drive trips, which allow you to get to smaller or remote cities, where you can find boutique hotels or houses with a few rooms. This type of travel has proved very trendy over the last few years actually, and our intentions are to promote it even more. We are also suggesting natural tourism above big cities, and there are plenty of options. Examples of these destinations include Pantanal, Iberá Wetlands, Patagonia, Atacama or, for those who like beaches, Jose Ignacio and Punta del Diablo in Uruguay.
Q: Do you have any tips on how to get a feeling for Argentina and South America at home right now?
A: Music is very famous in Argentina. We have a wide range, but try listening to Gardel, the most well-known tango singer; Mercedes Sosa for folklore (or Los Tekis, a very popular group from the North); and definitely Soda Stereo if you’re into rock.
Cooking is a great way to get a feel for the region, too. Peru and Chile have been always disagreed over who makes the best ceviche. Try too the “pisco sour”, a delicious cocktail.
Over in Brazil, of course, you’ll find the samba and the bossa nova. I watched an excelled series on Netflix called Coisa Mais Linda, which means “The most beautiful thing”. It is set in Rio de Janeiro in the 60s; the landscapes are amazing and you can hear the famous bossa nova that emerged at that time.
Q: How do you think travellers will experience your destination differently when lockdown is over?
A: There is no doubt that the way we travel and experience destinations will change. I think that we’ll see travellers opting for less-visited destinations and smaller accommodations, choosing private cars over public transport, visiting natural attractions and open spaces, and partaking in outdoor activities.
Q: Is there anything new you’ll try to stick with once lockdown is over?
A: I’ve always liked to cook, and I now have time to make homemade meals, as well as cookies or snacks for the “mate” break. Learning new languages is something I always postponed due to the lack of time or money, and I have discovered that with a computer and the internet you can do it from home, at your own pace and without spending a small fortune.
Top image: Capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) at the Iberá Wetlands, Argentina © buteo/Shutterstock