GoNOMAD Book Excerpt: The World’s Cheapest Destinations: Argentina
[Tim Leffel is an internationally recognized expert on traveling well for less; in fact he wrote the book, now in a newly-updated Third Edition. The following is an excerpt from the newly updated Third Edition.
Tim is also the author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and Traveler’s Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America (co-written with Rob Sangster). He also edits the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. Visit our Tim Leffel Page with links to all his stories on GoNOMAD.]
I traveled to Argentina in 2006 and felt like a pioneer. Two years later, the word was definitely out. A destination gets “hot” very fast these days and Argentina went from unknown to overblown in a hurry. Hotels have gotten full, but internal affairs are having more of an impact. Double-digit inflation, angry farmers, and poor fiscal policy are causing prices to rise very quickly for locals and tourists alike.
Despite all that, I include Argentina as a cheap destination because if you’re a tourist on vacation, it’s still one of the world’s best values for eating out and having a good time. When the currency got devalued in 2002, the price of nearly everything fell off a cliff in dollar or euro terms and has been rising just a bit each year ever since. The good times can’t last forever, so get there soon if the idea of eating tasty slabs of grilled beef for a few dollars and washing it down with excellent red wine for a few dollars more appeals to you.
But the food is only one course of this banquet. Anyone who has spent time in Buenos Aires ranks it as one of the world’s great cities. It’s got interesting architecture, nice parks, great nightlife, good shopping, cultural performances, and the tango. On top of the fabulous restaurants stocked with good wine you find on every block. This is perhaps the most European city outside of Europe, so it can feel like having the best of that dearly priced region for a much smaller hit on the budget.
The rest of Argentina is quite different, however, and this is a big country. It extends from the Andean regions up near Bolivia, down past the highest peak in the Americas, down through cowboy country plains, to Patagonia and the tip of South America in Tierra del Fuego. Lie on the beach in their summer, go skiing in their winter, and explore lakes and waterfalls in between.
As one of the planet’s great “new world” wine regions, this is a great place to tour wineries, and in Cafayate you can even safely hit a group of them by foot or bicycle. If you want to act like a cowboy for a while, you’ll have no problem finding a ranch where you can rope cattle and ride a horse—for a fraction of what it would cost for the whole dude ranch experience in the U.S.
While being a backpacker here is not as cheap as it would be in Ecuador or Peru, the value is quite high. In general, you’re getting something that used to cost much more at a sale price, rather than getting something for what it has always cost. As a result, many travelers find that food, lodging, and transportation are all of a higher quality (and more organized) than comparable offerings elsewhere. Backpackers often manage on $25 to $35 single or $40 to $60 double if here for a few weeks or more. As always, it depends on how much you are moving around and what part of the country you are in. If all your time is in the capital and resort areas, it’ll be at the high end. If you spend a couple weeks in the northwest around Salta and Cafayate, your costs will be significantly lower.
If you are on a mid-range or upper-range budget, however, dive in! You will eat incredible meals on what would be a fast-food budget at home, stay at unique hotels with great amenities for the price of forgettable chain hotel at home, at drink bottles of wine at restaurants for less than a glass of Malbec costs at the closest wine bar to your house. If you can afford to bump up your budget for a few weeks somewhere, this is the place where you’ll get the greatest return. For a daily budget of $60 to $150 a couple, it’s a sweet life indeed.
• If you want to go skiing in July or August, you can do it here—it’s winter in the southern hemisphere. Lift tickets are about half of what they cost in the U.S., on top of cheaper accommodation all around.
• The highest mountain in the Americas, Aconcagua at 6960 meters, attracts plenty of mountaineers, both serious and casual. There are many less lofty Andean peaks as well, so climbing opportunities are ample.
• Have you ever wanted to act like a rancher for a few days? Ride some horses at one of the many estancias, which range from the organized and luxurious to the rustic and simple.
• What to buy: leather goods for one-third the price of home, woolen clothing, gold jewelry, fashionable clothes, wine, chocolate, mate paraphernalia, panchos, antiques, Andean handicrafts.
• What you can get for a buck or less: two empanadas, two slices of pizza, a glass or two of cheap wine, four subway rides (9 for a student), a one-speed rental bike in Cafayate, a few quality chocolates, a beer, two hours of internet access, four loaves of bread.
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