Two unique countries in South America
This year, 2019, we decided to go to Argentina and Uruguay for 2 weeks. We decided to go to Argentina & Uruguay for 2 weeks. We visited some beautiful places in both countries.
Argentina has diverse micro climates from the waterfalls of Iguazu in the north to the glaciers of Patagonia in the south. Uruguay is a smaller country, offering a more relaxed vibe and a beach-style environment with a slower pace. Argentina and Uruguay share a border and Uruguay is considered to be one of the most progressive countries in South America. We were curious to see this for ourselves, and we thought it would have been a pity not to visit Uruguay.
When did we go there?
The shoulder seasons are usually the best time to visit a place, in order to avoid the crowds. Similar to our trip to Peru, we decided to go to Argentina and Uruguay during autumn. Overall, the weather was sunny most of the time and it only rained once when we were in Iguazu. For the most part, temperatures ranged between 15-20o C in Buenos Aires, Colonia, and Montevideo. In Iguazu, the thermometer rose to 25oC and 28o C, and in Patagonia, it lowered to between -1 and 5o C.
We don’t regret going during this period, although it was too icy to trek in Patagonia. The best was that there were no crowds, and when we visited the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia, the sky was crystal clear and there was no wind.
Language, Visa, Currency & Budget
Spanish is both countries’ official language, and any knowledge of it will make your experience more worthwhile. A lot of people also speak English, but if you want to engage with them, Spanish is the language they feel most comfortable with speaking.
Argentina is known for its economic crisis in the past decades and high inflation. This of course affects prices and current money value. When we went, they told us that we had good timing because inflation was not at its highest and overall prices were very cheap when compared to Ireland.
Nonetheless, it’s not like Southeast Asia, but definitely cheaper than travelling in Western Europe or North America. Their currency, Peso, is not worth much. So its best you use up all your coins and bills before leaving. Have cash ready as many things are paid with cash and it’s better to withdraw as much money as you can in one go. In this way, you avoid the high withdrawal fees. Argentinian Peso is the main currency, however the US dollar is also accepted as a favourite currency, since it is stronger than the Peso.
For both countries, there is no need for a visa if you are an EU citizen. All you need is a valid passport.
We did found Uruguay to be more expensive than Argentina, but still perfectly manageable when coming from a European country.
Overall we spent 1505€ per person in: international (606€) and domestic flights (215€), hotels & hostels (205.81€), organized trips (129€) and remaining ca. 350€ we spent in taxis and food.
You can check more tips for Argentina here.
Transportation and around
Since we had no idea of taxi prices from the airport to the hotel, we downloaded a Spanish Taxi app called Cabify. We didn’t want to risk being scammed by paying too much for a taxi and the app work fine. This app works similar to Uber, but better because you don’t need to provide any phone number to get on with the registration process. Later on, we realized that it was slightly more expensive to use the app than going with local taxis. From our experience, Argentinian taxi drivers were quite trustworthy and they were not trying to scam you. We didn’t use any public transportation, because we were walking everywhere most of the time. Therefore, we only needed taxis to go from and to the airport, as well as from one side of Buenos Aires to the other.
What can you do for 2 weeks in Argentina and Uruguay?
We split the trip into 10 days in Argentina and 5 days in Uruguay.
Day 1 & 2 – Buenos Aires
We left Dublin late afternoon on Saturday and arrived early the next morning to Buenos Aires. We flew with British Airways, for which we had high hopes. In the end, they weren’t met, as the seats and space were very limited and uncomfortable, especially for a 12h flight. We were in economy class and had to take our 20kg bags on board because this class does not include checked luggage?! They have a very strange system.
We arrived in Buenos Aires and we left our things at Hostel Carlos Gardel, which we had booked in advance. This is located close to San Telmo, one of the central neighbourhoods in the city. After taking care of some practicalities, we immediately started to explore.
San Telmo Market
First we hit the San Telmo market, which is 5mins walking distance from our hostel – El Mercado San Telmo, where we grabbed a bite to eat. We had some delicious empanadas con carne e pollo and for desert alfajores con dulce de leche. Anything with Dulce de leche is a must in Argentina, you will find it everywhere.
As it was a Sunday, there was a big market that stretched for streets on end, filled with people and very creative artisanat. We strolled around for a bit and ended up buying to beautiful paintings hand made by a local.
Buenos Aires Free walking tour
After we set out to our first Free Walking Tour, which covered the cultural and political history of Argentina through its buildings and squares.
As we did previously in Peru, we found that free walking tours are the best introduction to a place. They give you some context and background about what you’re exploring. They are also very useful to get tips from locals (the guides) in what to do, where to go eat and drink, and what to see.
Asado and Mate
After we finished, we started heading back to San Telmo and ate in a local place. Here, we had our first Asado (typical bbq type dish from here, where different types of meat are grilled slowly at a low temperature) accompanied by a nice salad and great red wine.
If you don’t know already, Argentina is known for its great wine and good quality meat. Both Argentina and Uruguay share this, and from what we saw, both have very similar food, wine, and of course Mate cultures.
Mate is a delicious herb type tea that acts as an energizing drink and is prepared by putting this herb in a specific cup, pouring in hot water, and drinking it with a straw. We saw a lot of people carrying their thermos and Mate cup and drinking it pretty much everywhere. This is something they inherited from the indigenous people who were the 1st inhabitants, and it has become part of modern culture.
Day 3 – Barrio de La Boca
On Joana’s birthday, we went for our second free walking tour in La Boca neighborhood. This used to be and still is the place where immigrants and working-class people live. Back in the day, people lived in very poor living conditions, staying in Conventillos, a type of collective housing.
The mix of nationalities living there nourished a flourishing culture of music and dance, from which the most famous is Tango. The neighborhood offers colourful houses maintained for tourists and it is a great place to visit.
Second asado in La Boca
We left the tour earlier and decided to explore on our own, ending up in a Comedor comunitario, a local restaurant, very simple and run by locals. It didn’t have a touristic vibe to it at all and it was very cheap and the portions were well served.
As we were eating, sitting in a large table, an Argentinian artist and teacher named Monica, sat next to us and we started chatting. We invited her for lunch and ended up sharing personal stories, talking about Argentina, exchanging tips and what to see in the country.
One of the things she mentioned was how difficult it is to visit her mother, who was staying in another city, as the price of the bus tickets is the equivalent of her monthly salary.
We left her and started to head back as we had to catch our plane to Iguazu that evening.
On our way there, we decided to have a haircut. For those who don’t know, this has become somewhat of a tradition. Every time we travel, Charoula has a haircut. So far, she’s cut her hair in China, US, France, Denmark, Portugal, Croatia, Peru. This time, in Argentina, she got special treatment from Javier, a passionate and friendly Venezuelan living in Buenos Aires. He gave her the best hair cut abroad along with sharing his own story while offering coffee and cookies.
These kinds of encounters would happen a lot during our trip, as we found people to be open to share their stories and opinions with us. It was a great way to spend a birthday!
Day 4 – Iguazu Falls (Argentinian side)
Iguazu Falls (in Iguazu national park) are a spectacular natural wonder that are worthwhile to visit. They are located in the north of Argentina, close to the border with Brazil. The falls cross into Paraguay and Brazil and are surrounded by Amazonian tropical rain-forest. As most places similar to this, the environment around the falls is slowly being eroded by economic activities happening in its surroundings. However, the falls are a beautiful phenomenon to see and experience.
Locals are very open and encouraging to foreigners to come and visit them, which in turn supports local efforts to promote environmental preservation.
Activities to do in Iguazu National Park
We researched what could we visit in the Iguazu National Park. This a nature conservation park, that has wildlife and its possible to both visit the Argentinian and Brazilian sides. We opted to only visit the Argentinian side and spend the full day there.
There are walk paths with different lengths that take you around the park, and there’s also a train that has different stops that you take to go further in the park. The entrance fee to the park was 9€ for 2 people.
In addition to this, you can also go with a local tour and have an adventure in the water, which starts with a guided drive through the forest. In total we paid almost 40€ per person for this. We went with Iguazu Jungle tour and they were quite good.
We chose the Great Adventure ticket that takes you to the mouth of the Iguazu falls. It’s lots of fun, you get wet and you get a good adrenaline kick! We loved it and because it was warm, we didn’t mind getting a bit fresh.
Overall, the park is very well maintained and when we went the crowds weren’t too large.
Some hurdles along the way..
We flew with Norwegian Air from Buenos Aires and stayed at Hotel Yvera Cataratas. The hotel was very clean, it had a nice pool to relax, the breakfast was good, and the staff was super helpful.
We found out the same night that our flight to El Calafate from Buenos Aires (with Airline Aerolineas Argentinas), which was scheduled for the next day, was postponed by 1 day due to a workers strike. This meant we had to wake up early the next morning to go to the Airline’s office in Iguazu to see if it was possible to find an earlier flight. It was a bit of a stressful hurdle, but we managed in the end. We rescheduled our flight and our Ice trek in the Perito Moreno’s Glacier to the last day of the year.
Tips: Give yourself enough time and have 1 or 2 days as a buffer if you want to see several places in one time. Looking back, we would have stayed one more night, as we could’ve visited both the Argentinian side and the Brazilian sides of the falls. Also, we could’ve explored the rainforest.
Day 5 – Buenos Aires
We left for Buenos Aires the same day we visited the falls, in the evening. As a last-minute booking because of the strike, we had 2 more nights in Buenos Aires. We stayed in a mid-range hotel called Dora Hotel. It was a good room, but we found it a bit pricy since it did not include breakfast. The reason behind this was because our initial flight to El Calafate was cancelled and rebooked for a day after. The night after, as we were leaving for El Calafate, we stayed in Hostel Colonial, which was a cheaper option. Not ideal, but good enough for one night.
Buenos Aires – Recoleta neighborhood free walking tour
This day, we spent exploring another neighbourhood of Buenos Aires by going on a free walking tour, which was one of the best in our opinion. Our guide took us to Recoleta (we’ll include some links at the end for you to check out), one of the finest, upper-class neighbourhood in BA and known for its famous cemetery, where people like Evita Peron are buried. The tour lasted for 3h and our guide was great at telling the stories about the Argentinian nobility. After the tour, we went for lunch in the famous EL Ateneo, an old theatre turned bookshop. Apart from the theatre itself, there’s a café inside and a good selection of books in several languages. That night, we didn’t sleep much as we had to wake up early for our flight to EL Calafate at 4.50 am.
Day 6, 7 & 8 – El Calafate
What to see in El Calafate?
We arrived in El Calafate in the early morning and stayed at Hotel Michelangelo, just in time for breakfast. We visited briefly the town (a small town that is expanding because of an influx of growing tourism due to the proximity of the national park) and went for a walk alongside the Lago Argentino. The view from the lake is quite nice and since the sky was clear we could see some of the impressive snow tops from Los Glaciares National Park, where Perito Moreno Glacier is located. We were very tired and with a 0oC degree temperature, we didn’t walk too far.
Afterwards, we headed back into town and stopped to check out some souvenirs. We had a very interesting conversation with a local lady who only spoke in Spanish. She told us about Argentinian politics in relation to Patagonia, how the natural resources are being threatened by expansion plans from the government and private companies, and how Patagonia’s landscape and people are dependent on sustainable-oriented tourism. If you are ever interested in reading more about Patagonia and its struggles, there is a very good collection of books written by an Argentinian journalist Gonzalo Sanchez, which is called “Patagonia Vendida” (only in Spanish) or “Lost War” (in English).
What food to try in El Calafate?
The lady also gave us some very good tips about where to eat locally. When we finished talking, we headed to a cosy restaurant called Casimiro Biguá, where we had the most amazing lamb ever, Cordero Patagonico.
Hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier
The next day, we headed out to Perito Moreno Glacier, which is the main natural attraction in this area. It’s a huge glacier that is accessible via road and boat, located in Los Glaciares National Park and about 80km from El Calafate. We organized a day tour and a glacier hike with the tour operator called Hielo y Aventura. It was some of the best experiences of our lives, and we were lucky with the sunny weather. After a day of ice hiking, we headed back and had dinner at the second suggestion we were given, La Tablita. There we again had delicious Lamb with grilled veggies and a very nice bottle of Patagonian red wine.
It was a bit pricey but really good. In general, we found prices in Patagonia to be slightly higher than those in Buenos Aires, both for food and accommodation. We were a bit surprised. But it makes sense as they are highly dependent on tourism as an economic activity.
El Chalten – Trekking capital of Patagonia
Unfortunately, our stay in Patagonia was cut short by a day. So instead of staying 4 days, we had to stay only 3. We had planned to stay in El Chalten, a hiker’s paradise, but we had to decide to visit it for the day or stay in El Calafate. Since we had the whole day to ourselves, because our flight was later in the evening, we hired a taxi and went to El Chalten.
The price was 120USD in total for a whole day and about a 3h drive each way. Our driver, who only spoke Spanish, was super nice and told us where to go and hike so we could see the view from the top. It was totally worth it because we saw the beautiful, snowy Patagonian landscape along the way. In El Chalten, we visited waterfalls and hiked to the top of a hill with a view of the town and surrounding mountain peaks. The town itself was very deserted since it was low season. After spending some hours there, we went back to the airport to catch our flight back to Buenos Aires.
Day 9 & 10– Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
After arriving in Buenos Aires the day before, we went back to Hostel Colonial for one night. We chose them again because of the price and location. The hostel is very close to the port, where we took the ferry (Buquebus) to cross the border to Uruguay. We arrived early in Colonia. We left our things at Le Vrero Boutique Hotel, a cosy little place in Colonia.
As we couldn’t check in, because it was too early, we went about exploring the city a bit. Why go to Colonia? It is a small, picturesque, old town, previously conquered by the Portuguese and then Spanish. We stayed for 1 day and a half, which was more than enough to see the colonial architecture, enjoy the seaside and great sunsets, relax, and take some nice pictures. As it was winter, Colonia was empty. The temperature was very mild between 16 and 19 degrees. Perfect weather to walk around.
We thought of visiting neighbouring Carmelo, which is known for its vineyards and wines. However, the distance and our tiredness won in the end, and we found ourselves staying and relaxing Colonia’s atmosphere. A fun observation was the old cars parked all over the old town, which offered great pictures.
Day 11 & 12– Montevideo, Uruguay
On the second day, we left to Montevideo and stayed with our CouchSurfer host, Marina. Marina was a great host and had a lot of interesting experiences to share. She picked us up from the bus station and we enjoyed a delicious take away pizza at her place, while sharing a good conversation. The next day, we left early. We took a local bus and headed towards the city centre.
Montevideo- Free Walking Tour
We ate a massive breakfast in a café (with more Dulce de Leche) and started our free walking tour. Our guide always carried his Mate, and he explained to us about Uruguayan history, old and recent. We found out about the country’s dark history, during which Europeans killed almost all the indigenous population, and the more recent political history of dictatorships and democracy.
Uruguay is currently considered one of the most socially progressive South American countries. Indeed they have progressive laws when it comes to legalizing abortion, marijuana, and gay marriage.
Other things to see in Montevideo
The city of Montevideo is much smaller than Buenos Aires and very walkable. It has a very nice pedestrian path for bikes and people along the sea. After the tour, we ate at a great restaurant called Sin Pretensiones. This one stands out because of its decoration and food/price quality.
After lunch, we wandered around the city and ended up at a museum called “Museo Migraciones”, the Migration Museum. It showcased an exhibition about the immigrant history of Uruguay from the 20th Century until the current day. It revealed a mix of European immigration from the past and South American immigration from nowadays, as well as the Uruguayan diaspora spread all over the world.
We decided to walk back to our CouchSurfing place and arranged a final dinner with Marina before leaving at a nice, cosy spot where they had the typical Assado. By this point, we were a bit fed up of meat and assados. However, we had dinner in a Parrija restaurant (where all you can eat is meat) called La Pulperia to enjoy Marina’s company and say thanks for having us over.
Day 12 – Punta del Este
The next day, we stayed at a nice hotel closer to the city centre called Esplendor Montevideo. The price we paid was higher than usual, around 50€ per person per night, but it had an amazing king size bed, a very good breakfast, and a nice indoor swimming pool to relax.
We checked in early and off we went to our day trip in Punta del Este. Famous for its summer beaches, Punta del Este has become the fancy beach destination for most Argentinians, (they don’t have as good beaches as Uruguay) and for Uruguayans themselves. As we went there in the beginning of winter, it was completely empty. But again, we enjoyed good temperatures, especially for people living in Northern Europe. We went there by bus, which was around 35 EUR return and it took us roughly 3h to get there.
We went first went to see the iconic Fingers or Los Dedos, located right by the beach. Afterwards, we walked along the harbour area and saw the biggest sea lions ever with their heads popping out of the water and waiting for something to happen. We stopped for lunch at a fancy restaurant called Virazon Puerto with a view to the sea and had nice seafood paella and local grilled fish. It was a good place, but not really worth the price we paid when compared to food from our local countries (Portugal and Greece).
We returned the same day and got ready for the final part of our trip.
Day 13, 14 & 15 – Back to Buenos Aires
We said goodbye to Uruguay and took off on our Buquebus boat back to Buenos Aires. We arrived midday and went to our hostel, Art Factory on Tap. Good location, nice atmosphere, but very crappy mattresses to sleep on. We don’t advise to stay for more than 1 night. Especially after staying in our hotel in Montevideo, we weren’t comfortable at all. We paid 69.94$ for two nights without breakfast included. After leaving our stuff in the room, we went back to San Telmo’s market, grabbed some empanadas, and said goodbye to our favourite café run by a great lady, who recognized us after almost 2 weeks. This place had the best alfajores we tasted in Argentina.
Side note: the market is not the most affordable place to eat as it is made for tourists. However, it is still worth a visit, especially when everything is closed for food between 2 pm and 6 pm.
That night, we found out about Tango Shows, the quintessential thing to do if you are interested in such things. We arranged it via our hostel and went to El Queranti, paying 50€ per person. It was a great way to end the day. The dancers were amazing. Plus we had some drinks and snacks included as well, along with transportation.
Graffiti Tour Palermo
In our last full day in Buenos Aires, we started the morning by having breakfast at Cafe La Poesia, a very cosy café known for being the go-to place for local artists and writers. Afterwards, we went on a final free walking tour to a famous hipster neighbourhood called Palermo. Coincidently enough, we had the same guide that toured us in La Boca. He showed us some of the best graffiti from BA made by artists from all over Argentina and the world. It was worth it. When we finished the tour, we stopped for a beer in Desarmadero bar. They say it is the best craft beer in Buenos Aires. So we had to give it a try.
We decided to walk back to our hostel, which took us 2 hours as Buenos Aires is huge. We went souvenir shopping and ended our night in a very nice restaurant called Brighton Buenos Aires, which was a bit expensive but provided great quality and service.
One last bite at Cafe Tortoni
On our final day, we had breakfast at the famous Cafe Tortoni, known to be the oldest cafe in all of Buenos Aires. It was a bit pricey when compared with other places, but we had to try it out. It was our last meal in Argentina and off we went back to Dublin.
We felt like we could have seen more of Argentina, as it is such a big country. We could have easily spent a month there going around. For us, Uruguay is not worth a trip in itself, but can be visited as combination with another neighbouring country like Argentina. We would definitely come back to this rich and diverse land.
We hope you enjoyed our 2 week full itinerary in Argentina and Uruguay!