What can we say to the trillions of words about this country that can't be googled or browsed through specialist travel literature? We will do our best to keep it as short as possible…
Geography, Climate and dress
Argentina is about the size of all of the EU countries put together. That is a lot when you think of it. And just like in the EU, you can experience a variety of climates and biomes, from deserts to temperate broadleaf forests. Seasons are opposite to Europe, so it is summer in Buenos Aires when it is winter here, like Christmas, and vice-versa.. The beauty is that you can escape our grim winter weather but with a guarantee to feel immediately like going back… Some parts of Argentina have almost constantly warm weather, too, just as you get closer to the tropics as you would expect.
As for dress people are normally very informal, unless you are there on business of course. So you can get away with casual clothes which are appropriate to the region you are in. Make sure you have plenty of pockets and places in which you can store your valuables. A bum bag, or a flight bag is absolutely ideal. In subtropical and high mountain parts you will need to take into account altitude and high UV rays, so good sunglasses and plenty of sun cream especially if your skin is fair.
You will find that a lot of hotels offer laundry services which are far less expensive than in similar hotels in Europe or North America. Alternatively there are a lot of independent laundries offering this service. As an example I had a whole bag of clothes laundered by the only laundry in Purmamarca on the same day. They did an excellent job for approximately $5. Please note that items may go missing so if you are travelling with valuable clothing use dry cleaning for individual items, or, if possible, wash them yourself.
If you are unsure about what the pack you can use the My Luggage App
Beware that if you are planning to visit high altitude places (you can easily reach over 4000m especially in Northern Argentina) you will need to be extra careful with the packing of personal toiletries. Even a roll-on deodorant may easily leak due to the change in pressure, with unfortunate consequences for the rest of the items in your toiletries bag. So ensure that your cosmetics are tightly sealed and be careful when you open them again as content may splash around...
Is Spanish, of course, but Argentinian Spanish has evolved with its own vocabulary. The exceptions are too many to detail here. People are also addressed informally using the second person plural, but a traveller doesn't need to worry too much about these details. Argentinians are very forgiving with strangers and accept that you may speak more classical or broken Spanish. English is widely spoken in major cities and tourist areas though seldom entirely fluently.
Economy, currency and budget
The Argentinians will tell you that their economy is a disaster. If your Spanish is up to scratch, they will open up to you and reveal their political feelings with the same passion as they speak about football if you are willing to discuss it with them. The problem for visitors is that it is challenging to budget precisely as prices continuously increase. The official currency is the Peso, which is signposted as a $ - something which could be a little disturbing when you are unaccustomed and think 30000 pesos is (US)$30,000!
Generally speaking, you should travel with dollars or euros, which are easily exchanged. You will soon discover two exchange rates: the official and the black market. The official usually is about a third less than the unofficial. So if a dollar today is worth about 200 pesos on the official market, it is worth 350 in the black. This is a huge difference. The black market is generally safe, especially if you are with a guide and they help you with the transaction. Sometimes hotels also change dollars but at a lower right than the black market (for example, 300) yet still more than the official rate. Please note that in the black market, high-value denominations are worth more than low-value ones (from $50 upwards); the difference is between 10-30 pesos less per dollar/euro for low-value denominations.
These days the Argentinian government, to encourage tourism and discourage the black economy, will offer you a refund for your expenditure on a credit card (not Amex, though) which is almost the unofficial rate. So, you can pay with your debit card, which will be refunded after a few days, whatever the difference may be. But the official refunds may take a few days to be processed.
It is impossible to generalise the amount of money you should take. If you are frugal, you could make it with 30-40 dollars a day, or more, depending on where you eat. As of March 2023, you could have had two 'Milanesas' (or 'Mila' in slang) for around $24, which is already reasonable, but with a refund, could turn to $16…a bargain. Probably the most complicated part of the budgeting is making sure you don't change too much currency as bringing it back would just be pointless so you want to be careful to have enough cash just for those day to day expenses like water, snacks, taxis and similar, using cards for the rest wherever possible.
If you are using cards you will be asked in most instances to use a chip and pin. Contactless is possible but some shops insist on the old method. You will also be presented with a tab to sign if using chip and pin. Don't moan, is just how it works there.
Buying items of clothing can be expensive, so if you want leather goods, be prepared to dip into your savings.
The question of whether you should tip for service is often asked. Argentinians are not generous tippers. You would normally round the fare up when using a taxi and at the very most a 10% tip when eating out but only if the service has been exceptional. In general terms service in restaurant is average, you order, they serve the food and that's it. You are rarely fussed over, and my impression is that this is something that never comes natural to the locals so if they are forced to do it, well, it really looks forced and unnatural!
According to Google, 170 million ask the same question. So it must be a concern, and understandably so. Some Latin American countries can be very unsafe and are best avoided. Argentina, in this respect, is much more European. Think, for example, of visiting Naples. You will typically be safe, but there may be opportunistic thieving, like mobiles snitching from a purse or a table, pickpocketing in crowded places, etc. Buenos Aires and most significant cities experience higher levels of criminality than rural areas. Rosario is allegedly the most dangerous city of all, and parts of Buenos Aires are also avoided even by natives after dark, like La Boca. Some detailed research may be necessary, and experienced consultants like Conosur can advise you accordingly. Remember, prevention is better than cure. Tourist destinations have a dedicated police team to help them in the event of becoming victims of a crime.
Buenos Aires has a large number of beggars and people sleeping rough - something which some years ago was unseen and a result of the dire state of the economy and Covid - don't be ashamed to dispose of some of your unused pesos especially as - unless for souvenir value - they would probably have lost most of their value by the time you have gone back and it would be pointless to keep.
Food and eating customs
Food is varied in large cities, where you can easily access sushi or an Argentinian steak, but the choice is more limited in other areas. While it is still true that Argentinians consume large amounts of beef, this is less than some years ago. Beef has become more expensive, and as much as possible is exported, so the local cuts are either less quality or quite pricey. Gone are times when you could have an asado for just a few pounds. Yet most Argentinians will consume meat in the form of various processed foods like burgers, and empanadas (which can be very cheap and fulfilling, like $1 each), or as 'Milanesesa' of various kinds which is essential a breaded cutlet served with various toppings, even eggs and ham. There will be lots of Italian dishes like pasta, pizza and so on, or a focus on local dishes (like empanadas, humitas, tamales and so on) outside the main cities. Other ethnic restaurants like Indian ones are scarce. We only came across some of them in Palermo (Buenos Aires). Being vegetarian in Argentina can be quite challenging, and fruit is also not inexpensive. You can only afford to be vegan in the capital or other large conurbations, seldom if you stay in hotels and in small places, unless you are resigned to a very boring diet while you are there.
Argentinians adore a sweet breakfast (cakes, medialunas - their version of croissants but more like brioches - coffee or tea (mate) and juice with copious quantities of dulce de leche. You must stay in some swanky 5-star resort or eat in a higher standards coffee shop to get a hot savoury selection like a piece of bacon and eggs or similar though often scrambled eggs may also be available. There is usually another snack in the morning (more medialunas!) and a long and leisurely lunch, followed by “merienda” perhaps (late afternoon/early evening) and then what could for us be a very late dinner (9 to midnight). In the capital several hotel specialise in afternoon tea, just as you would expect (but with more emphasis on sweets) which is served from 5 to 7pm. Most restaurants open at 8 pm, and even then there will be just tourists eating so early!
Dulce de leche (caramelised milk) is a staple item of the Argentinian diet. You will find dulce de leche everywhere, from ice creams to breakfast spreads and wherever a sweetener may seem appropriate. It is a local passion and - like Marmite - you may either love it or hate it.
If you stay in Argentina for a long time, you may start longing for salads or similar since, more often than not, these are just served as a small side than a main course in that country though some international places do offer a small selection of main course salads like Caesar Salad or similar.
Argentinians aren't early risers. Museums are unlikely to open before 10, as well as some shops. Museums also have a one day in the week when they are closed so please check to avoid disappointments (most of them will have a website). Businesses will likely have a long break to allow customers to go home for lunch, reopening after 4 pm perhaps (and closing late - hence the late dinners!). The adjustment can be disconcerting as you may wish to visit a locality early morning (say around 8 am) only to find that most bars are closed then, even in Buenos Aires!
Major cities are very well served by a route of autobuses (colectivos). These are typically very cheap. Buenos Aires is the only city with a metro network (Subte) comprising about 60km of rail network.
Taxis are, in comparison, incredibly cheap. For example, you can comfortably reach large areas of Buenos Aires with a few dollars. This is also why many locals use them. Taxis have had a bad reputation in the past, but there are seldom issues if you ensure the meter is on. You can't pay by card; you need cash and are expected to pay the fee. Uber is available but is unregulated and if you have an accident you may not get covered by your insurance.
Trains are few and far between and mainly operate a semi-dilapidated service in the outskirts of Buenos Aires or other freight routes and tourist trains, like the "Treno de las Nubes". Argentina used to have a very extensive rail network, mainly built by British companies, but it was almost entirely dismantled during the last decades of the last century though some lines are now slowly being reinstated.
Argentinians are avid car users or will use overnight long-distance buses (very comfortable, especially in Executive class). If you use buses be very careful getting in and around coach stations where petty crime is normally rife.
Given the enormous distances, air travel is widely available, mainly operated by Aerolineas Argentinas with its distinctive azure livery. It may be expensive, though. Airports are usually well-maintained and relatively safe though some of the provincial airports these days are far better than the long worn-out Ezeiza (though a new terminal should open soon) and Aeroparque (soon to be upgraded).
Walking around cities is safe but do follow traffic lights or follow a native (with due care!) - Argentinian drivers are unforgiving, and some zigzag chaotically across their gigantic multi lanes avenues. Watch out for pickpockets, so avoid using your mobile phone or displaying valuables while walking about.
Healthcare is accessible to all, including visitors, so if you are injured, you will be treated for free at a local hospital. Many are basic, so if you prefer a more luxurious treatment, there are several private clinics, especially in major cities - you will need to appeal to your insurance for this kind of provision though. Pharmacies are plentiful and they will dispense the usual over the counter remedies, at prices you would expect to pay in the EU or US (so not cheap).
Communications (phone and internet)
Internet (WiFi) is widely available across public places like cafes, restaurants and hotels. You may need to ask for the password (contraseña) to access it, but it usually is reliable but seldom terribly fast just adequate for basic work like browsing and uploading your shots.
Mobile communication is patchy across the vast country but absolutely fine where available. At the time of writing, there was very limited 5g, but 4g is widely available. There are three operators Movistar, Claro and Personal. If you are roaming, you may be stuck with one operator, which may not provide you with a signal away from the main cities, so do check. For example, if you are travelling to rural areas, our experience is that Claro offers broader coverage than Movistar. So if you stay for more than two weeks and tend to travel outside main cities we suggest you purchase a local tourist SIM from Claro from their authorised shops (there is one at Ezeiza airport too).