Expedition: The Great Escape: 2014-15
Adventure Time: 3 Weeks
From Ecuador we flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s buzzing capital and then made our way south to experience a taste of Patagonia. Buenos Aires had all the appeal of a classical European City and Patagonia was just vast, baron and beautiful. Worlds apart.
These are my highlights! Hit the links to scroll down to a specific location.
Buenos Aires, along with Mexico City and Sao Paulo is considered one of the three Latin American ‘alpha cities.'
It is the most visited city in South America and is known mostly for its European-style architecture and rich cultural life – not to mention the wine and delicious, HUGE juicy steaks available on every street corner.
I liked Buenos Aires, It reminded me a lot of London, only more compact. The pubs and bars are very much like the ones you would find in the UK, only the wine was a heck of a lot cheaper. It was nice to begin with, an exciting place to be – and I could see why South Americans raved about it – it’s just SO different. But to me it was very much like home with a few cultural shifts that I struggled to adapt to; eating dinner at 11.00 pm, going out at 1.00 am and going to bed at 4.00 am. Once a week I could manage but every day?
I can't imagine you'd need long in Buenos Aires – a week tops really. Any longer (especially if you’re hosteling it) can be tiring.
Following the economic crisis earlier in the century, Argentina was suffering from soaring inflation rates at the time we travelled. Information in the guide book was out of date at the time of print. Budgeting was hard. One way we made our money last was by exchanging it on the black market. Sounds dodgy but everyone was doing it. You had to really.
Before you leave read what the current economic situation is and try and find recent blogs from travellers or articles about the exchange rate and how to manage your money.
When we travelled we were advised to bring in as many US Dollars or Euros as we could and exchange on the black market. I had a friend in Buenos Aires who helped us to exchange money in the back office of a betting shop. The second time I needed to exchange money, our hostel owner did it for us. Hostel/hotel owners can’t advertise this service as it is technically illegal and they could have their business shut down. It’s just worth asking.
Don’t exchange money at the airport.
We walked everywhere and travelled by bus.
At first it seemed people were hailing a bus from any old place in the street, however there are usually signs sticking out of the wall or numbered stickers indicating bus numbers that stop at that particular site. Buses will only stop at their designated sticker/sign and the signs are tiny so watch out for them.
You can purchase a travel swipe card for the buses/metro from any metro station. Bus journeys cost an average of 3 pesos. 2 people can travel on one card.
Places to Stay
Artistic, bohemian and hipster meets 17th century mansions and cobbled streets. This is old mixed with new and it really works. Despite being the historical centre of Buenos Aires, here you can find some of the cheapest and best bars and restaurants in the city.
Every Sunday a market takes over the whole of Defensa street. Art, antiques, jewellery, records, food, drink, live music, Tango…
The Tango show, which takes place in the Feria de San Pedro Telmo Square is considered the best Tango in the city – according to my Buenos Aires friend’s house mate – an Argentinian dancer.
For the buzz, the cheap eats, drinks, and markets, San Telmo is definitely a good place to base yourself.
From San Telmo the number 29 bus can get you to the famous La Boca in 15 minutes and Palermo/Plaza Italia near the big park in about 30 minutes depending on traffic. The 64 also goes to the park from San Telmo but takes the longer scenic route.
Hostel Carlos Gardel - Carlos Garvel, San telmo, Buenos Aires
When we stayed in 2015 there was no 24 hour reception which was a bit of a pain for checking in, so plan ahead. The rooms, however were really, really nice – superb, in fact – like a hotel.
Another option is Hostel Soleil (formerly Asterion House Hostel) just around the corner where we also stayed. This was definitely more of a hostel and could get quite loud at night. The owner was lovely though and he helped us with money exchange.
Things to See and Do
Grab the perfect steak!
You can find steak everywhere in Buenos Aires but if you want to find the best steak you go to La Cabrera. It is SENSATIONAL and MASSIVE! On weekdays there was a 50% off deal so check when you go to see if the offer still applies, although I’d pay full whack it tasted so good. Try the steak with blue cheese sauce – Oh My God.
See the BEST Tango in Buenos Aires
Hit the Feria de San Pedro Telmo Square on Sunday from about 4.00 pm to 5.30 pm for some incredible Tango performances. This is the type of Tango you’d expect to see at one of those ‘dinner included’ shows, and all you pay is a tip in a basket at the end – brilliant!
The Tango show here is considered (by the locals) to be the best Tango in the city – so if you’re on a budget, get to the market for some incredible dancing and forget paying top dollar for a show!
The dancers who performed at the market distributed business cards at the end of their performance. If you're in BA for a while and want to learn to Tango – these guys are probably the best!
San Telmo Sunday Market and La Boca
Traders start from around 10:00 am and wrap up at around 5:00 pm.
10.00 am: The market hadn’t really kicked off so we caught the 29 bus from San Telmo to La Boca. You can ask the bus driver to let you off at 'Caminito'. It’s not a terribly safe area but the driver will let you know where’s best to alight.
The buildings and streets here are stunning and colourful.
The vibe however is a little staged and the area is overrun with tourists, so if it’s authenticity you’re after you won’t find it here but that’s not to say you won’t have a good time. Consider La Boca a big colourful open air museum with tatty gift shops littered throughout with some staged tango dancing on the side.
11:15 am: We hopped on a bus and made our way back to San Telmo for the market. By 11:30 the streets were busy and vibrant. Hungry? Best place to grab a snack is Nuestra Parrilla (aka Parrilla Fredy)
The meat is incredible, as is the pesto/tapenade sauce that goes with it. The wine is a bit hit and miss but at £1 a glass you can’t grumble. The beer is also pretty good. It was all SO GOOD and cheap we even went back for dinner!
Walk the City to take in all the major monuments
Walking through the streets of Buenos Aires is a great way to see the city. We walked all the way from San Telmo to Plaza Italia and the Tres de Febrero Park and Palermo. It took about 3-4 hours with stops in between. If your feet aren’t quite up to it there is a city tour bus that seemed like a fun option. However, walking has its charms and you’re bound to be entertained along the way.
Check out La Recoleta Cemetery
Famous as the resting place of Evita Peron, this is one of the oddest cemeteries I’ve ever visited. It’s smack bang in the middle of the city and there’s hardly a patch of green to be seen inside the walls. It’s full of concrete tombs and mausoleums. Some so run down that the coffins inside are smashed and broken. It’s just odd but worth visiting and entry is free.
Spend an afternoon in the park
Go to the market, pick up some wine, cheese and picnic food and take a stroll around one of the many city parks. There are a few to choose from and in a city like Buenos Aires it’s almost essential to find yourself a bit of open space to escape the hectic city life. We went to the Tres de Febrero Park.
Go to Uruaguay
I can’t tell you much about it as I didn’t go. Easter holidays were approaching and all the ferry companies from where we could book tickets were closed, so we missed out. I heard it’s a good day trip out; nothing super special but you get another stamp in the passport.
Visit the Delta el Tigre
Another highly recommended trip but again, we didn’t do it as we’d done a few canal trips already on the trip and decided to give it a miss.
Jesus Themed Park – Tierra Santa
Supposed to be taken seriously but made fun for kids. I'm not sure. Bonkers and well worth a visit just for the experience of seeing a staged crucifixion and witness a 20 ft illuminated statue of Jesus emerge from the grounds.
Eat, Drink and be Merry
For the perfect steak: La Cabrera
For good vibes, wine, cozy pub feel: Bar El Federal (owned by the chain Los Notables)
For on-the-go street food: Nuestra Parrilla (aka Parrilla Fredy)
For the best burger: Burger Joint, Palermo. Considered the best burger joint in Buenos Aires
San Antonio de Areco
Get away from it all and go cowboy
San Antonio de Areco is a town in northern Buenos Aires, just 113 km (roughly 2 hours drive) away by bus from the city centre. If you’re looking for a change of scenery and need to get away from busy city life, then head to San Antonio. It’s where local BA city dwellers choose to escape to for a weekend break.
The city is the home of the Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güiraldes. Each year in November the city holds the Día de la Tradición (Tradition Day) gaucho celebration.
If you arrive on a weekend expect live music, entertainment and flocks of Argentine Guachos donning their finest. During the week it’s completely dead! Most places are closed and aside from the odd local and stray dog it’s a bit of a ghost town. We arrived on a weekday and despite there being not a lot to do we had a lovely time. There are some lovely little cafes and restaurants serving gorgeous food, a little park and we were staying in a beautiful hostel with a huge double room backing onto a garden with a pool. Not bad!
From Buenos Aires we flew to El Calafate in Patagonia to visit the magnificent Glacier Perito Moreno in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. From El Calafate we travelled by bus to the town of El Chalten where we spent a few days hiking around Mount Fitz Roy. Stunning.
When you arrive at the airport you can either take a taxi or a mini bus into town. All very expensive and you can’t negotiate on cost. Here's where you can save money:
Food: Try and prepare your own meals whenever you can and shop at the supermarket. We survived on bread, cheese, eggs and salad for a couple of days, as well as wine.
Tours: Find out whether paying for tours in US Dollars gets you discounts. When we travelled people loved dollars as they could exchange them for more on the black market.
There’s really just one reason to come here – and that’s to see the magnificent glacier Perito Merino
Places to Stay
Hostel Inn Calafate (formerly Marcopolo Inn)
At the time a double room with private bathroom was £8.95 per night pp. Beautiful hostel set just outside of town away from the tourists with the most extraordinary views and sunsets. The hostel is run by a very sweet family, always willing to go the extra mile. The facilities were also great. A bar area, pool table, comfortable sofas and cushions, wifi. Lovely.
The tour to the glacier is a one day tour. At the time the best deal we got was with a company called ‘Always Glaciers.’ There are several tour companies in town, all operating exactly the same tour – only the price differs – so expect more-or-less the same quality of tour.
Our tour included transport to the National Park, a rather cramped boat ride to the glacier face and then time at the park where you could walk along an incredibly long, multi-level viewing platform. From the platform, the glacier is so incredibly close. You can see it, hear it and even feel it as it moves. Stunning. There are other tours available such as walking on the glacier and kayaking but these are far more expensive and I feel wouldn't have been as good. We witnessed 60 feet of solid ice exploding and collapsing right in front of us!
Try and book your tour or at least reserve your space in advance and check information in current guidebooks to gauge cost. I would maybe put aside £100. You can always enquire with hostels at the time of booking to get a ballpark figure.
Avoid booking activities through your hostels as you may end up paying a big commission fee and won’t get the dollar discount you could get when booking direct with the agency. If you want to book through them to make life easier, ask maybe if you can pay in dollars (cash) on arrival – and could they give you a discount for that, as agencies in town offer discounts. They will more than likely say that they will.
Using the same agency, ‘Always Glaciers‘ we booked return bus tickets to the town of El Chalten, a small mountain village 220 km away from El Calafate, located within the Los Glaciares National Park at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains.
El Chalten is known as Argentina’s Trekking Capital. The hike to Mount Fitzy Roy is probably the most beautiful hike I have done in my life. There are also smaller hikes you can take to the Los Cóndores and Las Águilas viewpoints.
Places to Stay
There are lots of accommodation options in El Chalten. All ‘supposedly’ budget options are a bit naff. Just aim to pick a hostel that has a kitchen, as the restaurants are extortionate and there are a few small supermarkets in town – great if you really are on a tight budget. There are several short, relatively easy hikes you can do from the town of El Chalten. These are well worth doing before embarking on the 12 hour round hike to Mount Fitz Roy. All trails are marked and you do not need a guide.
Hike to Mount Fitz Roy
12 hours return - unguided.
Difficulty: Moderate – average level of fitness needed.
Most of the hike was actually quite flat but the last hour was a steep climb. You definitely feel it on the way back. The trail is marked and other hikers pass by, so there is very little chance of getting lost. You can definitely do this unguided.
Quite frankly, one of the most stunning and rewarding hikes I have ever done in my life. The sky and the landscape was changing constantly. Beautiful.
Next stop on The Great Escape: LA
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere else I travelled to as part of this expedition: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.
For highlights and travel tips for all countries I've travelled to click here.