Argentina: Buenos Aires, El Calafate, El Chaten (what you should know)
Here is my skinny on Argentina (BA, El Calafate, El Chalten) after spending a month there.
If you are going for a short-time and want to experience the millennial Argentine scene (like me) the place to stay is in Palermo. Palermo Soho has great restaurants & shopping and Palermo Hollywood is residential cool and has great food. I recommend the Home Hotel or Fierro Hotel. It’s the West Village / Chelsea of Buenos Aires and has a lovely large park.
Culture & What To Do
It’s safe to take the subway anywhere. They are much nicer than NYC. I would try and go to San Telmo and eat street meat (asado) on Sunday for the market. The Recoleta Cemetery is a not miss for me. They also on weekends have a good asado as well. Centro is nice to experience, the buildings are lovely. But it’s businessey. With that said, if you’re short on time, you’ll be very happy putzing around Palermo, Crespo, and Recoleta.
BA is 5x the size of all 5 NYC boroughs. Don’t expect to see everything & don’t drag yourself ragged around the city. You’ll be missing what is awesome about Buenos Aires — the slow pace, the cafes and sweets, the late nights.
If they have Polo going on, I highly recommend that for people & horse watching. It’s a Argentine cultural must do and a usually a free event. Hang around after the meet to see the awards ceremony, drink a Fernet and coke, and see the winning horse. So great.
I did this thing called “The Argentina Experience” with my brother which was essentially a entertainment dinner cooking course. We laughed so hard throughout that I have to recommend it. A bit cheesy, but you’ll learn a ton and it’s fun to meet other people. Do the wine course before the dinner course.
Also, the Graffitimundo tour was terrific. The street art in BA is rowdy and everywhere. The GM tour completely changed the way I saw the city and it’s history. It’s a not miss especially if you want to take home art.
Books to Read Before You Go
- The story of the night — Colm Toibin
- Argentina — Culture Smart! — Robert Hamwee
- Evita: The Real Lives of Eva Peron — Fraer & Navarro
If you can, use the hotel concierge to do your restaurant booking. It’s not really an online booking culture, and they will give you the worst timing while saving the good timing for the locals. Sun-Wednesday 8:30 on is dinner time. Thurs-Saturday it’s 10:30 or so. But, don’t sweat it either way. You’ll eat well! :)
The food is amazing. But, you’ll be surprised by all the sugar and meat! My Spanish teacher told me that Americans always make comments about the amount of sugar Porteñas consume. ;-) After a few sugar crashes, my body adjusted.
Argentine’s take their healdo (ice cream) very seriously. It’s fantastic. As are the many abundant fresh bread, sandwich, and pasty shops. Stop in to pick up croissants, empanadas, etc.
Here is how to order a coffee. It’s an art form.
Eat in Palermo
- La Carneceria — for steak. A must. Need a reservation!
- Oui oui — Lunch in Palermo Hollywood.
- Proper — v. cool & worth going to. Different menu each night.
- La Mar — $$$ Peruvian. I ate here twice, it’s lovely.
- Pan et vin — next to Hotel Glu & great wine / sandwiches.
- La Panera Rosa — good lunch spot
- Las Cabras — my favorite dinner spot. Local. Get the steak, salads, AND empanadas.
- Coco Cafe — local favorite for breaky & late afternoon coffee / sweets
Bars / Lounge in Palermo
- Victoria Brown bar (speakeasy)
Here are my girlfriend’s favorite restaurants in Buenos Aires (she’s a Porteña — local).
Best in Buenos Aires
- Elena Four Seasons
Eat in Centro
- Pan y Teatro
- Akira Sushi Ricardo Rojas 451, microcentro
- Yuki (balvanera) Pasco 740, entre Chile e Independencia
- Oviedo (Beruti 2602)
- Roux (Peña 2300)
- Sottovoce (ir al de Libertador, no puerto madero!)
Eat in San Telmo
- Aldos → Fancy white table cloth. Nice spot!
- La Brasserie Petanque
- Panadería de Pablo
- Parrilla del plata
- Barcock (el nombre no esta bien escrito)
- Chile y Defensa. Antes era parada de tranvía.
- Gibraltar. Perú 895
- San Telmo
- Brasserie Pétanque
- Amici Miei (balcones para dos en San Telmo)
Eat in La Boca
Insight: I didn’t really “get” La Boca. The housing colors were interesting, but I found it repulsively touristy. Perhaps I just missed the charm?
- Il Matterello
- Vicente López
- Mercado Central
- Café Crespin
- Automóvil Club
- Monasterio (esq. Vicky)
- Mercado Central
- De Simone (Güemes y Ayacucho)
Eat in Puerto Madera
- If you get over to Puerto Madera go as close to the Ecological Reserve as you can. There are many small trucks where you can order Choripan and a Fanta and sit outside with the locals eating their lunch. I loved this and challenge of figuring out how the ordering system went. The brave prevail.
- A friend who lived in BA told me, “Lynze do you want your jewelry when you leave Buenos Aires?” Of course, I told her. She responded “good, then don’t bring it.” Best to leave your jewelry, nice bags, etc at home. Armed robbery is a daily occurrence in Buenos Aires so don’t drop your guard. If you’re curious as to why, read about the ongoing devaluing of the peso. With that said, I was there alone for a month and walked at night all the time without a problem.
- Argentine women dress smart. They wear RIDICULOUS shoes but beyond that you’ll see a lot of city wear aka black. They are a bit more grunge funk. You won’t see flip flops or many sandals — the dog poo is an issue — and heels on cobblestones are a no go.
Leaving Buenos Aires **Insider Trick**
International flights land into the big airport about 45 minutes from the city. But local flights take off right near Palermo (you could walk to their airport.) With that said, I found out the hard way that you can’t book last minute flights on Aerolineas Argentinas. And, I could never get through to their call center (#argentina).
So my friend, if you want to hop a last minute flight to another Argentine city, just go the airport and buy a ticket at the counter. That’s what I did, and it was the exact same price as online. I bought the flight at 8PM and left at 4AM. :-D
We landed in El Calafate without any reservations so we used the airport wifi to look at some hotels. We didn’t know but there is only 1 bus into town every few hours (when an airplane lands) so we missed the cheap bus and had to pay for a taxi. Like $40 or something for the 10 minute ride. Whoops!
El Calafate looks a bit like you’re on the moon — assuming I know what that looks like. It’s desolate and the city is small.
My friend wanted to stay near town so we ended up close to the city center. The city center is meh. Small town, quaint, touristy. I went there for nature not shopping / eating at a restaurant.
In El Calafate there is a lot of hype about the lake. Spoiler: the lake is just ok. Don’t be disappointed by El Calafate. It’s just the town that get’s you to the Glacier, and the Glacier & Glacier national park are an A+.
Wherever you stay they will have options to pack lunches for you. In Glacier National Park there aren’t any facilities so this is nice .
I rented ALL of my hiking stuff for the Glacier in town. I just walked the strip and went in to a store. It cost about $100 but it was SO worth it because I didn’t bring glacier hiking gear and didn’t want to buy it.. This included: legit mountain hiking boots, snow pants, gloves, and a backpack.
We did the Big Ice Trek through Hielo y Aventura. HIGHLY HIGHLY recommended. Unless it’s not physically possible for one of you, do the Big Ice! Nothing else compares.
**Insiders Trick** You’ll get close to your tour guide as you are with them all day. Ask on your way home if they can recommend anything to do that evening. If you’ve been a good trekker, they might invite you to an asado (BBQ) at a fellow guides house that happens almost every night. GO! GO! It’ll make your entire trip. Pick up some meat at any of the groceries and a cheap bottle of wine.
++EL CALAFATE SPECIAL++
I had this weird thing about riding a horse in Patagonia. So I found this random website and had the front desk call the number. 45 minutes later and we were in the back of a truck driving way out into the pampas to Rio Mitre Estancia, a traditional Argentine farm. We ate asado, rode horses, took in the views, played with the farm animals, saw cowboys ride in the horses across the land under the mountains. EPIC ARGENTINE SHIT.
I wish we would have stayed there! They have 2 little cabins you can rent. It was so raw and off the beaten path. A true one of a kind experience.
Note: We planned everything above in about 2 hours the day before and set-up all our tours on arrival. Sometimes the best things happen unplanned.
We had the front desk arrange for a bus pick-up to drive the 3 hours to El Chalten. I thought it was going to be the local yocal bus, but it was a nice mini-bus for about 6 of us. They’ve got the tourist thing down & it’s not cheap, but you know, one in a lifetime.
El Chalten is such a good little hippie, hiking town. I could have stayed there easily for a month hiking different trails & meeting people from all over. And Mt. Fitz Roy! Mt. Fitz Roy!
Everything is small B&B and lodging. It’s unimpressive (2–3 stars, maybe), but you’re not there for the hotels . We had our hotel in El Calafate call someone and find a room for us as we went out of season and it was slow, so most things we’re yet open.
There are some hotels right out of El Chalten that seem less hostel like & more like a Red Roof Inn. Don’t do that. You want to be able to hike straight from your doorstop.
Except for this one! Which I would do with my husband if I went back → Aguas Arriba a “5-room Lodge located 37 km away from El Chaltén, right on the shore, overseeing the Lago del Desierto, and under the distance gaze of the majestic Mt. Fitz Roy, with magnificence views of the Vespignani Glacier. It is only accessible by boat or a 3 hour hike, ensuring an exclusive and serene experience for nature and mountains lovers who want to immerse in the natural splendor of Mt Fitz Roy and the Argentine Andes Range.” Umm, yes please.
Everything you buy is in cash, so have cash! The ATMs in El Chalten run out of $$ and you’re in the middle of nowhere. Food is expensive. Your in a popular tourist area in a town of 2,000 people who make a living off of a few short months. I found the people incredibly hospitable and the town ambiance magical. I would pay a mint to be teleported back!
I brought a pair of hiking / yoga pants, jeans, and t-shirt, fleece, jacket, and hiking shoes. I never needed the jacket unless it was at night. This was September. It’s SUPER casual and most people spend all day on the mountain.
That’s all I’ve got for now! If you are more of a visual learner, check out Sam & Audrey’s vlogs about Argentina. They are great.
Anything else you want to know, just shout.