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PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Argentina is Argentinian Pesos (ARS). I will refer to them as A$s. At the time of writing, US$1 = A$36.50 … NOT!!!!!! … Read on!
When I first planned my Latin America trip 3-4 years ago, Argentina was too expensive for my GRANDPAcking budget … so, I excluded it.
My plan was to fly into Mendoza, bus north to Cafayate, and tour north-western Argentina before crossing into Bolivia.
Your journey may start in Mendoza, or in Cordoba, or in Buenos Aires … the, following, information should still be useful and relevant.
I only started in Mendoza because it was (for me) the cheapest point of entry into North West Argentina.
MY FLIGHTS FROM QUITO, ECUADOR:
QUITO TO LIMA:
I booked a return flight from Quito to Lima on Avianca. It cost me US$440 inclusive of 23kgs of stowed luggage. Flights in and out of Ecuador are high compared to other (neighbouring) countries … without obvious good reason. To keep costs down, you want to fly out to a neighbouring country and get cheaper on-wards flights from there.
I had to change from Avianca to Sky airlines in Lima. This meant that I had to exit Customs / Immigration, collect my luggage, and check back in again.
LIMA TO SANTIAGO TO MENDOZA:
I booked a one-way flight from Lima to Santiago (Chile) with Sky. I booked another one-way flight with Sky from there to Mendoza. It cost me US$197.50 inclusive of 23kgs of stowed luggage. They were booked on the same ‘reservation’.
Sky would not check my bags through to Mendoza so, in Santiago, I had to clear Customs / Immigration (again), pick up my luggage (again), and check-in with Sky (again).
It was a long and tiring trip. I left Quito on a 6:30pm flight, connected twice, flew through the night, and arrived in Mendoza at 1:35pm the next day. It was cheap because it was ‘inconvenient’.
MENDOZA TO TUCUMAN:
Buses do not travel up Route 40 from Mendoza to Cafayate. You have to cut across to Route 38. This makes Tucuman the first ‘point of entry’ to Cafayate. This is the same if you are coming from Cordoba or Buenos Aries.
I arrived in Mendoza late on the Saturday. On Sunday, I went to the main Bus Terminal and bought the Monday 5pm over-night semi-bed bus ticket to Tucuman. The price was A$2,016 for a ‘standard’ seat on the (estimated) 15 hour trip. An ‘executive’ seat was priced at A$2,600.
PLEASE NOTE: Online information about how to get from Tucuman to Cafayate is ‘sketchy’ and unreliable. I was not sure whether or not I could get from Tucuman to Cafayate the same day. I improved my ‘odds’ by booking the 5pm bus from Mendoza that was scheduled to arrive in Tucuman at 8:15am …
These are Double-Decker buses with ‘executive’ seating downstairs and ‘standard’ seating upstairs. All of the ‘executive’ seats on all busses for Monday were booked out. However, I did manage to get a ‘standard’ seat at the front which had the best legroom.
PLEASE NOTE: To buy a bus ticket in Argentina, you (usually) need to show them your passport. You will, also, need to show them your passport when you get onto the bus.
Sitting next to me was another big man who insisted on over-flowing the central armrest and as much leg-space as he could take. I had to put up with him for 8 hours. He was immediately replaced by another (even larger) man who insisted on doing the same. He got off 1 hour before Tucuman. It was an uncomfortable 15 hours and I got very little sleep.
Paying the extra (US$17 per person) on such a long trip is worth it.
RECOMMENDATION: In hindsight, I should have flown into Salta (if possible). By the time that you add up in-transit costs (hotel et al) and the cost of a long distance bus to Tucuman / Salta, it doesn’t cost much more to just add the domestic flight to Salta onto your existing international flight to Argentina.
I went to Booth 66 and purchased my ticket from Tucuman to Cafayate. They leave 5 times each day. Some go via Santa Maria – 2 go ‘direct’. The ‘direct’ bus is 1 hour faster. The next bus left at 12 noon – it was ‘direct’. The price was A$390 and it was scheduled to take 5 hours. This was another Double Decker bus. Again, I was upstairs in the ‘cheap seats’.
When you get onto Route 40 you can pick up speed again. You start to pass some young vineyards.
From there it is a several 100 metre walk to your hotel. Mine was, perhaps, 800 metres away.
It has about 12,000 inhabitants.
Wine production is most important in the Valles Calchaquíes. The wines produced in the region benefit from the low-humidity and the mild weather of the valleys (that receive an average of less than 250 mm of precipitation per year). The most characteristic type of wine cultivated in the area is Torrontés. Most wine-cellars around the town host guided tours. 🙂
Many of the most impressive sights in the Valley are along the paved, 183-kilometres-long National Route 68 that goes from Salta to Cafayate.
National Route 40 goes for 165 kilometres from Cafayate to Cachi (another of the most visited points in the area). Please note that this stretch of RN40 is not paved and should be avoided during the raining season. There is no Public Transport servicing this route either.
Other points of interest from Cafayate include Molinos, Tolombón, and San Isidro ranch. The town of Cafayate is an attraction by itself, with its laid-back rhythm, colonial style, and wine cellars open to the public.
All-in-all, Cafayate is a nice little town.
This is what you can expect online 1 week before your arrival.
PLEASE NOTE: BOOKING displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You (usually) have to add 21% to the displayed price to get the final price.
PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB displays prices INCLUSIVE of taxes but EXCLUSIVE of ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%) and ‘Cleaning Fees’ (some places charge 1 day’s rent!).
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.
Two GRANDPAckers should be able to find a Double Room for about A$650 / night including taxes and Breakfast.
I did not book Cafayate in advance. I decided to wait until I was in Tucuman with a bus ticket in my hand (or not).
With bus ticket in hand, I got online and booked a Double Room (single occupancy) at Hosteria Herrero for 3 nights at A$527 / night (US$15.70) including Breakfast.
PLEASE NOTE: Probably due to the current problems with the A$, many hotels quote in US$s. If you pay in A$s on arrival (e.g. with BOOKING.COM), they are supposed to convert US$s to A$s ‘at the exchange rate on that day’. However, they do not always use the correct exchange rate. For example, I booked the Herrero that morning. The room was listed at US$14 / night. The wholesale rate on that day was US$1=A$36.50 so I should have paid A$1,530 for my 3 nights. BOOKING told me that my 3 nights would cost A$1,540 (US$1=A$36.69). When I got there, they charged me A$1,580 (US$1=A$37.62). Effectively, the hostel was charging me nearly 3% more and made an extra A$50. This is common practice when rooms are not being quoted in local currency`.
I’m an ‘old fart’ so I like to book rooms with a wardrobe – a place to hang and air my clothes. Alas, the wardrobe was full of hotel stuff and I could not use it. I had to hang my clothes on the curtain rail (again!). The room came with a cable TV which was very ‘snowy’ and had no English Speaking channels (not even when I changed the ‘default’ audio language to English).
The ensuite was tiny and the shower was crammed in above the toilet and wash-basin. It was hard not to get everything (old and new toilet paper included) soaking wet whilst having a shower. A plus was that the water was hot.
The in-room wifi was ‘variable’ and sometimes good enough (in quiet hours) to stream video. Breakfast was served between 8am and 9:30am. There was a small drinks area where you could make tea or coffee.
I suppose that, for US$14 / night, you can’t really complain.
WHERE TO STAY:
You can stay anywhere in town – it is all nice.
If your preferred hostel offers free or cheap bicycle rental you could, also, consider a place 1-2 kms out of town – this could prove to be a wonderful option for many.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
Many places close in the heat of the afternoon. Shops as well as restobars.
Shops start to re-open at 6-7pm. Some restobars don’t re-open until as late as 8pm.
Most restaurants around town offer meals for under A$200 (US$6) … even in the restaurants around the main square. For A$350 (US$10) you can get something very nice.
I tried 6 Empanadas (A$15 each) with a beer (A$125).
The locals go 4 blocks west of the main square down Rivadavia. Here you will find a group of cheap grocery stores, restaurants, street grills, and bars. This is where you get your best priced parrillas (outdoor grilled meat meals). They don’t open until after 8pm and the meat isn’t, usually, ready until about 9pm.
It cost me A$400 inclusive of a large beer. It was big enough for GRANDPAckers to share. I only managed to eat the salad, no bread, no fries, and most of the steak.
The ‘going rate’ for a single Empanada in Cafayate seems to be A$15. Whilst checking out Rivadavia I noticed several of the restaurants offering 1 litre of House Wine for A$90. El Hornito was one of them …
Outside they have a wood fired oven that they use to cook their Empanadas. Again, they are A$15 each. I ordered their House Special of a dozen Meat Empanadas for A$140 and a litre of House Red (A$90).
The Empanadas were full of meat and were fresh out of the oven. Yum.
GRANDPAckers who have already had Breakfast and a Lunch ‘Special’ could easily share this and be content … for about US$3.50 each.
The average price for a large, 970ml local beer in a tourist bar is A$120. You can get this for A$100 in the ‘locals’ bars around the main square.
At the grills and restobars down Rivadavia, you will pay A$80.
You don’t see any Happy Hours.
Expect to pay an average of A$100 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.
Expect to pay an average of A$150 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of A$200 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.
You can walk everywhere around town.
There are lots of places where you can rent a bicycle. Typical prices are A$50 / hour, A$150 / half day, and A$200 / full day.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:
You will need Argentinian Pesos.
You will find a couple of ATMs around the main square. There is no Bureau De Change.
THE ATM SCAM:
Luckily, I landed in Mendoza with a few US$s. But, I had no A$s. At the airport, I went to find an ATM. There were only 2 ATMs in the Arrivals Lounge: an HSBC and another one.
I went to the HSBC to withdraw A$20,000 (US$550). It refused. The maximum that it would let me withdraw was A$4000 ($110) and it want a ‘fee’ of A$367! The other ATM ran out of money and closed down.
Taxis accept US$s so I caught a taxi to my hotel.
Once in town, I went looking for ATMs to discover the following:
- Banelco ATMs seem to have cornered the market
- Most banks use Banelco ATMs
- Banelco ATMs seem to be the most expensive
- Most banks limit you to A$2,000 per withdrawal and charge a A$209 fee (10%)
- Some allow you to withdraw A$4,000 and charge a A$367 fee (9.2%)
- The BBVA allowed me to withdraw A$8,000 and charged a A$367 fee (4.6%)
- In Salta, HSBC allowed me to withdraw A$8,000 and charged a A$375 fee (4.6%)
- BBVA (and, later, HSBC) were the only banks (that I found) that allowed a withdrawal of over A$4,000
I am a full time traveller and these are the highest ATM fees that I have ever come across. If your Home Bank charges you a ‘Foreign ATM Transaction Fee’ you are losing an even large percentage on the published exchange rate (as much as 20% on an A$2,000 withdrawal!).
The online ‘wholesale exchange rate’ was NZ$1=A$24.18.
I withdrew A$8,000 from the BBVA ATM which cost me NZ$367 after all fees; the ‘effective exchange rate’ was NZ$1=A$21.80 – being 90% of the wholesale rate. My Home Bank charges no ‘Foreign ATM Fees’. The transaction cost me 10%.
I bought a A$2,016 bus ticket on my Credit Card which cost me NZ$88.33; the ‘effective exchange rate’ was NZ$1=A$22.82 – being 94% of the wholesale rate. The transaction cost me 6%.
As long as the Vendor does not charge you a ‘credit card surcharge’, pay as much as possible on your Credit / Debit Card. Your Card Issuer and your Home Bank have to legally give you the wholesale exchange rate … and each (usually) charges you only a 1.0-1.5% fee for doing so.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Your accommodation should provide good wifi.
There are 3 main providers: Personal, Claro, and Movistar. The latter 2 are said to be the best but Personal (ex Argentina Military) is said to have the wider coverage in more remote areas. Readers of my bog know that I hate Claro! I wanted to buy Movistar. I had already downloaded the Movistar Argentina App onto my phone.
I paid A$20 for the SIMcard. A new SIM has to be registered with an ID. They tried to register using my passport number. It failed. They were kind enough to register me by using the store owner’s own Argentinian ID card number.
I loaded A$100 onto my card and bought a 5 Day 2GB Package for A$80. That got me going (for now). I had a good 4G signal in Mendoza. You lose signal completely in some of the more remote places ‘on-the-road’. I had a unreliable ‘G’ signal in Cafayate.
My 5 days ran out whilst I was in Cafayate. Movistar have a new ‘multiplicate’ promo – you can multiply your credits by up to 7x. I loaded another A$100 onto my phone to get a credit of A$120. I, then, ‘multiplicated’ A$80 of that by 6x to get A$480. With the normal A$40 credit that remained, I had total credits of A$520! I went to buy a new A$80 data plan with my newfound wealth … I could only buy something with my ‘normal’ credits (which was now only A$40) … I was unable to buy anything with the A$480!
In total frustration, I went to the Personal Store in Cafayate’s main square (Movistar and Claro do not have stores in Cafayate).
I purchased a Personal SIMcard for A$40. The man in the store used somebody else’s ID details to sign me up. I loaded the ‘minimum’ A$100 credit and bought a 2GB x 3 Day data package for A$50.
In Cafayate I got a more reliable 4G signal.
Later, when I go to Salta, I went to Movistar to ask about my A$480. They said that ‘multiplicated’ credit cannot be used to buy any packages! If you have no active plan and go onto the internet, your multiplicated credit is automatically debited A$18 and you are given their reduced ‘Dia Plus’ package with 50MB. Otherwise, Multiplicated credit is used to make calls, texts, and internet at their normal ‘unpackaged’ rates … which means that the credit gets used up very quickly.
Effectively, if you need internet and free whatsapp (like most travellers do), DO NOT use multiplicate! Personally, I don’t like it when a company misleads me in this way.
Get a Personal SIMcard. Personal have better coverage in rural areas AND their data rates are cheaper. In Cafayate Personal had 4G (Movistar 2G). Later, in Tilcara, Personal had 4G (Movistar had no signal at all).
WHAT TO DO:
Cafayate is famous for its wine … go on a couple of wine trails …
THE TOWN WINE TRAIL:
As tourist numbers grow, this is becoming increasingly commercialised.
When you get to the Bodegas you, invariably, find that the price is higher (perhaps these are ‘Gringo’ prices). But it is a pleasant 4+ hours weaving your way from one Bodega to another. I started at Domingo Hermanos.
At this price, the wine tasting is ‘minimal’ … you get a small ‘shot’ of (usually) 2 different wines.
For something better you have to pay more. The El Porvenir charges A$175 but, for this, (I have been told that) you finish with 3 decent sized glasses of wine to ‘taste’ at the end.
THE SURROUNDING WINE TRAIL(s):
MY RECOMMENDAION: Don’t waste your time with these cheap / free Bodegas. Bite the bullet. Find out where you get the best value for money wine tastings and go there. Pay. Such places include El Porvenir and the Nubes. Why come all of this way to ‘skimp’ for a shot of cheap wine?
QUEBRADA DE LAS CONCHAS:
There were 4 of us on the trip so they took us in a car. With more, you go in a van. We had a Spanish Speaking guide as our driver. You stop at all of the sites and end 47kms up Route 68 at La Garganta del Diablo. I will let the photos speak for themselves …
It is a ‘must do’ trip at this price.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
The first thing that you notice is the number of smokers; there is still a large % of smokers here. They even smoke in ‘no smoking’ areas without anyone complaining. Surprisingly, eCigarettes are illegal in Argentina.
There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Latin America. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room. Lock up your valuables within your hotel room (single lock hotel room doors are notoriously easy to break into without a key).
I didn’t notice any mosquitos.
Don’t drink the tap water.
WHEN TO GO:
There is, virtually, no rainfall. The max temperature is below 28 °C / 82 °F.
As you drop down from the Andes from Tucuman a sign says ‘Welcome to the Best Climate in the World’ … they could be right.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
MY ACTUAL COSTS:
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
I lived to GRANDPAcking standard. However, please note that I was travelling alone and I get ‘Single Occupancy’ rates in my GRANDPAcking Double Rooms … and I take advantage of ‘last minute discounts’.
I liked Cafayate so much, I extended my stay by 3 nights and negotiated a slightly lower price at the same hostel. My accommodation was just over A$500 / night. It included a free Breakfast.
I rented a bicycle for 1/2 a day (A$150) to tour some of the out-of-town Bodegas.
I abandoned my Movistar Data Plan and bought a new Personal SIMcard (A$40) and loaded it up with the minimum A$100 recharge. With that A$100 I could buy 2x 3-Day 2GB Data Plans.
I averaged about A$280 / day on food. I don’t really eat Lunch anymore but the weather was so nice that I found myself having ‘a cold one’ most lunchtimes in a cafe in the park. I averaged about A$200 / day on Dinners. Drinking water was free at my Hostel.
My COE worked out to be about A$720 (US$22) / day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
In / Out Costs: It cost me A$2,016 to get from Mendoza to Tucuman. It cost me A$390 to get to get from Tucuman to Cafayate.
Living Costs: I averaged about A$85 per night on drinks. I spent A$190 on a bottle of wine. I spent A$550 on the tour to Shells Ravine.
My total COL was about A$1,245 (US$37) / day.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I have booked you into the cheapest decent ‘pre-booked’ accommodation. You may be able to get better prices if you take a gamble and wait until the last minute … or just physically turn up. There are plenty of accommodations that are not listed on the internet. You should budget A$650 / night for your first 2 nights. You should be able to find a long-term rental for A$500 / night. Both include Breakfast.
Transportation: I have budgeted 2x 1/2 day bicycle rentals per week or a return local bus trip to a nearby village (e.g. San Carlos).
Communications & Fees: I have budgeted a Personal SIMcard (A$40) and a 1 month 2GB Data Plan (A$250).
Food: Your budget averages about A$700 (US$21) / day for 2 people. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants / Comida Del Dia.
Your COE is about A$1,220 (US$36) / day.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
This leaves you A$525 (US$16) / day to LIVE on. You should be able to LIVE well on that.
People who like relaxed living in a beautiful climate surrounded by picturesque geology and vineyards will adore Cafayate.
There are surprisingly few expats here … but, I don’t think that this will last long.
Expats will start to discover this place … especially now that the falling A$ has made it so much more affordable.
Cafayate is a ‘hidden’ gem’. GRANDPAckers should come and have a look at Cafayate and the surrounding villages.