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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$36.50 … NOT!!!!!! … Read on!
When I first planned my Latin America trip 3-4 years ago, Argentina was too expensive for my GRANDPAcking budget … so, I excluded it. However, over the past 12 months (or so) the A$ has halved in value. This brought Argentina within ‘target range’ and I adjusted my plans accordingly …
I made my way up from Mendoza to Cafayate then stopped in Salta for a few nights.
Many people build Salta up and say that it is a wonderful, old, colonial town that is worth a visit. I didn’t think much of it at all. Cafayate was miles better and the first part of the journey from Cafayate to Salta is stunning:
The only bus company that goes from Salta to Tilcara during the day is Balut. There are 2 other companies that service this route but they travel at night (probably so that the people continuing on to La Quiaca – at the Bolivian border – get there just before Immigration opens at 7am).
I walked down to the Salta Bus Terminal and bought my ticket to Tilcara in advance (A$300). They leave about 5 times each day. I booked the 10:30am. I reserved seat #2 at the front of the bus on the top floor of the Double Decker. A ‘seat with a view’. We left on time.
From Salta we drove east towards General Guemes. We, then, weaved our way north on the country roads between Route 9 and Route 34 making a few more stops on the way. Eventually, we joined Route 66 south of Jujuy. We stopped at Jujuy before continuing up Route 9 to Tilcara.
We arrived in Tilcara 4 hours later at 2:30pm.
THE LUGGAGE SCAM:
Another SCAM that they run in Argentina is for your stowed luggage on the buses. By now I had caught a bus from Mendoza to Tucuman, Tucuman to Cafayate, and Cafayate to Salta. The same pattern was developing …
When you stow your luggage, each bag is ticketed for security. A receipt sticker is put on your bus ticket (just like they do in airports with a sticker on your Boarding Pass). Gringos are all asked to pay A$10 (the locals pay nothing).
When they unload at the other end they check off the matching stickers to make sure that everyone gets the correct luggage. They, again, ask all of the Gringos for A$10 (and the locals pay nothing).
If you don’t pay when your bags are first loaded, don’t be surprised if your luggage is treated ‘roughly’ (on purpose) and don’t be surprised if they unload it damaged (on purpose).
Traces of human habitation in the area date back more than 10,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements of Argentina.
Tilcara is about 2,500 metres above sea level, well within the first heights of the Andes.
The area features dramatic mountainous landscapes and rich aboriginal traditions, which make it a major tourist attraction.
This is what you can expect online 1 week before your arrival (early November 2018).
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!).
On the face of it, 2 GRANDPAckers should be able to find a Double Room for under US$25 / night including taxes and Breakfast. But read on … make sure that you are in the right area …
I was staying over Halloween and many people seemed to be taking a holiday over that weekend. I had trouble getting a decent Double Room (single occupancy) with a Private Bathroom for under US$25 / night.
In the end, I decided to book an apartment: the Piedramora. It was located north east of town down a dirt road about 400+ metres from the main square.
It came with good, reliable wifi and Cable TV with lots of English Speaking movie and sports channels.
The kitchen was poorly equipped (one frypan, one pot, missing utensils, no toaster, etc) but good enough for my purposes. The small fridge worked.
PLEASE NOTE: Hotels quote in US$s and, with BOOKING, you pay in A$s on arrival. They are meant to charge you the ‘exchange rate applicable on that day’. They take advantage of this and choose the most favourable rate (for themselves). They use the Bank Selling Rate (not the wholesale rate). My US$114 was converted at US$1 = A$37.8 (not A$36.5)!
WHERE TO STAY:
Everything centres around Belgrano and Lavalle with the main focus of activity around the main square. These roads and the roads within 1 block are sealed. Beyond that, you are on dirt roads. The only exceptions are Benedetti which is sealed end to end and Rivadavia which is sealed from the main square to its southern end.
One of the main problems in Tilcara is the number of dogs on the streets. The further that you get away from the sealed roads, the more dogs you get. During the day they are usually quite docile because of the heat. But, as evening draws in they start to get very territorial. Late at night, you may find yourself ‘running a gauntlet’ of free-roaming barking dogs … some of which might threaten you.
Orange Star: At 7pm one night (whilst it was still light) I had a couple of dogs snap at my heals as I walked into town. This was only 2 blocks from the park.
Red Star: On the way back home in the dark, just in case, I prepared myself and armed myself with a handful of rocks. It was only 9pm. Sure enough, the same 2 dogs were waiting and attacked me again. I needed to use the rocks to scare them off (a trick that I learnt in S.E.Asia).
RECOMMENDATION: Stay in accommodation that is on a sealed road.
Ideally, you want to be in the ‘green shaded‘ area. Consider the ‘yellow shaded‘ area if you cannot find anything within budget.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
Tilcara is a bit of a ‘Tourist Trap’. Considering that it is in the middle of nowhere, I was surprised how much so.
Down at the junction near the Bus Terminal, street stalls set up in the evening. They all seem to sell the same thing: Large Empanadas: A$25 for a cheese one and A$30 for ham and cheese. Add A$5 to these prices to buy the same thing up near the main square.
Otherwise, there are surprisingly few street / cheap options. No selection of Fast Food street stalls … no little back street cafes selling Almuezos (cheap, set menu Lunches) or Comida Del Dia (Meals of the Day).
Typical meals in a typical restaurant are in the A$200-A$300 price range.
A$170 for a 1 litre Imperial IPA is extortion compared to the other places that I have been. It’s a nice beer … but I only paid A$100 for one in a local bar back in Cafayate. In Tilcara, they are A$95 for a bottle in a store. But, add A$50 deposit on the bottle!
Worst still, I paid A$160 for a 1 litre Norte Beer in a hostel that backs on to the small park. They are A$65 in a store! Norte is, probably, the cheapest beer that you can buy. A$160 isn’t extortion … it is madness. I vowed not to drink in there again.
A more typical price for a ‘local’ 1 litre beer in a budget restaurant is A$110-A$120.
You see Happy Hours around town but they tend to be in the most expensive places and / or Brew Pubs. Their Happy Hour ‘specials’ tend to be something like 2 ‘pints’ (but they are smaller than pints and served with a 1 inch ‘head’) of craft beer for A$100.
You can walk everywhere.
You see the rare taxi around but I don’t know the costs.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:
Please read my Cafayate post for more detail.
Simply put, ATMs in Argentina are a SCAM.
As long as the Vendor does not charge you a ‘credit card surcharge’, pay as much as possible on your Credit / Debit Card.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Your accommodation should provide free wifi but, in our hotel price range, don’t bet on it being any good.
Buy a Personal SIMcard (not Claro nor Movistar). Personal have better coverage in the rural areas. Personal, also, have better prepaid GB data plans. In Tilcara, I had a 4G signal on Personal and no signal on Movistar.
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. eSmokers should bring enough eLiquid with them.
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).
The main physical threat is from street dogs.
I didn’t notice any mosquitos.
Don’t drink the tap water.
WHEN TO GO:
- Hot Season / Summer is November through March.
- Hot Season is also Rainy Season.
Even in Hot Season it gets cold at night (cold enough for most people to wear a jacket).
Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is about Tilcara.
It would seem that the main attraction of Tilcara is as a base to visit the surrounding sights.
YIf you want to meet people, try and choose an hotel that has a garden, terrace, or bar.