• What Clothing Should You Pack for Argentina?
Argentina is a huge country with diverse terrain and eleven different climate zones, from tropical areas in the Northeast, such as around Iguazú Falls to the arctic temperatures of lower Patagonia and everything in between.
Those coming from the northern hemisphere won’t want to forget that Argentina’s seasons are reversed – usually when a traveler arrives ill-prepared for the weather it is because they forgot this essential fact, or didn’t realize how much the temperature can vary around the country.
What to pack will depend on your specific destinations in Argentina and the activities you’ve planned.
Fashion in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is one of the most fashionable cities in South America. Clothing is sized in the European standard, and city-dwellers in Argentina take their style cues from Europe, not North America. Unlike other parts of South America, people in Buenos Aires do not wear many bright colors or patterns but tend toward classic styles in subdued solid hues.
Many travelers like to keep a low-profile and blend in a bit when on the road, if possible. With that in mind, things such as baseball caps, loud expensive sneakers, Velcro sport sandals, and 24-pocket safari-style travel vests cause travelers to stick out quite a bit in stylish urban areas (the vest and sandals might come in handy if doing outdoor activities in Patagonia though).
Argentina differs from other popular destinations, where travelers don’t have to worry too much about what to pack and can just purchase whatever they forgot when they arrive. Here, locally manufactured clothes are poor quality and imported goods are limited and heavily taxed. This means that products, such as electronics, clothing, gadgets and quality cosmetics can be twice or thrice the price as in Asia, North America or Europe. Whatever you forget, you may not be able to find it here, so bring what you need!
It’s always good to travel as light as possible, but to travel light and have exactly what you need, requires some planning.
The smart way to dress for Argentina is: layer, layers, and more layers. In summer and humid areas such as the capital, cotton and linen are nice and breathable. In much of the country – the high dessert of Salta and Jujuy, Patagonia, Buenos Aires, and coastal areas — it warms up during the day and cools off considerably at night. Patagonia, and coastal areas can be very windy. The weather can also be rather erratic so like a good Boy Scout, ‘Be Prepared’.
Women’s Argentina packing list: Clothes
Even though Argentina is a Catholic country, most women don’t tend to dress as conservatively as one might expect. Dressing too immodestly can attract unwanted attention however, so the best idea is to go for a look that is classy but not trashy.
A couple of pairs of jeans or pants such as a basic bootleg-cut pant are versatile enough for several occasions. For summer or spring weather, it’s hard to go wrong with comfortable stretch capris. Note that adult women (and men for that matter) rarely wear shorts in the street.
For casual days and layering purposes you will want a couple of cotton T-shirts and tank tops for layering. Leggings can be worn with a loose flared tunic top for the airplane. Since the shirt covers the hips and flares out it is also good if you plan to pig out on steak and malbec on your vacation. A chiffon v-neck blouse is nice for going out and perfect for travel as it won’t wrinkle and will dry quickly.
Women wear skirts and dresses quite a bit in Argentina. A wrinkle-free breathable bamboo black dress will work for many occasions. For the milonga, a 3/4 sleeve flare tummy control dress is perfect for a few twirls after dining out.
Depending on the time of year, you will want at least one travel cardigan and in winter (June-September) a heavier sweater, as well as a versatile all weather jacket.
On the footwear front, it’s important to have a pair of comfortable walking shoes versatile enough for light hikes and nights out. Tango dancers often wear heels, but since the sidewalks are often broken heels are somewhat of a safety hazard, so we won’t recommend them here. If you do want heels for the milonga, tango shoes are one of the few items that may be worth buying once you are in Argentina, as there are a number of small manufacturers. If you are going out in heels the best suggestion is to take a taxi or Uber door to door.
Flip flops are great at the beach or to use a shared shower at the hostel, but flip flops have their limitations in Argentina. Not only do locals not use them much outside of beach towns, but the sidewalks and promenades in many areas are granite and very slippery when wet. Go for summertime footwear that has traction such as the Merrell Jacardia sandal. They have solid soles, good traction, and are comfortable enough to wear for long walks or hiking. They also aren’t a fashion disaster, like many women’s sport sandals. If you are going to do serious hiking in Patagonia you will definitely want to bring a pair of waterproof hiking boots that aren’t too bulky for travel.
Men’s Argentina Packing List: Clothes
Men will want a few tee-shirts. Those made with moisture wicking fabric such as Tommy John Lounge T-Shirts are designed not to ride up – perfect for the long flight and humid climate of Buenos Aires. You’ll also want a pair of jeans or two. Black jeans such as the Dickies Men’s Regular Pocket Jean are a great option because they can look more formal with a button up shirt or blazer. Khakis are not used much in South America. Darker style, light-weight and wrinkle-free slacks such as the Dockers Iron-Free Pant are a good option. Pants specifically made for travel such as Columbia Men’s Global Adventure Pants are stain-resistant and lightweight.
For those going to the milonga or nice dinners, a comfortable wrinkle-free jacket Travel Blazer is ideal. Depending on the time of year and your destination in Argentina, you will want at least one or two sweaters such as a casual basic pullover or for cooler temps a Men’s Sweater Fleece.
For shoes, mix comfort and style with a shoe such as the Scarpa Men’s Casual Shoe which can be used in the city and for hiking. Formal-looking enough for a tango show or a night at the Colón theater but comfortable enough for city walking are the water resistant Dockers Men’s Slip-Resistant Oxford. If planning to hike in Patagonia, a real hiking shoe that isn’t too bulky for travel is the Adidas Gore-Tex Hiking Shoe.
A Tip on Laundry
Self-service laundries aren’t very common in Argentina, but visitors in can easily get clothes laundered for them for between US$2-4 per load. Be aware that laundromats in Argentina have a reputation for shrinking clothes drastically, so if you aren’t staying at an Airbnb with a nice washing machine and dryer, consider hand washing your more valuable clothes.
Alternately, you could just ask the laundromat to wash your clothes in cold water and then hang dry them, as the dryers are the main culprit to be blamed for converting clothes into child sizes.
Luggage Options for Traveling in Argentina
There are three predominate luggage options for travelers to Argentina, depending on your travel style.
Those who are traveling around South America on a budget or plan to go hiking in Patagonia usually go for the trusty backpack.
The Arro 22 Backpack is a durable and comfortable backpack for a shorter trip, someone who packs light, for hiking or even hitchhiking. To carry a bit more weight, an internal frame backpack such as the Teton Sports Grand Ultralight Backpack is a good choice because it’s durable, expandable and has well-padded adjustable straps. It also comes with a waterproof tarp/poncho.
• Duffle bags
A duffel bag is a great option as they are nice-looking, extremely practical and easy to move around with. A sleek duffle bag/backpack combo is terrific too as you can strap it on for longer walks and then tuck in the straps and convert it into a duffel bag when taking a plane or a bus.
Unless you have to bring a lot of stuff or have a lot of formal wear and are heading straight to a luxury hotel such as the Alvear Palace in an upper-class area such as Recoleta or Puerto Madero, big suitcase are not very practical for travel in Argentina. Outside of these nicer areas of Buenos Aires, the sidewalks are often broken, and with all the curbs and stairways – many old buildings don’t have elevators – suitcases can be cumbersome.
That being said, some of the smaller, lightweight suitcases with wheels such as the Briggs & Riley Carry-On Expandable Upright will be fine for a business or urban-orientated vacation. Another option is a Travelpro Maxlite 4 International Expandable Carry-on, which combines the easy-to-pack duffel bag with the more purposeful suitcase.
• Day Bags
After cellphone theft, snatch-and-grab robbery of purses or travel bags is the top street crime committed in Buenos Aires and other metro areas. As mentioned in the Safety for Women Travelers post, an understated cross-body bag is best. Guys that use a ‘manpurse’ to carry their gadgets will want to keep the same thing in mind. A small backpack is harder to rob than a purse as well, but be aware that while walking around with a backpack in crowded areas or on the subte, slick pick-pocketers can dig into outer bag compartments without you being aware.
Whatever type of bag you choose it’s a good idea to put a simple combination lock on the bag for airline travel – recently there was a large bust of airport employees stealing from luggage at Ezeiza, Argentina’s main international airport. Hopefully that ended the airport bag theft, but a small lock is a low-cost item that can bring some peace of mind.
What type of cameras to bring to Argentina?
If you are looking to get professional quality photos of course you’ll want a digital SLR such as the Canon Rebel T5 Digital SLR Camera Kit with a 18-55mm lens. Nikon loyalists will want a dependable camera such as the Nikon D3300 with a 18-55mm lens. As with many cameras of this league they both have built in GPS and Wifi, so that you can geotag photos and instantly share them on social media. You’ll also want a good general lens with a range of apertures such as a Canon 28-135mm lens for the Canon or a Nikkor 24-85mm auto-focus vibration-reduction lens for the Nikon. If you plan to do a lot of photography you’ll also want a lightweight tripod such as the Gitzo carbon traveler tripod which is a durable carbon fiber tripod or a Slik Sprint Pro II tripod, which is a less-expensive aluminum tripod.
GoPros are all the rage for travel and adventure photography these days. Hopefully Wander Argentina readers won’t see this type of action, but check out the viral video on this page shot by a young traveler in La Boca. While great for video, GoPros can be tricky when it comes to landscape or landmark photography due to the curved lens. For selfie-takers or group photos, the voice command is very useful for taking clear photos without having to press the shutter. The biggest drawback to a GoPro is that you can’t chose where to focus the camera. The biggest strength of the GoPro is its small size and, despite its simplicity, it works great to simply record a vacation, and — who knows? — maybe a viral video too.
As photographers say, ‘the best camera is the one you have on you at the moment.’ While a basic point-and-shoot camera or smartphone camera won’t work for super high-quality professional photos, small automatic digital cameras and even the iPhone 6 take pretty good photos these days. The photos on Wander Argentina’s Instagram are taken by an older model Iphone. Among all the smartphones, the Iphone takes the best photos by far.
Another great option, that even young travelers could enjoy are the low-cost compact Polaroid cameras being produced now, such as Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Film Camera. It is low-cost and you can instantly share photos with people you meet on your travels. Just make sure to bring enough Instax Mini Instant Film, as it may be hard or impossible to find in Argentina.
Smart phones, particularly the latest iPhones are the number one stolen item on the streets of Buenos Aires (see above for the reason). For a short vacation, as long as you don’t pull out a fancy DSLR or smartphone on the street too much, a robbery is unlikely to happen, but a good protective case can make it a little more low-key. Any unlocked phone, world phone that supports Global System for Mobile (GSM) will work here. A smaller smartphone such as the Mobile Samsung Galaxy 4G works well and makes one less of a target for street robbery. In fact iPhones are so coveted in Argentina that it might make sense to bring one for your trip and sell it before leaving, because you will get more than you paid for it as long as it is a newer model.
For travel, bring a pair of noise isolating earphones to listen to music, audio books or podcasts while in transit. Very important for Apple users is not to forget your Iphone, Ipad or Macbook charger – unless you feel like paying three times the price for a new one. Otherwise basic cables, pen drives and other computer-related products that one might have forgotten at home can usually be found at Galeria Jardin on Buenos Aires’ downtown pedestrian thoroughfare, Florida Street.
While some people purchase international phone plans at home before they leave, they can end up being a pain to set up and expensive to use. If you do want a plan, T-Mobile is the only company that doesn’t apply roaming charges. It’s less expensive and more straight-forward to just use an unlocked phone and buy a local sim card that allows you to purchase prepaid credit, and communicate with home via Whatsapp, Skype or Google Talk.
Toiletries & Miscellaneous
Most toiletries you need can be purchased in Argentina, with a few exceptions. Natural products such as Tom’s toothpaste, aluminum-free deodorant and sulfate-free shampoo are not available or hard to find here, so bring your own supply if you prefer a particular brand.
The ozone is depleted over Argentina, so if you are fair-skinned or sensitive to the sun, sunscreen is imperative. Most of the sunblock available in Argentina is expensive, greasy and chemical-smelling, so you may want to bring your own brand with a high Spf such as Neutrogena Spf 45.
It goes without saying that travelers who take any medication should bring enough for their whole trip. Many medications that are prescribed in the North America, Europe and other northern countries are not used in Argentina. Be sure to bring a copy of your prescription if any of your medication could be considered illegal, as the legality of certain medications vary from country to country. Some non-narcotic items such as antibiotics, asthma inhalers and birth control pills are available right at the pharmacy without a prescription in Argentina, but keep in mind the formula or dose may be different than your regular medication.
Speaking of birth control, condoms are widely available in Argentina but there is not much variety — they tend to be small and made with thick latex. Sexually active travelers may want to consider bringing a box of their favorite brand.
Women should note that the only tampons available in most of the country (and indeed most of Latin America) do not have applicators. These applicator-free tampons are more compact for travel and better for the environment, but if you normally use bleach-free tampons or are used to a specific brand, keep that in mind and bring your own supply.
A handy travel item for guys and gals that you see a lot on the streets of Argentina is a cotton Shemagh Keffiyeh. This versatile, durable scarf popular in the Arab world is also seen all over Argentina and will get you mistaken for a local. It can be used as a face-protector in a windstorm, used as an emergency towel, pot holder, sweat rag, pillow or to conceal a camera while street shooting. The Hirbawi 100% Cotton Arabic Shemagh Keffiyeh is made by Palestines in Palestine and much thicker than those found in Buenos Aires.
Sunglasses are one of those items that if you forget them or lose them you figure you will just buy another pair on the road. The problem with purchasing sunglasses in Argentina is that the industry is not regulated, so it is difficult to know if they have ultraviolet light protection or not, even if they have a sticker that says they do. The only way to know for sure is to buy them at an optometrist outlet, but this is another one of those products that will cost much more than you would expect to pay at home. So bring your own durable UV-protection sunglasses.
Those visiting Argentina during the rainiest months (January, February, March) will want lightweight rain gear. The North Face Venture jacket for men or women is super lightweight and versatile enough that it can be used everyday, rain or not. Fashionable women may also want to try a more stylish jacket such as the Columbia Women’s Switchback II Jacket. When it rains in coastal areas (including Buenos Aires) and in the Andes Mountains, it is often a blustery downpour. Locally sold umbrellas get inverted by the wind and become useless very quick. The streets of Buenos Aires become a graveyard of umbrellas every time it rains. It’s worthwhile to bring a strong, compact wind proof umbrella that can withstand strong gusts. Having a durable umbrella makes the difference between enjoying a jaunt in the rain while keeping dry or not. Of course you can continue to use it when you go home or pass it on to a local friend or host before you leave – practical imported items of high-quality products are appreciated gifts in Argentina when these items can’t be found locally or are prohibitively expensive.
-Specialty Outdoor Gear
Travelers planning on going skiing, fly-fishing, rock climbing or doing any other outdoor activity will probably be happiest bringing their gear from home. Although you can rent ski gear, fishing poles and other sport gear, it won’t be the latest and greatest equipment. Skiers and snowboarders who really don’t want to lug their boards or skis to Argentina may at least want to pack their own ski or snowboard boots and rent the rest of their equipment. For one, rental outlets may not have larger boot sizes and breaking in a rental boot could lead to blister city. Travel insurance is recommended for those partaking in adventure activities.
Final Travel Recommendations
Bringing nice jewelry or family heirlooms to Argentina on vacation is strongly discouraged. Locals don’t even use diamond engagement or wedding rings but prefer plain gold or silver bands, so even a diamond wedding ring can make one a target for thieves. Those wearing Rolex brand watches are also a prime target for ‘motochorros‘ (thieves who use a motorcycle to mug someone and get away quickly).
Foreigners visiting Argentina need a passport in good condition. Some visitors from less-developed countries may need to apply for a visa in advance. See the post Visiting Argentina for more on those requirements.
It’s a good idea to keep a copy of your passport, credit cards, travel insurance, and other important documents in the cloud or in Gmail storage so that you can access them in case you lose your things.
Although Argentina’s former currency problem has been resolved and the parallel currency market is virtually non-existent, cash is still king in Argentina. These days you can withdraw money from an ATM no problem, although they are hit and miss sometimes, so it is always good to have some cash on hand, as well as more than one credit or debit card for your travels. See the post Money, Credit Cards, ATM & Change for more on money matters.