• What is Argentina like?
We get this question a lot – sometimes preceded by the statement, “Argentina! I love tango!” ?
In truth, it’s difficult to describe in a few words what it’s like in the eighth largest country in the world, a huge swath of land with diverse geography and culture throughout.
One thing that needs to be said: it ain’t only about the tango. Tango definately has a very important place in the culture (and there’s a big tango tourism scene) but so does downright messy politics, soccer, rock nacional (rock and roll in Spanish), the gaucho lifestyle of the Pampas, the wine industry, the local concoction of yerba mate, literature, film, and speaking of dancing — how about Argentina’ s popular folk dancing tradition ?
Culturally, Argentina is like a dysfunctional but lovable teenager — young, beautiful, passionate, chaotic, creative, sulky, deceptive and volatile.
Argentina is so vast in terms of landscape and culture that describing it succinctly is a difficult task and is also very subjective.
The beauty of that is that Argentina is it has something for everyone — you’ll just have to come and check it out for yourself to find out what it offers you.
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• Should I be worried about traveling to Argentina soon?
Argentines are known for greeting each other with a kiss ?, sharing mate tea and dancing tango? in a close embrace.
No wonder a lot of people are asking us, “What is the health situation in Argentina?”
While it wasn’t true in the old days before Argentina had healthcare and potable water, in recent decades Argentina hasn’t been as hard hit with epidemics as some other countries.
Argentina never experienced Mad Cow Disease, SARS or Bird Flu. Argentina is pretty far afield geographically, warm weather inhibits the spread of viruses, most of the country outside of cities is sparsely populated and vaccinations for diseases (if available) are free to the public.
Nevertheless, this time it’s different.
Things got serious in Argentina the first week of March 2020 when the first cases were confirmed. The first victim was an Argentine man in his 40s, who traveled from the Lombardy region of Italy.
Healthcare workers report that since he traveled in First Class, less people were exposed to the virus than if he had traveled in coach. Initially the population in Argentina didn’t take the pandemic very seriously.
After Antarctica and Africa, South America is the continent with the fewest cases, so residents took their time to become alarmed.
Local news reports made light of the fact that Argentina’s first patient was quarantined in the hospital with only hospital food available and was begging for some sushi.
The second person discovered to be infected was a 23 year-old male who also had traveled through Italy on a European trip. When he arrived on March 1st, he had no symptoms. Two days later he went to the hospital with symptoms and was discovered to be positive.
Unfortunately four more cases were discovered by March 7, meaning eight cases emerged within the week that the first case was discovered. The first death arrived quickly, on March 9, when a 64-year-old man who had traveled from France died at a public hospital in Buenos Aires. The patient was already suffering from diabetes, hypertension and bronchitis when he contracted the disease. Ultimately he died of kidney failure four days after being placed in the intensive care.
The first death in Latin America cause by the current health crisis was in Buenos Aires, and the metropolitan area, where a third of Argentina’s population lives, is the hardest hit by the virus.
The health ministry initially drew some criticism for not acting fast enough to prevent the spread here. People arriving at the international airport from other countries reported that they were not at the screened in the airport at all until mid-March. Airline passengers who had traveled from Asia and Italy were unloaded in a separate area of Ministro Pistarini International Airport.
Soon after, passengers from high risk areas were required to have their temperatures taken and sign paperwork stating they have not had symptoms before being permitted to leave the airport.
In short time, no flights were allowed that originated from China , South Korea, Japan, Iran, the European Union, the UK and the United States. Everyone who arrived within a week before that date was required to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. Not completing the mandatory quarantine is a crime punishable with fines and up to 6 months in prison to 15 years, if the traveler infects someone else.
On March 12 that the government announced they were banning any large gatherings such as football games and concerts, including the annual Lollapalooza festival.
Museums, tango milongas, and other tourist attractions such as the city tour bus were also prohibited only 10 days after the discovery of the first case in Argentina.
Many pharmacies in major cities of Argentina quickly sold out of face masks, but few were seen without them before they were made mandatory to enter businesses.
On Monday March 16 the government restricted travel to and from the country, except for those who are repatriating. An expat exodus occurred during March and February as governments urged their citizens to get on a flight as soon as possible as repatriation flights became increasingly scant.
Now, no flights regular commercial flights are expected until September at the earliest. Buenos Aires’ domestic airport, Aeroparque (AEP) is closed until December 2020.
Anyone who is in Argentina who needs to be tested or receive medical advice should call 107, which is the number for SAME, the Emergency Medical Attention System.
Unless symptoms are very severe, authorities are requesting people not to go to the emergency room and risk infecting others.
City hotline: 148
Argentina Health Cases Timeline
Similarly to Buenos Aires, New York City had just a few cases in the first week of March, but the numbers of infections and deaths in New York exploded compared to Buenos Aires.
March 3 — First case
April 1 — 1133 confirmed cases, 31 deaths (rising the percentage of deaths of infected patients to 2.7%)
May 1: 4,519 confirmed cases, deaths: 225
June 1: 17,400 confirmed cases, deaths: 556
July 1: 67,184 confirmed cases, deaths: 1,351
August 1: 196,530 confirmed cases, deaths: 3,596
September: 751,000 confirmed cases, deaths: 8,662
While underfunded, public health officials were somewhat prepared for the situation compared to some other countries. They have been worried for a while about dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that spreads from January to May, mostly affecting northern provinces such as Misiones and Formosa.
While there are currently only repatriation flights available, commercial travel is scheduled to return September 1st on a limited basis.
For budget-conscious travelers planning to come to Argentina, the good news is that the Blue Dollar Exchange rate is back with a vengeance and the country is a very affordable destination again, while locals struggle to get by due to the weak peso.
Travel insurance is always a good idea, especially now, but anyone who is forced to be hospitalized or is treated at a public hospital will have their expenses covered by Argentina’s universal healthcare.
• Do you need a visa for Argentina?
In the last few years Argentina’s ruling administration has done away with the ‘reciprocity’ fee that was previously required for American, Canadian and Australian citizens. Now, most visitors get a free three-month visa once they land in Argentina.
Similarly, those from the EU, New Zealand or South Africa are also not required to pay an entrance fee or apply for a visa in advance, and neither are those from most developed countries. Those from up-and-coming countries can check on Argentina’s immigration website to see if you need a visa.
Visitors who want to extend their three-month tourist visa can go to the immigration office and get a one-time 90-day extension for a modest fee.
Another option is to go further afield and take a weekend trip to Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo for a a new stamp.
Those planning to stay longer in Argentina should see ➠ FAQ:Living in Argentina.
• How do I get to downtown Buenos Aires from the international airport?
Whether you take a bus, shuttle or taxi from the international airport to downtown Buenos Aires upon arrival depends on your budget.
-If you have plenty of time and not much baggage or money you can take the number eight bus right to downtown Buenos Aires. Just walk out of the airport and 200 yards down the road leading out of the airport and you will see the bus stop. If not, just ask someone.
The biggest challenge with this option is that since you will probably not have an electronic smart card to board the bus unless you’ve been here before. If they have them in stock, you can buy this in the airport terminal convenience store.
Taking the bus isn’t recommended if you have much more than a backpack because carrying luggage on a full bus is not pleasant. Note that the travel time to downtown Buenos Aires via bus is about two hours because there are a lot of stops on the way.
The second most economical option is to take a shuttle service. Shuttles operate Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 6 p.m, and leave the airport every thirty minutes. The biggest drawback to taking the shuttle is that there will be a line if several flights land at the same time.
Minibus Ezeiza operates a similar service with the same daytime hours. Passengers are picked up at the airport import area and dropped off at Defensa St. 417, also in Monserrat.
Manual Tienda León is a 24-hour shuttle bus, which can drop you off at their office in the Retiro neighborhood (Eduardo Madero 1299). You can call ahead or just go to their stand (which often has a line), right outside the exit area of the airport. Be aware that the drop-off area in Retiro can be a bit sketchy at night, especially if you are loaded with luggage.
• Taxi or Private Car
A third option is a taxi or a private car service known as a ‘remis’. You can prepay for one inside the airport, although the price is higher than one that is privately pre-arranged.
Standard taxis wait outside the airport but have a bit of a reputation for ripping off customers (particularly foreigners) or being involved in crime schemes, but those who speak Spanish can usually find a better deal haggling and most of the time everything will be fine. Just be sure not to use an intermediary hanging around the taxi cue — deal with the taxi driver yourself.
As we recommend on ‘Taking a Taxi in Buenos Aires‘ be sure to chose a black and yellow taxi that has a sticker on the front windshield and two back doors — this means it’s legit, and you should try to do this throughout your stay.
• Wander Argentina Airport Pickup
➠ For those who don’t feel comfortable haggling for a taxi, Wander Argentina offers friendly door-to-door airport pick-up .
• Renting a Car
Renting a car directly at Ezeiza airport is an option, but Buenos Aires has hectic traffic, so we only recommend this for experienced drivers. Renting at the airport is usually a bit more expensive too. (See more about renting a car below)
• Can I rent a car in Argentina?
Yes, you can rent a car in Argentina with any foreign driver’s license and your passport. International companies like Avis or Hertz tend to be a little more expensive but they may have English-speaking staff and standard procedures in place that will be familiar.
Some local companies are cheaper but be careful to be very clear about the terms of the agreement and check over the car for even minor damage before you drive off, just in case someone tries to figure out a way to keep some of your deposit.
Check out the following post to learn about Driving and Renting a Car in Argentina.
– Do you need Travel Insurance for Argentina? – Click for a free quote see our visit World Nomads
• Do I need to speak Spanish?
The question of whether visitors need to speak Spanish tends to be subjective, but it’s safe to say that if you speak a little Spanish you will probably enjoy your stay in Argentina more and even save money.
Overall, not as many Argentines as one may think speak conversational English, (in fact Italian is the second most common native language) so those who don’t speak Spanish may only befriend locals of a certain sector of society, those who work in tourism, or other foreigners.
Also rental and tour agencies that have English-speaking staff tend to charge more, in fact sometimes it seems there is a whole second economy for English-only tourists.
Vendors tend to be patient and appreciative of those who make an effort to speak Spanish (and bonus points for those who can speak Argentina’s unique version of Spanish, like Youtube star, Dustin Luke).
Those who are pros enough to haggle in Spanish will definitely save money at places such as the San Telmo Fair.
• Do visitors need travel insurance in Argentina?
Travel insurance isn’t required for Argentina and there is a public health system that serves everyone. Unfortunately the public health system is overburdened, so it probably is a good idea to have travel insurance.
Travel insurance can also protect you in case of theft, canceled flights, lost luggage or other unexpected occurrences. Read more about whether you should get health insurance on the post ‘Do You Need Travel Insurance for Argentina?’ You can also get a free travel insurance quote here or in the search box below
Argentina Basic Visitor Facts:
• Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world and the second largest in South America, after neighboring Brazil to the north.
• The Argentine peso is the official currency. It is fairly volatile, so visitors should check the currency exchange rates.
• Argentina’s capital is Buenos Aires. Cordoba is the second largest city. Although not a huge tourist destination, Rosario, is the country’s third largest city. The wine capital of Mendoza is the fourth largest city in Argentina. La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires, is the fifth largest city.
• Despite its huge size of 2,766,890 square kilometers (1,068,296 square miles) Argentina is only the 32nd most populous nation in the world, with a population just under 45 million. This makes it easy to understand why Argentina has one of the world’s most open immigration policies.
• There are eleven different climate regions in Argentina according to the Köppen climate classification system. Argentina’s climate ranges from the humid subtropical region in the very north, to the subtropical wine growing region of Mendoza, and the Valdivian jungle of Patagonia, down to the glacial regions of the Antarctic Peninsula.
A large swath of the country, including Buenos Aires and the pampas, enjoys a mild climate. Otherwise, temperatures and precipitation levels vary widely throughout the country. Visitors are advised to research the specific climate of each area they plan to visit in Argentina in order to know what to pack.
• Argentina is a federal republic and a constitutional representative democracy. The federal government is composed of three branches: judicial, legislative and executive. After the Dirty War of 1976-82, in which the ruling military government killed an estimated 30,000 political dissidents, contemporary Argentines put a strong focus on human rights.
• Argentina does not have an official language but Spanish is the de facto official language. Argentina has a unique Spanish with some unusual vocabulary, including the widely used slang, lunfardo. Most noticeably around Buenos Aires, Argentine Spanish is characterized by its Italian intonation, thanks to the many Italian immigrants who came to the country decades ago.
English is the most widely spoken second language, with 2.8 million English speakers in the country, although there are only 100,000 native English speakers among them.
When it comes to native speakers, Italian is Argentina’s second language, with 1.5 million Italian speakers in the country. Many among the older generation, including Argentina’s own Pope Francis, grew up speaking Italian.
• Argentina is culturally diverse. Levantine Arabic is the third most common language spoken at home in Argentina, with approximately one million speakers originally hailing from Lebanon and Syria, including the family of Argentina’s former First Lady, Juliana Awada.
• There remain about 20,000 mostly elderly, Yiddish speakers within Argentina’s Jewish population.
• Other languages spoken by sizable populations in Argentina that highlight the country’s cultural diversity include Portuguese, Fujian and Taiwanese Mandarin, Catalan, Welsh, Okinawan Japanese, Basque, Korean, Romanian, Albanian, Russian, Turkish, Hebrew, Ukrainian and Vlax Romani, among many others.
• Among the 15 living indigenous languages in Argentina are Guaraní, Quechua, Mapudungun, Wichí and Aimara.
• Despite being famous for its soccer, Argentina truly dominates the sport of Polo and the country hosts the largest polo tournaments as well as producing the most world-class polo horses and players.
• Tango is Argentina’s most popular musical export and Buenos Aires hosts the yearly Tango World Cup, but unbeknownst to most travelers, Argentine folklórica (folk music and dance) is more popular among citizens country-wide.
• Argentina was one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage, and did so five years before the United States. Today, there are 18,000 married same-sex couples in Argentina. Argentina’s transgender laws are some of the most progressive in the world.
• The Catholic Church plays an important role in Argentina and abortion remains illegal. Although Argentina enjoys a universal public health system there was no program in place to provide contraception until 1996.
Today Human Rights Watch estimates 40% of pregnancies in Argentina end in clandestine abortions. Abortion is one of Argentina’s most polarizing social issues. Legislation to legalize abortion was before the Argentine Congress in 2018 but failed.
• Argentina was one of the first five countries in the world, and the third country in the Americas, after Canada and the United States, to start a national park system. Argentina’s first national park, Nahuel Huapi National Park remains a popular destination in Patagonia. The waterfalls of Iguazú Falls in Iguazú National Park, the second national park founded in the country is another bucket list destination.
• Today 12% of Argentina’s land and 9.5% of marine areas are natural reserves or national parks.
• Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, is celebrated for it’s rich culture and arts scene.
Popular cultural centers with ongoing events include the La Boca neighborhood’s Usina del Arte, the Borges Cultural Center (CCB) in Galerias Pacifico and the Kirchner Cultural Center (CCK) in the beautifully restored central post office downtown.
Underground arts in Argentina include a thriving street art scene, dynamic theater productions, electronic music and circus arts.
Argentina’s Annual Events & Festivals
There are many festivals and annual events that attract visitors to Argentina throughout the year. Argentina’s festivals include:
– The Cherry Festival, taking place in small Patagonia town of Los Antiguos in early January
– Carnival Buenos Aires takes place all over Buenos Aires in February
– Carnival in Gualeguaychu is the largest Carnival celebration in Argentina. The northern city of Corrientes also has a considerable celebration. If you’re in the capital, there are also Carnival Celebrations in Buenos Aires
– ‘Vendimia para Todxs‘ an alternative Grape Harvest Festival takes place immediately after the official Vendimia Festival.
– Argentina’s Soccer season and championships, taking place from February-May and August-early December.
– The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film in April
-The Feria de Libro, South America’s largest book fair every April
– ArteBa, a high-end art show for galleries and curators in April
– The Buenos Aires Tango Festival and World Cup, which culminates in the championship in August
– Ciudad Emergente, a youth festival that takes place every September
– The city of Cordoba celebrates its German population with their version of Oktoberfest in October every year.
– The Buenos Aires Jazz Festival in early to mid-November
– The Gay Pride parade, the largest in South America in early November
– Buenos Aires Museum Night takes place in early to mid November
– The Gaucho festival celebrating Tradition Day, the country’s largest cowboy gathering, takes place in the province of Buenos Aires the week closest to November 10
– The Argentine Polo Open, taking place in November and December
– Christmas and New Year’s are of course celebrated with great gusto in Argentina, but remember: these are summer parties. Don’t expect to see the Christmas food & desserts you are used to on the holiday spread!
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