While Argentina is arguably one of the most fascinating of all of the countries in South America, it’s fair to say that it plays by its own rules. From grasping their attitude toward timing, to realising that one trip to Argentina will never be enough, there are a few essential things you need to understand before landing here. So here’s how to ensure that your vacation in Argentina is a memorable experience – and one where you leave having fallen desperately in love with this unique country.
1. Don’t expect anything to follow strict timing
Forget what you know about being “on time”; Argentina has its own cultural rules about time. In restaurants and cafes, service is likely to be nothing but slow, and don’t be surprised if events or meeting up with local takes on its own timeframe – that is, hours later than planned.
But there’s no point in battling this; learn to appreciate that things will happen – just at their own leisurely pace. It’s also considered rude to arrive on time, so however strange it may feel turning up to arrangements late, doing so is a sign that you really get Argentina and will make locals impressed by your understanding of their culture.
2. Or forget about the daily siesta
Shops just aren’t open between 12pm and 4:30pm in the afternoon, particularly in rural parts of the country. No, your standard Argentinian is instead kicking back with a well-earned snooze or siesta. You might see jumping on board this trend as counterproductive to making the most of your precious vacation time in Argentina, but there’s no use fighting it. Instead, learn the meaning of the old saying “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and embrace the siesta yourself.
3. They’re a nation of night owls
The siesta probably has its origins in the fact that Argentine society rarely sees morning hours – unless they’ve yet to go to bed that is. Dining at 11pm is completely normal and don’t expect bars to start getting lively until 1am. This accounts for the fact that you’re unlikely to find anywhere open earlier than 9am the next day. Rather than be frustrated, go with the flow and appreciate that late nights and early mornings are a major feature of Argentine culture, particularly in Buenos Aires and other large cities.
4. Money can be a real hassle
Money in Argentina might look like it’s come straight out of a Monopoly board game, but don’t get complacent; Argentina has a long history of counterfeiting, so bills that look fake might well be.
Bear in mind that taxi drivers are pretty good at swapping your legitimate cash for counterfeit bills, so never hand over a large note until you’ve got your change. Even better, keep smaller bills on you to avoid the hassle of paying with a 100 peso or even 200 peso note.
5. But US dollars are worth their weight in gold
With its current currency issues and high levels of inflation, if you want to make your money go further in Argentina, US dollars are the answer you’ve been looking for. Bring dollars into the country and enjoy a very favorable exchange rate.
6. A kiss on the cheek is essential
Whenever you meet people – whether friends or new acquaintances – an obligatory kiss on the cheek is the standard greeting. That said, it’s fairly unusual for men to greet one another in this way – a handshake will instead suffice. Although it might feel strange to say hello to people you barely know in this fashion, it just reveals the friendliness and warmth at the heart of Argentine culture.
7. Passion is this country’s emotion of choice
Thanks to the thick Italian blood that floods the veins of around a third of all Argentinians, this country is known for its passionate zeal, particularly when it comes to discussing their beloved national football team or even where you can find the finest parrilla in Buenos Aires. If you get chatting to a local, be ready for a fervent conversation.
8. Leave space in your luggage
However long you spend in this country, remember to set aside some room for all the souvenirs you’ll be taking home. Whether it’s wine, yerba mate or just souvenirs from your trip to the city at “the Ends of the Earth”, Ushuaia, make sure you’ve got space in your suitcase!
9. And resign yourself to the fact that you can’t see it all
If you’re on a short vacation trip, don’t expect to be able to see all of Argentina’s highlights; in fact, expect to see only a small minority. Bohemian, tango-dancing Buenos Aires, impressive Iguazu Falls and wine Mecca, Mendoza in the north, plus hiking capital El Chaltén and skiing epicentre, Bariloche should all be stops along your itinerary.