Category Archives: Travel – South America


Top 5 travel tips Argentina (A backpacker’s guide to South America)

In my last post, I shared the experience and tips from the first leg of my 7 month back-packing trip across South America – Brazil.

Today, we head to Argentina!
Argentina is one of the most popular South American countries on the tourist map. Some of the most breathtaking and dramatic natural landscape can be found around Argentina. Today I’ll share some travel tips, things to-do, must-see places, and budget hacks.

1. Getting to Argentina:

  1. From Foz do Iguazu (Brazil): Take the bus from the bus stop behind the central bus station to Puerto Iguazu. The bus will drop you at the Brazilian border checkpoint for an ‘exit stamp’. Then you will have to wait for another bus to take you to the Argentine checkpoint for an entry stamp and eventually reach Puerto Igauzu.
  2. Flights from India: There are no direct flights to Argentina from India. Qatar Airways flies from India with a stopover in Doha and São Paulo. So I decided to first cover Brazil, and then head to Argentina from there
  3. Argentina Visa: Embassy of Argentina requires:
    1. Hotel bookings for the entire stay,
    2. Confirmed tickets in and out of South America,
    3. Bank statements, and
    4. Visas of entry or departure country.

    Visa applicants are required to appear for a personal interview with the Counselor. I was granted multiple entry visa valid for 50 days, which screwed up my plans.
    Cost of Visa: Visa is free for Indian passport holders.

2. Argentina People

As a former Spanish colony, Spanish culture is still prevalent, especially siesta. People enjoy their siesta with pride and almost everything remains shut during the afternoon and opens again in the evening.

People are serious soccer fans and are also very fashion conscious! Dress up for a night out or for Tango!

3. Argentina Language

People speak Spanish and tend to speak faster than most other parts of South America. You need a good working knowledge of Spanish to get around in Argentina. People use a lot of Spanish slang language in Argentina -  almost every sentence ends with ‘Che’. ‘Che’ is slang for referring someone as a friend.

Travel Tips Argentina: #1
People from Argentina tend to communicate a lot with gestures.

As a matter of fact, they talk less with mouth and more with their hands. Common gesture would include snapping their finger to indicate ‘be quick’, rolling index finger over their eyelids to say ‘watch out’ or flicking the bottom of their chin with fingers (palm facing the neck) saying “I don’t know”.

4. Argentina Food & Drink

  1. Mate: It is hard to imagine Argentina without ‘Mate’, pronounced as ‘Maa-te’. Yebra Mate is traditional tea mixed with hot water and sipped through a steel pipe. Argentinians love it so much that they carry a thermo flask with hot water wherever they travel. Another way to enjoy Mate is with juice and ice called ‘Terere’, perfect way to beat the Argentine summer.
  2. Beef stake: Argentina produces one of the best quality beef in the world and not surprisingly is the main food in Argentine diet.
  3. Empanada: A stuff baked bread with meat, cheese and vegetable. I loved it!
  4. Wines: Great quality wines. You can get a really good wine for INR 200!
  5. Choripan: A typical hotdog/ sausage sandwich
  6. Dulce de leche: Literally known as ‘Sweet of milk’ is the national spread of Argentina. You can find it anywhere from breakfast tables to cakes/pastries.

Travel Tips Argentina: #2
The inflation rate in Argentina is more than 25% (unofficial), the prices in the restaurant changes almost every week. Food prices rise 30% per month sometimes! In order to keep the inflation in check (on paper), the Government of Argentina has subsidized the ‘Big Mac burger’ to keep the Big Mac index low.

Therefore, ‘Big Mac’ is the cheapest item in McDonalds in Argentina.

5. Argentina – Top places to see

  1. Buenos Aires:
    Buenos Aires
    Buenos Aires is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in world and known as ‘Paris of South America’ for its European architecture. The city is vibrant and screams culture!

    • People: Porteno, inhabitants of Buenos Aires, are party animals. A usual night out in Buenos Aires (pretty much every other place in Argentina) is as follows: 8 PM theater, 10 PM dinner, 12 PM bars and pub and eventually they hit the nightclub at 2 AM, and party till the morning.
    • Places to visit:
      1. San Telmo – colonial style architecture, visit San Telmo Sunday market;San Telmo
      2. La Boca – famous for graffiti, tango and Boca Junior;La Boca La Boca
      3. Palermo – amazing bars, restaurants and nightclubs;
      4. Recolleta cemetery;
      5. Florida street for window shopping.
    • To do: Graffiti tour, tour La Boca; watch the derby match between Boca and Riverplate.
    • Nightlife: Palermo
    • Place to stay: Stay in a hostel in Palermo. Many backpackers (including me) stay in ‘Hostel Milhouse’ but it is really far from every other place.
  2. Mendoza:
    Famous for the Argentine wines and adventure sports.

    • To do:
    1. Cerro Aconcagua: Mendoza is an important destination for trekkers to Mt. Aconcagua (Cerro Aconcagua) (6,900 above sea level), which is the highest peak in South America.
    2. Bike Wine tours: Reservations can be made from the hostel. You can rent a bike and ride it to different wineries in the region and indulge in wine tasting. Renting a bike would cost around AR 50 and wine tasting would be AR 150 per person. The Wine Harvest Festival (Fiesta de la Vendimia) is held in February and March every year.
    • Places to stay: Hostel Lao, the staff is friendly and the hostel is spacious. A night in dorm would cost around AR 80.
  3. Salta:

    • Places to visit: Purmamarca is the seven colored hill or the rain bow mountain (Cerro de los Siete Colores) near Salta.7 color hill
    • Getting out: Take an overnight bus to La Quiaca to the Bolivian border. The bus takes around 7 hours and costs about AR 130.

    Travel Tips Argentina: #3
    If you want to save money, try and take overnight buses to travel in and around Argentina – you’ll save a night’s stay cost!

6. Argentina – Budget check

  1. Argentina costing per day: $45-50
  2. Exchange rate: 1 AR =0.2 USD (INR 11)

Travel Tips Argentina: #4 The official rate for Argentine Peso is 4.5 to 1 USD, but in black market (esp. Florida street) you can get an exchange rate of 6.5 to 1 USD. Though watch out for counterfeit notes! Always try to pay merchants in the local currency.

Argentine economy is in such a dire need of foreign currency that it is the only country in Latin America that exchanges Indian Rupees in official exchange houses.

Travel Tips Argentina: #5 If you have come all the way to Argentina, please do not leave without visiting Patagonia.

PatagoniaPatagonia is a region located at the southern end of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. You will be welcomed by some of the most breathtaking landscapes – almost mythical! Visit Patagonia for the spectacular Andes, for walking on glaciers, for touching the southern most city of the world, and much more!

Here’s my blog post on Argentine and Chilean Patagonia!

Top 10 Patagonia Travel Tips (A backpacker’s guide to South America)

Travel to Patagonia has been often described as ‘the journey of a lifetime’, ‘life changing experience’ and more – and it definitely lives up to the hype. Patagonia is like no other place on earth – with mythical landscapes, spectacular ice-age mountains, a walk on glaciers, one of world’s most beautiful national park, and an experience to visit the southern most city of the world! I couldn’t ask for more!

Patagonia Travel Tips: #1 The best time to go to Patagonia is the southern summer (October to April). Most of Patagonia is really windy.
El Chalten
Language: As with most of South America, you will need a working knowledge of Spanish to get your way around in Patagonia. Big mainland cities like Buenos Aires etc, may have some English speaking population, but a lot of villages and towns in Patagonia are remote, so, if you really want to make most of your trip – learn Spanish before getting to Patagonia.


About 70% of Patagonia lies on the Argentina side. Here are some must-see places:

1. Ushuaia:

The southernmost city in the world and a former penal colony. It is the largest port for cruises to Antarctica.Patagonia Travel tips : Ushuaia

  1. Places to Visit: Boat ride in Beagle channel (don’t forget beanie and gloves), visit the Prison museum, hike the Glacier Martial and Tierra del Fuego National park.
    ushuaia1 ushuaia4
  2. Places to drink: Visit the Dublin pub.
  3. Get out: Go to Punta Arenas (Chile) by bus (costs around AR 150 Peso) or travel to El Calafate (AR 180 Peso).
    Patagonia Travel tips: #2 - Please note that Ushuaia is on an island ‘Tierra del Fuego’ or ‘The Land of Fire’ (Cool name :D ), it is not connected to mainland Argentina. The only road which connects the Tierra del Fuego to Argentina is through Chile. Therefore, you need Chilean visa to travel to mainland Argentina by bus, else buy a flight ticket (it is cheaper than bus ticket)

Patagonia Travel Tips: #3 - Ushuaia, like the rest of Patagonia, is very windy and the winds add to the chill factor. Carry warm clothes, and gloves. In fact, I was in Ushuaia just a month before the summer and it was snowing :D

Patagonia Travel Tips: #4 - If your timing is right, you can get the 15 days cruise to Antarctica in November for as low as USD 2500! I missed it.

Don’t forget to get your passport stamped while you are in Ushuaia :) Cruise to Antarctica

2. El Calafate

El CalafatePopular for the Los Glaciares National park, and the famous Perito Moreno glacier. el calafate
El Calafate

  1. Things to do: Glacier Ice walking (Lasts about two hours) or the Big ice walking (5 hours). The Los Glaciares National park entrance would cost around AR 200 Peso. The bus pick up service to the Los Glaciares National Park can be booked from the hostel for AR 40.
  2. Places to stay: Hostel Che Lagarto is walking distance from the bus terminal. A dorm bed would cost around AR 50.
  3. Places to eat: Try the pizzeria on the main street.

3. El Chalten:

El chalten argentinaA trekker’s paradise in middle of nowhere! The tourist flock to this small deserted village to visit the majestic Mt. Fitz Roy. The nearest town is 300 Kms away. The economy of the village is solely dependent on tourism.

On the way to El Chalten from El Calafate, the bus will make a stopover at La Leona Ranch, which is the only gas restoration stop. La Leona is the ranch where the famous bandits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid hid from the law in the early 20th century.

A bus ticket from El Calafate would cost around AR 110 Peso.

  1. Things to do: Hike the Fitz Roy Mountain, it is a day hike takes about 6-7 hours. Carry food and water. Take a walk around and outside the town. It is remote and desolate, being from highly populated Mumbai, it felt surreal.
    El Chalten is a small place to get around on foot; there are many pubs and restaurants, though food is expensive as the town is remotely located. There is a microbrewery on the main street, Cerveza Negra and Cerveza Roja are a must try.
  2. Places to stay: There are many places to stay in El Chalten. Most of the hostels will be far away from the bus terminal but closer to the park entry. The cheaper hostels (which cannot be booked online) will be near the bus terminal. Cost of dorm bed: AR 45 – AR 85
    Patagonia Travel Tips: #5Due to small size, it is advisable to book at least 2 night stay in any hostel in El Chalten in high tourist season.
  3. Getting out: There are two options: El Calafate (4 Hrs away and the nearest airport) and Los Antigos (12 Hrs away).
    Patagonia Travel Tips: #6 -There is also a third option. A route exists between El Chalten and Villa O’ Higgins (Chile). You can hike and cross the border through the small village of Lago del Desierto.

Patagonia Travel Tips: #7 - There are no banks or ATMs in El Chalten. You cannot swipe your cards either as there is no internet connection. Carry cash.

Patagonia Travel Tips: #8 -There is an Israeli man named ‘Ido’ who lives in El Chalten. He can give valuable tips on places around El Chalten and can also get you a discount on the bus tickets! :) Ask around and seek him out.


1. Punta Arenas:

  1. To do: Visit the Victoria Nova museum on the outskirts of the city. Visit the Penguin colony (Isla Magdalena) which costs around CLP 40,000, city cemetery, Plaza Munoz Gamero.
  2. Places to stay: There are many hostels and hopedajes.
  3. Places to eat: Try Lomitos, they serve amazing burgers, choripans and hot dogs.

2. Puerto Natales

This city is the gateway to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Torres del Paine National Park).

  1. Places to stay: There are many hostels and hospedajes in the town, I would recommend Erratic Rock.
    Cost: One night in dorm: CLP 10,000
  2. Places to eat:
    • Baguales brewery serves amazing beer, and the sandwiches are a must try. They also serve very generous portions of Whiskey, one shot is equivalent to 90 ml.
    • El Azador serves amazing steaks and traditional Chilean lamb.
  3. To do: Visit the Jetty at dusk.

3. Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del paineSituated in southern Chilean Patagonia, it is one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, and was the top priority on my to-do list. Torres del Paine National Park encompasses mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers.

Trekking in Torres del Paine

Visitors can trek the ‘O’ circuit, which takes about 7 days or the 5 day trek ‘W’ circuit. The lodging and food in the park is expensive. Trekking in Torres del Paine is physically tiring, it is moderately difficult trek.
Torres del Paine Torres del Paine Torres del Paine

Travel tips Patagonia: #9 - Base Camp bar in Puerto Natales conducts free informational sessions on Torres del Paine trekking circuit every day at 3 PM in the afternoon.

Travel tips Patagonia: #10 - As I was carrying a tent and my own food along with a camp stove, I didn’t stay in Refugios instead chose to stay at the camp sites. A good idea to save cost!

Following is the costing for Torres del Paine National Park:

  1. Entrance fee – CLP 18,000
  2. Lodging i.e. a dorm in the Refugio – CLP 10,000.
  3. One meal in the Refugio – CLP 8-10,000.
  4. Camp sites – CLP 4,000
  5. Free camp sites – Free!

Things to pack:

  1.  Clothes

    • Waterproof 3-in-1 Parka
    • Thermal inner (upper and bottom)
    • Quick drying rain pants
    • Trekking shoes
    • Beanie/Balaclava
    • Gloves (preferably Gore-tex)
    • Quick dry socks
    • Shoes (another set to wear at the camp)
    • T-shirts ( three)
    • Pants (one during night)
  2. Equipment

    • Sleeping bag ( atleast – 5 degrees)
    • Sleeping mat
    • Tent (can be rented)
    • Trekking poles (can be rented)
    • Camp stove (can be rented)
    • Canteen
  3. Accessories

    • UV Sunglasses
    • First aid
    • Sunscreen
    • Knife
    • Camera batteries
    • Memory cards
  4. Food

    • Ready to make Pasta and tomato sauce
    • Tuna cans
    • Chocolate packets
    • Dry fruits
    • Noodles
    • Gatorade powder packets
  5. Miscellaneous

    • Plate
    • Plastic cutlery
    • Matchsticks
    • Toilet paper
    • Flashlight
    • Cash (there is no ATM and the cards don’t work)

Exchange rate: 1 CLP = 0.002 USD

4. Carretera Austral

The Southern highway of Chile is one of the most scenic drive ever. The graveled road surrounded by untouched nature along with the unpredictable Patagonian weather is perfect place for hitch hiking.
carretera austral 2 chile

Tips for hitch hiking:

  1. Carry a tent: Even though it is the only road in Southern Chile, the road is remote and Patagonia is not well populated. Carry a tent just in case you might have to sleep near the highway.
  2. Carry food: You might have to wait for long hours to get your next ride. Once I had to wait for 4 hours, therefore carry food.
  3. Carry a map: You can get a map and exhaustive tourist booklet, which contains important information about all places on Carretera Austral, from any tourist office.
  4. Don’t wander off course: Due to low traffic and non-existent public transport, it is hard to find transport to places away from the highway. I hitch hiked to a wrong location (two places with almost similar names) and ended up 40 Kms away from the highway. I was stuck in the town for 4 days as there was no transport in & out of the town, apparently I was the first tourist in past six months!carretera austral Puerto tranquillo chile

Next up – Argentina!

Iguazu Falls

Top 7 backpacking tips – Brazil (A backpacker’s guide to South America)

I am Shikhar, a B-school grad working as a consultant (yawn!) in India. Traveling has always excited me and I always wanted to find out more about the world and experience it firsthand.

Therefore last year, I quit my job and decided to backpack around South America for seven months – yes seven months :)

Through this series, I’ll share some of my best experiences, some travel tips, budget tips, language tips, and more for backpacking across the surreal South America. This first blog covers my first destination – Brazil.

This was my first international trip, so the excitement level was really high. In midst of thrill and anxiety, I really didn’t put much effort in learning the languages (Spanish and Portuguese).

I took very few lessons in Spanish before leaving and just assumed Portuguese and Spanish are nearly the same (bad idea). Armed with ‘Lets wing it’ attitude and an assumption that I’ll survive with a Spanish pocket dictionary (bad idea 2), I took a plane to Brazil!

So here are my top 7 backpacking tips – Brazil

1. Getting to Brazil

  1. Flight tickets to Brazil: Possibly one of the most expensive air tickets out of India. You would be lucky to find flight tickets costing anything less than INR 80,000 and it is not surprising why. It is on the other side of the world, it took me 20 hours of flying just to get there. I got my tickets with Qatar airways and booked it five months before I left!
    Cost of Flight tickets: USD 1400 (~INR 85,000)
  2. Brazil Visa: Visa is always a pain for Indian passport holders.
    Traveler tip: I would suggest getting the visa on our own instead through the agents as they couldn’t grasp the fact that I was traveling for seven months.
    As this was my first my first international trip and I had recently quit my job, the Brazilian embassy had serious doubts whether I will ever return to India!
    I had to provide :

    1. Air tickets,
    2. Hostel booking for my 2 month stay,
    3. Trip itinerary, and
    4. Bank statements with more than $3000 as the balance.

    Indian tourists can visit Brazil only 180 days in a year. Once you have stayed in Brazil for 6 months, you won’t be granted another visa till completion of one year i.e. one year from day of first entry. I was granted multiple entry visa valid for 90 days.
    Cost of Visa: USD 30

Yellow fever vaccination

Required for everyone traveling to South America or Africa. A traveler without Yellow fever vaccination wouldn’t be allowed to enter India and would be put into quarantine for a week. You can receive vaccination only in selected Government medical facilities in six cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata).

Traveler tip: The vaccination shots are limited and the demand is high. So get yours early enough. One center can provide only 100 vaccinations in one week.
Cost of Vaccination: ~USD 5 (INR 300)

2. Brazil – Language:

Portuguese is the widely official language of Brazil. Spanish is a close second, though English is understood in many big cities. It is difficult to get around Brazil without any working knowledge of Portuguese or Spanish.

Language Barrier:

My first of many communication breakdowns came just four days into my trip.

This moment taught me the importance of knowing the language while traveling. After spending two days in São Paulo, I decided to leave for Foz do Iguazu by bus. Being on a budget trip, I got the cheapest and the most uncomfortable seats money could buy.

The seats were uncomfortable and the night was cold (Surprise, surprise Brazil can get really cold), I couldn’t sleep much.

By the time I woke up in the morning, we had stopped at the bus terminal and everyone had disembarked. I got down from the bus to collect my bag and was surprised to find a sign board which said ‘Bem vinido ao Rodoviario’ (Welcome to Rodoviario).

I was shocked. I was supposed to be in Foz do Iguazu and not Rodoviario. I came to a conclusion that I must have missed my stop and reached another city.

I turned to the driver with my Spanish pocket dictionary and managed to conjure few Spanish words in my Indian accent.

The conversation (in Spanish) was as follows:

Me: “Dónde está Foz do Iguazu?” (Where is Foz do Iguazu?)
Driver (confused): “Aqui!” (Here!)
Me: “Es esta Rodoviario o Foz do Iguazu?” (Is this Rodoviario or Foz do Iguazu?)
Driver: (Looks to the Baggage handler in disbelief): “SIM! SIM!” (Yes! Yes!)
Me: (This doesn’t make any sense): “Dónde está Rodoviario?” (Where is Rodoviario?)
Driver: (Angry face): “#$%$#$@! GRINGO!”

I turned to the Baggage handler who with a sad face just handed over my backpack to me.
Dejected, I went inside the bus terminal. Turns out, the driver was right. I was in Foz do Iguazu. In Portuguese, ‘Rodoviario’ means ‘The Bus Terminal’!
bus stop

Gringo by the way is a common term used in Latin America for English speaking foreigners :)
So, as a I said,

Please get a working knowledge of Spanish before reaching South America. Phrasebooks will not help! And if Brazil is on your cards, learn Portuguese as well!

3. Brazil – Culture

  1. People: Brazilians are certainly the friendliest people in the world. They are outgoing, warm and would reach out to you irrespective of the language barrier. Brazilians love tourists! Knowing the language will be a big plus!
  2. Partying: Coming to parties and alcohol, no one can party as much as Brazilians. The only reason Brazilians (and the rest of Latin America) work is to earn money to party a little more  :D
  3. Food: Feijao and arroz ( Beans and rice) is the staple food in Brazil along with beef stake. In North-eastern part of the country, the cuisine is predominantly sea food.
    Caipirinha or ‘Caipi’ is the national drink of Brazil. This refreshing mix of Cachaça (sugarcane spirit), lemon, sugar and ice is the perfect combination to enjoy the Brazilian vibes

4. Stay – Top 7 hostels in Brazil

If you plan to back-pack or budget travel like me, then hostels are the best stay options in Brazil. Here are my picks:

  1. São Paulo:
    Hostel Casa Club (Vila Madelena)
    Hostel We Design (Vila Mariana)
  2. Rio:
    Leblon Hotspot (Leblon)
    Rio El Misti (Copacabana)
    Hostel Caipi (Lapa)
  3. Florianopolis:
    Sunset Backpackers
  4. Foz do Iguazu:
    Hostel Klein 

5. Traveling within Brazil

Brazil has a well maintained network of buses running domestically and internationally. Portuguesa Tiete bus terminal, in São Paulo, is the second largest bus terminal in the world, with connectivity to almost all places in Brazil and neighboring countries.

Traveler tip:
Brazil is big and traveling from one end to another end by bus takes at least two days. Booking airplane tickets a week before would be nearly the same price as that of the bus tickets. Therefore, travel by plane to far flung destinations in Brazil.

6. Top 7 places to see – Brazil

  1. São Paulo: The biggest city in the southern hemisphere has a lot to offer in terms of nightlife. This concrete jungle comes to life at night and parties go on till wee hours of the morning.
    • Night Life: Vila Madelena , Rua Augusta, Vila Olimpia
    • Places to visit: Beco do Batman – also known as the batman’s alley, Liberdade – the biggest Japanese community in the world outside Japan (Japanese market), São Paulo central, Ibirapuera Park, Paulista Avenue
    • To do: Try São Paulo style Pizza and Japanese food; Samba bar in Vila Madelena serves amazing Caipirinhas
    • Neighbouring getaways: Ubabtuba
  2. Rio de Janeiro: The gem of Brazil and a definite travel destination. There is so much to do in Rio that even after spending two weeks, I just couldn’t get enough of it.Rio De Janeiro
    • Night Life: Lapa, Barra da Tijuca
    • Places to visit: Lapa, Lapa stairs, Saint Helena, Barra da Tijuca, Cristo redentor, Ipanema market, Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon and Santa Teresa
    • To-do: Water sports, play football, enjoy the beach and hang out with ‘Cariocas’ as natives of Rio affectionately call themselves.
    • Carnival: Party, drink and dance! (Very touristy and expensive)Brazil Carnival
  3. Florianopolis: Florianopolis a.k.a. Floripa is a beautiful Island in Atlantic near Brazilian coast. A party hub with amazing beaches and beautiful women. A must go!
  4. Ouro Preto: A former gold mining town during the Portuguese empire. Ouro Preto still preserves the old colonial Portuguese charm.
    Don’t forget to visit the abandoned gold mine (but well maintained) outside the city. The state of Minas Gerias was famous during the Brazilian gold rush, with Ouro Preto taking the centre stage. I would recommend visiting neighboring colonial mining towns Diamantina, Sao Joao del Rei and Tirandentes.
  5. Paraty: A beautiful coastal historic town surrounded by various national park. The town lies between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Take a ferry from Paraty to Ilha Grande, a beautiful island in the Atlantic.
  6. Foz do Iguazu: Famous for Iguazu falls which share borders with Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The falls are breathtaking – and will make Niagara falls seem like a kid! This view below is from the Argentina sideIguazu Falls
  7. Other destinations which I missed: Salvador, Pantanal, Manuas and Fortaleza.

7. Budget check

Costing per day: Rio and São Paulo: $60, Rest of Brazil: $50
Exchange rate: 1 Brazilian Reai = USD 0.46 (INR 27)

Coming soon – Backpacking and budget travel tips for Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru :)