Where do I Even Begin.
The wine? The beautiful language? The artsy streets lined with luscious trees? Or how about all of the outdoor adventure? Or the lovable culture with a passion for education and human rights? Needless to say, I fell in love with Argentina and I am counting the days until I can go back and spend more time there.
A Brief History
Argentina’s history definitely influences it’s current robust culture. Like most of Central and South America, Argentina was originally conquered and taken over by the Spaniards. Buenos Aires was established as a flourishing port and continues to be an important part of the Argentine economy today. At one point, the British tried to take over Buenos Aires, but were unsuccessful. In 1810, the fight for independence from Spain began. San Martin was one of the most influential individuals in this fight, and lead them to successfully being an independent country in 1816.
Once Argentina gained independence, they wanted to establish a vibrant culture, and turned to the Europeans as a role model. The 1853 Constitution of Argentina attracted many Europeans to immigrate to beautiful Latin American country. People came from all over Europe, but the majority actually came from Italy. Still to this day, around half of Argentinians hold, or are able to hold, an Italian passport. A big portion of Argentine cuisine are Italian dishes. (Steak is also huge in Argentina, but we’ll get to that in a minute!)
The History of Tango
We already talked a little bit about how the European immigration influenced the society and culture of modern day Argentina. This melting pot of European immigration is actually how the Tango developed as well. Back when people were migrating to Argentina from all over Europe, people started to miss the family and home that they left behind. As a result, they started to gather on Friday nights and combine all of the music, dance, food and drinks that they knew back in their home country.
From the Czech Polka and Viennese Waltz to the French, Italian and Spanish Jig, the Tango was born. The Bandoneon, a German instrument similar to an accordion, is a very prominent instrument in Tango music. Today, people still gather in the Plazas on Friday or Sunday nights to dance the Tango. It really is beautiful and magical that this cultural tradition still exists.
A large tent-like bag is placed in the center of the delightful outdoor dance floor so ladies can drop their bags without worry. Music will play and couples will artfully dance around the center. I think this was my favorite thing to see the entire time I was there. Unfortunately, I never got around to learning the Tango and participating in the dance… but boy could I sit there and watch for hours.
The Argentine Culture
To the Argentinians, talk of politics, healthcare, education or personal information is not off limits. Instead of politics causing animosity among friends like it tends to do in the US, the Argentinians welcome any political talk. They are all relatively informed about what is going on in their country as well as around the world. Being passionate about human rights, education, and healthcare, they openly talk about these matters.
One of our program coordinators, a native Argentinian, told me to be prepared to give up a private life if you want to live in Argentina. The culture is very friendly and talking about personal details and family is essentially part of their small talk. There is no separation between work and personal relationships. To the Argentinians, friends, co-workers, and family are all one in the same. It is definitely not what I am used to, but it was refreshing and I picked up a lot of social norms that I would like to incorporate into my own life wherever I live.
Argentina definitely has their own version of Spanish, but it is not hard to pick up once you know what you’re looking for. The biggest thing that you need to know is the pronunciation of ‘ll’. Typically, you pronounce this as ‘y’. For example, llaves (keys) is pronounced ‘yaves’. However, in Argentina, the ‘ll’ is pronounced ‘sh.’ So it would be ‘shaves’. (Sorry about the poor phonetic spelling). I personally think this is a more beautiful way of pronouncing Spanish.
Their accent is also a little bit more musical. I would describe it as a mix between a Spanish and Italian accent… but you’re speaking Spanish. There are also a lot of words that are different in Argentina. However, these are more little vocab words, so you won’t really get into trouble if you are just trying to get around using the Spanish you already know.
One other thing that you need to know about Argentine Spanish is the ‘vos.’ Not to be confused with the ‘vosotros’ used in some parts of Spain. It actually is very simple, you just need to learn it. In Argentina, ‘tú’ is replaced with ‘vos.’ The ‘vos’ conjugation is similar to the ‘tú’ conjugation. In the present tense, you just replace the end ‘r’ with an ‘s’ and add an accent to the vowel right before. That is it. I think it’s simpler than the ‘tú’ form. For example… Hablar: Vos hablás (instead of tú hablas). Comer: Vos comés (instead of tú comes). Vivir: Vos vivís (instead of tú vives).
Lastly: Che. Honestly, I don’t really know how to explain this one. And no one could really explain it to me either. It is just a word that is kind of used and thrown into sentences. Often compared to ‘man’ or ‘bro’. As in, hey bro, let’s go get a beer! Or, bro.. that was crazy. I won’t try to explain it much more… if any Argentinians are reading this, feel free to comment below with a better explanation!
The currency is the Argentine Peso. It really is a beautiful currency.. try to save some if you can! Right now, 1 US dollar is about 17.5 Argentine Pesos. Food, drinks, accommodation and transport is definitely less expensive in Argentina compared to the US, but it is a bit pricier than other countries in South America.
To give you an idea of what you will be spending, an average meal will cost around 100 Pesos (a little under $6). If you want to go cheap you can get a decent meal for 60 Pesos ($3.50). A decent bottle of wine at an average restaurant is around 120 Pesos ($7). If you want to go to a really nice restaurant and get a steak, you’ll pay around 180 Pesos ($10). A 20 min taxi ride will be around 120 Pesos ($7).
I am a firm believer of walking as the main stay of your transportation when traveling. You get to know the city better, stumble upon adorable streets and restaurants, and you get to people watch and immerse yourself in the culture. However, this isn’t always doable. If you are short on time or are traveling far distances in the city, taxis or buses are safe. Obviously the buses are the cheapest, and they are safe in Argentina.
If you want to travel around Argentina, there are airports to all of the major cities. You can also take overnight buses with semi-camas (nice seats that recline pretty far back). This honestly is the way to go if you are on a budget. From Córdoba to Mendoza, I took a 10 hour overnight bus. Round trip, it cost me $150. Round trip plane tickets would have been around $300. Plus if you are taking an overnight bus, that is one less night that you have to pay for an AirBnB or a hostel. And honestly, I slept fine. Just pop in some ear plugs and melatonin and you’re good to go.
Don’t Miss: Food & Drinks
Wine. Argentina is one of the top 5 wine producers in the world. Right now, it actually has one of the highest growth rates as well. Mendoza is the main wine region in Argentina (the reason I took that overnight bus for a quick weekend trip!). Make sure to try the Malbec, what they are famous for. They also have delicious Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Another drink to not miss is Yerba Mate. A delicious (caffeine-rich) tea and social custom in Argentina. It is made from dried herbs (from the yerba mate plant), hot water, and maybe a little sugar. The ingredients are combined in the mate (the traditional gourd cup) and you drink it through a bombilla (the straw that filters the herbs out). Traditionally, you pass around the mate and all share the same mate and bombilla. We did this before morning rounds at the hospital and during Spanish class!
As far as food goes, you have to try empanadas (a little stuffed baked bread), dulce de leche (essentially caramel but way better), steak (holy cow ;) … so good), and any pizza or pasta dish. I will be doing separate blog posts on all of the cities that I visited with specific restaurants to go to!
Places to Visit in Argentina
Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city in Argentina. It is full of culture and European style architecture; some even call it the ‘Paris of South America.’ It really does feel a lot like Paris when you are walking down the streets… The cobblestone streets lined with cafés.. artsy side walks and plazas filled with wine-sippers and tango-dancers.
When you go, make sure to not miss the Casa Rosada on Plaza de Mayo. While you are there, check out the Catedral Metropolitana, where Pope Francis worked as the archbishop. However, I have to say that the coolest thing to see is the Recoleta Cemetery. Home to many famous Argentinians… but the most striking part about it is the way that it is set up. It is like a mini village maze with miniature extravagant houses (the tombs). Be sure to take a map!
Definitely walk around and check out the beautiful streets, especially San Telmo street and Plaza Dorrego. Stay tuned for a whole blog post on Buenos Aires!
Absolutely a do not miss. My love for wine might be biased towards Mendoza… but even if you don’t love wine, definitely check out this adorable city. It is definitely a lot smaller than some of the other cities, but boy does it have charm. The Plaza Independencia is the huge main plaza with a theater, art museum, picnic spots, and daily street market. Surrounding this main plaza you have four other Plazas that are worth checking out; Plaza Chile, Plaza Italia, Plaza España, and Plaza San Martin.
What I loved about this city was all of the amazing restaurants and beautiful views. Almost everywhere you walk you have a view of the Andes Mountains. Oh, and did I mention it’s wine country? I will also be writing a whole blog post on Mendoza (all about wine, where to stay, where to eat, and what not to miss… stay tuned!).
While quite a bit smaller than Buenos Aires, this city is hustling and bustling and full of life. I was blown away by all of the different nightlife districts and unique dining, drinking and dancing experiences that Córdoba has. It is also home to many large universities and hospitals. Once again, stay tuned for what to do, where to eat, and where to get the best drinks in a whole blog post on Córdoba!
Other Places to Go (that I missed this trip… but am already planning for next time!)
For the Outdoor Adventurer
Monte Fitz Roy, Patagonia – Need I say more.
Aconcagua Mountain – The 2nd highest mountain in the world (right after Everest!)
Perito Moreno Glacier
Why I Will ABSOLUTELY Be Back
First of all, there are so many bucket list items that I want to do that are in Argentina (Patagonia and Aconcagua Mountain being at the top of the list!). I also need to go back and spend a lot more time in Mendoza wine country. But besides all of my fun, bucket-list, travel things that I want to do in Argentina, I also want to be around the Argentine culture. I met so many beautiful, inspiring, and loving people that I just want to be around more.
I also want to work more in the healthcare system and learn more about it. Two weeks was amazing, but I definitely want to spend more time learning and working. Check out my post on healthcare in Argentine here! And stay tuned for a plethora of blog posts to come about the culture, what we can learn from the Argentinians, and more city-specific travel guides!
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