Argentina

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Introduction to Argentina

Despite Argentina's recent economic woes, its pleasures - stunning natural wonders, an elegant capital with a European-flavoured sophistication, and a passionate culture - are still as tempting as ever. The silver lining to the financial cloud is that it's now one of the best travel bargains going around.

This is one Latin American country where Europeans and North Americans can feel at ease and travel relatively inconspicuously. An interest in soccer and some nimble foot skills may be all you need to feel like a local.

Argentina certainly has had plenty to cry about, with an economy that's still trying to find its feet again and a fragile government that at one stage saw five presidents in two weeks. How did this happen to a country blessed with abundant natural resources and a highly educated populace? Decades of political corruption, rampant tax evasion and ill-advised monetary policies are all to blame; the challenge now is for this proud country to pull itself out of the hole and avoid further chaos.

Full country name: República Argentina

Area: 2.77 million sq km

Population: 37.81 million

Capital City: Buenos Aires

People: 85% European descent, 15% mestizo, Indian and other minorities

Language: Quechua, Guarani, Araucanian, Spanish

Religion: 93% Roman Catholic, 2.5% Protestant, 2% Jewish, 1.5% Ukranian Catholic, 1% Armenian Orthodox

Government: republic

Head of State: President Néstor Kirchner

GDP: US$391 billion

GDP per capita: US$10,500

Major Industries: Food processing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, textiles, chemicals and petrochemicals, printing, metallurgy, steel, agribusiness

Major Trading Partners: Brazil, USA, the European Union

Member of EU: No

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Nationals of the USA, Canada, most Western European countries, Australia and New Zealand do not need visas to visit Argentina. In theory, upon arrival all non-visa visitors must obtain a free tourist card, good for 90 days and renewable for 90 more. In practice, immigration officials issue these only at major border crossings, such as airports and on the ferries and hydrofoils between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. Although you should not toss your card away, losing it is no major catastrophe; at most exit points, immigration officials will provide an immediate replacement for free. Dependent children travelling without both parents theoretically need a notarised document certifying that both parents agree to the child's travel. Parents may also wish to bring a copy of the custody form; however, there's a good chance they won't be asked for either document.

Health risks: dengue fever (Dengue Fever is one to watch out for in the subtropical north. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of dengue fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of haemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever), altitude sickness (In the thinner atmosphere above 3000m (9842ft), or even lower in some cases, lack of oxygen causes many individuals to suffer headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, physical weakness and other symptoms that can lead to very serious consequences, especially if combined with heat exhaustion, sunburn or hypothermia. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can affect anyone and care should be taken to avoid ascending mountain peaks above 3000m (9842ft) too quickly. Sleep at a lower altitude than the greatest height reached during the day, if possible), hypothermia (At high altitudes in the mountains or high latitudes in Patagonia, cold and wet conditions can kill. Changeable weather at high altitudes can leave you vulnerable to exposure: after sunset, temperatures in the mountains or desert (even when simply taking a long bus trip) can drop from balmy to below freezing, while high winds and a sudden soaking can lower your body temperature too rapidly. If possible, avoid travelling alone; partners are more likely to avoid hypothermia successfully. If you must travel alone, especially when hiking, be sure someone knows your route and when you expect to return. In some areas, you should always be prepared for cold, wet or windy conditions even if you're just out walking or hitchhiking)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -3 (Argentina Standard Time)

Dialling Code: 54

Electricity: 220V

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Surprisingly, Argentina has few festivals, and most public holidays reflect the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Things come to a stop over the Christmas to New Year and Easter periods. Saints' days and provincial holidays are other important events, as are 25 May (commemorating the May Revolution of 1810), Malvinas Day (2 April) and Columbus Day (12 October).

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Best time to Visit

For residents of the northern hemisphere, Argentina offers the inviting possibility of enjoying two summers in the same year, but the country's great variety and elongated geography can make a visit in any season worthwhile. Buenos Aires' urban attractions, for example, transcend the seasons, but Patagonian destinations, such as the Moreno Glacier in Santa Cruz, are best to visit in the summer months (December to February). The Iguazú Falls in subtropical Misiones province are best in the southern hemisphere's winter or spring when heat and humidity are less oppressive. The winter months (mid-June to late September) also offer the opportunity to go skiing.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Argentinian Nuevo Peso

Meals

Budget: US$2-5

Mid-range: US$5-20

High: US$20-40

Deluxe: US$40+

Lodging

Budget: US$10-35

Mid-range: US$35-80

High: US$80-150

Deluxe: US$150+

Until recently, Argentina was an expensive country to visit - so expensive that Argentines were in the habit of taking their holidays in 'cheap' countries, like the USA, Brazil and Uruguay. The economic policy that pegged the peso one-to-one to the US dollar kept prices high but inflation under control.

The recent devaluation of the peso means that all bets are off. At present, the peso has shrunk to about half the value of the US dollar, and it's anyone's guess as to how much further it may drop when banking restrictions are eased. Travellers may discover that two-tiered price structures - one price for Argentine nationals, and a second, higher price for foreigners - have been adopted in some industries. In general, however, Argentina is far less expensive for foreign travellers than once it was.

Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards. Tipping around 10% is customary in restaurants. Bargaining is uncommon, except in the artisan markets of the Andean northwest.

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Attractions

Buenos Aires

More European than South American in flavour, Buenos Aires' heart boasts bustling streets, grand avenues, old-time cafes and stylish restaurants. The locals are renowned for their flair and cockiness, even in times of adversity. It's a city of tragedy and elation; a vibrant, cosmopolitan capital.

For the tourist, Buenos Aires delivers. Wander cobbled streets, marvelling at faded architectural glories and colourfully painted metal houses. Talk world politics and fútbol in atmospheric old cafes. Tuck into one of the famous Argentinian steaks to power a long night's partying.

Córdoba

Argentina's second city, Córdoba long rivaled Buenos Aires for political, economic and cultural supremacy; indeed, while Buenos Aires languished through neglect in the 17th century, Cordoba was the country's architectural treasure house. Today, a fine collection of colonial buildings is concentrated in its compact centre. They include the old market, the Iglesia Catedral (featuring a Romanesque dome) and the Jesuit Iglesia de la Compañía. The Museo Histórico Provincial Marqués de Sobremonte is one of the most important historical museums in the country.

Iguazú Falls

Situated in the Parque Nacional Iguazú near Puerto Iguazú, these spectacular falls lie just east of the confluence of the Iguazú and Paraná rivers. At least 5000 cubic m (176,570 cubic ft) of water per second plunge the 70m (230ft) into the abyss below. If they look familiar, it's because they were the supporting actors in the film The Mission; appropriately, the area has historic ruins of Jesuit missions which also draw many visitors. San Ignacio Miní, built in a style of architecture known as 'Guaraní baroque', is especially popular. The surrounding park is home to 55,000ha (135,850ac) of pristine subtropical rainforest, with abundant wildlife and plant species.

Mar del Plata

Summer means the beach to the inhabitants of Greater Buenos Aires, and Mar del Plata is most often the beach they have in mind. Situated 400km (228mi) from the capital on the northern Atlantic coast, beaches in this area sprawl for 8km (5mi). Sophisticated mansions from the area's heyday as an upper-class resort mingle with the newer, more modest resorts catering to middle-class porteños. Sea lions keep an eye on the fishing activities around the wharves, and a replica of the grotto of Lourdes is a kitsch paradise.

Pampas

The unrelentingly flat Pampas is Argentina's agricultural heartland and home of that symbol of romantic nationalism, the gaucho. Comprising the provinces of Buenos Aires, La Pampa and major parts of Santa Fe and Córdoba, its varied environments include forested hills, extensive grasslands and flamingo-flecked salt lakes. The Parque National Lihué Calel is a popular detour, with wildlife including puma, guanaco, rhea, native hares and a variety of wild chinchilla called a vizcacha. The cities of La Plata, Luján (whose basilica to La Virgen de Luján receives 4 million pilgrims a year), Rosario and Santa Fe are worth seeing for their many museums, churches and faded colonial buildings.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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