This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General availability: Medium
Quality of bandwidth: Low
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Low
Frequency of internet in hotels: Unknown
We spent four weeks in Northwestern Argentina. We crossed from San Pedro de Atacama Chile and essentially drove south along the Ruta 40 to Mendoza.
Internet availability is surprisingly low for a country I would otherwise consider first world. There are still internet cafes in most towns, although the hours they keep are very sporadic. Most places close for a very long siesta between 1-5pm every day.
Campgrounds rarely have internet, but there is so much camping available you can't really complain. Usually in large cities one of the municipal camping areas will offer wifi.
We didn't stay in any hotels, so it's difficult to accurately comment on the availability. But many places, especially hostels, advertised wifi. It's safe to assume that availability in midrange hotels is good, but may be lacking at the lower end.
We did discover that most YPF gas stations offer free wifi and usually nice seating areas too. Although the one time we wanted to use the internet the attendant didn't know the password. Seriously? Yes.
Connectivity was not bad. Power has never gone out and routers have never failed. If you could get connected, you could stay connected.
Unfortunately bandwidth was a completely different story. It is terrible. Like Bolivia terrible. I love Argentina in every other respect, but the internet connections made me want to stab kittens.
All public places that offered internet for free had dreadfully slow speeds. We spent four days in Mendoza looking for a connection that was more than 30kbps. Eight people, four days, probably 50 different locations tested. Nada. Nothing over 30kbps and most were right around 5kbps.
Thankfully internet cafes are plentiful enough and speeds there were significantly improved.
We spent three painful days in Salta trying to buy a USB modem. Because we planned to be in Argentina for a while we decided to buy a prepaid modem to save the hassle of trying to setup the unlocked one.
After visiting about 20 Personal stores we gave up on their supposedly cheaper modems and went to a Claro store. The first place said a modem would cost AR260 and came with no free time. We had researched online and knew that this was about double the actual price.
The second store we went to said the cost was AR130, but the network was down so he couldn't activate it. We tried to buy it the next day, but the store was of course closed for siesta the entire afternoon.
Several days later we saw a Personal modem in a display case and asked if we could buy it. Advertised at AR199, we figured it was a pretty good deal. But the staff refused to sell it to us. Commence kitten stabbing.
Back to the drawing board we decided to buy a Personal SIM and setup the unlocked modem. The staff at the Personal counter said they couldn't sell us a SIM, but they did walk us to the candy store kiosk that would. Go figure.
Personal sells two types of SIM cards. The normal, one number, no features edition that costs AR20. They also sell a better option that costs AR25 and allows you to call one person for free, text one person for free and have unlimted internet every day. To activate this deal you just have to recharge with AR30. We bought the special deal and recharged with AR30.
Now, here's where it gets foggy. A few minutes after recharging I put the card into our modem. The balance immediately dropped by 7 pesos. But the modem worked! And, no further balance was deducted from my card for another week. I checked the balance about 2 weeks later and another 6 pesos had been deducted. Madness!
I was getting unlimited internet for about 1 peso per day. I don't know exactly the cost, but I do know that after 4 weeks I still have a 5 peso balance on my account. So that's a total of AR50 for a month of internet. Nice!
Try these settings with the Personal SIM in your unlocked modem:
Dial number: blank
We later bought a Claro SIM card for AR20, to test it out in our modem as well. We had a Claro prepaid modem in Peru and the software let us change the APN and connection settings. We though with a new Claro SIM we could get it to work. Turns out, we were wrong.
We tried the SIM in both the Claro modem and in our unlocked dongle with about 400 variations of APN settings and nothing worked. It's possible that the SIM card just needed to be activated for use in a modem. We didn't have the patience to sort that out.
Connectivity with the modem was unpredictable. In Salta we were on two bars of EDGE. But 10 miles from the little town of Chilecito we had four bars of 3G. It was rare that we had no signal, however occasionally it was on a slow connection despite being very close to the city center.
Calling internationally to locations outside of South America is very expensive. Calling the US with Personal costs AR4.85 (US$1) per minute. There are good deals and packages available for calling countries that border Argentina.
Fortunately there are calling centers everywhere. Pretty much every town will have a phone booth or two where you can make a call for about a quarter of the price of the mobile rates.
Don't expect the internet to be a good as the roads and the beef and you'll survive just fine. If you need to have bandwidth, go to internet cafes. And pray that the magical Personal cheap modem internet doesn't disappear.