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Northwest Argentina Budget Recap

Written by Jared on December 20, 2012

This article is part of our Budget and Money Report series.

Our per diem expenses cover food, lodging, gas and other supplies and travel costs for three people. We travel in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner, tent camp in paid facilities roughly 70% of our nights and eat less than 10% of our meals in restaurants. This budget does not reflect personal spending money, which is mostly used to buy souvenirs and booze. We don't track this money, but we do know we have not come close to spending our budgeted amount of $10 per person per day.

We have a total of 120 days on the books between Chile and Argentina. Like most overlanders we'll be crossing back and forth between the countries several times over the next four months. To make our our next few budget recaps useful, we're cutting Argentina into two separate articles and publishing a third to include all of our time spent in Chile, with one exception. The three nights we spent in San Pedro de Atacama after exiting Bolivia and before entering Argentina are included in this recap.

In order to make life easier for us, our Chile and Argentina budgets are identical. However, as we've come to find out, Chile is quite a bit more expensive than Argentina. It may prove to be a challenge to stay on budget. Ideally we will be quite a bit under budget in Argentina to make up for cost overruns in Chile.

Budget Recap

Number of Days: 27
Average ATM Exchange Rate (AR Pesos per USD$):  4.69
Budgeted Per Diem:  $82.45
Actual Per Diem:  $86.15
Per Diem Budgeted:  $2,226.15
Per Diem Spent:  $2,326.17
One-Time Expenses:  $0
Balance:  -$100.02

We missed the mark just barely, largely due to the cost of buying a refillable propane tank and gas after not being able to locate smaller cannisters for our stove. We also spent quite a bit of money on food, splurging for Thanksgiving and buying an obscene amount of delicious Argentinian beef.

On the whole, money gets you far in Argentina. It's not as good as it has been, mainly because of rising inflation. While the official exchange rate is in the neighborhood of 4.7 pesos per dollar, we've been told the black market rate is closer to 6.5 per dollar. If you can bring lots of US dollars into Argentina and find a place to exchange them, you'll do much better than us. Unfortunately we missed that memo and were unable to get US dollars before crossing into the country.

Per Diem Breakdown

Groceries:  $933.93 40.83%
Gas:  $580.81 25.39%
Lodging:  $447.23 19.55%
Supplies:  $134.01 5.86%
Eating Out:  $81.49 3.56%
Coffee & Booze:  $53.01 2.32%
Entertainment & Tours:  $32.00 1.40%
Phone & Internet:  $21.76 0.95%
Tolls & Parking:  $2.99 0.14%

Groceries topped our per diem expenses by a long shot. The only other country where we've come close to spending that much money in proportion to our other expenses was Costa Rica. Much of this is due to the fact we only ate out a handful of times, and we spent a lot of money on a rather gigantic Thanksgiving feast.

The supplies category includes the cost of a new 3 kilo refillable propane bottle, adapter and two rounds of filling with propane. Without these costs we would have been under budget during this stretch.

Food & Lodging

  Budget Actual Difference
Percent Time Camping:  65% 100% +35%
Average Camping Cost:  $15.00 $16.56 +1.56
Daily Food Expenses:  $25.00 $37.61 +$12.61

The only reason our insanely high food costs didn't kill us in northwest Argentina was the fact we managed to camp 100% of our nights. We actually set a new record with 29 straight nights spent in a tent. It is (obviously) very easy to find campgrounds in Argentina. Throw a dart at a map and odds are there will be 2 or 3 places within 50 miles.

Campgrounds are more like those we're used to in the US. Almost all of them have power, tables and a grill. Some also have lights and shelters. Pricing for camping is very random. Maybe half of the time it's per person, for the rest it's per site, per vehicle, or by the number of tents. Sometimes vehicles cost extra, sometimes having more than one tent costs extra on top of the per person fee. It's like a box of chocolates.


  Budget Actual Difference
Average MPG: 13 17.8 +4.8
Average Gas Price $USD/Gallon: $4.00 $5.62 +$1.62
Miles Driven: 1575 2,123 +548
Total Spent on Gas: $484.61 $580.81 +$96.20

We over did it a bit on gas, but our budget covers all 120 days we'll spend in Chile and Argentina so this may not be representative by the time we're finished down here. Our rough plan is 7,000 miles over the course of four months, with a budget of $4 per gallon. We know this is low. Gas in Argentina seems to cost around $5.50 per gallon, and it's closer to $6.50 in Chile. As usual, we kept the numbers low to offset our better-than-expected fuel efficiency.

Gas is easy to find in Argentina. There are a few longer stretches on the Ruta 40 in the north that might not have a station in every town, but it was never much of a concern as long as we filled up between a quarter and half of a tank.

Lessons Learned

  • Shop at smaller stores, produce stands and the local butcher rather than big supermarkets. It's OK to hit the supermarket every week or two, but if you rely on it for 100% of your food, you will go over budget like we did.
  • Camp everywhere. Hostel and hotel prices we saw were a good bit higher than we're used to, around $15-20 per person.
  • Wild camp if you can to save money. There are lots of wide open spaces in Argentina. Be careful around big cities like Mendoza, problems have been reported.
  • Shop around for campgrounds, they are everywhere. If there's one, chances are there will be more. Look online for listings. Solo Campings is a good website with breakdowns by region.
  • Not really a money saving tip, but beware of big campgrounds on the weekend, especially Saturday night. They can be packed and very noisy. If you can wild camp, do so on the weekends. Or find smaller out-of-the-way campgrounds that aren't likely to be invaded by late night stereo blasting locals.
  • It's very expensive to call the US or overseas from Argentina (almost $1 per minute). Use calling centers or Skype if you can find decent internet (good luck).
  • Chile and Argentina are fairly religious about preventing you from bringing food into the country, Chile moreso. Fresh produce and uncooked eggs and meat will be taken 100% of the time. The rules are not clear, it seems to be up to the guy at the agriculture checkpoint. Be safe and enter with as little food as possible.
  • There are a couple vegetable and/or fruit checkpoints on the Ruta 40 in northern Argentina. They will take all fruits and sweet peppers. We weren't searched, but we have heard of people who were.
  • Eat beef. Lots of beef. It's cheap and delicious. Chorizo is more expensive, and pork and chicken are barely less expensive.
  • The entirety of Argentina (aside from some restaurants and very large supermarkets) shuts down around 1 and stays shut until 5 or 6 in the afternoon. To avoid having to eat out, do your shopping early, or plan on having a late dinner.


#1 James 2012-12-21 00:56
good info! thanks guys

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