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  • Total days on the road: 586
  • Currently in: USA
  • Miles Driven: 36821
  • Countries Visited: 17
  • Days Camping: 389
  • Days Indoors: 202

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Patagonia Budget Recap

Written by Jared on April 28, 2013

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.

I'm going to try something a bit different for this budget recap. For two reasons: first, our esteemed, much valued and irreplaceable budget book flew the coop somewhere around our second ferry crossing of the Strait of Magellan. This leaves me with a three week gap in the records that cannot be reconciled, meaning a per diem breakdown is impossible to calculate.

Secondly, and much more importantly, Argentina is a financially screwed up country at the moment. Yearly inflation is estimated to be around 50% which has hugely devalued the currency. To compensate. the government has enacted a series of policies to attempt to stabilize the Argentinian peso and keep stores, money changers and banks from increasing rates and prices faster than citizens can keep up with. Quite a few of these policies are unpopular and are viewed by many as being ineffective.

The end result is that people in Argentina want dollars. They need a currency that is stable and are actively converting as much of their savings into dollars as possible to keep from losing massive amounts of money as the peso continues to drop in value.

This has also had the affect of making Argentina a more expensive place to travel in recent years, unless you bring and change US dollars inside the country. While the official rate was around 4.85 pesos to the dollar while we were there, we were changing dollars at a rate of up to 8.5. At times we changed large amounts of dollars and "made" over $500 in the process. Certainly worth the time and effort.

Because our exchange rate varied so dramatically, any numbers I give you in US dollars are effectively useless. As we learned, all numbers you come by for Argentina from a blog or travel guide, whether in US dollars or pesos, should not be trusted. Until the financial situation stabilizes, add 50% for every year old the information is and you'll be closer to the actual price.

Budget Recap

Number of Days: 65
Average ATM Exchange Rate (AR Pesos per USD$):  4.85
Budgeted Per Diem:  $82.45
Actual Per Diem:  $86.15
Per Diem Budgeted:  $5,359.25
Per Diem Spent:  $5,620.92
Balance:  -$261.67

We stayed more or less on budget during our time in Patagonia. Higher-than-expected costs were offset by hunting for a better exchange rates. We went over largely because of a few large one-time expenses such as ferry crossings, tips for our Antarctica cruise, and many gas fill-ups due to the thousands of miles we drove through Argentina.

Changing Money in Argentina

We were able to change money at rates between 5.5 and 8.5 throughout southern Argentina and Buenos Aires. The best rates were always found in larger cities. Smaller towns with only one or two official money changing venues usually only offered a rate of 6 to 7 pesos per dollar. It is possible to change money everywhere, asking at any store will eventually lead you to find someone who wants to buy dollars. Banks will only offer the official rate, the same one you get by withdrawing money from an ATM. This should be avoided at all costs.

Some discretion is advised. While very common, the act of buying dollars isn't technically legal without the proper paperwork. As an ignorant foreign tourist it's not likely you will get in trouble, but potential buyers may be put off by a lack of discretion on your part. All but once we changed money at an official "casa de cambio" and it wasn't any different than any other time we've swapped currencies throughout our trip.

You will get the best rate by bringing dollars into Argentina and changing them in the country. It is legal to bring up to US$10,000 in cash per person into the country without needing to declare it at customs. You have to stock up on dollars before you enter the country, it will be impossible to legally acquire dollars in Argentina at the official rate. The only option is the black market where you will get the same rate you hope to change at. Not that it will do overlanders much good, but you are allowed to buy up to US$500 at the official rate at the airport in Buenos Aires provided you have proof that you're flying to a country that uses dollars as a currency.

We got dollars in Chile by withdrawing Chilean pesos from an ATM and changing them into dollars at a bank or money changing booth. We lost 1-2% on that trade, but considering you stand to gain 30-50% by changing the dollars into Argentinian pesos, it's not a problem. You can negotiate for better rates by changing more money, so consider buying a lot of dollars, at least $1,000. Another option is to pool money with fellow travelers to negotiate a better rate.

You can also buy Argentinian pesos at a more favorable rate in bordering countries. We got rates between 5.5 and 7.5 by changing Chilean pesos directly into Argentinian pesos. The same can be done in Uruguay, although we did not need to change money there, pesos were being sold at a rate of nearly 10 to the dollar. It may be necessary to return to the same money changer several times throughout the day to be able to exchange all of your money. We found that Argentinian pesos were constantly being bought and sold, especially at the change houses that offered the best rates. It's a matter of being there at the right time before someone else snatches up the pesos.

Here is a list of the places we changed and the rates we got. Keep in mind that with any currency exchange, your rates will vary:

  • Puerto Montt: Approx AR$5.8 to US$1. Downtown around Calle Antonia Varas S41 28.346 W72 56.525, look for casa de cambios.
  • Puerto Natales: Approx AR$6.8 to US$1. On the same street as the UniMarc shopping center there are a few places. The one next to the Salomon store gave the best rates.
  • Bariloche: AR$7.4 to US$1. The rate was the same at all the official cambios on the main tourist street (Mitre).
  • Buenos Aires: AR$8.5 to US$1. Anywhere on Calle Florida, roughly here S34 36.469 W58 22.497

Because the Argentinian peso is so devalued, do everything in your power to get rid of all of your pesos before you leave the country. In Uruguay every place we found was buying pesos at a rate of 19 to the dollar. That's 1/4 of the rate you will get from an ATM. Chile was a bit better, but the rate offered was still almost half the official rate.

Food, Lodging & Gas

For the reasons mentioned above, giving you numbers for what we spent on food, lodging and gas is fairly pointless. Rather than be overly specific, I've limited this section to general advice and given you some vague numbers in Argentinian pesos rather than dollars in the hopes that will be more useful.

  • Aside from our 11 day cruise to Antarctica and 4 nights spent in an apartment in Buenos Aires, we camped every night. As with northern Argentina and Chile, finding camping in Patagonia was never a problem.
  • Camping costs are seasonal in many places. Starting January 1st prices go up, sometimes as much as double. The high season ends sometime between late February and May, depending on the location. In some cases campgrounds close completely once the weather starts to get cold in mid April.
  • We typically paid AR$100 to AR$150 to camp. Prices were usually per person, and sometimes included extra fees per tent and for the vehicle. It was more expensive to camp in Patagonia than it was in northern Argentina.
  • We only spent four nights on the Chilean side of Patagonia. Two of those nights were spent in Torres del Paine where we paid a record US$16 per person to camp, not to mention the park entry fees of US$35 per person.
  • Food in southern Argentina is slightly more expensive than the north, but supermarkets are everywhere. Bring your own bags. Plastic bags disappear once you enter Patagonia, probably for the best. You can buy reusable bags in every supermarket for a buck or two.
  • We ate several dinners out to the tune of around AR$100 per person. A quick lunch of empanadas or a sandwich and a drink was closer to AR$30 per person. Meals in Buenos Aires and tourist towns along the Ruta 40 were more expensive than the rest of Patagonia.
  • Gas is subsidized in Patagonia. This starts on the Ruta 40 south of Bariloche. It's typically AR$2-3 less per liter.
  • In Patagonia we paid between AR$4.50 and AR$5.50 per liter (US$3 to $3.50 per gallon). Between Bariloche and Buenos Aires we paid around AR$7.50 per liter, US$4.80 per gallon. US dollar amounts were calculated using the official exchange rate. Using the best rate we got in Argentina, gas in Patagonia cost us as little as US$2 per gallon.


#2 Kobus 2013-07-14 16:43
Hey Jenny,

We had $500 in emergency funds stashed in the car, We never used it.

We used Charles Schwab as our bank and for ATM withdrawals, they refund ATM fees and the online banking is a breeze. Some months we would get up to $50 back in ATM fees.

We were stopped in almost every country, but it was very obvious that the police and military were just doing their job and were looking for drugs and guns. Yes there are corruption in some places, but as long as you have a positive attitude, don't lose your temper you will be fine. Ask yourself how much your time is worth, by wasting the time of the person wanting a bribe you will normally get off without having to pay anything.

Make sure you carry the mandatory safety equipment with you, 2 warning triangles, a fire extinguisher, stick some reflective tape on your vehicle (front and back).

If you need more advice, let us know.
#1 Jenny 2013-07-14 15:31
Hi there

Thanks for your informative rundown right down to the nitty gritty. May I ask a question about carrying cash, given my family will be doing a trip later in the year? Did you actually carry a stash of $US in your vehicle? Isn't that incredibly dangerous? Did you come across corrupt police who searched your vehicle (particularly in the north)? Any info would be much appreciated and I look forward to following your travels... : )

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