article from January 17, 2011
By Jamie Douglas
If you are a potential expat, you have finally settled on a destination, and it is Argentina, I highly recommend that you do some serious research, AND visit the country first, and I mean the country.
It is the eight-largest country on Earth, with Buenos Aires being the eight-largest metropolitan area. According to the latest census figures (99% responding), there are 40 million Argentineans, of which 39% live in the Greater Buenos Aires Area (The Province of Buenos Aires plus the Capital Federal). That’s about 15.6 million people, making it the second-largest metropolitan area in South America behind São Paulo, Brazil. All in all, it is estimated that there are 20 million inhabitants in the Greater Buenos Aires Area, many living way below the poverty level.
BsAs is indeed an exciting and lively city, but presently, the center of the city’s infrastructure is crumbling, literally under your feet. The sidewalks are a hazard area for pedestrians, due to the many deep holes and cracks and the feces of tens of thousands of loose dogs, and the magnificent buildings in the center city itself have lost much of their beauty and former glory due to lack of money for maintenance and general neglect.
It is the cultural capital of South America, and a very vibrant city, boasting a large number of tango clubs, theaters and cultural events. The many parks in the city, on a nice summer day, are occupied by many porteños, as the residents of the city are called, playing or just resting in the sun or under the many trees. I could go on for pages, listing the pros and cons of this huge metropolis, but we are talking Argentina here.
If you are a city person, then it is imperative that you also check out Córdoba, Mendoza, Rosario and the twin cities of Santa Fé and Paraná, just to mention a few that are not total tourist Meccas like Mar del Plata, and in Patagonia, San Carlos de Bariloche.
With its size and diversification, Argentina is sure to offer something for just about anyone who comes with their eyes open, rose-colored glasses securely tucked away. There is the extreme north, which reaches into the altiplano, as well as subtropical climates and the Yungas jungle; there is the rugged Chaco, there is the Wine Country, the Pampas, the Steppe, the Lake District, and there is the extreme south, Tierra del Fuego being the southernmost inhabited area in the world, which has penguins rather than palm trees. And the Andes run the entire length of the country in the west.
Patagonia, which is the name for the southern part of the continent, has much to offer for those seeking peace and seclusion. Vast empty spaces are punctuated by the majestic southern glaciers and the tranquil, microclimate controlled valley of the Comarca Andina, where it rarely snows, and deep winter temperatures never really go below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. This area is centered more or less around El Bolsón, a hiker and outdoors person’s delight at least nine months out of the year and totally tolerable during the other three months. Farther to the north is Nahuel Huapi National Park, with its spectacular glacial lakes, and Bariloche, Villa Angostura and San Martín de Los Andes, which boast some world-class skiing. In this region, you are never far from the Chilean border, where you can experience the other side of the Andes. There is so much to do and so much to see in Patagonia that you should really take at least a month to absorb it all.
Then of course there are many areas along the Atlantic coast that have a lot to offer to those who prefer to be near the ocean – a very cool ocean to be sure. Up the coast, the Río de la Plata estuary reaches inland, and following the Paraná, you may end up at Iguazú Falls, in the triangle where Paraguay and Brazil meet Argentina in a misty, subtropical wonderland where the bird watching, wildlife viewing and lush flora around the immense falls comprise a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My recommendation: Come to Argentina, bring an open mind and have no fixed plans except, if you can, to stay the full 90 days that your entry visa grants you (This can easily be extended for another 90 days for about US$75 at any immigration office in the larger cities). Take advantage of the extensive bus system, which offers sleeper seats and meals when traveling long distances. (Always bring your own water and some snacks).
When exploring an area, it is best to rent a car for a few days, so that you can check out the sights, sounds and smells of this magnificent country at your leisure. If you end up in a place where you want to spend a week or more, I recommend renting a cabaña, which normally comes fully furnished with kitchen and all the necessary utensils and is much more economical than staying at a hotel. Inquire at the local tourist information bureau for the availability of a home away from home.
All that said, be a smart traveler, not a tourist. Guard your valuables and don’t flash large amounts of cash or jewelry. Argentina is just like anywhere else where there are the “haves” and the “have not’s,” and you, looking well dressed with all the cameras, iPods, iPhones, etc., make a tempting target for the latter.
So by all means, come on down and experience this expansive country, which is also a way of life, drink some mate with some locals and see for yourself.
Welcome to Argentina!
I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.