Argentina has been one of my favorite countries to date that I’ve visited for many reasons: The juicy meats, the sultry tango, the passionate street art, the challenging hiking opportunities. Probably the main reason I loved the destination so much was how it surprised me, and continued to keep me guessing throughout my month there. To give those interested in visiting Argentina an idea of what I mean, here are 10 ways Argentina surprised me.
1. Sweets For Breakfast
While I’ve seen many interesting breakfasts throughout my travels — rice water in Ghana, soy-soaked tofu in Japan and toast with vegemite in Australia — none compare to the way locals in Argentina load up on sugar for breakfast. Chocolate, cake, cookies, alfajores, jelly beans – it’s all considered a great way to start the day.
Before backpacking South America, I was under the impression everywhere would be cheap. This was not the case in Argentina. The exchange rate to the U.S. dollar as of August 22, 2013, is 18 cents for every Argentine peso. Patagonia is especially pricey, with hostels charging about $18 per night, budget hotels around $40 per night and many of the typical excursions being over $100. I’m not saying it’s outrageous, but compared to many other destinations in South America it’s much more expensive.
I’ve tried Malbec plenty of times from Australia, France and South Africa, never being particularly fond of the flavor; however, it’s completely different in Argentina. It seems to have an richer, fruitier flavor and velvety texture that my palate took well to (probably too well!). Sipping Malbec in Argentina is a quintessential travel experience I highly recommend.
One day trip from Mendoza that I took was to a lesser-known but worthwhile town called Portreillos. Surrounded by the Andes Mountains, the quiet town is the perfect place to enjoy kayaking, rafting, hiking, biking and other adventure sports in a beautiful setting. Moreover, it’s virtually unknown, so you won’t be fighting the tourist crowds. For more on this, check out Off The Beaten Path Adventure In Argentina: Potrerillos.
5. Luxury Buses
I had always heard intimidating stories about the local buses in South America. While I had some story-worthy experiences throughout Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the buses in Argentina were pretty luxurious. For example, when taking “Via Bariloche” from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, I was served a snacks, a hot dinner, dessert and even midnight champagne. There were movies in English, blankets, pillows, seats that reclined far back and all around great service in the pristine bus.
6. Not All Empanadas Are Created Equal
My first stop in Argentina was Buenos Aires, and the first meal I excitedly scarfed down was a beef empanada. I had expected an orgasmic experience, but was left surprisingly unimpressed. After asking a local friend, I learned that the best empanadas are found in northern Argentina like Salta, where it’s typical to use potatoes, beef, chicken and sometimes even llama meat in the recipe. Additionally, each area uses different ingredients in their empanadas. For example, in Mendoza traditional empanadas use a filling of beef, onion, egg and sometimes olives or cheese, while in Cordoba empanadas are sweet, with white sugar, potatoes, olives and meat. In Tucuman, the dish is cooked in a clay oven with lemon juice. Traditionally, the empanadas have beef, chicken and tripe; however, newer varieties also include cheese and onion. And in Jujuy, the addition of peas, pepper and onion give the meal a unique spice.
7. Portenos Love To Protest
In Buenos Aires you’ll always find a protest going on. These passionate people are always riled about something, and never stay quiet about it. This combined with country’s sultry tango and spicy aji-covered dishes make for a fiery culture. You’ll typically see protests happening on Avenida de Mayo and in front of the Casa Rosada, the house of the president.
8. The Bizarre Beauty Of Patagonia
For otherworldly landscapes not found many places on Earth, Patagonia is a perfect. While I’d heard this before going, you can never really understand the region’s bizarre beauty until you experience it for yourself. It’s not uncommon to do a hike that takes you through glacial spires reflecting on mirror lakes, eery twisted wood reaching up from the ground, waterfalls gushing onto rainbow colored rocks, foliage mixing with ice and a general contrasting of vibrant colors and distinct textures. It’s hard to put into words just how unusual yet inspiring these landscapes are. For more on this, check out Photo Essay: 13 Unedited Super Shots Of Patagonia.
9. Graffiti In Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is hub of various forms of artistic expression. While I knew about the rich tango culture, I was amazed by the beautiful street art adorning every corner. Portenos in Buenos Aires are passionate about government and society, and many of the creative works are expressions of this. You can stay in a graffiti-inspired accommodation like Art Factory Hostel, take a graffiti walking tour with Graffitimundo or a bar-slash-urban art gallery at Hollywood in Cambodia. These are just a few of the many graffiti-inspired experiences to be had in Buenos Aires.
10. Morcipan Is Not A Vegetarian Sausage
When I saw choripan — a juicy Spanish sausage in a bun topped with condiments and sauces — and morcipan listed next to each other on a menu I assumed morcipan was the vegetarian form because it was cheaper and darker in color. I was wrong. I still remember trying to bite into the meal — which is actually an intestine filled with congealed blood — and how hard it was to rip the intestine with my teeth. While the flavor was delicious, be prepared for a very unusual texture.
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