Camping is the best way to explore the natural wonderland that is Argentina. You can follow Che´s footsteps along Ruta 40, uncover the secrets of Patagonia, enjoy the Pampas, and even get lost in one of the many villages that speckle the roadside. However, before you pitch your tent in Argentinean soil, there are many things to consider and ways to prepare.
The first thing you need is a good tent. Although Argentina is a relatively cheap country, camping gear is more expensive than it is in the United States, so buy before you get here. Ever had to pee in the dark? Most campgrounds don´t have electricity at night, so a head flashlight is a really useful way to both see and to have your hands free. Also, never leave home without a wine bottle opener. How else will you sample the assortment of Argentine Malbecs? A Swiss Army knife can come in handy in the woods or just for spreading dulce de leche on your bread. A deck of cards and a book are necessities for enjoying some stormy nights. You’ll be surprised how many of your fellow campers know the same card games as you do!
Don’t be scared when wild dogs and rabbits wake you up in the middle of the night. They live there too. If you’re lucky, you might spot some beautiful guanaco´s or clever foxes wandering around the campgrounds. You might even see a flock of flightless rhea in front of your tent early in the morning. With all those wild animals running around, it is a good idea to do your dishes as soon as possible. Otherwise you will find your pots and pans all scattered around the picnic table the next day.
The Food and Drink
Argentines love eating, especially beef. The average intake per person per year is around 70 kg! They mostly do this during the Sunday-family asado (barbecue), where they make an art of grilling meat. There are also asados at every campground in Argentina, where you can practice being the asador yourself. As a starter you can eat one of the excellent empanadas, sold at most campgrounds for approximately $2 pesos, followed by meat of your own choice (my advice: cuadril:2 pieces $7 pesos, half a chicken: $5 pesos and chorizo sausages: $5 pesos in La Anonima supermarket). All of this should of course be accompanied by one or more bottles of good Argentinean wine. A nice, cheap bottle will cost you $6 to $8 pesos. And that’s more than a camping feast! If you are not sure how to make your own asado properly, you can always peek at your neighbors. Say hi, maybe you’ll be invited to join theirs.
Always check if there is a refugio (shelter) at your campground, especially in the southern part of Argentina. In Argentina it can rain, and then I mean really rain. If there is no refugio, always store enough bread, cheese, chorizo and wine to enjoy a rainy evening in your tent. When there is a refugio, you and all the other campers can cook there when the weather is bad. Usually this is a great opportunity for a party!
Also, bring duct tape. You never know when the Patagonian winds will attempt to demolish your tent. When the weather’s good, you should always wear sunscreen. Although it may not seem necessary, the sun can be ruthless to your skin.
When you have prepared yourself properly, there is no better way to experience the real Argentina than with your own tent. Most campgrounds are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. Some great spots are Camping Lago Roca in Parque National los Glaciares and Camping Hain in Tolhuin, Tierra del Fuego. Both are located beside gorgeous lakes and have all the facilities you could need. If you are camping in cities, the campgrounds are usually located just outside of the center. This means that you have all the activities of a town, but you can still enjoy some peace and quiet. A little walk will do everybody good after a hearty meal at the local parrilla (steakhouse).
Moreover, camping is much cheaper than sleeping in hostels. Where a double room in a hostel will cost you at least $60 pesos, a sitio on a campground will cost you approximately $30 pesos for two people. Most camping grounds in Argentina are excellent. All sitios have their own picnic table, garbage bin, asado, lights and electricity. The bathrooms usually have hot water and separate places to do your laundry and your dishes. The better campgrounds also have refugios, a minimarket, a bar and a restaurant. There are also free campgrounds in Argentina, generally in National Parks. You can even spend the night for free at a YPF gas station when you are in need.
At campgrounds you meet the best local people. Argentines are known as amicable and engaging. They and the camping staff are the best possible guides because they know the country. Many campgrounds rent mountain bikes and/or fishing equipment and they can arrange activities like horseback riding and glacier hikes. This is usually a lot cheaper than booking a tour in town.
Camping is a delightful way to enjoy Argentina. You will feel free, enjoy nature, save money, meet local people, eat delicious meals and drink superb wines.