Travel Tips

Swoop’s Tips on Currency

Customers often ask us questions about what currency to take with them to Patagonia, and how much to budget for their trip. Here are Swoop’s tip’s on how to take and spend your money…

Customers often ask us about what currency to take with them to Patagonia, and how much to budget for their trip. Here are Swoop’s tip’s on how to take and spend your money…

1. How to Take your Money – Crebit/Dedit Cards & USD$ Cash

ATMs are widely available in most major towns in Chile and Argentina (with one notable exception – see below) so withdrawing local currency with a credit/debit card is not a problem; additionally most restaurants even in the darkest depths of Patagonia take credit/debit cards as well. However, please don’t just rely on one credit/debit card, cards can be blocked, sometimes refused and lost so a backup card and/or cash is essential.

USD$ cash – it is always a good idea to take Dollars cash.

In Chile this is very much as a back up and can be exchanged for local currency if you don’t use a credit/debit card. It isn’t common to actually pay in dollars in Chile but in an emergency it would always be accepted over any other foreign currency. In fact, if you pay in dollars in restaurants you are likely to get a much worse rate than even the official rate.

In Argentina, up until very recently, there was a black market so travelling with and spending USD$ cash was an absolute must. Since the arrival of the new government, the black market no longer exists, so in theory it makes no difference if you spend USD cash, use an ATM or use a credit card, the exchange rate should be the same. We think it is still a good idea to travel with USD cash although it will be much easier to exchange them at an official rate now that the black market no longer exists. Please bear in mind that this is all very new and so some parts of Patagonia might still be cheaper if spending USD$ cash. Here is an interesting BBC article about the lifting of the Black Market:

Travellers cheques – not advised as they are hard to change and are given a very low rate.

2. Getting Money Whilst in Patagonia


  • There are plenty of ATMs and exchange places in Bariloche and Ushuaia.

  • El Calafate – the ATMs in El Calafate are notoriously problematic. Some ATMs there currently don’t accept cards with chips. Local banks are aware of the problem and are hoping to resolve it as soon as possible. Banco La Nación is the exception although, like most ATMs in Patagonia, it tends to run out of cash at the weekends. In the meanwhile we recommend you get money out before arriving in Patagonia. Please remember that not everywhere will accept credit cards so make sure you always have cash with you, just in case. Do get in touch if you have any questions.

  • At all other times, in El Calafate, the best bank to use is Banco Patagonica on Av. del Libertador 1355 opposite the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares office. In Argentina you can draw out a maximum of ARS $2,400 (Argentinian Peso) each time and it is advisable to withdraw the maximum amount as Argentinian ATMs charge approximately ARS $90 for each transaction. If you are visiting on a busy weekend in the holiday season then by Sunday evening the ATMs are likely to be empty.

  • El Chalten – there is one ATM just as you go into town but it is often empty and there are no exchange places. Make sure you arrive here with plenty of cash (although most restaurants do take cards).


  • There are plenty of ATMs and exchange places in both Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Puerto Varas and Pucon, so stock up in these places before heading into more remote areas.

  • Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales is the nearest place to get cash. The refugios and hotels will all except USD$ and credit/debit cards and you will actually pay slightly less by paying  with either of these methods for any food/drinks etc. (The National Park entrance fee, if not included in your trip, must be paid in Chilean pesos not USD$).

Leftover currency

  • At any cafes at or near the International borders, they are generally very happy for you to pay with and/or exchange any leftover currency you may have. For example, if you are visiting Torres del Paine and El Calafate on your trip you will almost certainly pass through the little border village of Cerro Castillo. This is a great place to exchange any spare currency, post your postcards and get any last minute souvenirs with your spare change.

3. How to Budget your Trip

As a rough guide you should budget USD$25-50 per person per day for your lunch and dinner.

  • At USD$25 per person per day expect more simple food/restaurants with little or no wine/beer.

  • At USD$50 per person per day expect top end restaurants with some good wine and great service.

  • At a USD$35 per day average, you could have a mix of the 2 above categories.

4. Tipping

Please see our separate blog post on Chilean and Argentinian tipping etiquette.

If you have any queries on any of the above then please feel free to get in touch.

Avatar photo

Luke Errington

Founder and MD

Luke fell in love with Patagonia when he first trekked through the Andes some 15 years ago. In 2010 he founded Swoop Patagonia and since then has trekked, ridden and paddled thousands of miles throughout the region.

At home in Bristol he's a dad of three, and a keen trail runner and adventure racer.