Pre-travel currency options
For your trip to Chile/Argentina, we would recommend the following:
- Take US dollars with you in cash, either as your main spending money or as a backup currency. Bring notes in a mixture of 100, 50, 20 and 10s, ensuring they are crisp and new. The amount you take will depend on how long you are travelling for, but please ensure you only take as much as your travel insurance covers you to carry.
- Take two credit or debit cards with you (in case one doesn’t work) to withdraw local currency from ATMs and for paying in restaurants; Visa, Mastercard and Amex are widely accepted. Please be aware that you may be charged high fees every time you use an ATM or pay with a card so do check with your bank before travelling.
- Chilean and Argentinian Pesos are not always considered major currencies, and so banks and foreign exchange companies in your home country are unlikely to have a readily available supply. This is why it is a good idea to travel with US Dollars to either spend as US dollars (if in Argentina) or exchange into local currency.
- Traveller's cheques are not advised for either country as they are very hard to change and are given a very low rate.
The official currency of Argentina is the Argentine Peso, however, it's common to use US dollars when travelling in the country.
Up until 2015, Argentina had a black market (known as the 'blue' market) so travelling with and spending US dollars in cash was an absolute must. Since the arrival of the new government (in 2015), the black market no longer exists, so in theory, it makes no difference if you spend US dollars cash, or Argentinian Pesos, the exchange rate should be the same for you.
The official currency of Chile is the Chilean Peso. In contrast to Argentina, US dollars are rarely used day-to-day when paying for things, but are easy to exchange.
On arrival and in the country
There are ATMs at both Santiago and Buenos Aires international airports, so ask your guide to point you in the right direction. If you would prefer not to use the ATM at the airport, then once you have checked into your hotel, there should be an ATM within walking distance.
If you are not intending to use an ATM, but just spend US dollars cash then you will need to find a ‘Casa de Cambio’ to exchange some of your notes into local currency (banks in Chile and Argentina do not tend to exchange dollars unless you are an account holder). We would not recommend using the ‘Casa de Cambio’ at the airport as the rate tends to be quite low. Once you have checked into your hotel, ask your hotel reception where your nearest ‘Casa de Cambio’ is. Please bear in mind that you will need a form of ID to exchange dollars at a ‘Casa de Cambio’.
All major towns in Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia have ATMs, but please note that El Calafate and El Chalten are notoriously problematic, so try to plan ahead and withdraw enough cash in Buenos Aires. If you are arriving from Chile, then a good way to get local currency is to pay for your dinner in US dollars, as the change will be given to you in local currency.
Most restaurants in towns accept Visa/Mastercard/Amex, however, please be aware that cards are not usually accepted in more remote parts of Chile and Argentina, so do stock up on local currency before venturing into more remote areas.
Even if you intend to pay by card and withdraw local currency from an ATM, please ensure that you carry some US dollars cash as your backup currency (remember to only take as much as your travel insurance covers you to carry).
Things to be aware of
- The ATMs in El Calafate are notoriously problematic and there is only one ATM in El Chalten, which is often empty. With this in mind, make sure you arrive with plenty of cash, as not everywhere will accept credit cards.
- You will have to pay entrance fees to some national parks, for example, the Perito Moreno Glacier. These normally have to be paid with cash in the local currency, so make sure you have this ready before your excursion.
- You will sometimes have to pay small taxes at bus stations and ports ($2-3). These would need to be paid in cash in the local currency. We always strive to inform you beforehand that you need to pay these.
- You may be charged high fees every time you use an ATM or pay with a card, so do check with your bank before travelling. If you are paying a fee, it is worth taking out a large sum at the start of your trip to save on the fee. Merchants often impose a 2-4% surcharge for paying with a card, which means paying in cash is often cheaper.
- Change (smaller notes and coins) can be hard to come by in Patagonia, so be sure to break your large notes whenever you can (sometimes smaller shops may not be able to sell you anything if you are trying to pay with a high note denomination).
- Your US dollar notes should be new, as even the smallest tear or bend can mean that a note isn’t accepted.
- Confusingly, the symbol for both the Chilean Peso (CLP) and the Argentinian Peso (ARS) is the dollar sign $
The cash machines in El Chalten are usually empty, and the bank is rarely open. A lot of the restaurants in the town only accept cash; therefore it is important that you stock up on Argentinian Pesos before travelling to the town.
Budgeting your trip & tipping
Budget Per Day
As a rough guide, you should budget $25-50 USD per person per day for your lunch and dinner.
- At $25 USD per person per day, expect simpler food/restaurants with little to no wine or beer
- At $50 USD per person per day, expect top-end restaurants with some good wine and great service
- At $35 USD per person per day, you could have a mix of both
It is at your discretion whether or not you choose to tip, however, if you do decide to tip, we generally suggest as a rule of thumb:
- Hotels: $20 USD per person, per day - given at the end of your stay at an all-inclusive hotel
- Cruises: $10 USD per person, per day - you can give this to the reception at the end of your cruise
- Meals: 10% of your bill
- Guides: $10-20 USD per person, per day for a group of 1 or 2, or $3-5 USD per day for larger groups - this will be paid at the end of your tour/excursion to your guide
It is up to you to decide if you would like to tip. Guides are paid and do not rely on tips for their income, however, they work long hours throughout the season are knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. Tipping is a great way to reward them for their work.
It may also be helpful to note:
- Hotels sometimes have guides associated with the hotel, sometimes the guides are outsourced. In each case, tipping etiquette is different, and it's worth asking the hotel.
- Sometimes you can tip via the front desk at the end of your stay at a hotel for everything, sometimes you might be expected to tip the hotel restaurant staff separately. It is worth asking before your stay.
- Each hotel is likely to have a different tipping system - sometimes you leave cash in an envelope, other times it can be charged onto a credit card. Again, ask the hotel how they do it.