Currency, budgeting & tipping in Patagonia

Money

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 – even the smallest tear or bend can mean that a note isn’t accepted. The amount you take will depend on how long you are travelling, but please ensure you only take as much as your travel insurance covers you to carry. Euros can also be exchanged, but are not as widely accepted for spending money/tipping as USD.

  • Bring notes in a mixture of denominations, ensuring they are crisp and new – even the smallest tear or bend can mean that a note isn’t accepted. Large bills will give you the best rate of exchange, but small bills will be useful for tipping.

  • 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. ATMs will only expend local currency. Credit Cards are more widely accepted in Chile than in Argentina.

  • Chilean and Argentinian Pesos are not 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 currencyUpon returning home you may find it difficult to trade in any excess pesos you may have.

  • Traveller's cheques are not advised for either country as they are very hard to change and are given a very low rate.

  • Be aware that both the Chilean and Argentine peso symbol is $, which is not to be confused with the $ symbol for the United States dollar.

Argentina

Preparing for Patagonia

Argentine pesos

The official currency of Argentina is the Argentine Peso ($), however, it's common to use US dollars when travelling in the country.

Argentina currently has a significant black market (known as the 'blue' market) for foreign currency, so travelling with and spending US dollars in cash is an absolute must. This is an accepted way of life here, so don’t worry, you’re not doing anything illegal. Most establishments (cafes, bars, restaurants and tour operators) will accept US dollars cash at a much better rate of exchange, saving you anywhere from 50-100%.

Not all places will take foreign currency, so you will have to always carry a small number of Argentine Pesos (AR$) for paying for taxis, museums etc. Careful, the sign for the Argentine peso is $, which is easily confused with the US dollar sign.

You can see all legal Argentine peso tender notes on the Central Bank of Argentina’s official website.

Chile

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. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted throughout Chile.

Chile does not have a significant black market for foreign currency so you’ll largely find the same rate being applied throughout the country. 

You can see all legal Chilean peso tender notes on the Central Bank of Chile’s official website.

Preparing for Patagonia

Chilean pesos

Whilst travelling

ElChaltneandFitzRoySign

Welcome to El Chaltén

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).

Important considerations

Preparing for Patagonia
  • The ATMs in El Calafate are notoriously problematic and there is only one ATM in El Chalten, which is often empty. Make sure you arrive in remote areas with plenty of cash, as not everywhere will accept credit cards. 
  • You may have to pay entrance fees to national parks or museums. These will have to be paid in 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 USD). 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 when using an ATM or paying with a card, so do check with your bank before travelling. If you are paying a fixed fee, it is worth taking out a large sum at the start of your trip. 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 up 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 the Chilean Peso (CLP) and Argentinian Peso (ARS) is the dollar sign $.
Customer review background image

What our customers think of Preparing for Patagonia

Expect to be without cell service for extended periods of time. We planned for this inconvenience by carrying a miniGarmin inReach that has limited texting functionality. Distances are long so be prepared for the time in the vans. Read the full review

Travelled: April 2022

Suzanne Williams - USA

Plan ahead, travel light, bring slippers :) Read the full review

Travelled: March 2022

Karan Bhalla - USA

Take 15% more cash out than you planned. Tipping guides, drivers and others adds up - we wish we would have had more cash on hand to really express our appreciation to all those that treated us so well! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Jonathan Staker - USA

Be prepared for long hikes. Bring layers of clothing which you may have to change into and out of a number of times in a single day. Not all creature comforts may be available including fast internet but we found that to be a good thing. Don't forget the sunglasses and the SPF 50, even on cold days. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2021

Sean Johnston - USA

Bring tons of US cash to Argentina. You cannot get much cash from the ATM’s in Patagonia. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Karen Belding - United States Of America

Budgeting

As a rough guide, you should budget $25-60 USD per person per day for food and drink.

  • At $25 USD per person per day, expect simpler food/restaurants with little to no wine or beer
  • At $60 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
Preparing for Patagonia
Swoop Says background image

Swoop says

The only cash machine in El Chalten is 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 cash before travelling to the town.

Tipping

It is customary to leave a tip for guides, drivers and hotel staff in USD at the end of their services, but you may want to carry a few extra pesos for tipping in local establishments such as restaurants and bars. It is at your discretion whether or not you choose to tip, but we generally suggest the following guidelines:

  • 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 - sometimes restaurants will charge you a modest ‘cubierto’ fee, this is not the tip for your waiter, but a cover charge for bread and nibbles. Tips at restaurants cannot usually be charged to your card so should be left in cash.
  • 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
Stella Australis, Patagonian cruising vessel in the Darwin Range, Tierra del Fuego

Darwin Range, Tierra del Fuego

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 show your appreciation for the great experience they gave you.

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 varies 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 physical approach to actually tipping - 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.
Trekking from Estancia Cristina, Patagonia

Trekking from Estancia Cristina

Swoop Says background image

David says

Try to use up your Chilean or Argentine pesos before you leave Patagonia as you’ll not likely be able to exchange them when you get back home.

David Hilton Patagonia Product & Partnership Manager

Flights & airports

Argentina

Preparing for Patagonia

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires Ministro Pistarini (EZE) Airport

In Argentina, there are two main airports. Ministro Pistarini is the main International Airport in Argentina and is 30km outside of town. 

Immigration in Buenos Aires can be a lengthy process depending on when your flight arrives. Argentine immigration authorities are no longer stamping tourist’s passports at the point of entry, but instead issuing a QR code that is sent to your email. You will need to be able to show this as proof of your tourist status in hotels and other places where required. We recommended you store this QR code safely, and consider printing off a copy soon after arrival, in case you cannot produce the electronic version when required

Buenos Aires Jorge Newbery (AEP) Airport

Jorge Newbery is mainly used for domestic flights and is only a 10-15 minute taxi ride from the nicest parts of the city. From here you can get internal flights to all of Argentina and neighbouring countries such as Chile and Brazil. Flights to El Calafate can then be combined with travel onwards by bus or transfer to areas such as El Chalten and Puerto Natales (in Chile).

Moving between the two airports can take 1-2 hours depending on traffic, and as customs and baggage reclaim can take a while we'd normally allow at least 5 hours between arriving in one and departing the other.

Swoop Says background image

Swoop says

Argentine immigration authorities are no longer stamping tourist’s passports at the point of entry, but instead issuing a QR code that is sent to your email. You will need to be able to show this as proof of your tourist status in hotels and other places where required. We recommended you store this QR code safely, and consider printing off a copy soon after arrival, in case you cannot produce the electronic version when required. 

How do I travel between EZE and AEP airports?

Illustrated Guide

There is no train/metro link between EZE airport and the city centre. We do not recommend travellers to take the public bus service as this passes through some undesirable districts of the greater Buenos Aires area and takes a long time, but instead use the variety of the airport’s mini-bus, shuttle or taxi services.

The transfer between Ministro Pistarini (EZE) Airport and Jorge Newbery (AEP) Airport can only be done by road/vehicle as there are no train/subway links between the two airports. AEP has no train/metro links with the city.

Chile

Preparing for Patagonia

Santiago, Chile

Santiago de Chile Arturo Merino Benítez (SCL) Airport

This is the main International Airport in Chile that connects you to Patagonia and the rest of the country as well as neighbouring international destinations. From here you will be able to get internal flights to/from Punta Arenas and travel onwards by bus to reach areas such as Torres del Paine

Immigration can be a lengthy process. On arrival, you may need to pay your reciprocity fee (if required) and you will have to fill out two forms: a customs declaration and an entrance slip which will be stamped, and you will return upon leaving the country.

Customs are very strict in Chile, so be sure to declare any items you are unsure of, including any food, as you may be charged if you do not. You can read more about this affidavit (online declaration) and can see a copy of the document.

Taxes & transfers

Preparing for Patagonia

Airport taxes

Argentina and Chile require people of certain nationalities to pay an entry fee on arrival in the country, known as a reciprocity fee. Find out more in our guides about Getting to Chilean Patagonia and Getting to Argentinian Patagonia and check if you will be required to pay this in anticipation of your trip to either/both countries.

Transfers

Upon arrival at either EZE or SCL or AEP airports, we always recommend taking an official taxi or pre-booked transfer through Swoop. Scams are frequent with people pretending to be an official taxi and then people being charged exorbitant prices for their lift. If you have not contracted a transfer service pre-arranged then you can pay for an official taxi in advance in the terminal building.

Baggage allowances

Please be aware that the baggage allowances on your domestic flights within Chile or Argentina may differ from the allowances on your international flights. Please ensure that you book a fare that includes baggage and check your ticket for your exact allowance.

As a general reference, the standard baggage allowance for domestic carriers are:

  • International flights from Europe

    Please confirm your baggage allowance directly with the airline before travel.

    British Airways

    • Hand baggage 23kg - 56 x 45 x 25 (22 x 18 x 10in) including handles, pockets and wheels
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 40 x 30 x 15cm (16 x 12 x 6in)
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 90 x 75 x 43cm (35.5 x 29.5 x 16in) including handles, pockets and wheels

    Iberia

    • Hand baggage: No weight restriction - dimensions must be less than 56 x 45 x 25cm (22 x 18 x 10in)
    • Hold baggage: 23 kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width

    Air France

    • Hand baggage: 12kg - dimensions must be less than 55 x 35 x 25cm (21.5 x 13.5 x 9in)
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: No weight restriction - dimensions must be less than 40 x 30 x 15cm (16 x 12 x 6in)
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width including handles, pockets and wheels

    LATAM

    • Hand baggage: 8kg in Economy and 16kg in Premium Economy - dimensions must be less than 55 x 35 x 25cm (21.5 x 13.5 x 9in) including handles, pockets and wheels. Hand baggage must be light enough that you can place it in the overhead compartment without needing help
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: No weight restriction - dimensions must be less than 45 x 35 x 20cm (18 x 14 x 8in)
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width including handles, pockets and wheels

    KLM

    • Hand baggage: 12kg - dimensions must be less than 55 x 35 x 25cm (21.5 x 13.5 x 9in) including handles, pockets and wheels
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: 12kg total including hand baggage - dimensions must be less than 40 x 30 x 15cm (16 x 12 x 6in)
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width
  • International flights from the USA

    Please confirm your baggage allowance directly with the airline before travel.

    Delta

    • Hand baggage: No weight restrictions - dimensions must be less than 56 x 35 x 23cm (22 x 14 x 9in) including any handles and wheels
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: one 'small' item that must fit under the seat in front
    • Hold baggage, 23kg - dimensions must be less than 157cm (62in) for combined height + length + width

    American Airlines

    • Hand baggage: No official weight restriction - dimensions must be less than 56 x 36 x 22cm (22 x 14 x 9in) including handles and wheels
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: one 'small' item that must fit under the seat in front
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width

    United Airlines

    • Hand baggage: no official weight restriction -  dimensions must be less than 56 x 35 x 22cm (22 x 14 x 9in) including handles and wheels
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: No official weight restriction - dimensions must be less than 43 x 25 x 22cm (17 x 10 x 9in)
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width including handles and wheels
  • International flights from Australia

    Please confirm your baggage allowance directly with the airline before travel.

    Qantas

    • Hand baggage: No official weight restriction - dimensions must be less than 56 x 36 x 23cm (22 x 14 x 9in)
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: one 'small' item that must fit under the seat in front
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width

    Air New Zealand

    • Hand baggage: 7kg - dimensions must be less than 118cm (46.5in) for combined height + length + width
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: one 'small' item that must fit under the seat in front
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width
  • Domestic flights within Patagonia

    Please confirm your baggage allowance directly with the airline before travel.

    LATAM

    • Hand baggage: 8kg - dimensions must be less than 55 x 35 x 25cm (21.5 x 13.5 x 9in) including handles, pockets and wheels
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width including handles, pockets and wheels

    Aerolineas Argentinas

    • Hand baggage: 5kg - dimensions must not exceed 55 x 35 x 25cm (21.5 x 13.5 x 9in)
    • Hold baggage: 15kg - dimensions must be less than 158cm (62in) for combined height + length + width

    Sky Airlines

    • Hand baggage: 20kg - dimensions must not exceed 35 x 25 x 55cm (14 x 9 x 22in), including handles, pockets and wheels
    • Additional handbag/laptop bag: one 'small' item that must fit the following dimensions: 25 x 30 x 15 cm (9 x 11 x 5in).
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - no dimensions given
    Jet Smart

    • Hand baggage: 10kg - dimensions must not exceed 45 × 35 × 25cm (1 item per person)
    • Additional hand baggage: 10kg - dimensions must not exceed 55 × 35 × 25cm (1 item per person)
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - up to 158cm long (the sum of width + height + length in total must not exceed this amount)
    Sky Airlines

    • A personal item 25 x 35 x 45cm
    • Hand baggage: 20kg - dimensions 25 x 35 x 45cm
    • Hold baggage: 23kg - up to 158 cm (the sum of width + height + length in total must not exceed this amount)

    Please note that neither Jet Smart nor Sky Airlines airlines are members of international airline alliances.

Swoop Says background image

Harriet says

Domestic flights in Chile are an experience in themselves. Sit on the left-hand side flying south and you will get a birds-eye view of the Andes in all their glory - active volcanoes, the southern ice cap, glaciers and lakes. Once we flew right over the top of Torres del Paine and the pilot dipped the wing - it was an incredible sight.

Harriet Pike Trekking, Mountaineering & Cycling Specialist

Frequent flyer numbers

There are three key alliances that encompass the main airlines. The airlines most frequently used by our customers when travelling to Patagonia are:

  • Oneworld Alliance: American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, Iberia & LATAM Airlines
  • SkyTeam Alliance: KLM, Aerolineas Argentinas & Air France
  • Star Alliance: Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Copa Airlines & United Airlines

If you are a member of a frequent flyer program you can either go online and add the miles yourself or just let us know your frequent flyer number and we will inform our flight partners so they can add your miles for you.

View of Bariloche in Argentina's Lake District from the air

View of Bariloche from the air

Meals

On long-haul flights, meals are typically included – this will not be the case on short domestic flights.

If you have any dietary needs please let your airline know at the time of booking your trip. The airline should be able to cater to your needs, but they will only be able to do this if they are informed in advance.

Food Tdp Yurt

Staying healthy

Vaccinations

Preparing for Patagonia

Aside from Covid-19, there are no compulsory vaccinations for Chile or Argentina at the current time but requirements are subject to change, so it is best to check with your local doctor. For more information check Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Make sure your immunisation is up to date for:

  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis A
  • Diptheria - re-vaccination recommended every 10 years
  • Hepatitis B - higher risk for long stays and frequent travel
  • Typhoid - for travellers who may eat or drink outside major restaurants and hotels
  • Rabies - the risk of being bitten or scratched by a rabid animal is rare however it is recommended that you are vaccinated against rabies if you will be staying for an extended period of time if you will be in close contact with animals or cycling. If you do get bitten or scratched by any animal during your time in Chile or Argentina it is recommended that you seek medical advice as soon as possible. 

You can find out more with our guides on Getting to Chilean Patagonia and Getting to Argentinian Patagonia.

Medical assistance in Patagonia

Both Chile and Argentina have public health care, which is free of charge to foreign nationals. The quality and efficiency of such services are highly variable and are not to be relied upon. Comprehensive health insurance is highly recommended for any traveller visiting Patagonia.

Fortunately, all major cities in Patagonia have a good level of private medical assistance, compared to western standards, to treat most emergency situations that you may encounter. Not all clinics will speak a good level of English, so an interpreter may be required, and if complex medical situations arise, you may be referred back to the capital city for continued analysis or care.

Physical preparation

You are unlikely to need to prepare for the altitude of your trip - the Andes have lost most of their altitude upon reaching Patagonia. The highest peak in Patagonia sits at just 4,058m above sea level (compared to Aconcagua's 6,996m further north), so there is no mountain sickness to worry about.

In terms of general fitness, we'd just recommend making sure you are fit enough for the trip you have booked and are prepared for the intensity and number of hours per day of physical activity. It’s better to be well prepared physically than risk being overly exerted on the trails and it affecting your enjoyment of the trip.

If you have any injuries or health problems then please be sure to check with your doctor before travelling.

Preparing for Patagonia

Food allergies and intolerances

Preparing for Patagonia

Patagonia is a vast region with great swathes of remote wilderness. When you are away from the larger towns or cities, please bear in mind that it is much harder for guides, refugios or other parties to cater to food and drink allergies or intolerances in the wild and with limited resources.

If you have a serious food allergy, you should approach your time in Patagonia with caution, especially in remote eating scenarios. Whilst our partners on the ground will do their best to cater to your needs, they will not be used to being as fastidious and careful as you may need to be on a day-to-day basis.

It is also worth mentioning that celiacs might not always have many options, especially outside of the larger cities. If you are concerned about your time in hotels, towns or cities, or on board an adventure cruise, we would suggest speaking with the hotel or ship manager and getting a message to the head chef or head waiter as early on in the experience as possible.

Drinking water in Patagonia

When in Patagonia, most towns and cities will provide drinking water from the tap/faucet. The water is treated and may have a slightly chlorinated taste, and some travellers may want to purchase bottled water at times.

Water treatment tables/filters are not necessary for travel in Patagonia. When hiking on trails, you can nearly always fill water bottles from the streams and therefore not need to purchase and carry a lot of water. We would always recommend purchasing a large bottle so that you can take what you require for your excursion, instead of using lots of smaller plastic bottles.

Preparing for Patagonia
Swoop Says background image

Swoop says

It always pays off to train before a trek; you will simply enjoy it more. If you'll be carrying a pack try to do some training hikes with one beforehand so you are accustomed to the weight.

Time zones

Argentina

Argentina uses the UTC-3 time zone, called Argentina Time (ART). It determines whether to observe daylight saving time on a year by year basis, although it has not since 2009.

  • UK: 4 hours ahead (08:00 Argentina = 12:00 UK)
  • USA: 1 hour behind (08:00 Argentina = 07:00 USA)
  • Australia: 14 hours ahead (08:00 Argentina = 22:00 Australia)
Preparing for Patagonia

Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires

Chile

Chile also uses the UTC-3 time zone and observes daylight saving time. Easter Island uses the UTC-5 time zone.

  • UK: 4 hours ahead (08:00 Chile = 12:00 UK)
  • USA: 1 hour behind (08:00 Chile = 07:00 USA)
  • Australia: 14 hours ahead (08:00 Chile = 22:00 Australia)
Preparing for Patagonia

Easter Island, Chile

Keeping connected

In most of both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, you will be able to get cell coverage in and around even the most remote settlements. Once you are truly in the wilderness, however, you will be out of cell coverage. This is the case for most multi-day treks you might take in the region, and for any cruises that you embark on. Please plan accordingly for this eventuality, and don’t expect the connection to be very good when in remote towns/villages. 

SIM cards are easily purchased in the larger cities, and the best companies for coverage in Patagonia tend to be ‘Movistar’ (in Argentina) and ‘Entel’ (in Chile). 5G networks are not to be expected in Patagonia.

Preparing for Patagonia

Other considerations

It's worth learning a bit of the local language before you travel. It can make it easier to communicate when you are in more remote areas and allow you to feel more embedded in your Patagonia experience.

Try not to take any disposable plastic. Use reusable carrier bags or take Tupperware boxes to pack your lunch where possible. Read more tips on packing consciously.

Consider taking all of your rubbish to the nearest largest town for recycling, or better still, back to the capital city where recycling options are more prominent. Sadly, a lot of waste in Patagonia still goes to landfill.

Preparing for Patagonia

Disclaimer

Information provided by Swoop is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time only, but in this fast-changing environment, we cannot be held responsible for changes not immediately reflected on this website or in information shared with you. Customers should undertake their own research appropriate to their individual circumstances before making final decisions.

Where links to government, operators or other third-party sites are provided, again this information is accurate and up-to-date to the best of our knowledge, but we cannot be held responsible for third-party content.