Currency, budgeting & tipping in Patagonia
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 currency. Upon 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.
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 $, which is easily confused with the US dollar sign.
You can see all legal Argentine peso tender notes on the Central Bank of Argentina’s official website.
A note about Western Union
9 de Julio Avenue, Buenos Aires
We don't recommend relying solely on Western Union (or any other money-wire company) to send you cash for you to collect on holiday. Given the significant lack of foreign currency throughout the country, you will only be given cash in Argentine pesos (not USD) and there will likely be limits to how much cash can be obtained per transaction, albeit the exchange rate will likely be favourable and close to the Blue-rate. This will result in you wasting time going to different WU offices trying to procure your cash and a considerable amount of stress.
We've had reports of people waiting 2hrs for cash at the El Calafate WU. The only way to guarantee you'll have the dollars cash to spend in Argentina is to pack them. Given the security risk this might present, budget accordingly and be prudent.
In early 2023, the Argentine government reached an agreement with credit card companies to allow foreigners to pay for goods and services at approximately the blue rate. At present this represents a safe and efficient way for tourists to take advantage of the beneficial exchange rate. That said, you should be ready to use cash if circumstances change: if there’s one thing the history of Argentina teaches us it’s that the economy is predictably unpredictable.
The official currency of Chile is the Chilean Peso ($). 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.
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).
- 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 $.
What our customers think of Preparing for Patagonia
I felt very prepared for the trip, both from the information provided by Swoop and from my own research and preparation. Read the full review
Travelled: February 2023
David Alexander - USA
I felt that we were prepared based on all of the information given to us by Swoop. Read the full review
Travelled: February 2023
Kassandra Kayal - USA
Patagonia is a great place to go, but be prepared for all weather conditions. Read the full review
Travelled: November 2022
George Bunting - USA
Clothing – everyone tells you this, but yes, have lots of good layers and prepare for very windy weather. I would take layers on and off four or five times during one hike as conditions changed. Bring a 'just in case' small medicine kit because once you are up on the W Trek there is nowhere to go. I was thankful that I brought Ibuprofen with me and cough drops. Apparently cough drops aren't really a thing in Chile? Read the full review
Travelled: October 2022
Melinda Landchild - USA
Spring weather is very erratic. Hiking poles are very helpful. Good rain gear and waterproof hiking boots are essential. Prepare to be cold and damp in the spring. If you plan to hike, prepare physically before the journey. Read the full review
Travelled: October 2022
Brad Pontius - USA
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
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
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
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.
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
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 and 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
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:
- 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.
Ascending Lanín Volcano
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.
Food allergies and intolerances
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.
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.
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)
Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires
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)
Easter Island, Chile
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.
Please note that the two round pins that fit a Chilean plug socket are generally slightly slimmer than some European plugs. These are generally known as Type C and are approximately 4mm in diameter versus the European type F, which are 4.8mm. Factor this in when choosing your plug adaptor!
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.
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.