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2 weeks in Argentina

Maidstone, United...
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2 weeks in Argentina

My husband and I are thinking of travelling to Argentina in January for a 2 week holiday. We usually like to hire a car and travel around wherever we go. Could anyone let me know if this is a safe option and also would be grateful of suggestions of where to visit. This will be our first trip to South America so have no idea of what to expect. Many thanks.

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1. Re: 2 weeks in Argentina

We rented a car on several occasions in Argentina and felt it was a great option and a safe way to travel.although distances are vast and you need to choose you routes carefully. We really enjoyed the circuit from salta around the northwest and also Patagonia through the seven lakes area. Best to fly or bus if you are visiting more than one area.

I have read reports of dishonest policemen ripping off tourists in hire cars but they always seem to be apocryphal tales on travel websites rather than actual experience. We certainly found the police very helpful and courteous.

The driving was pretty straightforward but there are long stretches of unsaved roads all over Argentina so you need to be comfortable with driving on those.

For more info and photos of our experiences have a look at our blog

…travelpod.com/travel-blog/…tpod.html . Argentina starts at entry no. 70. we liked it so much we returned this year for a second trip.

Edited: 27 November 2013, 13:16
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2. Re: 2 weeks in Argentina

Hi Maidstone!

My experiences with the cops in Argentina are similar to those of the London writer. After a hundred days behind the wheel on the road in Argentina, I've never once been shaken down for a bribe. And this is after literally hundreds of routine stops at checkpoints, of which you'll see lots in your travels. I suppose you'll always find somebody with a story to tell, but it's never happened to me.

You know, of course, that Argentina, like most of the Americas, drives on the right.

Here's an article I wrote on driving in Argentina for overseas visitors. I've edited for you, and I apologize to those who may already have read it.

. . .

If you’re visiting from overseas and planning your first driving trip in Argentina, here’s some idea of what to expect.

Roads in Argentina are good. Not as good as in Chile and southern Brazil, but still paved, with very few serious potholes.

Considering its size, Argentina possesses relatively few freeways, four-lane divided highways. There’s nothing like Chile’s Pan-American Highway Route 5 or the Dutra Expressway between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but you still should have no difficulty maintaining 70 miles per hour on two-lane straight stretches in rural areas. In densely populated metro Buenos Aires, a network of freeways does radiate out of the capital.

The speed limit in most rural areas is 70 mph (110 km/h). The majority of drivers observe it or drive perhaps a few miles over, much as in Britain. Police speed law enforcement is sporadic, however, so do not be surprised to find a few who try to go much faster. We saw no widespread photo radar (speed cameras).

Road signs are all in Spanish, naturally. Many are internationally-recognized pictograms. For others, the meaning is obvious. The word “Pare” may not immediately capture your attention sitting at your desk at home, but put it inside a red octagon and you’ll get the idea.

Argentine driving is challenging. You must possess the ability to drive defensively, to anticipate what the other guy may do and always be prepared to take evasive action. And you’ll find that this means more than simply what the cops at home are always on about, as a sort of buzz-phrase. You’ll absolutely need this driving skill.

Here’s a list of some of the driving issues you’ll face in Argentina:

1) In all built-up areas, there are no traffic control signals at any but the main intersections. No lights, stop signs or yield signs at most corners.

How do you know who is supposed to go? At some, the big road is expected to have priority, although it’s not always obvious which road is bigger, nor is this rule universal. At others, the car to your right has the right of way, at least in principle. In practice, though, the car that gets there first keeps going, and if the other guy sees you hesitate, he’ll probably go too. It often happens that the most aggressive or the stupidest motorist goes first.

We found all this easier in the doing than in the writing. Approach every urban intersection fully prepared to stop. If I got there first, and the other car was driving in a way that it appeared he could safely and easily yield to me, I’d go. Sometimes, when I yielded, the fellow behind let me know with his horn that he thought it should have been my turn.

2) Argentine motorists are among the most aggressive in the world. Although kind and hospitable when you take their keys away from them, they relentlessly claw their way to the head of the line on the road.

Argentines love to tailgate. And not just impatient types and young bobos, but even middle aged drivers with passengers on board. They seem to lack any conception of how dangerous this behavior is.

We frequently picked up tailgaters. When you do, don’t freak out. Do not speed up to shake the guy. Don’t tap your brakes or slow abruptly – he won’t understand what you’re trying to say and you may cause an accident.

Almost all Argentine tailgaters are telling you that they’d like to pass. (This differs from the “baby-elephant” often found on North American roads, the driver who is only comfortable when following close behind someone else.) In fact, this seems to be the way Argentines ready themselves for overtaking.

As soon as there’s sufficient visibility, ease toward the right while staying on the pavement, take your foot off the gas, signal right, and watch what happens. Be sure you’ve left yourself a clear path so that you retain a free trajectory on the pavement in case a swarm of others behind decides to pass too. Be careful of obstructions like bridge abutments ahead – chances are, the passing cars won’t show any gratitude in case you need to get back in. Don’t pull onto the gravel shoulder unless you’re stopping. You might lose control of your steering.

3) Argentine roads are not in bad shape, but some could use a bit of work. There are numerous stretches where the big trucks have depressed serious ruts into the asphalt. They aren’t always obvious, but the time will come on such a stretch when you try to steer one way, but your steering wheel protests vigorously.

As well, the number of potholes isn’t zero (neither is it in North America). You’ll occasionally have to dodge some. On mountain roads, be alert for freshly-fallen pierres that the authorities haven’t moved yet.

On the other hand, South America poses very few hazards from animals in the road. The North American deer and the Australian kangaroos that grace front bumpers overseas will not be a problem in Argentina.

4) Argentine authorities behave irresponsibly in the posting of speed signs. You’ll frequently be driving along a 70 mph section of rural road when, out of nowhere, someone has erected a 25 mph (40 km/h) sign. No other driver even slows down. What will you do?

Most commonly, these signs pop up where a farmer’s road meets the highway. There’s never any cars on his dirt track. If you tried to obey the sign, you’d be courting a rear-ender.

“Forty” signs often denote school zones. Never drive fast around school children, but most of the time there are no school kids, especially in the summer months when there’s no school anyway. In most rural students are bused and do not walk along the road in any case.

The third category is police checkpoints, of which you’ll see many. Orange traffic cones along the center line usually mark these, and of course you should slow down and be ready to stop for the police. Everyone else certainly will.

5) Police checkpoints – What do you tell the cops at checkpoints when you don’t speak Spanish? When I’m stopped, I always start by offering my Nova Scotia Drivers’ License. This is what the cops most often want to see anyway. Even if not, it tells them that I’m a tourist and not likely a person of interest to them, and that I probably don’t understand much Spanish. They’ll frequently show it around to their colleagues, enlivening an otherwise dull shift with something exotic like a Nova Scotia Drivers’ License. In some cases, they'll even take the opportunity to practice their English!

Listen carefully for these words:

“Seguro” - he wants your proof of auto insurance. This should be in a little folder left in the glove box when you picked up the rental car

“Donde” or perhaps “Adonde” – he’d like you to tell him where you’re coming from or where you’re going. Tell him something like “de Mendoza a San Luis,” where you spent last night and where you expect to be tonight.

By the way, never once did anyone ever ask me for an International Driving Permit, anywhere in South America, and I’ve now logged over a hundred days behind the wheel in Argentina, Chile and southern Brazil. And no cop has ever sought a bribe from me, despite my encountering several hundreds of opportunities. Others say that in Argentina it happens, but based on my experience it seems uncommon.

6) Daytime headlights. In Argentina and other South American countries, the law requires you to have your headlights on all the time. Until recently, Argentine headlights did not come on automatically whenever you start the car. You had to remember to turn them on.

I got one ticket (US$35) I had to pay. On other occasions, cops held out their arms, rapidly opening and closing their hands, the signal to turn my lights on.

On newer cars, daytime running lights are becoming standard equipment, so this may no longer be an issue for you.

7) The 1960s and 1970s live on in the Argentine automobile. Antique car buffs will be delighted to know that lots of people drive cars that are as much as 45 years old. Original Ford Mustangs and 1970 Chevy Novas still grace the streets.

These cars were not that well built even when they were new. They are mostly driven very slowly, and may be in danger of losing a part now and them. Give them a wide berth, and bring your camera!

8) Border crossings. We’ve driven across the border between Chile and Argentina many times. It’s complicated and you must prepare in advance. You need letters of permission from the car rental company and insurance valid in the other country. Naturally, this must be arranged well in advance. It cost us US$50 for Chile and another $50 to go to Mercosur countries, including Uruguay. Write your rental car company.

If you’ll be crossing borders, be mindful that the late afternoon is usually the busiest time. We had one wait lasting three hours. You’ll save a lot of time if you can arrange to reach the border during the morning hours.

If you’re thinking of crossing the border, e-mail me privately and I’ll try to help with some of the things to expect when you drive over the Andes.

9) Keep your fuel tank full. Buenos Aires has imposed an artificially low price for gasoline (petrol) especially for rural areas like Patagonia. It's nice to find bargains, if you can get some. The effect, though, is that many filling stations have had to close because they can't stay in business selling at the unreasonably low price. This means gas lines and shortages.

Anytime you see a station with no gas lines, fill the tank. The best time to fill is early morning. The worst is late afternoon on weekends.

Many times, we saw a 15-minute line at the standard-grade pump, but no one at all waiting at the high-test pump. Often, for an extra 10 pence a Liter, you can get instant service if you fill up with the more expensive grade.

10) Earlier this year (2013) we saw a splashy ad campaign marking the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, in which the Argentines added the "Islas Malvinas" to their national territory, complete with its capital at Ushuaia. We saw absolutely no signs that any ordinary people took much of this seriously, however, let alone that they harassed ordinary tourists. Unknowingly, I wore a cap emblazoned with the word "Scotland" and no one seemed to take notice.

If I'm wrong and you do sense resentment, just say the magic words, "Las Malvinas son Argentinas," which should defuse the situation.

Driving in Argentina, and the rest of the southern cone of South America, is challenging. We’d never consider any other way of getting around, though. Let me know if I can help with your plans.

David

capetien10@gmail.com

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3. Re: 2 weeks in Argentina

Hi there!

I would definitely go to Mendoza during your trip. If you like the outdoors, good food and wine, it is perfect. We had 4 days there and went to the Cacheuta hot springs, horse trekking in the Andes, on a cycling wine tour and we also hired a car and did a day trip driving to the Chilean border, which takes you right into the amazing Andes.

I wrote about our road trip into the Andes here http://www.sensingsouthamerica.com/argentina - hope this gives you some tips on where to go!

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4. Re: 2 weeks in Argentina

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