Patagonia and Altiplano Expedition | #15 – Ruta de los Siete Lagos

We had finally received all the necessary papers for our vehicle for a border crossing. It was time to explore a new country. We decided to use the Paso Cardinal Antonio Samoré to enter Argentina.

Border Crossing

The border was somewhat confusing because the checkpoint on the Chilean side was already 20 km before the actual border and the checkpoint on the Argentinian side was about 20 km behind the actual border. In between, you drive through a very impressive landscape and cross the Paso Cardinal Antonio Samoré.

The border crossing was smooth and took us about 30 minutes on each side. First immigration Chile, then customs Chile, then immigration Argentina and finally customs Argentina. Our car and the luggage weren’t checked at all. From what we heard this is pretty normal in that direction, while going from Argentina back to Chile a much more thorough check of the luggage should be expected. We got 90 days granted for Argentina and were free to explore a new country.

Since none of us have ever been to Argentina we were very curious about what to expect. Some people in Chile had warned us, that Argentina will be much more Latin American and chaotic compared to Chile. Nothing would work reliably anymore.

Spoiler: that was absolutely not our impression in the first weeks in Argentina. Everything worked at least as reliably as in Chile. With one expectation: getting money. More about this later.

The biggest challenge of the border crossing was, that we had absolutely no Argentinian pesos and no internet access anymore since our Chilean SIM doesn’t work in Argentina. This also means, that our navigation system didn’t work anymore (since our Garmin died a couple of weeks ago and we now had to rely on Google Maps on our smartphones instead). Also, the translation apps on our phones couldn’t be used anymore. Therefore, we needed new SIMs and some Argentinian pesos as soon as possible. This means we quickly had to get to a larger city.

San Martin de los Andes

Since we wanted to drive the complete Ruta de Los Siete Lagos from North to South we decided to drive up to San Martin de los Andes on the day of the border crossing, without any sightseeing stops in between, hoping to get our problems solved there. Until then, we were all a bit stressed. Arriving in a completely new country with no money, no working phones, no navigation system, and no available internet felt a bit uncomfortable.

San Martin de los Andes is a very lovely town, located at the beautiful Lago Lácar. It also has a nice beach at the lake with some food trucks. Since it was a perfect place to relax from the slightly stressful border crossing we decided to spend a few days in San Martin.

We first exchanged some US$ and € in a souvenir shop and then organized three Movistar SIMs for our iPhones and charged them with around 10€ each. With the support of the very helpful people in the Movistar shop we were soon back on track and could start enjoying San Martin and Argentina. If someone tries to explain to you that you need an Argentinian passport to get a SIM, try a different store. It’s not true.

The city itself is small but very beautiful with many nice shops, cafés, and restaurants.

Very dominant are all the stores for handcrafted chocolate throughout the city. It’s a kind of signature for San Martin.

Not only in Chile but also in this part of Argentina German names like Unser Traum can often be found, especially for cafés.

And of course, we had to check out the restaurant with the name of our hometown. Despite its name, the cuisine is not typical German but more local. The food was very good, especially the medium rare grilled venison was delicious.

Getting Money

To really understand the money problem in Argentina I have to give you some background information. Argentina has the 7th highest inflation rate in the world with about 83% in 2022 (side note: the top 6 are Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan, and Turkey).

This situation has led to two different exchange rates. The ‘official’ rate is about 150 ARS for one €/US$. The unofficial blue rate is about 300 ARS for one €/US$. This means if you have access to €/US$ you get twice as much if you change at the blue rate.

The problem is if you use an ATM to get money (as we have normally done in Chile) with your European or US credit card or pay directly with your credit card you get the official rate and everything costs twice as much.

It is very easy to change €/US$ cash at the blue rate. Just ask around where the next reliable place can be found. We asked for example at the post office and they directed us to a souvenir shop that had a separate counter just to change money for different currencies at the blue rate to Argentinian pesos (ARS). If you choose this way, you have to know that only clean notes without any marks are accepted. And you get better exchange rates for newer and larger notes. For example for a clean and new 100 US$ bill you get a rate of 1:290 while for an old 20 US$ bill we got only 1:240. Despite what you sometimes read on the internet, € are widely accepted and often for better rates than smaller US$ bills. If you are from Europe it makes no sense to first get US$ to change them later to pesos. Just bring €. It works perfectly. And don’t be afraid of counterfeit pesos bills. They are very rare. For a currency with more than 80% inflation (and also no really large bills available), it is from the business perspective not very efficient to counterfeit them. If someone has the knowledge and tools to do this, he would rather copy dollars than pesos.

The problem with long-term travel, like we do, is, that you can’t only use cash for the whole trip. But there is an alternative that works quite well: If you send yourself money with WesternUnion to Argentina this money is for whatever reason exchanged at the blue rate and often for an even better exchange rate compared to what you would get on the street or in shops for cash. The easiest way is to install the WesternUnion app on your smartphone, connect this app to your foreign credit card and then you are good to go. In the app, you can find a list of all nearby locations where you could ‘theoretically’ pick up the money. All you need is your passport and the number that is generated by WesternUnion to pick up the money.

Sadly, there are still a few problems with the method. Since inflation is so high and the pesos are losing their value literally every day nobody wants to store more pesos than needed. This means if you go to one of the locations in the WesternUnion list they often have no money or only a very small amount. Often, you get the information to come back later in the evening or the next morning. Normally, they know exactly when they get more money. It’s very important to first go to the place and ask them how much pesos could be picked up and then start the process in the app and not the other way around. The sending process takes only seconds. If you send more money than they have, you get nothing. There is no way to pick up only a part of the amount. The WU number doesn’t expire but if you have sent a too high amount it could sometimes take weeks to find a place that is able to deliver that amount in pesos. And keep in mind the 80% inflation. It’s not a good idea to park pesos somewhere in the WesternUnion universe for a long time. You will lose money.

Altogether it sounds far more complicated than it really is. You quickly get used to it. Everybody uses it. It is safe and it saves you a lot of money. Just try it out. We always found a solution. Worst case we had to check out two or three different places or had to return at a different time of the day. No big deal.

If you pick up your money, bring a large bag. The largest bill in Argentina is 1000 pesos. You will get a lot of them if you change for example 1000€.

It could be possible that all this will change in the near future. The Argentinian government has published that from the 3rd of November if someone who is not living in Argentina uses a foreign credit card to pay in pesos an exchange rate similar to the blue rate should be in effect instead of the official rate ( This is a measure to bring additional tourists (and therefore money) into the country and to better control the tax payments of companies in the country (currently 85% of the money spent by tourists in Argentina is spent via cash changed at the blue rate, only 15% of the expenses are paid with a credit card). Sadly, until today despite being an official rule by the government this measure is not working. If you pay something with a foreign credit card the lower rate is still used (see here:

A positive side-effect of all this money chaos for someone coming from Europe or the US is that everything is very cheap in Argentina. A really great steak in a restaurant often costs less than 10€, a cappuccino 1€, a liter of diesel costs around 0.7€, and for our very nice cabin with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a whirlpool in San Martin de los Andes we had to pay less than 50€ per night. Everything is much more affordable than in Chile.

After a couple of days, we finally left San Martin de los Andes and drove south again.

Ruta de los Siete Lagos

The Ruta de los Siete Lagos (road of the seven lakes) leads on the famous Ruta 40 from San Martin de los Andes to San Carlos de Bariloche and as the name implies along many beautiful mountain lakes.

Many people think that this is the most beautiful road in Argentina. These are the names of the lakes (as you can easily see there are actually more than seven lakes along this route):

  • Lago Lácar
  • Lago Machónico
  • Lago Villarino
  • Lago Falkner
  • Lago Hermoso
  • Lago Escondido
  • Lago Correntoso
  • Lago Espejo
  • Lago Nahuel Huapi

We had a great day with beautiful weather and really enjoyed the trip. In Villa La Angostura we had a lunch break at a nice restaurant overlooking the lake.

In the late afternoon, we finally reached Bariloche. Our plan was to spend two days there to explore the city.

San Carlos de Bariloche

Bariloche is famous for its alpine-style buildings and chocolate stores (similar to San Martin). It’s located at the beautiful mountain lake Nahuel Huapi.

It’s also a very popular tourist destination, both for local and international tourists, with countless of restaurants throughout the city and along the shore of the lake.

According to many reports on iOverlander Bariloche is notorious for vehicle break-ins, especially in overlanding vehicles. Therefore we looked for accommodation slightly outside of the city with secure private parking.

It was located directly at the nice Playa Bonita.

While Bariloche is definitely worth a visit we slightly preferred San Martin de los Andes. It’s smaller and has a more relaxed atmosphere. But altogether the start in Argentina was great and we really enjoyed our first days in this new country.

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