Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Border crossing San Pedro (Chile) to Purmamarca (Argentina)
We caught the 9.30am Frontera del Norte bus from San Pedro (Chile) to Purmamarca at 15,000 pesos each ($28). There are 4 companies doing the run on varying days and prices varied right up to 25,000 pesos each ($44.50) for essentially the same service. Note that we paid for the whole way to Salta but got off early. When we asked, no one was willing to give a discount for the shorter trip. Breakfast consisted of a cheese sandwich, a small pastry and a hot tea. Lunch was cold rice and a burger patty. Bring snacks if you have an above normal appetite. The arrival in Salta was expected to be around 9pm.
As soon as we sat down on the bus we were handed paper work to fill in for the border. It was obvious from the moment we stepped into the bus that we were on a gringo bus. The conductor even let us watch the movie in English. After a couple of hours we reached the border. The exit out of Chile is located in the same building as the entrance into Argentina with the windows conveniently located next to each other. It was strange getting a stamp out of the country then a stamp into the next country without walking across a physical border but very efficient saving hours of painless waiting in a line. Other countries take note this should be how it’s done. The entrance seemed less strict than the Bolivia and Chile border and there was only one bag check through a conveyor belt so we were in and out very quickly.
Interesting fact mentioned by the bus conductor, the border crossing is at an elevation of 5,300m. We’re not sure how truthful that was, but it sure was windy and cold up there even in blazing sunshine.
Yay! A new country to add to our trip, 16 countries in total. This is number 40 for Toby. Rodora has already been to Argentina so she unfortunately couldn’t add another country to her list of 70.
The scenery along the way was amazing as we passed through the desert, lakes, salt flats, volcanoes and canyons. It’s never easy taking photos through the window of a moving bus, but Toby tried to get some. No matter how tempting it might be to sleep this journey away, it’s probably worth trying to stay awake and enjoy the scenery.
After spending several hours admiring the beautiful scenery we arrived in Purmamarca at around 4pm.
Our main reason for stopping in the tiny village (population 500) of Purmamarca was to see the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors). This place is firmly planted on the tourist trail attracting day tours from as far away as Salta. When we arrived it was departure time for many tourists who were doing their last minute shopping around the main plaza. It’s a far nicer town when there are only locals and a few tourists.
Where to stay
Rodora hung out in the square with the bags waiting around with the locals and the huge dogs. Everyone here was super friendly and said good afternoon as they passed by. Toby walked around from hostel to hostel trying to find the best deal. We settled on Don Tomas hostel based on a recommendation in the “2013 Get South guidebook”. This book is quite useful and is freely found in hostels in Chile and Argentina, so grab a copy if you can and you also get deals such as free beer or discounts. However, this time it led us astray. The hostel staff were friendly and welcoming, even offering us a free sample of the beers they were drinking. We were also lucky to have a dorm room to ourselves at 70 pesos ($5.20) per person. However the place is in need of a good clean and some serious maintenance and repairs. It was such a shame as the hostel had beautiful views of the rock formations.
The Dolar Blue (Blue Dollar)
The top travel tip for Argentina is to learn about the Dolar Blue before coming and bring US dollars in $100 bills. This is a parallel black market for buying Argentinian Pesos at a much higher rate than through official ways such as at an ATM. The current official rate is around 8.5 pesos per US Dollar but the Dolar Blue is up over 14.5 pesos per dollar in September 2014. So for $100 spent you either get 850 pesos or 1450 pesos. That’s nearly 70% more value for your money.
Check out the daily rates here: http://www.dolarblue.net/
Argentina has been having major problems with their economy in the past few years. It was only in 2002 when the economy collapsed with inflation rising to 40% in one year. It was most recently in mid-2012 that the government introduced the limits on Argentinians obtaining US Dollars to stop another economic collapse. Current inflation is suggested to be around 25% annually. That sends those suggested prices in the Lonely Planet out of date in a matter of months.
It was possible to take out USD in $100 notes directly from BNB ATMs in Bolivia. The demand is for high value notes and you’ll get a higher rate than you would for $20’s or $50’s. Apparently some money changers won’t even change the smaller notes.
This is all technically illegal and done under the table so when we first arrived into Purmamarca we asked around and were pointed at random shops who took us to the back corner of the store to discuss the transaction. At first this felt really awkward but after we changed money a few times we felt more comfortable. This is typically happening in the bigger cities (Salta, Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Mendoza) so don’t expect to find a money changer in every little town.
Just to be clear, you’re still buying the exact same Argentinian Peso’s that everyone else is using. Do your normal money checks for watermarks and legitimate notes. Try not to accept torn, damaged, taped notes but sometimes you might have to. The notes in Argentina have a short lifespan and most places seem to accept and give out damaged notes.
Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors)
The local tourist office next to the main plaza was very friendly to give us a map and showed us the short hike to go on for sunset and in the morning. On our way we passed the artesian market again on the main plaza and stopped for a snack of some cheesy baked pastry along the way.
Starting at the edge of town we walked up a road, past the soccer field and up around the beautiful red, brown and yellow mountains. There were multiple other tourists walking the road as well enjoying the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
After our short hike it was time for dinner. Here we learnt that Argentina runs by Spanish times where the restaurants do not open until 8pm. We noticed that the town was very touristy so prices were going to be expensive and as it was Sunday night things may not be open. As a result we settled on a restaurant that had a three course meal for 50 pesos ($4) consisting of a high quality veal schnitzel, vegetable soup and an apple cake. This was the classiest restaurant we have been to on our whole entire trip. We felt a bit out of place walking into the place in our dorky fleece and hiking wear covered in dust. However this was a bargain and an absolutely awesome experience with live music included.
Toby was keen for some more photos of the hills and got up at sunrise for a short hike to a viewpoint across the highway. The picture speaks for itself that it was worth the little bit of effort.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/
*Note that all our Argentinian values are converted at the Dolar Blue rate of around 14 pesos is equal to US$1. The official rate is much closer to 8 pesos is equal to US$1 at the time of writing (Sept 2014).