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Shopping In Argentina

When it comes to shopping in Argentina, travelers can rest-assured that there is plenty to buy and even more to look at both in the nation's capital as well as in the small Andean towns, and everything in between. The good news? Most things are relatively cheap for Americans and Europeans since the devaluation of the Argentine peso in 2002.

It is no secret that Argentines take fashion very seriously. They are big shoppers and very stylish bunch. Porteños and tourists alike flock to the tiny boutique shops in the fashionable and trendy Palermo SOHO neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where an artisan market fills the Plaza Cortázar (Plaza Serrano) every weekend, selling everything from silver jewelery to glassware, leather belts, and scarves.

Speaking of, one of the greatest deals for anyone traveling through Argentina is leather goods – from jackets to boots, belts and bags, this great South American country will have all your leather needs covered. While there are many specialized shops to buy leather goods, you can also find some very ncie quality things are artisan fairs and markets throughout the country. Designs range from the Italian-influenced sophisticated styles to more indigenous bags, crafts and hangings, as well as traditional gaucho gear. You can get just about any leather item your heart desires in downtown Buenos Aires, where stores cater to tourist's preferences. Although be savvy; the quality of leather goods can vary greatly, especially in the more touristy spots like Avenida Florida.

Artisan crafts or handicrafts are sold at ferias (or local artisan markets/fairs) all across the country, both outdoors and in higher-end shops. The variety of goods found at these ferias is extensive and elaborate. Two of the best artisan fairs are held in Córdoba and El Bolsón, a Lake District town known for both its woolen goods and for having ridiculously delicious chocolate.

Because of the cultural significance and popularity of the Argentine gaucho, gaucho gear – from the now very popular and trendy alpargata shoes (now being mass-produced by the shoe company, Tom's) and bombachas (gaucho trousers/pants), which were designed to be comfortable for days mounted on horseback, are found throughout in the country.

If you're a big reader and hitting the road for quite some time, rest assured: Argentines are well-read and interested in a variety of literature, both national and from around theworld. The country is speckled with general, special-interest, and used bookstores, with many bookstores carrying literature that is available in multiple languages. Buenos Aires, the nation's capital, is your best bet for finding anything and everything, but you'd be surprised what the smaller bookstores have to offer. However, note that foreign-language books can be much more expensive, so be prepared to fork over a little extra cash if you want a break from Spanish.

And then there's wine. Ahhh, the vino. How can you come to Argentina and not sample one of Mendoza's fairly priced and deliciously rich malbecs with a perfectly tender slab of steak? Whether you are touring one of the vineyards in Argentina's wine country, or stuck in a city with a craving for red wine, you absolutely cannot visit Argentina without purchasing una copa (a cup), a bottle, or a crate of the nation's most popular beverage. Most upscale wine stores (particularly those in Mendoza and Buenos Aires) will package the bottles in bubble wrap and cardboard for you, free of charge, but you're on your own from there. If you are planning to bring some of the red stuff home, be forewarned: it's not as easy as it used to be. Nowadays, most international airlines prohibit passengers from carrying any sort of bottle on board (Aerolineas Argentinas won't even let you bring your own plastic water onto the plane!). However, there is always the duty free shop at the airport, and, luckily, while perhaps not as glamorous, many of the nation's most popular wines can be purchased abroad, most likely in your own hometown. Many travelers have successfully packed bottles of wine into their checked luggage, but that could be a disaster waiting to happen; pack wine at your own risk.

Another common purchase in Argentina is mate paraphanalia. Whether you're shopping for souvenirs to bring home to mom and dad, looking for gifts to give your friends, or you've become an addict yourself, you will inevitably come across rows and rows of mate gourds, bombillas (the little metal straw with holes in the bottom that is used to stir, filter, and suck up the mate), and yerba mate, as well. The mate tradition is taken very seriously in Argentina, and the gourd-making craft has really taken off. You will be able to find gourds both humble and decadent, from cheap hollow shells to more elaborate carved gold and silver cups. Some are made out of wood with beautiful designs etched into them, while others are hand-painted in bright colors reminscent of the Argentine landscape. The gourds are sold all over the country, but the town of Tandil in the Pampas is probably the best-known for its cutlery.

One word: wool. In a land where llamas wander the countryside, it is no surprise that woolen sweaters, blankets, and ponchos abound, particularly in the northwest of Argentina. Deep red versions of the Güemes-style ponchos made from vicuña, a cousin of the llama, can be purchased, although most woolen goods come in the greys, browns and sandy hues of the desert-toned landscape.

Travelers should note that artesanias, or handicrafts, vary in style across the different regions of Argentina. Brightly colored rugs and ponchos can be found in small rural towns or in abundance in places like Salta and Catamarca. Weavings and woodcarvings from the indigenous Mampuche people can be found close to the Andes, where crafts have a strong Bolivian influence. In the northeast, guaraní handicrafts such as bows and arrows are sold. The national stone of Argentina, a marbled pale pink stone called rhodochrosite, is mined in the northwest but available for purchase all over Buenos Aires too, where it is worked into beautiful jewelery such as silver pendants and earrings by local artists.

As a side note, travelers should be prepared to pay for most purchases (especially those under $50 USD) in cash. Credit cards are not widely accepted, and most shops do not accept American Express.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Argentina: Bariloche Shopping and Corrientes Shopping .

27 Aug 2010

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