If you ever find yourself fortunate enough to visit the beautiful South American land of Argentina, especially for a long period of time, you will undoubtedly be tempted to fill your luggage with some trinkets to bring back home with you. But where do you begin? You have enough keychains, snow globes, magnets and mugs. It’s time to step up your tchotchke game and I’m here to give you a few suggestions as to where to begin.
In this post, I will throw out some ideas of the iconic Argentina keepsakes and you can either opt for or disregard some, based on your personal preferences and budget. So without further ado, here are the top 20 souvenirs to get while in Argentina!
- A Mate Gourd
This is a non-negotiable. I don’t care if you don’t drink mate. This item is a must-have and it quite literally the physical embodiment of all things Argentine. Yeah, I know I harp on about mate but you simply must get one of these. Plus they are affordable!! The best place to get them is from ferias, or fairs. They can be made of wood, ceramic, vinyl, plastic or the good old-fashioned gourd. It’s entirely up to you which style or material.
COST: $4-10 USD
Pronounced al-fah-hor-ays, these addictive little cookies deserve a spot nestled in your bag. Normally filled with dulce de leche which is sandwiched between two soft biscuits and bathed in a chocolate glaze, it’s easy to see why kioscos are filled with such an endless variety.
My personal favorites have been the brands Aguila or La Recoleta, but if you have the opportunity get them from a bakery—and as fresh as possible. The cookies will gradually dry out, causing the texture to lean more toward dry and crumbly. And that’s unacceptable.
Now the maicena alfajores are hit or miss. Given that they’re made of cornstarch, they are naturally more crumbly. But when you get a good one, man, you will not regret it. The best place to get your hands on one of these bad boys is a bakery. Period.
If you ever make your way over to Mendoza, stop at Bianco y Nero, an artisanal chocolate shop with THE. BEST. ALFAJORES. EVER. The chocolate they use makes them so freaking wonderful.
COST: $1-2 per alfajor
- Fernet Branca
This herbal/licorice flavored aperitif is sure to get your guests talking. That is, if you’re willing to share a single drop. Originating in Italy, Argentines guzzle down more of this per capita than their cousins across the sea. The cordobeses have taken a particular liking to this liquor, concocting a mixed drink called fernet con coca, popularized in Córdoba itself. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
In fact, this drink is even making waves back in the U.S., as proof in this article.
Be warned however: this beverage is downright revolting when consumed alone. It needs the fizzy accompaniment of Coca-Cola in order to be palatable.
COST: $7-10 USD per bottle
- Something Leather
As we all know, Argentines love their beef. Since we can’t exactly bring a cow or a hot-from-the-parrilla asado home with us, let’s go for the next best thing: leather. After all, there’s an abundance of the material due to the massive consumption of cow meat. Leather is also a bit cheaper here due to its surplus. Need some ideas? Belts, wallets, coats, purses, boots, key chains, skirts, full bodysuits, whatever strikes your fancy.
COST: PRICE VARYING BASED ON PRODUCT
- Or Something Silver
Argentina doesn’t get its name from nowhere (Argentum is Latin for silver, hence the symbol Ag on the periodic table); this country was once known for its booming silver resources. This material is still rather plentiful here and if you trade your USD in blue, you’re getting quite a bargain. I got a lovely handmade silver ring for twenty dollars at a feria.
COST: PRICE VARYING BASED ON PRODUCT
The ring I got!
- Malbec Wine
Boasting some of the best wine in the world, a bottle of Malbec should find its way into your hands to bring back with you. If you have the opportunity to taste test rather than pulling a random bottle off the shelf of a supermarket, even better! Honestly though, with any brand I’ve tried, I haven’t been disappointed. Just please do us all the favor of not getting the boxed wine, Vino Toro. Just…no.
COST: $2-10 USD per bottle
- Asado Kit
As if eating mounds of deliciously seasoned, cooked-to-perfection meat cuts wasn’t enough, Argentines have taken it a step further and made actual KITS for these shindigs. These kits come complete with a carved wooden slab with divots to collect the juices, a fork and knife (as if we’ll need ‘em), a leather carrying case and sometimes a cup (probably for the Fernet con coca). Genius. I have yet to get one of these, but rest assured that I’ll be grabbing one! Make sure you put this item in your checked luggage because it contains a knife!!!
*BONUS: If you get one with a leather carrying case, you’ve killed two birds with one stone! (see #4)
COST: $20 USD and up, depending on size and quality
- A Flag
Maybe this is the teacher in me, but I need to have a flag to hang in my classroom, right beside my Spain one of course! If you plan on spending a semester or more here, a great idea would be to have your new friends and/or host family, or even professors and co-workers sign it. That is a priceless souvenir right there.
While on the topic of flags, you will sometimes see this checkered flag of rainbow colors. No, it’s not a pride flag, although that’s what we all thought at first. This is the flag of the indigenous community, not only in Argentina but in all of South America. I picked up one in Jujuy because the indigenous community is very pronounced there.
COST: $1-5 USD
The flag I got hanging in my apartment
You knew this one was coming. How can you bring home a mate but not the yerba to fill it?! Even if you don’t drink mate, a small bag makes a nice memento. In fact, at the San Telmo market in Buenos Aires, keep your eyes peeled for mini “mate kits”, complete with unusually small bags of yerba. Perfect for those short on luggage space or non-mate drinkers.
COST: $1.50-$4.00 per bag
- Dulce de Leche
Argentines love dulce de leche like Americans like their peanut butter. And like us, they put it one errythangg. Toast, cakes, donuts, croissants, bananas, cookies, candies, and basically every dessert you’ll find. But isn’t this basically caramel? A RESOUNDING NO. Okay, it’s a little similar, but the difference is that dulce de leche is made of sweetened condensed milk heated for an ungodly amount of time on the stove where caramel is made of sugar. The result is a completely different consistency, with dulce being more speadable, creamy, milky and slightly less sweet than caramel. The two brands I really like are SanCor and La Serenisima. The SanCor del Campo is absolutely divine, a little darker and thicker than Serenisma which is lighter and more subtle in flavor. I like the two of them for different occasions. To top a dessert, (or pancakes!), La Serenisma so that the dish isn’t too empalagoso. To spread on bread or crackers, SanCor de Campo because it gives it that extra umph. Of course it goes without saying that both are good by the spoonful. 😉
There are many other brands so don’t just take my word for it—explore the other varieties and see which one is your favorite!
**Side note: Since this is a milk product and a considered a liquid, stow this away in your checked bag!!**
COST: $2-$5 per jar (some fancier brands like Poncho Negro or the homemade kind are pricier.)
- A Soccer Jersey
I most likely won’t be getting one of these unless I find an incredible deal, because I’m not as much of a diehard soccer fan where I need one of these. But hey, if you’re a sports lover, by all means! As I’m sure you know, Argentina loves their fútbol, and screams and shouts of cheer or disgruntlement will be heard resonating throughout the city every time a partido is on the big screen. This is such a huge part of their culture that the famous celeste and white striped jersey could rightfully merit a spot in your carry-on.
COST: $70-120 USD
Hand-painted or drawn art is something that cannot be replicated. I personally love to pick up some locally made artwork because I’m supporting an artist and getting something beautiful and unique. Plus, a small painting or sketch takes up very minimal space in your luggage. Everyone wins! The best art is found at ferias or markets, and there are some breathtaking works at el caminito in Buenos Aires.
COST: $5 USD and up
- A Salt Figurine
If you make your way to the salt flats, you’ll find that people are selling little heart/llama/cacti figurines made of pure salt. This souvenir is a bit of a long-shot but I figured I’d mention it anyway. I wish I would have picked one up!
COST: $2-5 USD
- Something Unique to You
Undoubtedly, there will be something that strikes your fancy or causes you to recall fond memories that you’ll find in Argentina. A favorite candy, a ticket stub, a decorative journal, an instrument or figurine, the list goes on and on. Souvenirs are what we make of them and they represent our individual experiences. Don’t just travel with a prescribed list of items to buy—if something really is calling you, consider it!
COST: Depends on you!
In Salta and Jujuy, you’ll find the most lovely selection of fabric merchandise than anywhere else in Argentina. I got a super soft alpaca scarf and sweater for a very reasonable price (MUCH lower than in the states!), and colorful, woven tablecloths and blankets are everywhere.
COST: $15-$30 USD
These are the iconic shoes here in Argentina (other than those awful plataformas), and are so…darn…comfortable. I picked up a pair in B.A. and I wear them everywhere. In fact, I need to get another pair before I leave because I’ve just worn these things out! It’s easy to find a pair because they are present in virtually any shoe store window, and the ones I have are Paez brand. I got my pair on Calle Florida. I love how flexible and fabric-based they are. Other brands can be a little blocky and stiff, but these ones move with your feet. The only downside? Traction. So now I’m on the lookout for a pair that has the best of both worlds.
COST: $15-35 USD per pair
- Equipo de mate
Just when you thought I was done rambling on about mate, I found another thing to mention. If you are a diehard mate lover like me, and have space to spare in your bags, an “equipo de mate” can be squeezed in. They typically include the bag, a thermos, two containers—one for yerba, the other for sugar, and sometimes a mate and bombilla.
They come in various styles and colors and it entirely depends on how much you’re willing to pay for one. I’ve seen gorgeous leather bolso materos (mate bags), woven backbacks, and the traditional cubey-like containers. I got the latter two, and I was a little disappointed with the quality of the blockier one, because it was basically cardboard inside. So when it rained, the bag got a little soggy. The determining question is: are you going to actually use it or will its sole purpose be decoration? The answer to that will help you determine the quality you purchase.
COST: $10-20 USD for bags alone
$20-50 for entire kit (and up for the really nice ones!)
18: Chimichurri sauce
The only sauce worthy enough to top an Argentine’s beloved steak is a tangy and flavorful dose of chimichurri sauce. Thankfully the recipe is easy enough to make at home, but if you can manage a small bottle home with you in your checked bag, even better! Perfect for our barbeques and steak nights. Step aside, A1.
COST: $2-5 dollars per bottle
I MEAN COME ON.
- Bariloche chocolates
This southern city is renowned for its artisanal chocolatiers and if you go at the right time of year you can snag free samples as you walk down its cozy, glimmering streets. Just make sure you get them near the end of your trip so that they are as fresh as possible. For example, if you’re studying abroad here for an extended period of time, strategically plan Bariloche to be near the end of your program if you can!
COST: $5-25 per box
- A Significant Other
Hey, we can all dream, can’t we?
COST: One plane ticket 😉