Argentina, Colombia and Cuba are three of the top travel destinations south of the United States that first come to mind for most travellers contemplating or planning a holiday abroad.
So having spent months in each country and having travelled back and forth between them for the last 3 years, I thought it worth creating a comparison. Each destination offers beaches, museums and plenty for tourists to do.
Yet as you’ll see below, the destinations certainly aren’t equal in my eyes. Only one country is a clear winner for short vacations. Here’s my recommendation for where you should travel on your next vacation abroad.
Travel Destinations – Argentina, Colombia Or Cuba?
Buenos Aires is my favourite city in Latin America. And one day I will likely live there at least semi-permanently. Moving away from the capital Buenos Aires, Argentina is a stunning and hugely diverse country.
In Argentina you have everything from mega cities like Buenos Aires through to lakes, mountain plateaus, ski destinations and scorching deserts. The scenery in Argentina is absolutely breathtaking.
Yet Argentina isn’t the destination that I would recommend as the best of the three. Well, at least not for a short holiday.
Argentina is one of the safest countries you can visit in Latin America. It’s beautiful and with it’s decades long currency problems, Argentina is extremely cheap for foreigners to visit.
Money Problems In Argentina (Currency Controls)
Its Argentina’s currency problems and the associated currency controls that knock Argentina out of top place. The currency controls in Argentina are a real pain in the ‘donkey’.
As a foreigner you’ll need to carry local currency in cash everywhere you go. And you need to carry quite a lot of it. You should never use a foreign bank card in Argentina as there are two exchange rates in operation. The government exchange rate and the Dolar Blue.
If you use a foreign credit card in Argentina you will pay 2-3 times what everyone else is paying for goods and services. Which can make Argentina exceedingly expensive for a tourist if they aren’t using cash acquired at the Dolar Blue rate.
Argentine ATM’s are worthless. They don’t dispense enough cash in a single transaction for a meal. They only dispense cash at the government rate and they charge fees that are often larger than the transaction. You simply can’t use ATM’s to get cash in Argentina.
Using cash in Argentina is easy. But getting more cash is a time consuming process. It involves walking into a nearby Western Union outlet. And lining up. Sometimes for hours on end.
Now, if you’re a digital nomad or if you are living and working in Argentina, you can overlook the currency problems. If you’re staying long-term you have plenty of time to deal with the cash situation in Argentina.
But for a tourist on a short holiday abroad, constantly chasing cash wastes a large chunk of your precious vacation time. And if you add in all the extra flight time to and from Argentina plus the internal travel options and distances between destinations, well, Argentina quickly loses top spot.
You Need Much Longer To Visit Argentina
It’s sad but true. I love Argentina. But I can’t stand wasting so much time chasing cash. Or time wasted transiting between destinations on flights.
Bus rides can take days in Argentina. So I haven’t taken cross country buses there since 2008. It’s a big country. And the destinations you’ll want to see as a tourist are spread out.
If you’re going to visit Argentina on a standard 1-2 week vacation, you’re going to lose 10-20% (or more) of your precious vacation time chasing cash and being stuck in transit.
Yet if you’re a nomad, retiree or if you just have infinite time to spend traveling, you should definitely visit Argentina. Because you can slow things right down and experience Argentina like a local. It’s what I do when I’m there.
Argentina isn’t a ‘travel’ destination. It’s a destination to experience life and just, live. Particularly in Buenos Aires around Christmas time. When the weather is perfect, the city is empty and the tree lined streets are alive with restaurant and cafe patrons just sitting around enjoying life.
Take a month around Christmas and just live in Buenos Aires. Eat, explore and relax. But don’t try to visit Argentina on a standard vacation or short holiday abroad. Travel to Argentina to just relax and experience life in a foreign land.
Argentina Is Perfect For Digital Nomads
High-speed internet and 4G cellular services are readily available across Argentina and there’s a mobile application for everything. Mobile internet and the use of mobile applications is particularly prevalent in the capital, Buenos Aires. Where you will find large expat and nomad communities.
The internet connectivity combined with the incredibly low cost of living makes Argentina a top pick for digital nomads living and working abroad. For those earning incomes in foreign currencies and with jobs that aren’t location dependent, Argentina is the perfect destination to live and work abroad.
You don’t need much money to live a fantastic life in Argentina. And as a foreigner you don’t need to constantly worry about your safety. You won’t be drugged, kidnapped or robbed in places like Buenos Aires.
There are no scopolamine attacks, knife wielding drug addicts or ‘paseo millonario‘ in Argentina. Just a few minor scams and pickpockets to avoid in the central tourist areas of Buenos Aires. And once you’ve been there more than a day or two, you won’t even want to go to the tourist zones.
Instead, you’ll be breaking up your work day with long lunches at local steak houses, chatting with friends at coffee shops or wine bars. And on weekends you’ll be busy visiting Buenos Aires world class nightclubs and bar hopping. You’ll probably also be sleeping in late most days because Argentines like to party all night long.
Argentina is a place to live, work and experience life. It’s not a destination for short holidays abroad.
Colombia is the clear winner in this comparison. It’s a beautiful country with almost all of the positive aspects of Argentina and without the long transit times and currency woes.
You can use your bank cards and tap and go payments almost everywhere. And with only one exchange rate and no black market rate, there’s much less of a need to carry large amounts of cash. Which is good, because Colombia lacks the safety of Argentina.
Colombia is beautiful and its population is warm and hospitable. But there is an underclass of extremely poor and often drug affected individuals who make Colombia less safe than Argentina.
Robberies by drug addicts with knives are common in places like Bogotá and make it less safe than Buenos Aires.
In Argentina I would never worry about taking public transport or walking alone at night. But I do watch my back in Colombia. And I have already had to deal with knife wielding drug addicts on more than one occasion in Bogotá Colombia.
As a tourist on a short vacation safety isn’t necessarily something you’ll need to worry about in Colombia. Hanging out in fancy hotels, restaurants and beach resorts or shuttling between destinations using InDrive you won’t encounter safety issues.
Safety only becomes a problem for the long-term visitors and digital nomads like myself. When you’re walking around, taking public transport and living in a country like a local you become more susceptible to encountering local safety issues.
For a digital nomad, retiree or just someone who slow travels and spends months in a destination, Colombia isn’t the prime choice. In Colombia there are security issues that don’t affect tourists or short term visitors, but they do plague locals and those staying longer in the country.
Chief among these concerns is the constant risk of armed robbery or robbery through drink spiking and drugging. You need to be careful where you’re walking at night in Colombia and you need to closely watch that nobody spikes your drink with scopolamine.
Shorter Holidays In Colombia Are Better
Colombia is the inverse of Argentina. In hotels, resorts or on guided tours through Colombia’s historic sites you don’t need to worry about armed robbery and drink spiking. But you do need to worry about such things if you’re a foreigner living in Colombia.
For the long-term travellers and digital nomads, Argentina is the better option due to its laid back population and first world safety. But for the short-term travellers and holiday makers, Colombia is the perfect destination.
Safety isn’t an issue for those on short holidays. And Colombia has none of the currency problems and long travel times associated with Argentina. In Colombia you can see and do more during your vacation.
In Colombia you can hop from the beach to the mountains in a couple of hours for $100 or less. Modern airports and fantastic domestic airlines make internal transport a breeze.
Plus almost all hotels offer free airport transfers. And there are a plethora of mobile ride-sharing apps that accept credit cards. Getting around in Colombia is both quick and easy.
In Colombia you can ‘tap and go’ with your foreign credit card in all major establishments. So as a tourist there’s no need to carry around large amounts of cash. Or waste days trying to work out the local exchange rates.
For the average vacationer Colombia has all of the scenery and culinary delights of Argentina with none of the time wasting transport and currency problems. Colombia’s the perfect destination for a short vacation.
I’ve had a longstanding love-hate relationship with Cuba. And over the last couple of years it’s turned into more of a hate-hate relationship.
Safety is a non issue in Cuba. Violence against foreigners and tourists is almost unheard of. But scams are everywhere and perpetrated at all levels of society.
The food is terrible in Cuba, the currency is a pain to deal with, street touts or ‘Jineteros’ as they’re known locally are a daily nuisance and just life in general in Cuba is awful. To anyone familiar with daily life in Cuba the continuing mass exodus of Cubans from Cuba should come as no surprise.
In Australia we have a saying that I would apply to the current Cuban Government. And it goes like this; ‘they couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery’. It’s a more colourful way of saying they’re absolutely useless.
Cuba is not a place for digital nomads, retirees or slow travellers that value their sanity. In Cuba your days will be filled with chasing the basic necessities of life all over the island. Unless you really understand Cuba and the Cuban mentality it’s hard to get anything done in Cuba on a daily basis.
For those on short vacations, Cuba is not a destination for rest and relaxation. Sure, if you book an all inclusive resort and never leave the resort to see Cuba or interact with Cubans then it can be more relaxing.
But then again, if you want to stay in an all-inclusive resort there are better options in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The accommodation, food, transport, service, nightlife and recreational activities will be better in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. All for less than you’ll spend on an all-inclusive in Cuba.
Honestly, unless you have Cuban friends that you’re going to visit or are desperate to see just how ridiculous life can become when a country suffers under a ‘communist’ government for decades, skip Cuba.
Latin America is a big place. And there are infinitely better travel destinations to visit in the LATAM region before Cuba.
Everything Cuba Promotes Is Better Elsewhere In Latin America
If it’s the old cars and motorcycles you most want to see, visit Uruguay. And as a bonus Montevideo Uruguay has a bigger and better version of Cuba’s Malecon (seawall in Havana).
If you’re a foodie you should instead visit Peru or Mexico. If it’s the cocktails you want to try in Cuba then, well, every other country in Latin America has better cocktails. And Argentina has the best wine and steak.
If it’s the ladies that are enticing you to visit Cuba I should warn you in advance that all the cute Cuban ladies have left Cuba. Only the gold diggers are left in Cuba. So you should visit Miami instead. Or better yet, come to Colombia. Colombia is a land filled with absolutely gorgeous women.
Unless you want to ride around in broken down s**t box cars, constantly inhale smog, deal with incessant street hustlers, scams and noise while being overcharged for everything, avoid Cuba. Cuba is the toilet of the LATAM region.
Where Can I Get More Information On Each Destination?
I’d suggest you start by reading the FAQ guides I’ve made available on this site for Cuba, Buenos Aires and Bogotá. These guides aim to answer the bulk of the most common questions I get asked about each country (currency, transport, accommodation, dating, safety, food and costs).
From there you can explore this website. On this site you will find hundreds of articles covering most aspects of each destination. And I also write about my own experiences of life on the road, living and working in each destination as a ‘digital nomad‘.