I went down last December to the Southern Cone of South America, and after a very dull time in Uruguay, I headed over to Argentina to visit Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America.” While I had a pleasant time there, I am sorry to report that Buenos Aires is not Single Dude recommended.
To give credit where credit is due, I first have to say that Buenos Aires is a city that well deserves its name. There is something in the air there. It feels good there, slightly breezy with a nice chill vibe. It’s a thoroughly nice town and I enjoyed spending a week there. That being said, I don’t plan on returning unless I’m going for a business opportunity. Buenos Aires has some significant drawbacks for the single dude traveler.
First of all, Buenos Aires is not a great value for the single dude wallet. While not ridiculously expensive like a town like Singapore, it’s pricey compared to similar destinations worldwide. The economists have a measurement of economic exuberance of different countries in the world, and the country with the most optimism/speculation/inflation these days is Argentina. As a result, things in Buenos Aires cost much more than they should. Crappy hotels are $30 (120 pesos) at the absolute minimum and it’s easy to spend three times as much for a mid level place. Getting around anywhere in a cab will be at least ten bucks. And a beer with a personal pizza will set you back $15 every time. In a decent bar drinks will be $4 (16 pesos) minimum.
It’s not exorbitant but it’s a far cry from Vietnam or Mexico where $10 will get you a room or a great meal and $2 a drink at a nice bar, so in my opinion there should be a real good reason to spend three times as much on everything and fly all the way to the Southern Hemisphere for a visit.
Let’s see what else there is to consider:
Food: If you’re a foodie, Buenos Aires is absolutely the wrong place for you. The food is overpriced and universally bland. They just don’t put flavor in their food there – no spices, herbs, pepper, nothing. And every menu in every restaurant is pretty much the same, with three pages of unseasoned steaks, bland over cheesed pizzas and salads that taste like packing material. Dining is definitely not cheap, and dinner for two with wine will run you $50 while providing a completely bland experience that will leave no culinary impression. The only way I could eat there was to bring my own hot sauce with me to the restaurants. There isn’t any variety in types of cuisine either. It’s not like any other mega-city I’ve been to where you can get delicious ethnic food from all over the world. Buenos Aires is an extremely homogeneous culture and I didn’t see a single Thai or Mexican or Ethiopian restaurant as you would find on every block in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. For such a major city, BA has a shockingly bad food scene. This alone is a dealbreaker for me. The wine is good though and competitively priced, so that’s a mitigating factor.
Women: Before I went to Argentina I was under the impression from the Porteñas had met in Miami and other places that Buenos Aires was going to be a paradise of gorgeous sexy women. Wrong! Ok, sure, there’s a lot of nice looking chicks in Buenos Aires, to be sure, with lots of positive qualities, but somehow it doesn’t add up to everything one would hope for. They have plenty of the right raw materials; they’re tall, lean girls of Italian ancestry, they are very nice, so nice that I had a total of zero chicks shoot me down in a week, but while nice and friendly and pretty they just aren’t sexy. They don’t dress up that much, and while they usually look nice, they hardly ever look hot (no sexy clothes, no heels, no makeup). If you walk down the main pedestrian drag downtown, Avenida Florida, you will see hundreds of decent looking girls, but hardly ever will you see one that just knocks your socks off. Compare this to Bulgaria, where while having coffee on Vitoshka Street any random afternoon of the week you will see an outrageously hots chick every couple of minutes guaranteed. I think I saw fewer than 5 of those girls in a week in Buenos Aires.
Another significant concern for the Single Dude Traveler to Buenos Aires is the language issue. This is not Central America or Mexico where people are heavily exposed to American culture and are obliged to learn English if they are well educated. In Argentina the level of English is surprisingly low. University students or graduates may have taken English in school but they must not have paid much attention because many seem to have extremely low level English. You must speak Spanish there.
And the Argentinian girls love to talk. If you want to make it work with an Argentinian girl be prepared to have long conversations about important topics in Spanish before anything happens. The Argentinians don’t really party; since they can’t afford more than a couple drinks on regular Argentinian salaries they usually sit at tables with their friends nursing a couple drinks and don’t really get wild or loose. Thus my standard antidote at the bar for the language barrier of buying cheap shots followed by a trip to the dance floor doesn’t really work in Argentina.
The Argentinians also speak Spanish very quickly with a very different accent than standard Latino Spanish, so good luck understanding them if there’s any loud music or other background noise. The Argentinos also have very limited experience with non-Spanish speakers other than Brazilians so they have no ability to remember to slow down when they talk. This communication issue significantly raises the degree of difficulty of Buenos Aires.
I think what it really came down to was that some women are cute and some are sexy, and there’s a big difference, and for me Buenos Aires doesn’t have sexy. You know how some women just have that vibe that draws you and other guys to them? The Porteñas don’t have that vibe. Compare them in this way to their next door neighbors in Brazil and the difference is night and day.
Drugs: The drug situation is fine, just like in Uruguay, just don’t be too obvious. Ask the guys selling trinkets at the corner of Avenida de Mayo and Florida (discretely) and they will hook you up. Smoking is OK in semi-public, and all my Argentinian girlfriends were hippieish and would usually join me for a puff. If a cop bothers you I’d recommend a bribe, maybe 50 or 100 pesos.
Music: There’s a decent music scene in Buenos Aires, and while it’s not everywhere, if you look around on the internet and ask around (especially to musicians) you should be able to find some stuff. The jazz scene in particular is strong, and Buenos Aires is the only place I’ve seen where all the dudes in a band give each other kisses on the cheek at the end of a show.
A good idea for meeting chicks in Buenos Aires is to go to one of the tango school/restaurants called milongas. For one admission price, you can take several different dance classes, learn the basic steps and dance all night. There’s always tourists there so you have a better chance of meeting some English speakers or Brazilian girls.
Interestingly, while the Argentinos are not big partiers, they do have the distinction of starting the party later than any other place I’ve ever been. In Eastern Europe, things start late also, like 12 or 1, but they party once they go out. In Argentina you have to wait till 2 until the “party” starts. One of the major drawbacks to this is it means that if you meet a chick you like and want to bring her home you’ll have to wait until at least 6 AM to even get started, and you’ll have to survive until then sitting around some table talking philosophy in Spanish with a girl who is barely drinking. Like those prospects, boys? Maybe I’m just getting old but at that point I’d often just rather go to bed unless I was making headway with a super sexy girl who was obviously ready to get down. Good luck finding that situation in Buenos Aires.
The Argentinians have a reputation elsewhere in South America as being arrogant or standoffish, and while I understand why they have that reputation I think it’s undeserved. Rather, I think they’re just a little shy and a little bit serious. There is a tinge on melancholy in the national spirit for some reason, and there’s no better example of this than in the national dance, tango.
Manuel comment: You would have some melancholy in your national spirit too if your currency collapsed as often as theirs does!
Whenever I’ve ever been to a tango night anywhere in the world I’ve always had the impression that I was at some sort of cult meeting. They are so serious about it that there is no fun involved. Nobody chit-chats in between songs, no one is laughing or joking around, and for me, a regular boisterous Yankee, it’s downright weird. This is the Argentine seriousness that makes them seem standoffish.
So, Buenos Aires, while a nice town with some soul, is not Single Dude recommended. It might be a nice place to take a chick on vacation if you have some extra cash to blow. If you find yourself there on business I have a couple recommendations:
San Telmo is a cool funky neighborhood just south of the main tourist area, and my favorite part of Buenos Aires. It reminds me of San Francisco a bit, with little funky shops and bars and a super lively Sunday afternoon when they close down the main drag and have big craft street fair.
Puerta Madero is the place to go cougaring, which is just east of San Telmo and the place where the rich dudes can be seen with their trophy wives as well. This is El Matador’s favorite neighborhood in Buenos Aires.
Palermo is the regular upper class neighborhood where the best bars and clubs are to be found. It’s a huge neighborhood with a lot of different sub-districts, so ask around as to where things are happening the most. The most go-to place especially on off nights is Plaza Serrano, where there will be always be at least a little bit going on, and is pretty much your only choice on off nights.
Anyways guys, sorry for the disappointing news. I actually had a pretty good time but it was because I lucked into an unusual situation which I am sure did not reflect the norm there. Simply speaking, you need to be too good and spend more money than is necessary to make it happen in Buenos Aires than many, many other cooler locations. If you’re looking for a vacation in Latin America I suggest you go to Mexico, where it’s much cheaper and the food is light years better, or to Colombia where the chicks are light years sexier, and give Argentina a pass.
UPDATE 26-01-2014: The official exchange rate is now 8 pesos to the dollar and you can get as much as 12 on the “blue market” (read: black market). Buenos Aires is now considerably cheaper than at the time of writing. Drinks can easily be had for $2-$2.50 USD.