Buenos Aires, Argentina, Big City Travel Bargain of the Decade?

Buenos AiresI recently visited Buenos Aires, Argentina and I have to say, my experience was starkly contrasted with Charlie’s. I am not going to rehash everything Charlie covered so I strongly suggest you read his article first, and then my counter to it. I also have to preface my reflections by saying that Argentina is at the beginning of another one of their famous catastrophic currency crises (others may argue that they’re well in the middle of it but I think this is the tip of the iceberg), so your mileage may vary in terms of prices.

Since I already touched on the currency crisis, let’s start with prices. If spending US Dollars or Euros everything was cheap, cheap, cheap when I was there. The “official” exchange rate would have made things moderately priced (note: still not expensive, by any means) but only a fool transacts business at the official exchange rate. If you have Euros (or US Dollars) you change them to Argentine Pesos on the “Blue Market” (read: grey or black market). Just head on down to Florida St and you will easily find Blue Market money changers. I don’t know if they have a special price for gringos that they swear by or if the market is just very efficient but I didn’t find much give between one guy and another. I was quoted rates that varied by only about 1% to 2% and the variance seemed to be more about how much I wanted to change rather than which guy I was talking to. So in other words there wasn’t much to be gained by hard nosed negotiation. When I was there they were changing at the rate of about 17 pesos per Euro or 12 pesos to the US Dollar. There are online resources such as DolarBlue on Twitter that give Blue Market rates and I found it to be fairly close to what I could get on Florida St but you travelers must be aware that the rate can fluctuate significantly even over the course of a day.

So with the “changing money” topic out of the way let’s discuss prices. Taxis were the equivalent of $4-$6 USD pretty much anywhere I wanted to go within the center and they also seemed to be honest, which is something I consider to be a big plus since ripoff taxis are a major problem for travelers in many other world cities. Dining and drinking out was the cheapest I’ve ever seen in any big city of that size and caliber. Wine and beer was commonly available for between 20-30 pesos (~$1.70-$2.50 USD). My dining experiences were the complete opposite of Charlie’s. Of course steak is a big part of the menu, Argentina is one of the world’s largest producers of beef but I had no trouble finding alternatives including vegetarian fare. The place for eating and drinking out is in Palermo and you will find many options. I ate high quality filet mignon with all the trimmings (read: delicious sauce or marinade and at least two garnishes on the plate such as fresh salad and a caramelized onion tort) for 115 pesos ($9.60 USD) with extremely drinkable local read and white wines for 84 – 120 pesos ($7 – $10 USD). This kind of food was pretty much universally available. Palermo really reminded me of New York City or even the Hollywood neighborhood in Hong Kong just with less Asians and less hills. Long story short, dining and drinking out was a high point of the trip.

I also found boutique hotels in Palermo to be of high quality and exceptionally low prices. The place I stayed had posted rates of $70 USD with the rate in pesos changing according to the idiotic whims of the corrupt government. Incredibly, above and beyond the available currency arbitrage they were offering a 15% cash discount for USD or 10% for Argentine Pesos – the joys of a currency crisis, gotta get those Pesos and spend them before the become more worthless than they already are and even the day or two it takes to process a credit card payment apparently can count for something significant. Anyway, the bottom line is I paid only the equivalent of only $42 USD for a room with a posted rate of $70 for an effective discount of 40% off what was already a fairly low price for the quality of the room I got and the location. Nightly happy hour 20 Peso ($1.70) drinks in the lobby didn’t hurt my experience either.

Having covered prices, food, drinks and hotels let’s move on to the women. Again my experience was very different than Charlie’s. I found the porteñas to be classy, well dressed and beautiful with many real stunners to be found. I won’t say it’s Eastern Europe but it was damn close. Although happily committed myself, I hung out with a single friend there and he had absolutely no trouble approaching girls and finding company for himself. On one night the very first table of girls he approached we ended up drinking and partying with till the sun came up. Fun, interesting, laid back, approachable and spoke English. They didn’t seem to have trouble paying their own way and all this was happening on a Tuesday. I absolutely cannot reconcile what Charlie had to say about the porteñas with my own experience.

Overall, for western travelers (read holders of Dollars, Euros, Swiss Francs, British Pounds, etc.), I’d rate Buenos Aires a “Strong Buy”.  Even at double the prices I paid I’d give it at least a “Buy and Hold”. Palermo is the go-to neighborhood for hotels, eating, drinking, coffee shops, etc. The prices would have to atleast triple for me to even think about using the words “expensive” or “pricey” to describe anything I did in Buenos Aires – it is important to remember that Buenos Aires is a major world city, you cannot expect prices that rival middle of nowhere Thailand or Malaysia or something like that although right now I’d say Beunos Aires is even a little cheaper than many touristy places in Southeast Asia!

I’d like to close with a hilarious anecdote: On my way out I took a ferry out of Buenos Aires. When I went to buy tickets they refused to take my Argentine Pesos, USD or credit cards only (which of course will get you fucked over with the “official” exchange). The tickets were priced in Pesos, but they wouldn’t take Pesos in cash. Incredible. Governments the world over, they’re all the lowest form of subhuman scum you will ever find.

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