On our first day in Buenos Aires, we walked up to Plaza de Mayo from our little San Telmo hotel and I remember thinking, “Why didn’t anyone tell me Buenos Aires was such a cool city?”
It has everything: old-looking colonial style buildings, Parisian-looking buildings, buildings that remind you of New York, glassy skyscrapers, cute parks, flowers on balconies, people greeting each other with kisses on the cheeks when they meet on the street. Medialunas and coffee, street tango at Plaza Dorrego on Sundays, beautiful purple jacaranda trees in the spring, talented street musicians and the longest street fair I’ve ever visited, located on Defensa street in San Telmo on Sundays. Sunday is a good day to visit Buenos Aires.
The steak at La Brigida was so tender that the waiter literally cut through it with a spoon, the meat just melting away. The take-away empanadas from Desnivel were amazing. Buenos Aires is not a city to diet in.
Before traveling to Argentina, all the online articles I saw kept telling me about the various scams and the fake pesos and the “blue dollar”. It was almost enough to drive you paranoid – even the taxi drivers would surely scam you! So I would like to assure you that if you are thinking about maybe visiting the country, it really is a nice travel destination. We stayed in Argentina for 6 weeks, 10 days in Buenos Aires, and nothing bad happened to us. Sure, I do believe all those scams exist and I must admit the TV news were pretty scary with violence, the streets didn’t feel quite as carefree and safe as at home, and we skipped La Boca altogether – but if you take the same precautions you would anywhere, you should probably be fine. The country is a little unstable politically and very unstable economically –inflation is wild and the cost of food was much higher than we had budgeted for. So plan for a slight inflation in your budget.
The money situation was slightly surreal though.
On every street corner there were locals queueing to banks, the lines were long all day. As tourists, we found it difficult to get cash in Buenos Aires and the other towns we visited. Argentine pesos couldn’t be exchanged in our home country so we exchanged euros to US dollars and thought we would exchange the dollars for pesos on arrival, but due to the long lines of locals at banks (and one bank with no lines telling us they weren’t a bank) we decided to use ATM’s instead.
But finding an ATM that liked us was also difficult. Most ATM’s either didn’t have any cash, didn’t work or wouldn’t accept our foreign cards. When they did accept our cards, we were only allowed to withdraw a small amount at a time and each withdrawal came with a stiff bank fee. As for using exchange services, that didn’t seem like a good idea in Buenos Aires since they all looked quite sketchy and there was no way I was going to follow a guy shouting “Cambio, cambio” to tourists on the street anywhere. In the rural towns we visited after Buenos Aires we did, however, manage to find some reliable exchange bureaus. Somewhat of a recurring joke was the fact that the particular exchange company that our guidebook recommended – that we were counting on – was in fact “temporarily closed” in every town we visited.
The whole difficulty of the process of obtaining pesos was definitely a very exotic Argentinean experience and you just have to adapt. Bring a big wallet: the largest bill is 100 pesos which is about 10 euros and due to inflation you can’t buy much with it. You get used to walking around with a thick stack of dirty and broken peso notes wherever you go. And a few US dollars just to be sure.
Coins are rarely used and shops will either round up or down according to the cashier’s mood. Having said that, I must add that we found most Argentineans to be very friendly and helpful wherever we went. But throughout our trip, the rules kept changing: some hotels wouldn’t accept cash (security reasons) and some hotels would give you a discount for cash (US dollars).
Argentineans also seemed to be good at adapting. What I loved was the calm, composed, dignified queueing culture. Wherever you went, people were always patiently queueing in organized lines. Even at bus stops. I missed that when I came home to rude and pushy people trying to skip lines everywhere, so hurried and stressed out.
My favorite part of Buenos Aires was Puerto Madero. It was a nice, quiet place where we picniced on empanadas, not forgetting chocolate and dulce de leche alfajores for dessert, sitting by the river and admiring the tall buildings. It is a modern business district and right next to it is the wild Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, basically a huge park with birdlife. I spotted a beautiful turquoise colibri there, gone in a matter of seconds.
As a coffee snob, it was refreshing to find different types of coffee in Argentina. The café con crema was a cute surprise: a tiny espresso in a shot glass with a spoonful of actual whipped cream on top, inside a fluff of milk foam and cinnamon. It’s nice to be surprised sometimes.
Bring your own shower gel! Seriously! It was ridiculously expensive and especially men’s fragrances or neutral fragrances were hard to find. If you are a woman who uses hair spray, like me, you might be interested to know that hair spray apparently does not exist in all of Argentina. Maybe the local women all have hair that is perfect naturally…
Pharmacies sell refreshing beverages at better prices than grocery stores. So if you’re walking around Buenos Aires on a hot day and are dying of thirst, there seemed to be a pharmacy on almost every corner.
What to wear:
What to wear is always important for us women to know beforehand so we can pack right. My spouse and I arrived in Buenos Aires in the spring and everyone was wearing winter garments and down jackets though it was warm and sunny. Then we traveled to Ushuaia where it was 0-5 °C and people were wearing t-shirts and shorts! So just wear what you want, you are going to stand out anyway.
Locals seem to cover up, jeans and long pants are common for women, though some women were quite dressed up in really nice clothes: businesswear for women seemed to include cocktail dresses. A couple of slightly more mature ladies from Buenos Aires went on a cold and windy whale watching boat trip with us in Península Valdés (more about that here) wearing flimsy sandals, silk blouses and pearl necklaces.
Young men in Buenos Aires had either business clothes, hipster clothes or a popular combination of brown jeans and a checkered, short-sleeved white shirt. Many young women were dressed in urban street outfits, casual Vans slip-ons or Paez beach shoes and baggy pants with crazy prints. Colorful running sneakers were trendy too.
Tourists were easily recognizable from hiking gear and I get that: hiking boots take up so much space in your luggage that you might not have room for much else and if you’re doing a tour of this long country you have to pack for so many climates that it becomes an accomplished task.
Some of the long distance buses have “free seating” though places might be printed on the ticket, so check with the driver to see if the seat numbers apply, to avoid confusion.
The domestic airport Jorge Newbery is located right in the center of the city and landing there offers great views of the buildings you pass very close by! We flew several (7, to be exact) domestic flights inside Argentina, both with LAN Argentina and Aerolíneas Argentinas. Despite all the negative comments I had read about them online before our trip, everything went perfectly each time. The flights were on time and no luggage was lost.
Booking them, however, was not easy… The websites kept crashing but in the end, online booking was much cheaper than through an agency. We booked one leg through an agency, instantly regretting it as the website started working again and the prices were better. Oh, and one more thing, foreigners are charged a different price for airfare so make sure you are buying the right type of ticket online, to avoid problems later…