Thursday, November 14, 2013

Seven Things to Know Before Coming to Buenos Aires

Anytime you venture out into the world and find yourself immersed in a different culture, you have a bit of a learning curve. Sometimes you never fully acclimate (Beijing, Tokyo) and sometimes adapting is the easiest thing in the world (Italy, Hong Kong).

However, it's always nice to have a little insider information before you go.  

1.  Buenos Aires CAN be expensive. The faltering economy, high inflation rate, and falling currency values have taken their toll on the people and the prices in Argentina. But, if you have American dollars and a little time and patience, you can make your money go 30% farther by taking advantage of the "Dolar Blue". In 2011, the Argentine government put a ban on owning US dollars. Currently, the published rate hovers around 5.85. However, the Blue Market rate is around 8.9. How can you use the Blue Market? You can bring US Dollars in cash and exchange them on the street (popularly Florida St or near the Recoleta Cemetery) for smaller amounts. This is generally an accepted practice and overall not that risky, but if you want to be safer you can use and send yourself up to $2999.00 in American Dollars, which they then convert to pesos very near to the Blue rate. The closest office to most of Buenos Aires is near the corner of Santa Fe and Libertad. I've been three times this month and the longest I've waited to get my money was 20 minutes and the rate has been between 8.8 and 9.0. This will save you big money on food, drinks and groceries. We even booked our trip to Patagonia and Iguazu Falls through Say Hueque and paid for it in pesos at the published rate, hence saving us almost $2000. Whatever you do, don't come and use the ATM's. Most limit you to 1000 peso per transaction fee (about $167 at today's published rate), and you could essentially buy that amount of pesos for around $112 US. A significant savings for your trip.
Finally a place that WANTS the not-so-almighty dollar!

2.  Have you been to Europe? Where dining before 8 pm is considered a little gauche? Well, guess what? The dinner hour here is more typically 9:30 to 10 pm. There is no way we can eat dinner at 10 pm and still have FM (and myself!) in bed at a reasonable hour for 6:30 am wake ups. At least not on a regular basis. Nor can I hold out that long without food, especially if I'm enjoying an early evening bottle of Malbec. And I refuse to eat four meals a day. One benefit is many restaurants DO open at 8 pm. If you arrive at 8 sharp, you can usually try some of the best restaurants in town without a reservation, probably surrounded by other tourists like yourself. This works for us. Also, there is a prevalence of Resto-Pubs, which serve adequate food all day and night. A few of our favorites are Gauresnei's (corner of Nicaragua and Angel Carranza in Palermo Hollywood - try the Torre de Pizza, Lomo Florentine or any of their homemade pastas), and Montego Bay (Guatemala and FitzRoy, Palermo Hollywood - can recommend everything but the Jerk Chicken). Both open before 8 for us philistines.  
Such a charming corner

3. The wine is fine. Even a 30 peso bottle of wine (from the grocery) is fine (for most palates). Seriously. I drink a lot of wine, and I have only met one bottle of Malbec here that hasn't met my expectations (Xero, don't buy it - legless and acidic). If your budget and taste go much higher than this, no worries - there are wine stores on nearly every corner to cater to any level of oenophile. 
Heaven. . . I'm in HEAVEN

4. It's not all about the beef. But, it really is. If you don't know, some of the very best beef in the world is raised in Argentina. And, it truly is amazing. Perhaps the MOST amazing thing is you don't HAVE to spend a lot of money for a good cut. Almost any neighborhood parilla is serving up premium steak. We've spent anywhere from $7 US to $20 US for various cuts and sizes, and I have to say it's not about the money or premium locations. It's about the restaurant. Try El Trapiche in Palermo Hollywood for perfectly done, reasonably priced quality cuts with out the pretension. 
An absolute institution in Buenos Aires Parilla's. YUM. 

 5. You can leave your finer things at home. Buenos Aires is a very casual town. Even at the best restaurants you will see people dining in jeans and a collared shirt. I'm not giving you permission to run around in daisy dukes and a wife beater, but Argentines don't really dress up all that much. Casual chic works fine. Unless you're planning a night at the opera or business meetings, a suit would look more out of place than not. But, again, it's rather an "anything goes" type of place, so dress the way you're most comfortable. 

People waiting at 9:15 to get into Don Julio's in Palermo SoHo. Very casual.

6.  Most of the nightlife is in the "suburbs" of Palermo, Recoleta and San Telmo, so book your accommodations accordingly. It's nice to be able to stagger home to your hotel/hostel/apartment and not rely on public transport or taxis. Most clubs and tango halls open AFTER dinner, around 11 pm and go til the early hours. If you are a party animal, plan your sightseeing activities respectively.

7. Buenos Aires is safer than what you think. It is, of course, a big city. You should be cautious. You shouldn't wear expensive jewelry or watches. You shouldn't flash large amounts of cash. You should be aware of your surroundings. But, for the most part, the biggest problems are pickpockets and muggings, no different than Rome or Athens. I'm not saying to ignore travel warnings, etc., but after living here for six weeks, walking around by myself (in nicer areas, even at night), riding the public transportation and visiting crowded, busy markets, I haven't had any problems. Or witnessed any problems. Just use common sense and your own intuition. Getting drunk in La Boca late at night and wandering around is probably NOT a good idea. . . but I wouldn't know.