Information and advice for planning your trip.
Whether you are taking a tour with BA City Guide or not, we want to share some essential information that will SAVE YOU MONEY and make for smoother touring.
1. “The Blue Dollar” or getting TWICE as many pesos for your dollar – There are many exchange rates for the Argentine peso, but the two most important ones for tourists to understand are the “official rate” (bank and credit card rate) and the “dólar blue” (street rate) rate and it comes down to this: you want to bring U.S. dollars to exchange locally on the informal market in order to almost double the value of your exchange rate!
At the time of this writing [late October, 2021], the official rate is around 99 pesos to the U.S. dollar, whereas the blue rate is 190 pesos to the dollar. Yes, you read that correctly. So, if you sit down for a nice meal here that costs 3.000 pesos and you pay on your foreign credit card, you will be charged a little over 30 dollars, but if you exchange dollars or euros at a cave (“una cueva”) at the blue dollar rate, it will be a 16 – 17 dollar meal.
Here is how to exchange on the dólar blue market. You need to bring new 50 and 100 dollar bills for the best rate, and the images of the presidents should be the large images (bills printed 2013 or later). Older bills, damaged or dirty bills and 20s will get a lower rate, and many places will not accept 10s, 5s and 1s. You need to do this at a cave or cueva in Spanish: and just to be clear, a “cave” could be a travel agency or jewelry shop, so the name makes it sound scarier than it is. That said, if you do not speak Spanish well, you definitely want to go with a guide. Even if your Spanish is good, you need to find out where the legitimate places are, because of course some of these places will rob you by giving you counterfeit Argentine bills or worse. And never exchange money on the street!
At BA City Guide we are happy to help you with currency exchange, and if you want the more complicated story related to this exchange rate, just ask.
2. Neighborhoods for staying in – There are basically five major neighborhoods that cater to tourists with hotels, Airbnb’s and hostels: Recoleta, Palermo, Puerto Madero, San Telmo and el Centro (the City Centre / Downtown).
Recoleta is the old money neighborhood of Buenos Aires and, yes, parts of it really do look like Paris. It includes some of the historic hotels such as the Alvear Palace and the Four Seasons and the Park Hyatt, as well as lots of beautiful boutique hotels. As you can imagine, this is not the place to stay on a budget, but its elegance is undeniable.
Palermo, since around 2003, has grown in prominence to become the chic / cool neighborhood. Its streets are lined with trees and fancy cafes and restaurants, with more of an urban, arty feel, and there are lots of hidden gem boutique hotels all over. It also holds two of the most famous parrillas popular with tourists (and many locals), La Cabrera and Don Julio, also some truly authentic places to eat that harken back to its pre-gentrification days such as: La Lechuza and Club Eros.
Puerto Madero is probably the most expensive and safest neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Built out from the city as a port at the end of the 19th Century, its security system of over 1,000 cameras, is run by the Argentine Coast Guard. Its hotel offerings include the Hilton, the Faena and the Alvear Icon. The former dyke system is bordered on both sides by cafes, restaurants and clubs.
San Telmo is the most bohemian of the major options and is the oldest part of the city. It has a very active arts community and is famous for the Sunday market that closes off the main street of Defensa for 12 blocks. The Old Market (el Viejo Mercado de San Telmo), built in 1897 as a wholesale market, is full of great places to eat and drink, and has lots of stalls with antiques and fun “old junk”. If you want to stay in this neighborhood, but want a more upscale hotel, there is the Anselmo Buenos Aires owned by Hilton!
El Centro offers a lot of great options for staying, but the neighborhood does tend to feel deserted at night and on the weekends. On the other hand, it is very convenient for getting around the city, and the nightlife of the theater district on Corrientes makes for great people watching as locals (porteños and porteñas) fill the cafés, pizzerias and ice creams parlors.
3. Traditional eating hours – While a lot of places do cater to the eating hours of foreigners, it is good to know the FOUR major mealtimes, and what Argentines eat.
Breakfast is usually anywhere from 7 am to 10 am depending upon your job, and it is light! Often tea, coffee or yerba mate, with toast and jam or facturas (pastries). A lot of cafés where people typically have breakfast do not open before 8 am though.
Lunch is between 1 pm and 3 pm, and many Argentines take a full hour lunch break. Though younger generations are eating lighter, and there are more and more vegetarians and vegans in the local population, a typical lunch is meat and fries or pasta, always with a small salad.
Merienda is the Argentine equivalent of tea or snack time, and is an essential meal! And depending upon your age and work situation it can be anywhere from 4 pm to 7 pm, and can be anything from milk with sweets to an orange juice with a sandwich to a beer with fries / chips. And this is how Argentines are able to hold out until 9pm for dinner.
Dinner is rarely eaten before 9pm, though some people may start as early as 8:30. In the hot summer months, most people won’t even consider eating before 10pm. If you go for dinner at 8pm, most locals will be showing up just as you are finishing your meal.
4. Tipping Rules – While tipping is not considered almost obligatory as it is in the United States, it is common practice. Here are some guidelines:
Meals – the standard tip is 10% of the bill. Some restaurants that cater to tourists have started putting in a service fee, so if you see something like this you can ask if that is going to the waiters / waitresses, and if so you do not need to tip. This is not common practice, but you will find it in a lot of cafes and restaurants in Palermo in particular.
Cafés – if you are just having a coffee or a snack then 10% is fine, but even leaving 10 or 20 pesos as a gesture if always appreciated. Of course, no one will complain about getting a nice tip! That said, courtesy is a highly valued commodity here. When a waiter or waitress comes to your table, saying “Buen día” or “Buenos días” with a cordial smile is enormously appreciated.
Taxis – people do not tip taxi drivers or car service drivers as a custom. If you are taking a taxicab, rounding up so the driver does not have to give you change is considered good form. If you are hiring a driver to take you around, a 10% tip always a nice bonus.
AND IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT TRAVELING ARGENTINA AND BUENOS AIRES, PLEASE, DO NOT HESITATE TO CONTACT US. WE LOVE TO HELP.