This year I escaped the Dutch winter, taking advantage of my digital nomad status, moving to Buenos Aires, – a city I was curious about for a long time. I spent a total of two months in Argentina, the first in the capital and the second traveling around as it would have been a pity non to use the opportunity to see more of this beautiful part of the world.
Below a report of my month with random thoughts and hopefully useful tips to plan your own month in Buenos Aires!
I got a return ticket Amsterdam-Buenos Aires, with short transfers in Munich and Sao Paulo, for 346€ – less than half the normal price!
Flying there turned out to be even better than expected because the 11 hours intercontinental Munich – Sao Paulo flight was in Premium Economy class, comfortably sit next to a German man that paid twice and kept asking for beer.
I’ve the good/bad habit to take pictures of everything I pack for my trips. It helps choosing what to bring (I just check the pictures from the previous trip) and it avoids some last-second compulsive over packing.
Here the content of my 35L backpack.[pe2-gallery album=”https://picasaweb.google.com/data/feed/base/user/100265703514682346312/albumid/6119188766705020737?alt=rss&hl=en_US&kind=photo” ]
I spend a good hour on my favorite book store in Amsterdam, the Piéd a Tierre in Overtoom.
I analyzed the different guides available: Rough Guides, Eye Witnesses, First Sight, Fodor’s. Eventually I was doubting between those two:
- Fodor’s Buenos Aires: with Side Trips to Iguazú Falls, Gaucho Country & Uruguay (updated 30th December 2014)
- Lonely Planet Argentina Travel Guide (updated 1st September 2014)
I liked the former because it was focused on the capital but also included trips I was interested on (unlike Lonely Planet guide to Buenos Aires), but I opted for the backpackers classic Lonely Planet Argentina because well, it’s just very comprehensive and also includes Uruguay.
These few apps greatly facilitate the experience in the city:
- Buenos Aires City Guide by Lonely Planet: a very performance intensive app with offline maps, places and reviews (Android)
- BA Cómo Llego: Spanish app created by the local government, the name means literally ‘how to arrive’. It’s a must to find your way on metro and extensive bus network! (Android)
Settling down in Baires
Location, location, location
I was in Argentina in February and March: this is the local summertime. This means the capital was hot and humid, and many porteños (as Buenos Aires inhabitants are called) were on holidays.
I spent the first week in San Telmo area, renting a room via AirBnb. San Telmo is very characteristic with the cobblestone streets, Plaza Durrago with old bars next to the Starbucks, and the famous Sunday Market with antiques, food, books and everything in between.
From San Telmo I reached the natural reserve during a morning run (better said jogging as it was so hot I could barely walk fast) as well as the posh Puerto Madero area with the renovated docks and the bridge dedicated to Argentinian women, puente de las mujeres.
All great, but San Telmo wasn’t the place to be for me. BA is a big city and like every big city there are big distances. To give an idea, the whole Noord-Holland region (the region that includes Amsterdam city) can fit Buenos Aires urban area. Here, “it’s just three blocks away” normally means a 10 minutes walk 🙂
It became quite clear that everything I wanted to do in the city, from social activities, to meeting locals, to tango lessons, where not located in San Telmo.
The place to be is Palermo area, so I moved there.
At first I wanted to rent a studio as locals would do: the best resources for temporary rentals are SoloDueños, SoloDueñosDirectos and this Facebook group (in Spanish).
If you want to do that, keep in mind the minimum rent period is one month (if not longer) and that it requires one month deposit.
I found a nice studio for 5500 ARS (430$) but I didn’t have enough USD for the deposit, plus I heard stories of people that didn’t get the deposit back at the end of their stay. After a stressful Tuesday afternoon I decided it would be too lonely without a flatmate so I turned again to AirBnb and got a room in a very well located apartment in Palermo Viejo.
Note: in Argentina is very common to have a single bed!
Getting phoned up
I got a local sim card from Claro for $30 ARS (less than $3 USD). 3G internet costs $3 ARS per day (peanuts!) but get this pro tip: send the message ‘pack10d’ to 454 to get 10 days of unlimited internet for $15 ARS and be a real cheapster!
One note of caution about phone numbers. Nobody really know how it works but the prefix, also for mobile numbers, depends on the city/area so it can get messy when someone wants to give you his/her number to WhatsApp you (everyone use it). For BA the numbers are, to the best of my understanding, starting with +54-9 (country code – city code).
Blue Dollars games
Don’t go to Argentina without stocking up plenty of dollars or euros. And in bills of 50 or 100, please!
Argentina suffered of a very unstable economy, the inflation is rampant and the local currency is at risk of devaluation anytime.
Because of the instability of the pesos, Argentinians prefer to keep their saving in dollars, a very stable currency. Government doesn’t like this and is restricting the access to the bucks, creating the perfect condition for a black market that is sorta-kinda-legal and called blue dollar.
How unofficial is the blue dollar?
I’d say not much, as there are websites giving the daily rates as well as very active Facebook pages:
Someone explained me the government has no interest in stopping the parallel exchange, as the official exchange rate is artificially kept low to reduce the country international debt – calculated in dollars.
Whatever is the real story, there are many options to exchange money but the most exciting and fun is surely a visit to Florida street.
The arbolitos are impossible to miss, as they are many and always murmuring if not shouting “cambio! cambio!”.
My strategy was to approach few of them trying to negotiate, the differences are really risible but I think is still a good idea to double-check.
Get those Pro Tips:
- Always ask more than one street vendor about today’s change;
- 100 and 50 bills are better paid than smaller bills;
- It’s possible to have a better rate exchanging big amounts, something like $500+ USD at once;
- Count the money in their face before closing the deal;
- Look like a bad ass during the whole process.
I also changed dollars in Palermo as some ‘RapiPago’ offices do exchange with a fairly good rate, just few decimals lower than Florida. Many restaurants do exchange also but rates aren’t good.
In BA I got what I don’t have in Amsterdam: an office!
While I could work from home and from the many cool cafes in Palermo Soho, I was looking for a better solution as I had plenty of things to focus on and cafes are often noisy or with unreliable connections.
I found a very cool place, the Founders Place Palermo, and got a pretty good weekly rate for a shared desk.
It’s more for start-up than for self-employed or digital nomads, but provided me what I needed, including drinks and my daily dose of yerba mate, the strong herbal kind of tea Enzo had teach me how to prepare.
Drinking mate had the same effect on me that drinking coffee has for someone not used to it. I felt my head light and energized, it was a great companion for intense working sessions!
The city of Buenos Aires
I had a love-hate relation with this city. At first I felt lost because of the distances. It takes a long time to move around especially if you’re not familiar with the public transport.
Then I felt it’s too European and with such an abundance of Italian influence I missed some cultural differences. I mean, after the last months spent in South-East Asia, there’s no culture shock for an Italian in Baires!
To top it all, I found porteños cold and closed so combining those three things I felt this wasn’t my place even if I was having a great time.
It took almost the whole month to start liking the places and the great things it has to offer. On my last Saturday night, I ended up in this hidden patio with an open-air cafe with music and it was a pure magic moment.
The architecture of the city is surely something special. It’s called ‘the Paris of south America’ because in 1900 was expanded seeking inspiration from the great Europe and Paris and London were the leading examples.
That’s quite unusual because has nothing to do with colonies or international influences.
I’m not going to talk much about what to see as this article is not a tourist guide: I recommend La Ricoleta Cemetery, Evita Peron Museum, La Boca with el caminito, the guided tour of Casa Rosada on weekends, and a day to Tigre.
I’ll talking instead about what to do.
What to do (or better what I did)
Free Walking Tour
This three hours tour (website) happens daily and I really like it. Well, I always like walking tours as you get to hear anecdotes and stories from locals that are not professional guides but often down to earth students, and I can join alone and meet people there.
MundoLingo is a very active organization in Buenos Aires and they run popular events perfect to meet locals, expats and travelers. At the entrance you’ll get stickers with the flags of the countries you can speak the language of. Just apply the stickers on your shirt and good luck.
Happy hours with cheap drinks are helping to socialize too.
Bomba del Tiempo
If you’re tired of Buenos Aires and want to stay among tourists, go to the concert of Bomba del Tiempo at the Konex Cultural Center.
But be sure to be there well in advance because the queue was brutal when I was there and I could only jump it with non-chalance thanks to my Argentinian friend.
Bomba del Tiempo is a percussion band and their concert was really top!
One can object their music is not really Argentinian, but the way they are directed, with different directors alternating during the evening, is typical Argentinian, I’ve been told 🙂
The food, and I mean the meat
Yes, Argentinian meat is great as it can get and my weekday vegetarian diet went on a hiatus.
I dine on steaks and wine but I found that, even in recommended restaurants, the huge portions tend to get cold quite fast especially if you order rear cooked meat (can be pretty uncooked).
The real surprise of BA were the parrillas (BBQ) little shady places in the streets.
Get a choripan (bread with chorizo) and put chimichurri sauce on it. Or a bondiola (slowly cooked pork!) and enjoy.
Pity there’s no much variety in Argentinian food… it’s either meat, meat on bread, or pizza with too much cheese.
And unlike the tropical countries also the fruit doesn’t offer much variety: bananas, apples, pears, pineapples… the most exotic is the avocado, called palta.
What’s amazing is the ice cream: definitely the second best ice cream in the world!
The yerba mate
The yerba mate is basically a bitter herbal infusion super popular here.
It’s more than that: it’s a ritual Argentinians enjoy especially when they’re in a group.
Enzo from The Founders Place introduced me to the preparation of the mate and I practiced a lot in my days at the office. It’s something every Argentinian do naturally and I must have looked like a German trying to roll spaghetti on a fork, but never the less I did enjoy my mate and gave me a boost!
On porteños and Argentinians
Note: of course I’ll generalize here.
Argentinians are open, friendly, welcoming, and funny folks. Unless they’re porteños. The ‘people from the port’, as people born in Buenos Aires are called, are another league. I heard it already before coming here and I must say it’s true: they’re closed, not very friendly and often with an attitude.
That is, probably not by coincidence, the same description of people from Milan!
Anyway I met great people and it was probably just a coincidence none of them were born in BA 🙂
What two millions immigrants left us
During the years 1861-1920 it’s said that more than two millions Italians immigrated to Argentina. It’s also said that today more than 22 millions Argentinians are Italian descendants – my country mates did obviously a hell of a good job!
As a result the Italian influence is visible in many aspects.
In food, we have figazza, a variation of the focaccia, pizza is a pillar of nutrition here (always with way too much cheese!) and helado (ice cream) is as good as in Italy.
Argentinian Spanish got also influenced by Italian words, for example lavurar instead of Spanish trabajar (to work) or valija instead of maleta (suitcase).
But what impressed me the most is that immigrants in history always got the chance to break the unspoken rules from their countries and re-invent habits or traditions abroad.
It’s the case for the bidet. A fundamental bathroom element in the south of Europe, it’s unknown in north Europe mainly because is not very clear what’s for. Italians in Argentine improved the bidet making its usage more obvious:
Another example of what I’m talking about can be found in food. I had milanesa alla napolitana, a thin cut of meat breaded & fried (that’s the milanesa part) and passed in an oven covered like a pizza with ham, cheese and oregano (the napolitana part).
We don’t have it in Italy and I think nobody every thought of mixing those things!
It takes millions of immigrants to do those transformations, so look around your country and see which future is coming!
Learning Tango was one of my goal in BA, but I didn’t get too far with that. I got lessons at La Viruta, a popular and unpretentious place where they teach classes in a very social setting.
Tango is veeeery interesting for me because the lead is completely different than Salsa. In Salsa the man guides the woman using the arms and the tension created in the embrace. In tango, the man guides with the torso and the moves are sourced from the body.
Looking back La Viruta wasn’t the best place for me, because the instructors were more focused on keeping the class fun than teaching technique. I got a dozen of lessons but I feel like the fundamentals are not there.
And talking about going out and dancing, here things start really late. It’s very true that dinners are at 11pm, and nobody shows up in a club before 1am. In Salsa places (I’ll dedicate a post to that) there’s usually a lesson till 0:30am and people start flocking in not before 1:30am!
How much did it cost me
There’s always someone asking me how much it costed me to travel here or there. How much does it cost to spend one month in Buenos Aires? Surely depends on many factors, your interests and style so I can tell how much it costed to me: $1150 USD, excluding flight.
This is a breakdown of the expenses:
|Category||$ USD||% Total|
|Travel: Room rental||422||32%|
|Workspace: desk rental||55||4%|
|Workspace: café bills||42||3%|
|Travel: Public transport||27||2%|
|Food: Take Away||19||1.5%|
I’m surprised to see how little I spent on some categories but I didn’t miss anything during my stay in Buenos Aires and I did all I wanted to do. I’m just a cheapster and I can tell you by experience that spending the same amount for a one-week holiday (or a weekend!) doesn’t necessary means more enjoyment.
Next time, Daniele…
Closing down this post, I had a great time in Buenos Aires but I didn’t fell in love with the city. I guess has to do a lot with the fact that I come from Italy and when I travel I enjoy more the cultural differences than the similarities. And here there are definitely more similarities.
Note to self for next time:
- Make sure your electronic equipment has good batteries. I suffered a constant low-battery effect between notebook and smartphone.
- More money, more honey: I should have packed much more dollars. I landed with as much as I could get in Amsterdam airport and it lasted for a month. If you run out of dollars in Argentina, no bank or ATM will help you. The options are to get money via Xoom (for US citizens) or go for a dollar-run in Uruguay, where the ATMs give the currency option.
Hope this half report half guide will help you planning your next trip to Buenos Aires!