This is going to be short and sharp because my memory is really failing me here…
The city of Buenos Aires, which we pictured modern and glassy, with a sky pierced with sky scrapers – is actually overwhelmingly European, with lots of marble and pillars and architectural grandeur.
The first thing we should tell you, is not to trust your Lonely Planet. Well, at least when it comes to prices and budget ideas etc.
Due to Argentina’s 30% yearly inflation rate, everything tends to be rather more expensive than it was just a few months ago when the book was published. As a result, Argentineans are desperate for foreign currency – leaving the door open for “unofficial” money exchangers to tout for US dollars, offering a higher rate of pesos for your dollar than the official rate. This is especially a bonus for poorly New Zealanders who get possibly the worst exchange rate in the world – a measly 7 pesos for your dollar in the official exchange rate, suddenly becomes 11 unofficially. Not that I’m advocating for anything illegal but it goes without saying here…
More tips for South America here: South America on the cheap, money tips and advice
Buenos Aires highlights
Take in a tango show at Cafe Tortoni
Argentina’s “most famous” cafe. This might be in your guidebooks, but it’s a touristy thing worth checking out for once. Arrive an hour before the show to pick up your tickets, and then head inside the grand cafe for a cup of their famed hot chocolate and a churro or two. Or 16, but no-one’s counting. After you head downstairs, you’ll settle in to an intimate setting beside a tiny stage (and get moved to the front if you can shmooze enough as we did), and spend an hour or so being amazed some people’s bodies can move like that. It’s a close call deciding whether the tango show or the preceding hot chocolate was the highlight – and that’s the utmost compliment to both.
A walking tour
My first walking tour, and a great start to a new addiction. There’s actually not that much to see in BA, so having someone walk you through the different districts, the points of interest and the landmarks is a godsend. Because the centre of this city is quite extensive, make sure you wear your walking shoes. Pick the one that ends up at La Recoleta Cemetery (which many do), and have a wander around one of the world’s most amazing cemeteries and mausoleums at the end. You’ll see the Obilisco, several impressive churches and things like the Torre Monumental on this.
By far my favourite part of Buenos Aires, this colourful enclave in the suburbs is a welcome reprieve from city life. Every drab edifice has been touched up with overwhelming splashes of colour, and the result is somewhere between Dr Seuss and a Reggaeton video.
The laid-back area is perfect for wandering without anywhere to be, taking in the street art, buying some cheap souvenirs, and sampling some of the cosy cafes that line the cobbled streets. It’s also worth picking up some art here, as these are some of the passionate artists of the city. Easy enough to get to on a bus from the city centre.
Take in the parks
For a sprawling urban metropolis, there’s surprisingly a lot of green space. Our favourites were the Remembrance Park and the Parque Tres de Febrero.
Wander into churches that look non-descript from the outside, but aren’t
Buenos Aires is home to some of the country’s most exceptional cathedrals and churches, so even the ones that look run-of-the-mill, probably aren’t.
Do a cooking class
Usually organised by your hostel, you’ll learn how to make something like empanadas, over several glasses of red. More importantly, you’ll meet people to go out with later.
Head to Puerto Iguazu (the Argentinian side of the falls) and spend a night there before hitting up the biggest waterfall system in the world. Take the jet boat ride under the rapids, you won’t regret it.
We’ll write about this in more detail later.
My wallet was actually stolen before I’d even made it into the country. Somehow, a crafty simpleton managing to rifle through my bag between check-in and the baggage carousel. Luckily it was my fake wallet for such instances, so jokes on him when he pulls out the monopoly money jammed inside.
Sure, because it’s South America, you just assume everything will be dirt cheap. But in actual fact, it’s one of the most expensive South American countries to travel, even taking into account the black market exchange rate. Over $300 down in the first week, when we’d budgeted for about $200 with gifts, and nothing to show apart from a plastic 6”x10” Argentinian flag.
Believing the “discount for you beautiful girls line”.
Our bus was good, but not discount good.