So after almost three weeks in Argentina, here are my top tips on what you need to know before you arrive to make the most of your time in one of South America’s top tourist destination:
- Bring U.S Dollars – this cannot be emphasized enough. At the time of writing, the official exchange rate at the banks in Argentina will allot you a mere $5.50 pesos for each dollar, however, due to rampant inflation (see #2) the demand for U.S dollars is at an all-time high. The availability of changing your money on the unofficial “blue market” is fast, easy and will almost double your money at an exchange rate of 9 pesos to the dollar or more. If you’ve just arrived and are without US cash, catch a ferry to nearby Colonial de Sacramento in Uruguay where it can be easily withdrawn from any ATM.
- Inflation – you may have chatted with friends who visited Argentina a few years backed and raved about how affordable it is, however with a new government in place, inflation has risen 137% in the last 5 years, with over a 25% increase in 2012 alone. Hostels, bus rides and food have risen significantly so you’ll want to make sure you do your research to make sure you have enough budgeted to get around this massive and breathtaking country.
- Spanish – while this may be obvious to some, in many destinations around the world including South East Asia almost everyone speaks some English so it may come as a shock that even in the bigger cities in Argentina this is not the case. Most shop vendors will simply repeat themselves to you in Spanish even if you let them know, “no hablo Español”. At the very minimum learn some basic phrases for getting around, food items and how to count so you know how much to pay.
- Safety – unfortunately South America is not South East Asia. Muggings and robbery occur day and night and one moment of distraction could very well mean saying goodbye to your cash or belongings. Never travel alone at night, even in Buenos Aires. Better yet enjoy drinks back at your hostel or couchsurfing accommodation to save money and enjoy peace of mind.
- You will eat a lot of meat – vegetarians you may want to take your travel plans elsewhere as Argentina is a land of meat, meat and more meat, all of it cheap and delicious. If you are fortunate enough to meet some locals you may even be able to enjoy asado – a family BBQ with chorizo, blood sausages, steak and beef ribs all slow cooked over charcoal or smoked over wood. Grab a glass of local beer or wine and enjoy the feast!