First the asterisk. Argentina’s currency values change faster than a hot girl changes her shoes. “The black ones? Do you think she’ll notice I wore them on Monday? I better just go with the flats.” So while this information in relevant now, there’s always the chance that inflation soars 2000% next week and everything here goes kaboom. So use caution.
Now on to the main course.
Expensive! No, cheap! No, expensive! There’s a lot of conflicting regarding the Paris of South America. Here’s my take. Buenos Aires is cheap. Or more accurately, the place definitely has a big city feel that comes at second world prices. But unlike other developing…developed? seriously, the place is a economic anomaly… countries, you can’t just show up and expect to get a good deal. Do a little research however and you’ll walk away with a grin bigger than that time you called out your 9th grade algebra teacher.
I did a lot of homework coming into Argentina and bracing myself for some pretty expensive travel; especially after coming from a country like Bolivia. And part of it is true. If you want to backpack from city to city, hang out in Patagonia, and generally travel as you normally would throughout many other countries in South America, things are going to get expensive pretty quick. I met one girl who had gone to the ATM, withdrawn the maximum amount, and then handed all the cash over the counter to pay for her bus in Patagonia. Definitely no good.
But despite some people who spent bags of money, by watching my expenses and following a few guidelines I’d like to think I did pretty well. Over the course of eight days I gorged myself on steak and wine, saw two incredible shows, took tango lessons, and woke up every morning with a churro and an incredible view of the BA skyline. And I did it for $40 per day.
1 | Keep it Local
Buses, trains and boats to anywhere outside the Buenos Aires metropolitan area get crazy expensive. That beach trip to Mar del Plata? The transportation alone will eat your full day budget. Day tip to Colonia, Uruguay? Brace yourself for a pretty standard ferry ride that comes at a steep steep price.
Sure, those places are great – but it’s hardly anything that can’t be seen somewhere else for much cheaper. But it’s not all bad news. The city is a gold mine of culture, language and cocktails. Keep your playground within the city limits and you’ll not only have a lot of fun, but you’ll save a lot of money too.
2 | The subway is your best friend
Get a SUBE card. While it was a bit of a wild goose chase trying to initially find one (like, how does the subway ticket office not sell the cards that are required to access the subway?! Answer: Welcome to Argentina) it was definitely the cheapest way to get around. Each ride was less than 5 pesos, or about 35 US cents. Phenomenal value for a clean and efficient service. There are plenty of stations connecting all parts of the city, or at least the parts you want to see.
Public buses are slightly more expensive, but Buenos Aires is almost always choked with traffic and I usually just ended up cursing under my breath until I finally gave up patience and walked/found the nearest subway station to my destination.
The price for taxis is pretty standard. Nothing great, but nothing that will break the bank either. A taxi from the bus terminal to your hostel downtown will be $5-8. Uber is definitely a cheaper option, but take care. The week I visited there was a huge protest with taxi drivers threatening to smash the cars of any uber drivers they encountered. While it provided some good entertainment, things had the potential to go downhill pretty quickly.
3 | There’s a ticket booth delivered by God himself
I forgot to take a picture of the place, sorries. But it’s a pretty big stand alone building and hard to miss. Just ask around and you’ll be sure to find it.
So here’s how this one works. Next to the obelisk on Av. 9 de Julio there’s a discount ticket office. Outside the office is a list of shows, plays, and events throughout the city happening that evening. For a few dollars you can purchase a ‘discount voucher’ for anything from 20-60% off the entrance price of whatever show you decide to see. You then take the voucher to the ticket booth of the theater/facility your show is at and purchase your entrance ticket for a substantial discount. You can only buy vouchers for shows that same day and be sure to bring ID.
For example, I purchased a discount voucher for 30 pesos fro the show “Fuerza Bruta.” The normal entrance price was something like 350 pesos, or about $25 dollars. The show was phenomenal a easily worth the full sticker price. Nonetheless, by presenting my voucher at the door to the show that evening, I got 60% off the normal price. In other words, I paid about $11 for one of the coolest, most jaw-dropping shows I had seen in a long, long while.
I went back the next night with my girlfriend and got tickets to a tango show as well. Some deals are better than others, but almost always a trip here will be worth your time.
4 | Eh eh eh easy on the wine
It’s no secret that Argentina has some great wine. It’s also no secret that it is really, really cheap. A nice bottle of Malbec comes in at less than $4. And that’s exactly the problem.
My trip to the supermarket typically went, “normal shopping normal shopping normal shopping oooooohhh look wine! So cheap! I’ll buy three bottles. Wait! If the good stuff is only $3, the $8 bottle must be amazing!!!” And so several bottles of cheap and delicious wine later I’ve started my own tasting room.
Yes, the wine is good and yes you should drink plenty of it. But be careful. After adding all my wine expenses for Argentina I realized that I spent more on alcohol per day than any other country I travelled. Because it’s so cheap you just buy more of the stuff. But hey, at least you’re
5 | Find a kitchen and exploit it
It’s hardly advice for me to say cooking for yourself saves you money. I might as well start a blog detailing the dangers of drunk dialing your ex. More to the point, Buenos Aires certainly has some great restaurants that are definitely worth visiting; just don’t be surprised when there’s a New York City price tag attached.
But unlike New York or other world cities, local ingredients and a trip to the supermarket are really quite cheap. And it’s not just ramen noodles and pasta, either. The deals on steak were some of the best prices and quality I’ve ever encountered. Plenty of cheeses, bread, vegetables and desserts to keep any aspiring chef busy for days.
Two nights in a row I cooked some solid steaks just because, well, it was so cheap. Total price per dish including a nice bottle of wine: less than $12 US. An equivalent meal was easily $30 in the restaurant down the street. So grab a bottle of wine and embrace your inner Julia Child.
6 | But don’t miss out on the bomb sandwiches
There’s a foolproof strategy for eating cheap and well in Buenos Aires.
- Take advantage of your hostel’s breakfast. Most higher end hostels include a phenomenal breakfast in the morning well beyond instant coffee and toast.
- Have a stroll and eat lunch around the central district. This area downtown some amazing sandwich shops with plenty of options for whatever you’re craving. Find a nice spot under some amazing architecture, people watch, and go to town on a great $3 baguette sandwich. They don’t call it the Paris of the South for nothing.
- See above for dinner.
7 | Airbnn is a phenomenal value
While many things in Buenos Aires are simply lumped into an “expensive” or “cheap” category, thankfully apartments are still, at least by many standards, very affordable. A month’s rent in a nice one bedroom apartment for example should cost somewhere around $600.
And the affordability crosses over into the Airbnb listings, too. If you’re the type of person who would like a little more space to themselves, or just want a chill apartment for a few days, definitely look into this option.
For a few dollars per night more than a very nice hostel, I found a beautiful apartment not far from the trendy Palermo district. Great kitchen, bathroom, clean and speedy wifi. Oh, and the view was absolutely phenomenal from the 15th floor.
But I should write a quick disclaimer. Hostels are usually great for meeting other travelers and the fast action social life. So while there’s definitely lots of benefits to finding your own spot cheap, there’s definitely a few drawbacks as well.
Every city is its own animal evolving its own identity. Buenos Aires often felt like it had many elements of all those cities but a cost substantially less. Don’t be intimidated by potentially steep prices. With a little bit of knowledge you make make your money go a long way.