Living in Buenos Aires, Argentina
I spent 5 weeks in Buenos Aires, the longest I’ve ever spent in one place while traveling in Latin America. It’s a big, lively city with plenty of things to see and do. You can tell the strong European influence in the city as soon as you arrive with its European style architecture. The people also look more European, there seems to be a lot of Italian-Spanish mix. It’s been sometimes referred to as the “Paris of South America.”
I stayed here from September 12 to October 16, 2012. This is spring-time in Buenos Aires and, while there were some days where it rained quite a bit, most days were sunny with a temperature perfect for exploring the city. It could get a bit cold early in the morning or at night, but a long-sleeve shirt or a light sweater was usually enough to keep me warm.
I took it pretty easy when I was here, not really doing too much. Here’s how a typical day for me goes:
- Wake up around 9am (much later if I went out the night before), cook breakfast, take a shower.
- Check email, read the news.
- Go outside and walk around for a bit. Take the closest subte (subway) and go somewhere (can be anywhere, I usually try different districts).
- Stop by at a coffee shop to do some more reading or writing, people watching.
- Find a place nearby to have lunch.
- Walk around more, explore areas I haven’t visited yet. Visit a park.
- Grocery shopping.
- Cook dinner.
- More time spent on the computer in my apartment: reading/writing/coding. Sometimes watch a movie or a TV show on my computer.
- Go out if there’s something going on at night, if not, go to bed.
I also took a week of group Spanish lessons, so my schedule was a bit different for 1 week. Once in a while I’d go out at night and don’t come back until early in the morning. In those cases I’d start my day much later, like past noon.
Below is breakdown of what it was like for me to live in Buenos Aires, definitely one of my favorite cities in Latin America.
There’s a lot of hostels/hotels to choose from. Average price for a dorm bed was about $10-12/night (using the unofficial exchange rate of 1 USD = 6 ARS, more on this later).
The first few days I stayed in a hostel while looking for an apartment. Hostels are nice for meeting people but if I’m staying in one place for a while, I’d like to have my own space, so I decided to rent an apartment.
The Recoleta and Palermo districts are the nicest and most popular for tourists, but also more expensive.
I found an apartment through AirBnB in the Boedo district. Not the best area, but I liked it and the location was very convenient. It was 3 blocks away from the subway (‘E’ line) and 1 block away from the main supermarket. It was a studio apartment, but a very good size, fully furnished, nicely decorated, and looked almost new. I believe the building was less than 2 years old. It cost $800/month including the AirBnB fee, utilities, and weekly maid service.
It’s a bit expensive, especially for the district it’s in. I’ve met people who’ve been living in Buenos Aires for a while and they’re paying less than half the price for their apartments. But I really liked it and didn’t want to spend too much time searching for a cheaper one, so I took it.
It’s very easy to get around the city. The easiest and fastest way during the day is the subte (subway). This is what I usually used to get around. Very cheap also.
The subway lines are not open 24 hours a day, however, and there are some destinations that may be a bit far from the stations. The cheapest alternative, in this case, are the colectivos (buses). You also have the taxis as well, of course.
I wrote a separate post about getting around Buenos Aires.
If you like really good steak, red wine, and sweets, then you’re going to like Buenos Aires. You’ll find tons of asado (BBQ/grill) restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops, and coffee shops in the city.
A typical Argentinian breakfast is pretty light. A couple of media lunas (croissant) with dulce de leche(caramel) and café con leche (coffee with milk). I love the dulce de leche. You’ll find it inside a lot of baked goods. They even have ice creams with it as the flavor. So good!
For some reason, they find it weird having soup for breakfast. I remember my Spanish teacher asking me what I had for breakfast one day and I said soup. He was very surprised to find out I ate soup for breakfast.
Lunch starts pretty late here, at around 2PM being the norm. Between 4-6PM is coffee time/tea time. You’ll find a lot of people in the coffee shops at this time.
Dinner usually starts at 10-11PM and usually the biggest meal. I remember going to a restaurant at around 9PM one night and I was the only one there. People didn’t start coming until past 10PM. A nice steak (big serving!) and red wine is pretty common and a very good value for what you get. I remember joining anasado with all-you-can-eat meat and all-you-can-drink red wine at a hostel in Mendoza with the owner’s family for less than $12, and that included dessert as well. In the US, that would cost me at least $40 at a Brazilian rodizio, without drinks.
Wine is pretty cheap here, you can get a bottle of red wine for less than $3.
Things to Do
There’s something here for everyone. Whether you’re a party animal, like to dance, learn a new language, attend concerts, like to shop, or just want to chill out and do some reading at one of the many parks.
Hanging Out at Coffee Shops
One of my favorite things to do. I’d usually get a cappuccino with 1 or 2 media lunas with dulce de lecheand either read a book, do some work on my computer, or just people watch. I was amazed at the number of beautiful Argentine women pass by with really nice bodies. I could do this all day.
Buenos Aires seems like a pretty popular city for learning Spanish. Most are group classes and pretty expensive compared to other countries in Latin America, such as Bolivia and Guatemala. Also, Argentine Spanish is a little different than the Spanish used in other parts of Latin America. For example, they pronounce the “y” in yo almost with a “j” sound. Same with the “ll,” such as in the words llevar and calle. I had a hard time understanding them in the beginning but eventually got used to it.
I took 1 week/20 hours of group lessons. There were about 9 of us in the class, pretty big group. The thing I liked about the group lessons though is the attention is not focused on you all the time, so I didn’t feel as tired as when I was taking 1-on-1 lessons in Guatemala. It’s also nice when the other students asked good questions that I never thought about, improving the learning experience.
I paid $140 for that 1 week at Ibero Spanish School, the cheapest rate I could find. The teacher I had was also very good. Compared to Guatemala, though, this is very expensive. In Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, I paid the same amount but it’s for 1-on-1 lessons and includes 7 nights of homestay with a Guatemalan family and 3 meals a day.
Another thing I tried for practicing my Spanish was attending Spanglish events. It’s a good way to meet locals and other travelers as well.
I really regretted not taking tango lessons while I was here. If you’ve ever wanted to try tango, this is the place to do it.
You don’t really need to pay money to see tango shows. You’ll see street performers as you pass by the main tourist areas. There are also public ones where you can participate called milongas. A good place to see one is Sunday night in San Telmo, after the street market.
Visiting the “Boliches” (NIghtclubs)
I’m not really a big fan of clubs, but I did enjoy them the few times I went. Depends on the music and people you’re with. Typical cover charge is around $7-10. If you arrive before 2AM, the cover is usually lower as most people don’t come until past 2AM. I think this is one of the reasons they eat dinner so late.
There are also much smaller boliches that don’t have a cover.
Be ready to party until sunrise…
There’s always something going on every week. You’ll usually find a concert, a show, or a festival somewhere. Some are free and some you have to pay.
Exploring the Different Districts
There are many things to see, from the cemetery of Recoleta, the park in Palermo, the district of La Boca, to the Sunday street market of San Telmo. Each district seem to have a different theme, you could spend a full week just checking out each one.
Cost of Living
Here are my expenses for 1 month. Note that the numbers below use the unofficial exchange rate of 1 USD = 6 ARS.
- Accommodation: $800
- Food: $390
- Transportation: $53
- Entertainment/Activities: $181
- Total: $1,424
A little high compared to my expenses in other countries, but still lower than my expenses back home in the US. Not to mention that I enjoyed that month very much.
I used CouchSurfing.org for the first time in Buenos Aires. I used it mainly to find activities to join and meet people. Buenos Aires has a very active CouchSurfing community, they have a meetup at least once a week.
Unfortunately, I didn’t start using it until my last week here. I’ve met some people through CouchSurfing that I really liked that I wish I had met much sooner.
Get a Much Better Exchange Rate
The economy of Argentina is pretty messed up. I remember talking to a Swedish girl at a party one night who’s studying Argentina’s economic history and she told me that the country had so much potential but the government kept messing up.
Last I heard, the inflation rate in Argentina is a whopping 28% per year. I remember talking to someone about this who spent some time in Argentina and she told me how she noticed bus tickets going up in price just 1 week later. Imagine working here and putting your savings in a bank account only to find out that it lost 28% of their value in just 1 year.
For this reason, the US dollar is in such a high demand that there are black markets for it where you can get over 30% more than the official rate. The government pretty much tries to control the exchange rate but it doesn’t seem to be working very well. You won’t be able to get US dollars in Argentina, ATMs carry only Argentine pesos.
Someone mentioned this to me while I was Chile when I told him I was heading to Argentina. This was probably the best tip I’ve ever gotten as I spent quite a bit of time in Argentina and the money it saved me really added up.
So if you’re planning on spending some time in Argentina, bring US dollars, lots of it, and exchange them at the black markets (pretty much anywhere that’s not official, avoid banks).
If you have a US bank account or credit card, you can also use a money transfer service like Xoom.com to get a much better exchange rate. I was getting just a little over 6 ARS for 1 USD when I was here, where the official exchange rate was 4.60 ARS for 1 USD. At the black markets you can get just a little bit higher, but you’ll have to negotiate.
Ask For a Discount When Paying in Cash
I didn’t realize this until my last big bus ride from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu. I was asking for the price for a bus ticket at one of the ticket booths at the bus terminal. When the lady told me the price, I kind of paused for a little bit and probably looked like I was hesitating when she asked “Efectivo?” (Cash?). She meant if I was going to pay in cash and I said yes. She then quickly typed something on her calculator and gave me a much lower number. She gave me 20% off!
I think the reason for this is tax, which is probably at least 20%. If there’s no record of the transaction, the company doesn’t have to pay the tax. Of course, this will only work if you go to the ticket booth yourself, so a little bit of Spanish is needed. You won’t be able to get the discount when purchasing tickets online.
In Spanish you can ask this:
Ofrece un descuento si pago en efectivo? (Do you offer a discount if I pay in cash?)
Watch Your Stuff
Just because Buenos Aires is considered a fairly safe city, don’t let your guard down. I got pretty close to getting robbed here.
If someone seems a little too nice, especially in the tourist areas, be a bit cautious. I know it’s kind of sad as there are people out there who I’m sure are just genuinely friendly, but there are also a lot of con artists. Also be careful when someone approaches you and seems to be trying to distract you. More than one person is usually involved.
Tags: travel, cost of living, argentina