(1) Argentinean currency is called peso (ARS). You can only buy them in Argentina. If you enter the country via Ezeiza Airport, there’s a bureau du change in the arrival hall, near baggage reclaim, before the exit to public area. Buy your pesos there. Why? Because it usually has very few customers, so you don’t have to wait. If you miss it, there’s another bureau du change outside, after the exit. But that one always has long queues.
(2) The best way to get around town is by taxi. It is always better to use radio taxis run by companies as compared to individually operated taxis. Get your hotel to call them for you. But if you are already in town hailing a cab by the roadside, it’s hard to be picky, especially during peak hours.
(3) All taxis have meters. Depending on distance, a ride within the city centre normally costs around ARS 20 or so. Some taxi drivers may refuse to use meter at night, especially if they are in demand (i.e. after a theatre show when everyone’s rushing to go home). So be prepared to pay slightly higher than normal fare when using the service at night.
(4) When paying the fare, be careful of counterfeit money. Try to pay the exact amount or as close to it as possible. Avoid paying with big notes. A popular trick by taxi drivers is bill switching - the driver takes your original ARS 100, switches it with fake ARS 100 in a microsecond, gives the fake ARS 100 to you and claims that you were the one who gave him a fake bill!
(5) Peso notes in circulation are generally old and worn out, especially the small notes (i.e. ARS 2, ARS 5, ARS 10). But don’t worry, no matter how ugly they look, they are still legal for tender. Unless if they are fake!
(6) Safety is always the main concern to anybody visiting Buenos Aires. To me, the city’s safety rules of thumb are:
- North = Safe
- South = Unsafe.
(6) North means places like Recoleta and Palermo, where the upscale neighborhoods are located. It is completely safe to walk around there on your own.
(7) South means places like La Boca and San Telmo, which have very high crime rates. Cases of tourists being attacked by broken bottles (some even at gunpoint) are very common. It is dangerous to enter these areas, especially at night.
(8) Having said that, there are several interesting spots within the high crime areas that are worth visiting:
- La Boca: Caminito and Boca Juniors Stadium
- San Telmo: Plaza Dorrego
(9) Caminito is a very nice place to see and take pretty photos, but never ever go there on your own. Take a city tour that will bring you there in a minibus, drop you directly at its footstep and pick you up again after half an hour or so. Yes, half an hour is enough for a visit, unless you want to sit at the restaurants for drinks and tango shows. Stay within the 100 meter main stretch where there are plenty of tourists. If you step out of it, you shall witness a completely different world, one that involves clearing your pockets in exchange for dear life.
(10) Plaza Dorrego is located in San Telmo, the neighborhood where George Bush’s daughter got robbed during dinner. That should give you an indication of how unsafe the neighborhood is. Do not go to Plaza Dorrego on weekdays, there are not many people around. Go on weekends, during which the antiquity market will be on and plenty of tourists will be there.
(11) Walk around town with your sling bag strapped securely across your chest. Even locals do that. Always keep a watchful eye on your belongings. Don’t get distracted by cute kids trying to show you their reading skills - the swiftest pickpockets in town are children!
(12) Subway trains have no air-cond. Windows can be rolled down to allow not-so-fresh air (considering the tracks are underground) to come in. Struggling musicians can be seen jumping from train to train, hoping for some cash from sympathizing passengers.
(13) Halal food is hard to find. We came across only one halal restaurant, which served local food. Most of the time we ate seafood or vegetarian faod. If you are a picky eater, you may want to pack some Maggi or Brahim in your suitcase.
(14) McDonald’s there doesn’t have Fillet-O-Fish. However, there’s a kosher McDonald’s at Abasto Shopping Centre, offering limited menu. Alternatively, Burger King has soy burger (look for “soja” in the menu description).
(15) Watching tango is expensive but totally awesome. The place that we went to, La Ventana, charged ARS 395 per person, including full course dinner and hotel transfer. They performed both tango and folklore. Ask your hotel to book it for you, they normally have ties with these places.
(16) Book a tour to Tigre. Take a cruise around the delta and see how the way the locals live on the little islands. Very interesting.
(17) Set aside one special day for a trip to Uruguay, Argentina’s neighboring country. Take a boat to Colonia del Sacramento with Buquebus. You can buy the tickets online, for weeks in advance. Choose the fast boat. Go there early in the morning and come back just before sunset. Trust me, the place is worth a visit!
(18) Most stores accept payment in USD and EUR. However it is always better to pay in ARS to avoid exchange loss. Furthermore, if you expect a balance from your payment, it will be returned to you in ARS anyway.
(19) Passport is only required for currency exchange. For normal transactions (i.e. credit card), any photo ID will do. Normally they won’t ask for it anyway. However you are required to write the ID number (of whatever photo ID you use) when you sign the credit card slip. I normally used my staff ID, Fiza normally used her MyKad.
(20) Tax free is not applicable to all goods. Stores are also reluctant to give you the tax free form. Some stores say it’s only for Argentinean products. But guess what, my two Boca Juniors jerseys didn’t get any tax free though their labels clearly said made in Argentina! Items on sale normally don’t get tax free either. Whatever it is, make a habit to ask for a tax free form whenever you make a payment. You may get it, you never know.
(21) Go for Buenos Aires Free Walking Tour. We did the City Tour and totally enjoyed it. Our guide, Gaston, was a funny guy and very knowledgeable too. Don’t bother looking for their meeting point sign on a lamp post at Plaza del Congreso (which is depicted in their website), it’s no more there. Just go to the plaza at 11am and you will see a guide in green t-shirt. Just approach him/her and join the group!
(22) Walking around the city centre during daytime is fine, though it is better to stick to major roads like Avenida Corrientes, Avenida Santa Fe and Calle Florida. There’s nothing interesting to see at the smaller streets anyway, so you may want to skip them altogether.
(23) Avoid walking anywhere at night. If you must go somewhere, take the taxi. As I said in point number (3), they may refuse to use meter, but the extra cash is worth paying for the sake of safety.
(24) Palermo is nice place for a stroll. Upscale neighborhoods, beautiful parks, cozy cafés. If I move to Buenos Aires that is where I want to live :-)
(25) Most shops are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Go to flea markets instead. I like Plaza Serrano flea market for its crafts. It is less crowded too. Also there are a many nice boutiques and design shops surrounding the area.
(26) Don’t leave Buenos Aires without trying these local delicacies:
- Dulce de leche: Milk caramel usually spread on bread
- Alfajor: Small cake with dulce de leche filling
- Bife de chorizo: Argentina’s signature steak
- Submarino: Hot milk with a chocolate bar melted in it to become hot chocolate
- Mate: Herbal drink similar to Chinese tea
(27) Buenos Aires is a very highly populated city. 70% of Argentina’s population lives in Buenos Aires. Therefore pollution is quite evident. Despite of its name (“Buenos Aires” literally translates to “Good Air”), the city’s air is actually not very clean. I was coughing on and off almost my entire stay. It’s good to bring some lozenges wherever you go, in case your throat feels a little rusty.
(28) The city’s roadsides have uneven pavements. The same goes to pedestrian paths, which are often covered with cobblestones. Watch your steps when you walk. Leave your stilettos and wedges at home, because in this part of world, sneakers and flats are the kings and queens of footwear.
(29) Argentinean Spanish varies from Castillan Spanish (the standard version used in Spain) quite a bit. It’s like how the Malay language that is spoken in Kedah differs from the Malay language that is spoken in KL. The phrase that confuses me the most was how they ask “Where are you from?”:
- In Spain: ¿De donde es? (From where are you?)
- In Argentina, version 1: ¿De donde sos? (From where are you?)
- In Argentina, version 2: ¿De que lugar viene? (From which place do you come?)
(30) If you hear any of the questions in number (29), simply put on a big smile and say this loud and clear...
...¡Soy de Malasia! (I’m from Malaysia!) - left our mark in Evita Museum’s guestbook!