What I wish I had known about Buenos Aires

Florianopolis Travel Blog

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Buenos Aires is a wonderful miss-placed European city. Set in between two vastly different environments: the exotic jungle to the north and the arid desert planes to the south. In a sense, I wish I would have known the who, what, when, and where before I learned about the why. Following is a simple list of suggestions, like a letter written to myself about what I wish I would have known. Who: Knowing who to talk to makes life much easier. No matter what the city, there are certain people who are guaranteed to make your life as a traveler easier. Tours: the tourism office can be found on any map in any city. I would always recommend stopping by, even if you already know what you want to do. They are your gods for the trip and will be able to tell you when a freak flood wiped out the termas so you shouldn’t take a 50$ taxi to the mountains to go swimming. They will be able to tell you which hostels or hotels are sketchy and which ones are clean. They can help you find vegetarian restaurants or hole-in-the-wall cafes. They don’t always speak English but their job is to help you spend money in their town, so they are eager to point you in the right direction. Taxi drivers: they are fun to talk to and usually want to be friendly, but they are always out to make a bigger buck. Don’t tell them to hurry- it will only piss them off. You are at their mercy when you first arrive in any city, so try to act like a tourist too much. If you are carrying eight bags with you it is are to hide, but be willing to pay that extra amount. Waitresses: A great source of information but don’t drag them down when they are busy. Unlike the US, most restaurants only have one waitress for the entire place. If it gets busy make sure you ask for the check in advance- they are slow to come and slower to go. Boys: Boys at clubs can be fun but they will expect you to go home with them if you give them too much attention. Boys that you meet on the street- be wary of. Many people are looking for a way to get to the United States and people will approach you in an attempt to make a connection for their VISA. Boys on the buses are good choices but remember you have to sit next to them for many hours. Boys on your trip are always a bad idea- gossip among fellow travelers is 10X what it usually is in the States. Boys that are friends of people you know are the best bet. If you do go out with them, make sure that you go public or bring a friend. Roxi: she is your residencia “landlord” she is a money guzzler and feigns concern easily. Don’t trust her. Avoid her. You will always be doing something wrong and you will probably have to pay for it. Ferrias: great place to meet real locals to talk to. You don’t have to buy anything, but if you bring Mate and learn how to make it they will sit and talk to you for hours. They don’t have anything to do except sit at their booth, so conversation is welcome. Politics and futbol are always welcome subjects. Don’t worry about a language barrier as sign language can get you really far. What: Buenos Aires has some great shopping and dining selections but be aware of what to expect and how much you should pay. Know that areas like Florida street and Avendia Liberatador are the richest areas of the city and will be very commercialized and expensive- but the products are great quality, returnable, and take credit. The smaller shops and ferrias have more authentic crafts but it is more difficult to find quality products, you can not return them, and they only take Argentine pesos. Restaurants: know how much things go for on average: a café should be about 2-3 pesos and medialunas are included. Water is expensive at restaurants but not on the street. empanadas are best bought at a panaderia and fruit is very cheap at a street side market. Tip is about 10% on average but most portenos just leave the change and don’t worry about being exact. Shops: bargaining isn’t normal in the main city, you can get away with it in the farrias, but not in most street side stores. In smaller towns, bargaining is necessary. Even if you are ok with the price, ask for a little smaller just so they know you aren’t gullible. Otherwise word will spread that you can be duped, and you will be. Many side streets will sell knock-off goods that are cheap but also cheaply made. Beware of buying a mate- make sure it is of good quality or it will rust out or rot. Gyms: you can get a cheap gym membership for the time that you are there. They also have classes, like Pilates and spin. It is a good idea since the pollution and crowding is so bad on the street it becomes difficult to run. Laundromat: very inexpensive. Plan on letting them do your laundry. Make sure you count your clothes and separate them before you give them up. Don’t let them wash anything nice or delicate. They will hang dry but you might need a translator for that. Packing: What to bring? Sizes are very different in Buenos Aires. Unless you are a 4 or 6 bring comfortable clothing, but only one bag. Bring something nice, something for a club, something crazy warm, and something for when it gets hot. You can buy scarves, gloves, purses, accessories, toiletries, and shoes on the go. Pants, shirts, underwear, and workout clothes are very difficult to find. When: The city itself has many great exciting things to occupy your free time in. Know what your options are so that you can plan accordingly. Many museums are not open on Tuesday, the markets run only from Thursday evening to Sunday morning, and shops frequently close from 2:30-6 for a siesta (especially in smaller towns). Getting Around: rush hours are between 9 and 11 in the morning and from about 6 to 9 at night. Taking a Taxi during these hours is a bad idea as it will be expensive and a mute point- walking will take less time. Don’t walk long distances alone between the hours of 1 and 6 in the morning- it isn’t safe. Walking a few blocks is ok, in my opinion, because the area around your residencia has a cop on every corner. Taking the bus is a cheap transport option and a good way to get to school. It isn’t a good way to see the city though, as route are confusing and difficult to navigate. The subway is the best way to get around but be aware that it stops running at 11 in the evening. I have heard that for 100 pesos you can rent a driver and his car and take a personally directed tour of the city. For another 50 you can rent an interpreter and take him/her on all of your tours so you understand better. This is cheap if you fit 3-4 people in your car with you. Day/Night: The sun rises at 7:30 AM and sets by 6 PM. Know that shopping should be done in the morning hours because stores will close when ever they like in the evenings. Restaurants don’t do the 24 hour thing, and will close around 11 PM. Clubs and bars will stay open from about 11 to 5/6 AM. The general rule about bar closing is that if you are spending money then they will still be open. So, take a bunch of people and make it a long night/early morning. After 11, even at bars you will not be able to find food without a taxi ride. Where: Buenos Aires is not a good description of the geographical Argentina; you need to remove yourself from the city to gain a better perspective of the country. Buses: Plan on long bus rides to places like Mendoza, Bariloche, Salto, Concordia, and Ushibia. The buses are easy to use and cheap. There are three types of class: semi-cama, cama, and full. The semi-cama is uncomfortable and provides nothing except the ride. The cama is my recommendation; it is only about 10 pesos more and provides snacks, meals, blankets, pillows, and a large recline-able seat. The full is much more expensive but reclines completely into a bed. Sometimes the bus will stop at a café for breakfast or dinner- this meal is not always included, so ask. Bus Stations: All bus stations will have or be near to a locotorio. They have food and restaurants at the bus stations. The buses only appear on the billboard about 10 minutes before departure, but as soon as they do hustle to the platform- they always leave on time. Many hostel representatives will be waiting for you when you get off the bus ready to hand out flyers. Taxi’s run back and forth from the bus station so you don’t need to worry about transport. Hostels: Hostels are about 15-25 pesos depending on the location. The touristy areas are the safest and will have a better mix of people. The smaller towns lack variety but do offer a less “showy” side of the country. Always check out a hostel on the Internet first- read the reviews; I recommend using hostelworld.com or boots.com. You don’t need a sleeping bag, but a pillow is recommended- as they never clean or change the pillows. Bring a towel, toiletries, and a lock for your bag. Some hostels will have lockers- ask for this and/or a safety deposit box at the front desk. If it is a touristy area, the hostel will have a list of activities you can do- everything from canopying to horseback riding to wine tours. These are usually much cheaper than trying to work something out online, and they can add it to your room bill so you don’t have to carry around large amounts of cash.
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photo by: Vagabondatheart