Recommendations to Students Traveling to Buenos Aires

Florianopolis Travel Blog

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            After a month of living in Buenos Aires, I learned a lot of valuable information regarding food, entertainment, transportation, and just some really common sense stuff that can save you a lot of money and that a travel guide simply cannot tell you.  Argentina is in my opinion one of the best kept vacation secrets; you can have a great time there without making a huge dent in your wallet.  Goods and services throughout the nation are typically much less expensive than the United States (3 Pesos = 1 US Dollar during our visit) so you can have a great time enjoying all the sites while eating like royalty for a surprisingly little amount of money.  During my stay in Buenos Aires, the total amount of money I spent was only $700 US; and I know I “overspent” as far as some people in the group were concerned.  That relatively little amount of money by US standards gave me 4 full weeks of eating amazing amounts of quality food, going out to the bars for at least one drink virtually every night, seeing various entertainment shows (other than those included in the program fees), transportations fees (several taxi rides, bus, “Subte”) all my souvenirs and clothes, and a 5-day trip to Mendoza including my bus fare, hostel rent, food, and various activities and winery tours.  You may be thinking that you’d be willing to spend higher than $700 to have even more fun, but I’m going to try and help you spend even less.

            First and foremost are administrative costs.  Items like airfare and your visa for Brazil can become time and money traps that are easiest to just get out of the way long before you leave.  Since you know you are going to Brazil, I can’t stress enough that you get your visa before you leave the US.  It will save you a little money, but more importantly time and your sanity.  The Brazilian Consulate likes to give you unnecessary hoops to jump through: you can only go on weekdays from 10:00 – 1:00 to turn in your paperwork (provided that everything is perfect of course, if not you might as well just save the officer his/her breath and walk to the back of the line), then once you manage to succeed there, you have to take your receipt to a Brazilian bank about 8 blocks away and pay your fee (about $110 US).  The fun isn’t over yet though.  You have to come back on Friday from 4:00 – 5:00 (don’t bother getting there early, they’ll just stare at you from behind the glass before opening the doors) to pick up your visa and find out if they actually gave you a visa long enough to legally be in Brazil.  As mine stands now, if my flight from Sao Paulo gets delayed even 1 day I’ll technically be here illegally.  Some people in our group weren’t given enough days in the country, others had to settle some issues in the Florianopolis Police Dept. once they arrived, while another member of our group had to take a long bus ride from Buenos Aires because of delays in getting her visa.  Basically, the point I’m trying to make is: get your visa taken care of in the United States.  It will cost you the same amount - if not less - for a 5-year tourist visa, and you won’t have to go through the hassle that most of us had to.  The important thing to remember, however, is to take care of it a few months before you leave.  This is important because you have to send off your passport, money, and paperwork to the Consulate in Miami and since they like to take their time in doing things you obviously don’t want to be left without a passport by the time you have to leave.  Leaving brings up the issue of getting an affordable flight that doesn’t take you around the world.  Everyone may tell you that March is the best time to book your flight, but I found that that may be too late.  I had been looking for good-priced flights during January and February and the cheapest one I saw was $950 with multiple stops and $1150 non-stop.  Others from our group claimed to have found flights for less, so I held out until March.  I had settled on a non-stop flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires for $1100 and was going to purchase it the next day.  When I looked the next day it had jumped to $4000!  I ended up using frequent flyer miles so my flight was almost free, but since I waited too long to book my flight, my return itinerary consists of Sao Paulo à Bogota à Miami à Atlanta.  These are reasons why I strongly recommend you purchase your flight early and get your visa settled as early as possible.

            What to pack is obviously one of the most important parts of preparing for the trip.  The typical temperature in Buenos Aires from May to June is high 30s in the morning to mid 50s during the day which means you will want plenty of jeans and long sleeve shirts.  The weather was for us sunny and clear almost the entire time.  In fact, I can only remember 3 days out of the month we were there that it rained.  However since you will be walking in the open a lot, it would be wise to bring some sort of raingear.  As far as washing clothes is concerned, the maids in the residencia will wash and dry your clothes for 4 pesos.  However, I recommend checking out some of the laundromats nearby.  There is one on particular on Uriarte that will wash, dry, and fold your clothes and have them to you the next morning for only 5.50 pesos.

            Speaking of walking, transportation is another one of those inescapable drains of money.  Since school is a good hour walk away, you will want to take advantage of the great public transportation in the city.  The “Subte” subway system costs only $0.70 pesos whereas the bus costs $0.80.  Both are very reliable and don’t take much time or effort to navigate on.  The biggest dent to your wallet will be overuse of the taxis.  While inexpensive when compared to taxis in American cities, an average ride will still set you back 7-10 pesos.  On the upside though, they will take you exactly where you want to go very quickly.  A word to the wise though, while this certainly doesn’t reflect on the strong majority of good honest drivers in the city I unfortunately ran across a few drivers that took unnecessarily long routes in order to make extra money.  I would venture an educated guess to say that this is because we were foreigners and usually not paying attention to the routes.  Therefore I strongly recommend that whenever you ride in a taxi, take out a map of the city and make it obvious to the driver that you are following it while riding.  This will deter the driver from taking you around the block an extra time or getting on indirect routes.

            The part of your expenses that can make or break your budget is food and drink.  Food is incredibly cheap in Buenos Aires, but eating out every night will still add up.  The best thing to do is eat the food at the residencia.  The food is all home-cooked and for the most part is pretty good.  The problem however is the atypical hours that you won’t be used to.  Breakfast ends at 9:00 AM and lunch does not start until 12:00 but class starts at 12:00 as well.  So your options are waking up at 8 or so to get breakfast, starve, or go to a café to get breakfast.  Since I valued sleep and I wouldn’t be able to make it through class without eating, I usually went to a café in the morning before class.  While this gave me a chance to review any readings I had before class, it also ended up costing me more money than I would have liked.  So if you are on a tight budget, unfortunately you might have to bite the bullet and wake up early in order to get breakfast.  Dinner is also at a strange hour.  Since Argentines eat much later than us, the dinner in the residencia is from 8:00 to 10:00.  These different hours many times led us to eat out for dinner as well.  Again, this of course led to more money being spent.  If you must eat out (which of course you will want to from time to time) there are some great restaurants near the residencia, notably ArtX3, Henri’s, and El Pingüino de Palermo that are very affordable and offer fantastic food.  Near the University, one of the best places to eat is at the corner of Irigoyen and Ricon, which offers 1 dozen empanadas for 12 pesos.  Also, the most common sense thing that you should not overlook is “optional” entertainment activities.  The entertainment was always very good and most of the times they serve amazing food with little or no cost to you.  What are you thinking passing that up?

            The only other advice I can really offer to you is some miscellaneous things to pack and common sense details.  Staying in touch with family and friends back home is important, so there are a few easy ways to do that.  Most cell phones work in Buenos Aires, but they are obviously very expensive.  Pay phones can be used with either coins or calling cards, but again they are pricey.  The best way to keep in touch is e-mail or instant messenger since it is free.  The residencia has computers with internet access, but they are slow and almost always taken.  The smart thing to do is to take a laptop; nothing fancy or expensive, just something portable with a wireless card.  There is wireless access in some of the residencias, and if not there are cafes with wireless access very close to the residencias.  Other than all this, the best advice I can give you is some common sense stuff like: keep your wallet in your front pocket, watch your bags closely (particularly on the Subte), and don’t venture into unknown neighborhoods at night.  Buenos Aires is a very safe place, but like any big city there is certainly crime, and there is no sense wandering into unsafe neighborhoods especially when you don’t speak the language well.  Also, on a lighter note, watch your step!  There is no ordinance in the city that makes owners from picking up after their dogs.  Therefore, there are several landmines lying around that would serve you well to be avoided.

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photo by: Vagabondatheart