A Guide for those New to Buenos Aires and Argentina

Florianopolis Travel Blog

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            Looking back on everything now, I really didn’t prepare myself well at all for my trip to Buenos Aires.  I did very little research, assuming that I would just figure everything out once I arrived, and although this in fact was the case, it still would have been very helpful if I had received some pointers prior to the trip.  While the following information is not vital or essential by any means, it is meant to at least provide a future study abroad student with information that will save him/her time, effort, and/or money.

            First and foremost, in order to avoid an extremely big hassle, one should get their Brazilian visa for the second half of the trip in the states.  Do not wait until Buenos Aires, as one will definitely regret it.  From what I have heard, everyone who applied for the visa in the states got it with relative ease, and received a 5-year visa in the process.  But in Buenos Aires, the following transpired.  We had to locate and travel to the Brazilian embassy, which was not too difficult since a subway stop was a few blocks away.  However, in order to receive a visa, there was only a two hour window on Monday in which we had to be there.  Not only that, but once there, we had to fill out these electronic forms with information that we didn’t necessarily have, such as our address of stay and contact information in Brazil.  Thus, someone in the group had to run to a nearby locutorio, as we all waited.  Not only that, but you are also sharing the room with others looking to get a visa, and in my opinion, they purposely have the room too warm so that one can sit there and sweat and be miserable.  Once we finally got all our information squared away, we handed it in, and not a single one of us was granted a 5 year visa.  In fact, some were granted not enough time, despite indicating we were going to be in Brazil for approximately 30 days.  After that, we were required to go to a certain bank to pay for the visa, only in cash, and in order to pick the visa up, we were only given a one hour window two business days later.  Overall, it was a very frustrating and avoidable experience. 

            On the other hand, the food of Buenos Aires is very enjoyable, and the following information should prevent meals wasted through experimentation.  The best overall food to definitely eat as much as possible is the bife de chorizo.  It is a thick, but tender cut of steak, generally with little fat on the meat.  At very classy restaurants, this dish will run about 30 Argentine pesos, but generally, this dish can be bought for no more than 20 Argentine.  For comparison, the same cuts of steak would cost at least $25 alone in the states, so one should definitely enjoy the steak in Buenos Aires as much as possible.  In addition, if its lunch time, and a steak would be too much, look into trying a lomito, sometimes called a chivito.  This dish is a thin cut of steak on a sandwich, and is relatively cheap (no more than 15 Argentine), and so it makes for a good lunch.  If one is looking to mix it up and has been eating too much steak, try either choripan (a sausage sandwich) or the empanadas as well.  Empanadas are all over the city and cost no more than 3 Argentina a piece, making them cheap and good for lunches or snacking.  The quality of empanadas is inconsistent, so this is one food that will have to be experimented with, to see which place offers the best quality.  Finally, give the pizza a try too.  It is not the same in the states, sometimes even covered with ham and eggs and always olives, it is still generally good and affordable most places one goes, and it will give one a sense of the Italian heritage of a lot of the citizens.

            Unfortunately, Buenos Aires food can’t have it all, and so there are some musts that need to be brought along on the trip.  The most important by far is hot sauce.  I have looked, and I am convinced that spicy food and condiments do not exist in Argentina.  They really are not big on spicy food, and even one of the Argentines on the trip (Norberto) can’t handle tobasco, claiming that in itself is extremely spicy.  So if one is a fan of some spice with their meal, make sure to bring hot sauce.  Also, I enjoy a salad with almost every meal, but the one thing I noticed was there also didn’t seem to be a lot of salad dressing around.  Now putting oil and vinegar was a possibility, but the flavor that they add is minimal, and munching straight greens is not very appetizing either.  Being the case, don’t forget to bring some salad dressing, especially if you are big on salads with flavor.  That being said, there is also some food that one should avoid in Argentina.  One of these is chicken, due to the fact that often times when it was served, it was not all white meat, but some darker meat was included as well.  It was also often very fatty, and since the country is known for beef anyways, one should just stick to that, as the chicken was never of very high quality.  Also, one should wait until Brazil to eat sushi.  One of our acquaintances on the trip ate sushi, and ended up vomiting the entire next day.  I am not saying all sushi in Buenos Aires is bad, but Brazil’s will be more reliable with the greater Japanese population.

            With all food, one must drink, and the following beverages are definitely ones to try.  For the non-alcohol drinkers, or for those who are just not in the mood, the best thing to try is the fruit juices.  Unlike in the states, where they offer minute maid or something similar, most of the juices here are freshly squeezed with fresh fruit, making for a nutritious and tasty beverage.  If alcohol is what you are looking for, Argentina also provides many possibilities.  The first is beer, as Argentina has quite a domestic beer selection that is very flavorful, and that ranges from bocks to lagers.  The best in my opinion are two of the most popular, Quilmes and Isenbeck.  Also to be tried are fernet (an alcohol made from herbs and to be enjoyed with coke), gancia (a fruity and sweet alcohol) and pisco (served various ways).  These alcohols are not found in the states, so if a cultural experience is wanted, try one of these beverages.  Last but definitely not least is wine.  Argentina is very big on wine, and this being the case, a good bottle of wine is generally very inexpensive.  One should definitely go with the Malbec (a type of red wine) since Argentina is only one of the few places that can grow the grape needed to produce this wine.  It is a wine that Argentina is especially known for, and bottle in the U.S. might be too costly.

            As for things to see and places to visit, Argentina, not just Buenos Aires, provides a good variety.  If you are in Buenos Aires, visit the market (only on weekends) where one can find custom made gifts for a family member or friend, or depending on your level of Spanish, you can haggle for leather products, or anything else there that catches the eye.  A great place to go for a weekend or more is the city of Mendoza in the western part of the country.  The city is located in the Andes mountains and their beauty and size is just breathtaking to see.  In this city, it is possible to go paragliding in the mountains, an experience that one should not pass up, since floating 2,000 feet above the ground is not commonplace.  Mendoza is also known for its vineyards, so it is possible to go on wine tasting tours and see how the wine is actually grown and produced.  Generally, Mendoza gives one a break from the big city life of Buenos Aires.  On top of this, if you are traveling, or even just simply staying in Buenos Aires, the best place to stay in is a hostel.  The reason being is that people and travelers from all over the world stay there, and for the most part, were of our age or close to it.  Just to give an idea, at the hostel in Mendoza, we met people from England, Scotland, Holland, South Africa and Bolivia.  Not only is it nice to meet a potential new friend, but these travelers can also provide valuable information on what to do, where to eat, and what to avoid as well.  Fourth of all, almost every city has a night life and night crowd.  The best places to find them are at the bars and clubs of the cities.  Both of these are great places to meet people, especially to befriend a local.  What’s more is that these places all usually play music from the U.S., so one will generally not feel out of place here.

            In addition to these musts, there are also some places to consider.  One of them is the town of El Tigre, where canals and water pathways give one a sense of being in a more rural Venice.  One of the best things about visiting this place was the coast train that we took.  It stopped at various stops along the way, allowing one to get off and shop at interesting little shops, or eat at some quality restaurants.  El Tigre in itself also offers more shops and activities, but the part I was looking forward to the most, the boat ride on the canals, was a little bit of a letdown.  That is because El Tigre’s canal is so polluted that the water is brown, and garbage can constantly be seen floating in the water.  It is this pollution that detracts from what could be a beautiful place to take a day trip to.  In addition, the malls of the city are very overpriced.  They generally have designer clothing places, and the prices for clothing are comparable to U.S. prices.  Although the styles and looks of the clothing and accessories may not be found in the U.S., in my opinion it is just better to find a clothing shop off one of Buenos Aires’s many streets, since the prices are much better and the clothing just as stylish.

            But in order to be able to do all of this, one must first be able to get around the city.  There is a lot of means of public transportation in the city, and some are better than others, depending on the circumstances.  First is the subway, which is the cheapest form of public transportation at 70 centavos a ride.  The subway consists of 4-5 different lines, so for the most part, it can take you where you want to be or relatively close.  However, the subway is generally packed (especially during rush hour), and people generally only ride the subway to one stop (usually to switch over to another line).  Such close quarters can make one uncomfortable (depending on the temperature) and also provided great opportunities for pickpockets to go about their business.  Watch your belongings while on the subway.  For 80 centavos, one can ride the bus, another inexpensive means of transportation.  The bus is very convenient if you know which lines to ride.  However, I never really saw anywhere where I could find out which lines went where, so you will only find yourself riding the bus if you have a bus guide or advice from a local.  The bus as well gets very packed during rush hour.  The more costly of the public transportation is the taxi, which immediately starts off at about 2 pesos.  The taxi is probably the fastest of all the transportation means, as well as the most convenient, since it will drop you off right in front of your destination.  Just remember to tell the cab driver to turn on the machine if he doesn’t do so, and check the money you receive from him to see if its real, and being ripped off will not be an issue.  Using a taxi allows one to avoid crowds, and the fare, when split with friends, isn’t all that bad.  Then again, if you don’t favor any of these, walking is always free, and is a great way to discover interesting shops and restaurants.  A nice stroll is good if you have the time, but like always, watch out for pickpockets, and if it is night, travel in a group just to be safe. 

            Besides all of this information, all that I can provide in addition is just general tips and comments.  First of all, do not worry about detergent for your laundry.  Laundry services are provided all around the city, and they will wash, dry and fold clothes for six pesos per load.  Although convenient, do not give them any clothes needing special attention, otherwise, there is the potential they may shrink or ruin it.  Also, be careful when taking flyers or business cards from people on the street.  Some may offer “free drinks” or “free admission” at a bar or club, but rather, they are luring you to a brothel or strip club, at which point they will try and swindle you out of money.  And if you are a part of Bowman’s study abroad group, definitely bring a lap top if you have one.  The are plenty of places with wifi, allowing one to work at a comfortable pace on assignments.  Locutorios, while cheap, still put a time constraint on the typer, causing them to be rushed.  Also, it’ll definitely come in handy in Brazil, where internet places are much fewer and more expensive.

            In conclusion, Buenos Aires and Argentina provide many options in terms of food, drink, and entertainment, so hopefully some of this will put readers on the right track as soon as they settle in to Argentina.  While poverty is evident everywhere, the level of personal safety is pretty high.  Just play it safe, travel in groups, and use common sense, and one will have an enjoyable and incidentless time in the amazing country.

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photo by: Vagabondatheart