Buenos Aires

Arrival and Departure Fees

Warden Message: Argentina Airport Entry Fee from the Buenos Aires US Embassy, and other web pages such as TripAdvisor: Airport Entry Fee for U.S. Citizens beginning Dec 20, 2009 and Argentine Post: Argentina to Charge Americans confirm that now visitors from the US (and Canada, and a few other countries) will be dinged on both arrival and departure.

This is a Reciprocity Fee - Argentina has now started to charge the same amount - US$131 per person - that the US charges for Argentinos to obtain a visa. Still, this is disconcerting - to be charged that much on arrival to visit a city. The charge is to be levied once per every 10 years per traveler.

And there is a Departure Tax also - seems like it is around US$29 now.

Add to this the more than 20% inflation Argentina has seen in the 2000s, the lure of visiting Argentina is getting dimmer and dimmer.

Choripan - Street Food

The most memorable experiences in my travels are invariably the local street food vendors. In Buenos Aires, there are two places that are great for this - Costanera Norte, and Costanera Sur.

In picking a street vendor in Buenos Aires, the key thing to look for is the range of condiments available! This is such a great advantage over restaurant eating where you get only one or two choices, out in the street they lay out all the options for you to see, and pick out. There can be multiple variations on the chimichurri sauce, the standard red one, one with ají picante (excellent, and quite spicy), one a la provenzal (green parsley and garlic, maybe spicy or not). There will be mustard, mayo, ketchup and salsa criolla (onions, tomatoes). Never in a restaurant will you get all this, even in street vendors, not all street vendors serve all of these options, but it is worth walking around to find one with the range you need.

As for meat, it is of course parilla style, grilled meat. Bondiola (pork), hamburger, and the best of all - choripan is available. The paty bread for hamburger was never very good, texture and quality is poor. The choripan or bondiola uses pan for the sandwich, somewhat similar to large french bread loaf and much better tasting, though can make for messy eating since it is a bit tough. Add the other oily condiments, and maybe the cheese which also is invariably oily in Buenos Aires, and this is really messy eating, but it is all worth it. The taste, the experience, is something that will be cherished for a long time.

Costanera Norte

Buenos Aires - Food Glossary

acelga - swiss chard, for example in a tarta de acelga

achuras a la parrilla - internal organs, grilled. Study up on your Spanish terms for internal organs!

alfajores - cookies - corn-flower biscuits sandwich filled with dulce-de-leche, and coated in powdered sugar, or chocolate or meringue

al punto - medium - as in level to which to cook steak

asado - grilled

asado de tira - grilled short-ribs

bife de chorizo - strip steak, considered the most popular cut here

bife de costilla - ribs

bife de lomo - tenderloin, filet mignon

bondiola, bondiola de cerdo - pork shoulder. Bondiola sandwiches are quite popular, available at every street food stall, especially on the Costanera Sur and Norte

budin de pan - bread pudding

carne de ternera - veal

candilejas - small round empanadas, found them at a chain named Gourmet, their tag line: Empanadas Caseras, La empanada rellena. They had candilejas with muzzarella, chorizo colorado, y rodajas de ají en vinagre.

carne de ternera - veal

casero - home-made

chimichurri - sauce for grilling, and using as a condiment, available in multiple variations. Provenzal, agreen chimichurri tastes really good and contains parsley and garlic. Most places though seem to have a a mixture of dry oregano, olive oil, some garlic and red pepper flakes, and this reddish mixture does not taste that good though it may work well as a grilling paste. Pictures: Salas and Provenzal on a plate.

chinchulin - intestine

chivito - goat meat. but in neighboring Uruguay, this is a name for the steak sandwich, completo

chocolate amargo - bitter chocolate

chopp - draft beer

Eating - Palermo Viejo

For nice looking and always reasonably tasting food, the easiest choice is a restaurant in the Palermo area. Palermo is huge, start with Palermo Viejo. The four-five blocks-square area around Plaza Serrano (Cortázar) is a culinary hot-spot, many good places to eat, along with lot of local designer-fashion clothing stores.

The food is all designer food, all too similar in tastes, just like any fancy (or pretentious) restaurants in the US. But similar dinners in the US at fancy restaurants will be far more than the US$15-25 per person that they cost here. This is still expensive, but worth it to try something more than just grilled meat day-in and day-out when in Buenos Aires. Most places are good, most food is the same, so drop into a place that you like the look of, plenty of information with pictures on the web.

Palermo has numerous restaurants, there is one good one you could try every day for a month. In fact the Restaurantes en Palermo at Guía Oleo guide had information and customer comments on 731 restuarants in March 2008. Some may have closed and information not updated, but still a very large list to work with. Or, just walk around the Plaza Serrano (Cortázar) area, or one of the restaurants listed abthough that too is a large area to work with, it is a good place to start.

To detail my experiences in two - major thumbs-up for Cluny, and a somewhat-minor thumbs-down for Social Paraiso.

Ice cream

No question about the ice cream in Buenos Aires - unlike the food which can be a not-so-good proposition even at the many written about places, the ice cream is exellent. There are a huge number of flavors, but it is the texture and taste that rules - nice, soft right from the start, so no need to microwave the ice-cream for a bit as is necessary to get a good texture for ice-cream in the US!

Freddo is a chain that is all over the city, and it has really good ice cream in a large number of flavors. Great tasting, rich ice cream. Many other people swear by Persicco or other local spots, there are numereous helado artesanal restaurants in Buenos Aires. The phrase artisanal gelato is used to distinguish these small makers of ice-cream from their industrial competitors, and they are certainly winning in terms of taste, quality, and the number of flavors available.

At Freddo, which was the most often place I visited the flavors include nine different varieties for Chocolate! Other interesting flavors available:
almendras - almonds, crushed
mousse de arándanos - blueberries
banana split - with dulce de leche and granizado - chocolate bits
maracuyá - passion fruit
mascarpone - rich creamy cheese
sambayon - (alcohol-flavored, usually wine, sometimes rum. Also known as Sabayon?)
tramontana - dulce de leche and chocolate cookies

At Volta, there are similar and additional flavors, for example:
banana volta - light green color, faint banana flavor, with bits of chocolate

Persicco is another place, they have 2-3 restaurants (but like others, the deliver anywhere in a large part of Buenos Aires). A good branch to visit is near the Juramento subte station and it is a good area to visit out in the Belgrano neighborhood, the address is Vuelta de Obligado 2092, corner of Juramento 2360, near the major Cabildo Avenue. This Persicco is large, two levels and includes an outdoor sitting area near a small park area.

Learning Spanish

There are many choices for learning Spanish in Buenos Aires. It is not the Spanish that is spoken in Mexico, the key differences being the use of vos, no vosotros, and the pronunciation of ll and in some cases y is like "ch" instead of "y". Given that there is a lot more to learning Spanish, even if you want to end up needing to speak Mexican Spanish, there is no harm is learning the Spanish as spoken in the Río de la Plata region. Especially given the numerous other attractions in Buenos Aires, it is a great way to spend time vacationing and learning Spanish if you have a month or two or more to spare. Just be prepared to hear the sound "ch" a lot, and hear rapid delivery of words, speakers here tend to roll on from one word to another without pausing!

Instituto de Enseñanza Superior en Lenguas Vivas "Juan R. Fernández"
A web search for Spanish in Buenos Aires will result in many hits, but no results page includes the school that locals hold in high regard. [Such is the world of automated search, poorly linked web sites are considered of low importance!] Locals speak highly of IES Lenguas Vivas "J. R Fernández", which is at at Av. Carlos Pellegrini 1515 (corner Arroyo), in the Retiro section of Buenos Aires. The phone number is +54-11-4322-3992. They teach many languages here, including Español para Extranjeros. They have a rudimentary web site that does not work on Firefox but works on Internet Explorer - non-working IES Home Page, and anyway it does not contain information on the Spanish programs.

Expat Heaven? And other Superlatives!

In the few months running upto March 2008, and I am sure to-be-continued for a while longer if not for a long time, travel magazines including the New York Times travel section have been running a number of articles on the pleasures of Buenos Aires. Especially the food and the great deal for the those who hold their assets denominated in the plummeting US Dollar. On both counts - food as well great deals, a caution is in order simply because of the excessive press Buenos Aires is getting, and these articles do not provide any caveats, so this posting is on the caveats. Other postings on this web site describe all the good stuff, so here are all the warnings.

There was a time, probably until 2005, when expats found that their US$ went quite far in Buenos Aires. But alas, good things have to come to an end, inflation is quite high in Argentina. By 2008, while things are still good when converting between US$ and AR$, it is no longer such a slam-dunk as it was earlier. In fact, in just 1 year, from March of 2007 to 2008, prices seem to have gone up drastically.

Anecdotal evidence: a AR$3 fresh orange juice glass at the San Telmo fair is now AR$5. All prices in even recent guide books can be 50-100% lower than actual prices. Real estate in nice areas is comparable to US cities with much less of a difference in costs. And the prognostication seems to be for continued high inflation. Ugi's is a inexpensive pizza-chain in Buenos Aires and they have every need to have the best price so it is instructive to see how the price of the Ugi's pizza has changed:
Feb 2008: AR$9.20p for a 30cm mozaralla pizza.
2007: AR$6.80
2006: AR$4.80. Thus, in 2 years, price has gone up nearly 100%! Still a good price in US$, which went from around US$1.50 to US$3. Note that this is Ugi's pizza, if you want pizza at Filo on San Martin, that will put you back around US$15 for a large.

Apartment Rentals

Renting an apartment is one of the more unique qualities of Buenos Aires in that they have an amazingly large range and such an easy process to search and find an apartment in a location you want. No other city can boast of this range or ease of booking. And while inflation is on a tear in Argentina, and food is becoming quite expensive, apartments still are on the reasonable range. Prices for a month's rental range from US$500 to US$2000 for good apartments in good locations.

If staying for a visit of a week of more and you don't need services of hotels, rent a apartment. Very good deals are available, generally cheaper than hotels, but it is a risk that the apartment may not be good, or that there may be some rare case of problems with money - large deposit is required on arrival. But most people have had no problems renting, as can be judged by the number of choices available. ByT Argentina has the largest list of rentals, and they have a large list of mid-priced rentals. They will have an English-speaking person at at the hand-off when you arrive. For what it is worth, I have had good experiences with ByT, but there are many other agencies available.

Note that renting an apartment is far trickier and it is more of an commitment than staying at a hotel. Make sure you ask about everything you need, and check that things like Internet Access, Toilet Paper, Towels, Sheets, Maid-Service, Cable TV, etc, will be what you expect. At one place I stayed, the internet access was listed as available, but did not work for a whole week. And it was not Wi-Fi, but an old USB-based wired DSL with a driver that had to be installed on my computer and which did not behave well and persistently crashed Windows XP on a restart after suspend.

But there is nothing more satisfying than living like a local as much as possible, and for that a apartment rental is the best.


To get Pesos, ATM is best, withdraw the largest amount you can, if you have bank fees. No fees are charged by the banks in Buenos Aires, at least not by four-five banks I used. In 2007, one could withdraw AR$1500 per transaction, but in 2008 most ATMs now limit each transaction to AR$320. Multiple ATM withdrawals are possible, but this could ring up large ATM fees from your local bank, so find a Credit Union or other such US bank that does not charge for ATM withdrawals. Read up on your bank policies and charges before you leave on your bank's web site. The 2007 US$ cash exchange rate at the bank was also good - AR$3.09 to US$1. The ATM gave a better rate - AR$3.10, and this was exactly the same rate as listed at the OANDA, The Currency Site for that day. In fact, my bank listed a 2% foreign exchange conversion surcharge, but as far as I could tell, this was not being charged or they were starting with a more favorable rate than the one listed at OANDA or in the banks in Buenos Aires.
Small notes and coins can be a problem, so it is always a good idea to have coins and small currency notes. If you are exchanging US$, ask for a mix when you exchange money at the counter at the bank. Mix of 10-20 AR$1 coins, AR$5, AR$20, AR$50 notes is useful, ATMs mainly provide AR$100 notes, so it is better to withdraw amounts ending in AR$90 to get a mix of the denominations.

Boat to Uruguay

BuqueBus Boat Buquebus has frequent boats and boat+bus trips to Uruguay. It is possible to visit Colonia in a one day trip, the fast boat takes 1 hour for the ride. The boat is a large one that also carries cars, and at least in the month of March (and probably most of the time) it fills up a few days in advance so purchase your tickets a week or so in advance. Tickets can be purchased online at the web site, or at many of the Buquebus offices around the city. It is easier to purchase the ticket at the offices (or the web, but web requires registration) and there is one office at Ave Cordaba 879. The lines for purchase at the terminal were quite long and the purchase requires standing in two lines - first to book the ticket, and then to pay for it. In March 2008 the price for a single day round trip on the fast boat was AR$184, which is a discount from the multi-day return trip tickets. The Buquebus terminal is at the end of Ave. Cordoba - just keep walking on the street towards Ave. L N Alem, cross that street and the next few adjacent streets and the terminal will be visible quite easily. Passport (or at least the number and other details) is required to purchase the ticket.

Coast Line In Colonia if you are only there for a day, you can use AR$. All restaurants and shops and musems accept these and they use the exact same rate as the Compra rate listed in the banks so there is no need to convert currencies, especially no reason to convert AR$ or US$ at the exchanges at the terminal which provide a poor exchange rate. Change, if any, will be given in Uruguyan currency, though.