Bargaining is not acceptable in stores, except possibly for high-price items like jewelry and leather jackets (in some places). Some shops will give a descuento (discount) for cash payments. At street markets you can try negotiating, but keep in mind you may be talking to the artists themselves.
Be clear about whether the vendor is quoting in pesos or dollars. Always check your change before walking away.
Dangers & Annoyances
Buenos Aires is generally pretty safe and you can comfortably walk around at all hours of the night in many places, even as a lone woman. Some areas where you should be careful at night, however, are around Constitución’s train station, the eastern border of San Telmo, some parts of Once and La Boca – where, outside tourist streets, you should be careful even during the day. Using your head is good advice anywhere: don’t flash any wealth (including expensive jewelry), always be aware of your surroundings and look like you know exactly where you’re going (even if you don’t).
- Like all big cities, BA has its share of problems. As a tourist you’re much more likely to be a target of petty crimes such as pickpocketing and bag-snatching than armed robbery or kidnapping.
- Be careful on crowded buses, on the Subte and at busy ferias (street markets). Don’t put your bag down without your foot through the strap (especially at sidewalk cafes), and even then keep a close eye on it.
- Be especially careful at Retiro bus station.
- The Tourist Police can provide interpreters and help victims of robberies.
- Police are generally helpful and courteous to tourists, though you’re unlikely to get involved with them if you follow the law.
- If you feel you're being patted down for a bribe (most often if you're driving), you can respond by tactfully paying up or asking the officer to accompany you to the police station to take care of it. The latter will likely cause the officer to drop it. Pretending you don't understand Spanish may also frustrate a potential bribe.
Buying a smartphone, especially an iPhone, is expensive in Argentina due to import restrictions. If you do bring your smartphone, don’t flash it around unnecessarily or leave it unprotected somewhere. This goes for tablets and laptop computers too.
Pickets & Protests
Street protests have become part of daily life in Buenos Aires, especially around Plaza de Mayo and Av 9 de Julio. Generally these have little effect on tourists other than blocking traffic and making it difficult to see the sights.
Travelers of any age can obtain a Hostelling International card at any HI Hostel. With this card you can obtain discounts at any HI hostel in Argentina, usually 10% to 15% off regular prices. International Student Identity Cards are also sold here; you’ll need current student ID.
Travelers over the age of 60 can sometimes obtain discounts on museum admissions and the like. Usually a passport with date of birth is sufficient evidence of age.
Argentina’s electric current operates on 220V, 50 Hertz. Adapters are readily available from almost any ferretería (hardware store).
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Argentina's country code||54|
|International access code||00|
- Greetings Friends – including two men – always greet each other with a kiss on the cheek; if joining a small group, each person should be greeted and kissed. The gesture is repeated when saying goodbye.
- Lines People in Buenos Aires are generally respectful of queues and you'll see orderly lines at bus stops. It's common to take a number in shops and doctors and wait to be called. In supermarkets and shops, people with babies and the elderly are often ushered to the front of the line.
- Seats It's common for the young and fit to cede their seats on public transport to the elderly, children, pregnant women or anyone less able to stand.
Despite the fact that Argentina is a Catholic country, Buenos Aires is one of the world's top gay destinations, with dedicated hostels and guesthouses, bars and nightclubs. In 2002 BA became the first Latin American city to legalize same-sex civil unions, and in July 2010 Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. Today the city is home to South America's largest gay pride parade.
Argentine men are more physically demonstrative than their North American and European counterparts, so behaviors such as kissing on the cheek in greeting or a vigorous embrace are considered innocuous even to those who express unease with homosexuals. Likewise, lesbians walking hand-in-hand should generally attract little attention.
Look out for the free map of local gay-friendly businesses, Circuitos Cortos BSAS Gay (www.mapabsasgay.com.ar). Good general websites are www.thegayguide.com.ar and www.nighttours.com/buenosaires.
Accommodation, Bars & Entertainment
An especially gay-friendly accommodation is Lugar Gay, a casual guesthouse that also acts as an information center.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies offer a range of lower and higher medical-expense options; the higher ones are chiefly for countries such as the USA, which has extremely high medical costs. There are a wide variety of policies available, so read the small print.
Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities', which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. Check that the policy you’re considering covers ambulances and an emergency flight home.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Wi-fi is available at nearly all hotels, hostels, restaurants, cafes and bars, and is generally fast and free.
Locutorios (telephone offices) with internet access are common; you can often find one by just walking a few blocks in any direction. Rates are cheap and connections are quick.
- Newspapers Popular newspapers include leftist Página 12 (www.pagina12.com.ar), right-leaning Clarín (www.clarin.com) and La Nación (www.lanacion.com.ar).
- The Bubble (www.thebubble.com) is a useful local English-language news website.
Carrying cash and an ATM card is best; credit cards are also widely accepted.
ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are everywhere in BA and are the handiest way to get money; they can also be used for cash advances on major credit cards. There’s often an English-translation option if you don’t read Spanish.
There may be limits per withdrawal, but you may be able to withdraw several times per day – just beware of per-transaction fees. A fee is charged on ATM transactions by the local bank (not including charges by your home bank, which are extra). Note that this is a per transaction fee, so consider taking out your maximum allowed.
Notes come in denominations of two, five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 pesos. One peso equals 100 centavos; coins come in denominations of five, 10, 25 and 50 centavos, as well as one and two pesos. The $ sign in front of a price is usually used to signify pesos.
Don’t be dismayed if you receive dirty and hopelessly tattered banknotes; they will still be accepted everywhere. Some banks refuse worn or defaced US dollars, however, so make sure you arrive in Buenos Aires with pristine bills.
Counterfeiting of both local and US bills has become something of a problem in recent years, and merchants are very careful when accepting large denominations. You should be, too; look for a clear watermark or running thread on the largest bills, and be especially careful when receiving change in dark nightclubs or taxis.
US dollars are accepted by many tourist-oriented businesses, but you should also carry some pesos.
Many tourist services, larger stores, hotels and restaurants take credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard, especially for big purchases. Be aware, however, that some businesses add a recargo (surcharge) of up to 10% to credit-card purchases; ask ahead of time. Some lower-end hotels and private businesses will not accept credit cards, and tips can’t usually be added to credit-card bills at restaurants. Many places will give you a small discount if you pay in cash, rather than use a credit card.
Argentina’s unit of currency is the peso (AR$).
The Blue Market
In December 2015 currency controls were abolished, decreasing demand for US dollars on Argentina's 'blue' (ie black) market, but you'll still hear people on Buenos Aires' Florida pedestrian strip calling out 'cambio, cambio, cambio.' These folks are best avoided.
Bartenders Usually not expected.
Delivery persons A small bill.
Hotel cleaning staff A few pesos per day (only at upscale hotels).
Hotel porters A small bill.
Restaurant servers 10%; 15% for fine restaurants with great service.
Taxi drivers No tip unless they help with luggage; many people round up to nearest peso.
Tour guides 10% to 15%
Traveler’s checks are very impractical in Argentina, and even in BA it’s very hard to change them. Outside BA it’s almost impossible to change traveler’s checks. If you do decide to bring some, get them in US dollars.
There are always exceptions, but the following are general opening hours:
Banks 8am to 3pm or 4pm Monday to Friday; some open till 1pm Saturday.
Bars 8pm or 9pm to between 4am and 6am nightly (downtown, some open and close earlier).
Cafes 7am to midnight or much later; open daily.
Clubs 1am to 2am to between 6am and 8am Friday and Saturday.
Office business hours 8am to 5pm.
Post offices 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm Saturday.
Restaurants Noon to 3:30pm, 8pm-midnight or 1am (later on weekends).
Shops 9am or 10am to 8pm or 9pm Monday to Saturday.
The more-or-less reliable Correo Argentino (www.correoargentino.com.ar) is the government postal service, with numerous branches scattered throughout BA. Essential overseas mail should be sent certificado (registered). For international parcels weighing over 2kg, take a copy of your passport and go to the Correo Internacional near the Retiro bus station. Check the website for all prices.
If a package is being sent to you, expect to wait awhile for it to turn up within the system (or to receive notice of its arrival). Unless you have a permanent address, your parcel will likely end up at the Correo Internacional. To collect the package you’ll have to wait – first to get it and then to have it checked by customs. There might also be a small holding fee, charged per day.
Government offices and businesses are closed on the numerous national holidays.
Public-transportation options are more limited on holidays, when you should reserve tickets in advance.
January 1 Año Nuevo; New Year’s Day
February or March Carnaval – dates vary; a Monday and Tuesday become holidays.
March 24 Día de la Memoria; anniversary of the military coup of 1976 and the subsequent dictatorship.
March/April Semana Santa (Easter week) – dates vary; most businesses close on Good Thursday and Good Friday; major travel week.
April 2 Día de las Malvinas; honors the fallen Argentine soldiers from the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) war in 1829.
May 1 Día del Trabajor; Labor Day
May 25 Día de la Revolución de Mayo; commemorates the 1810 revolution against Spain.
June 20 Día de la Bandera (Flag Day); anniversary of death of Manuel Belgrano, creator of Argentina’s flag and military leader.
July 9 Día de la Independencia; Independence Day
August (third Monday) Día del Libertador San Martín; marks the anniversary of José de San Martín’s death (1778–1850).
October (second Monday) Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural; a day to respect cultural diversity.
November (fourth Monday) Día de la Soberanía Nacional; day of national sovereignty.
December 8 Día de la Concepción Inmaculada; celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.
December 25 Navidad; Christmas Day
Note that Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are treated as semi-holidays, and you will find some businesses closed for the latter half of those days.
- Smoking Banned in most public spaces such as restaurants, cafes, bars and buses.
Taxes & Refunds
One of Argentina’s primary state revenue earners is the 21% value-added tax known as the Impuesto de Valor Agregado (IVA), which is included in the stated price of goods. Under limited circumstances, foreign visitors may obtain IVA refunds on purchases of Argentine products upon departing the country. A ‘Tax Free’ window decal (in English) identifies participants in this program, but always check that the shop is part of the tax-free program before making your purchase.
You can obtain tax refunds on purchases of AR$70 or more made at one of these participating stores. To do so, present your passport to the merchant, who will make out an invoice for you. On leaving the country keep the purchased items in your carry-on baggage. A customs official will check them and stamp your paperwork, then tell you where to obtain your refund. Be sure to leave yourself a bit of extra time at the airport to get this done.
Street phones require coins or tarjetas telefónicas (magnetic phone cards available at many kioskos, or small markets). You’ll only be able to speak for a limited time before you get cut off, so make sure you're carrying enough credit.
Toll-free numbers in BA have '0800' before a seven-digit number.
It's best to bring your own factory unlocked tri- or quad-band GSM cell phone, then buy an inexpensive local SIM card and credits (or cargo virtual) as needed.
Bringing Your Own Phone
Both SIM cards (known as 'chips' in Argentina) and credits can be bought at many kioskos or locutorios (small telephone offices); look for the ‘recarga facil’ signs. Many Argentines use this system with their cell phones, and you can buy SIM cards with data for wi-fi access as well. Phone-unlocking services are available; ask around.
You can also buy cell phones that use SIM cards; these usually include some credits for your first batch of calls.
If you plan to travel with an iPhone or other smartphone, prepare yourself – you may need to purchase an international plan to avoid being hit by a huge bill for roaming costs. On the other hand, it’s possible to call internationally for free or very cheaply using a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system such as Skype. This is a constantly changing field, so do some research before you travel.
Calling Mobile Phones
Cell-phone numbers in Argentina are always preceded by ’15.' If you’re calling a cellular phone number from a landline, you’ll have to dial 15 first. But if you’re calling a cell phone from another cell phone, you don’t need to dial 15 (at least within the same area code).
When calling cell phones from outside Argentina, dial your country’s international access code, then 54 9 11 and then the eight-digit number, leaving out the 15.
The Buenos Aires area code is 011. You will need to dial this when calling BA from outside the city, but you don't need to dial it when calling from within BA.
Telephone calling cards are sold at nearly all kioskos and make domestic and international calls far cheaper than calling direct. However, they must be used from a fixed line such as a home or hotel telephone (provided you can dial outside the hotel). They cannot be used at most pay phones.
Some locutorios allow you to use them, and although they levy a surcharge, the call is still cheaper than dialing direct. When purchasing one, tell the clerk the country you will be calling so that they give you the right card.
One way to make a local or international phone call is to find a locutorio, a small telephone office with private booths from which you make your calls and then pay at the register. There’s a locutorio on practically every other block in the Center.
When making international calls from locutorios ask about off-peak discount hours, which generally apply after 10pm and on weekends. Making international calls over the internet using Skype is a cheap option; many internet cafes have this system in place.
Argentina is three hours behind GMT and generally does not observe daylight-saving time (though this situation can easily change). Many porteños use the 24-hour clock to differentiate between am and pm.
- Public toilets in BA are generally decent and usually stocked with toilet paper (carry some anyway), but soap and towels are rarer.
- If you’re looking for a bathroom while walking around, note that the largest shopping malls (such as Galerías Pacífico) always have public bathrooms available, but in a pinch you can always walk into a large cafe.
- Changing facilities for babies are not always available.
- Some may find bidets a novelty; they are those strange shallow, ceramic bowls with knobs and a drain, often accompanying toilets in hotel bathrooms. They are meant for between-shower cleanings of nether regions. Turn knobs slowly, or you may end up spraying yourself or the ceiling.
Ministerio de Turismo Dispenses information on Buenos Aires but focuses on Argentina as a whole.
Travel with Children
For a megalopolis, BA is remarkably child-friendly. On sunny weekends Palermo’s parks bustle with families taking walks and picnicking, while shopping malls fill with strollers. Museums and theme parks are also popular destinations – and don't forget those fun street fairs!
- Parque de la Costa
Head to Tigre, just north of the center, for a great day excursion. Hop on the fun Tren de la Costa to get to Parque de la Costa, a typical amusement park with rides and activities.
- Tierra Santa
Kids might enjoy this religious theme park unlike anywhere you’ve ever been.
- Parque Norte
This large water park is perfect on a hot day.
- Museo Participativo de Ciencias
Be sure to visit this science museum in the Centro Cultural Recoleta, with interactive displays that focus on fun learning – signs say ‘prohibido no tocar’ (not touching is forbidden).
- Museo Argentino del Títere
In San Telmo, this small puppet museum has a fascinating collection of international and Argentine puppets, but it’s the inexpensive shows that will amuse the kids. Call beforehand to get hours and show times, as they vary widely.
- Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales
Outside the center in Caballito is the excellent natural history museum, with myriad rooms containing giant dinosaur bones, dainty seashells, scary insects and amusing stuffed animals and birds.
Buenos Aires has numerous plazas and public parks, many with playgrounds, and these are always popular gathering spots for families.
- Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur
If you’re downtown and need a nature break, try this large nature preserve, with good birdwatching, pleasant dirt paths and no vehicular traffic.
- Parque 3 de Febrero
Up north, the most attractive green spots are the wide open spaces of Palermo, especially Parque 3 de Febrero. This huge park has a planetarium and a Japanese garden. Here you can rent bikes, boats and inline skates and range freely without worrying about cars!
Many large modern shopping malls have indoor playgrounds (often on the top floor), along with video arcades, multiplexes and toy shops. On rainy days, these are great places to be with little ones.
- Mercado de Abasto
This beautiful shopping center boasts a full-blown 'Museo de los Niños' (more like a playground than a museum) where kids enter a miniature city complete with post office, hospital and even TV station. It also has a mini amusement park.
Need to Know
- Childcare Get a babysitter or nanny at World Class Nannies (http://worldclassnannies.com).
- Tango Shows Nearly all offer 50% discount for children under 12.
- Transport Children under four travel free on the Subte, trains and buses.
Many restaurants welcome kids, but if a place looks a bit too fancy, ask if they take children.
Most places offer a wide selection of food suitable for kids (such as pizza, pasta, meats and vegetables); a few even have children’s menus.
Waiters are accustomed to providing extra plates and cutlery for little ones, though you may not always find booster seats or high chairs.
Buenos Aires is a very late-night city; most restaurants don't open until 9pm, so you'll likely have to adjust your timetable during your travels here.
Don’t forget to take the kids out for ice cream – it’s a real Argentine treat. Other local sweets to try include alfajores (sandwich cookies usually covered in chocolate, available at corner stores) and dulce de leche (a milk caramel often used in desserts).
Small boutique hotels, hostels or guesthouses are sometimes not the best places for rambunctious kids, but most hotels accept them.
Some hotel rooms come with kitchenettes; apartment rentals are another good option.
Once children are old enough to cross the street safely and find their way back home, porteño parents will often send unaccompanied pre-adolescents on errands or on visits to friends or neighbors. This is also a country where people frequently touch each other, so your children may be patted on the head by friendly strangers.
Porteños can be helpful on public transportation. Often someone will give up a seat for a parent and young child. Baby strollers on the crowded and uneven sidewalks of BA’s downtown center are a liability, however; consider a baby carrier instead.
Poorly maintained public bathrooms lacking baby-changing facilities or counter-top space are common. Always carry toilet paper and wet wipes.
Negotiating Buenos Aires as a disabled traveler is not the easiest of tasks. City sidewalks are narrow, busy and dotted with many broken tiles. Not every corner has a ramp, and traffic is ruthless when it comes to pedestrians (and wheelchair-users). A few buses do have piso bajo (lowering floors; they ‘kneel’ and have extra-large spaces), but the Subte (subway) does not cater to the mobility-impaired.
International hotel chains often have wheelchair-accessible rooms, as do other less fancy hotels – accessibility laws have changed for the better over the last few years. Imagine Hotel in Congreso is fully accessible. Some restaurants and many important tourist sights have ramps, but BA is sorely lacking in wheelchair-accessible bathrooms – although the city’s shopping malls usually have at least one, restaurants don’t often have the appropriate installations.
Other than the use of braille on ATMs little effort has been dedicated to bettering accessibility for the vision-impaired. Stoplights are rarely equipped with sound alerts. The Biblioteca Argentina Para Ciegos maintains a braille collection of over 3000 books, as well as other resources.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities in Buenos Aires, from food banks to working with kids in villas (shanty towns). Some ask for just your time, or a modest fee – and some charge hundreds of dollars (with likely a low percentage of money going directly to those in need). Before choosing an organization, it’s good to talk to other volunteers about their experiences.
Anda Responsible Travel Travel agency that supports local communities and offers volunteering days.
Club Unión de los Pibes (http://www.uniondelospibes.org) Works with adults and kids living in the south of the city.
Fundación Banco de Alimentos (www.bancodealimentos.org.ar) Short-term, simple work at a food bank.
Habitat for Humanity (www.hpha.org.ar) Building communities.
Volunteer South America (www.volunteersouthamerica.net) List of NGOs.
WWOOF Argentina (www.wwoofargentina.com) Organic farming in Argentina.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Argentina uses the metric system.
Buenos Aires is a modern, sophisticated city, and women travelers – even those traveling alone – should not encounter many difficulties.
A few men feel the need to comment on a woman’s attractiveness. This often happens when a woman is walking alone; it will never occur when she is with another man. Comments usually include whistles or piropos (catcalls), which many Argentine males consider the art of complimenting a woman. Piropos are often vulgar, although some can be eloquent. The best thing to do is completely ignore the comments. After all, many porteñas are used to getting these ‘compliments,' and most men don’t necessarily mean to be insulting.
On the plus side of machismo, men will hold a door open for you and let you enter first, including getting on buses.
Unless you have a special skill, business and/or speak Spanish, it’s hard to find work other than teaching English – or perhaps putting time in at a hostel or bar. And it’s good to realize that you’re not likely to get rich doing these things.
Native English-speakers usually work out of language institutes. Twenty hours a week of actual teaching is about enough for most people (note that you are not paid for travel time and prep time). Frustrations include dealing with unpleasant institutes, classes being spread throughout the day and canceled classes. Institute turnover is high and most people don’t teach for more than a year.
A TEFL certification can certainly help but isn’t mandatory for all jobs. You’ll make more money teaching private students, but it takes time to gain a client base. And you should take into account slow periods like December through February, when many locals leave town on summer vacation.
To find a job, call up the institutes or visit expat bars and websites and start networking. March is when institutes are ramping up their courses, so it’s the best time to find work. Many teachers work on tourist visas (which is technically illegal but generally not a big deal), heading over to Uruguay every three months for a new visa or visiting the immigration office for a visa extension.
For general job listings check www.craigslist.org. You can also try posting on expat website forums such as www.baexpats.org.
Personal relationships are very important for getting things done in Argentina, so take time to get to know your business contacts. Setting up an appointment beforehand is always better than cold-calling. Always start a conversation with small talk about your family or sporting events, and be wary of political talk.
In social circumstances Argentines always kiss each other on the cheek in greeting, but if you’re meeting a business contact for the first time a handshake is best. Dress conservatively and be prompt (though your Argentine contact may be a bit late).
Most business in Argentina is done in Spanish, and legal papers in a foreign language are generally translated into Spanish by a certified public translator. Think about printing your business cards in Spanish as well as English. If you’re an American, say you’re from ‘los Estados Unidos’ (the United States) rather than ‘America’ (some Argentines consider themselves ‘American’ also – South American).
Most four- or five-star hotels have business centers and meeting rooms. The commercial service department at your embassy in Buenos Aires is a good first resource for general business dealings in Argentina.
Need an Office – for an Hour or a Day?
The brainchild of one of BA’s many expat entrepreneurs, Areatres is a secure working office where you can rent a desk, cubicle, office or meeting room. There are fax and copy services, complete internet and wi-fi connections, networking social events, a business lounge, a large presentation room and even a Zen-like patio at the back for the stress-prone. Facilities are cutting-edge – it’s like you never left Silicon Valley. It’s even eco-conscious.