Comprehensive Guide to a Vacation or Living (& Plant Based Eating) in Buenos Aires

Back in July I visited Buenos Aires (for the first time in 18 years) and wrote a pretty detailed blog post about my recommendations during that trip; I’ve updated that post a few times with additional recommendations. (If you’re planning a trip or move to Buenos Aires, please start there, because I’m not going to repeat all the info here, and there’s lots of great advice!!) But rather than continue to inflate a post about 5 Days in BsAs with far too much for anyone to take in during a 1 week trip, I’ve decided a new blog would be appropriate. After three wonderful months of focusing on health, hitting the gym, and making friends in Montevideo, I decided it was time for a new experience in South America. And so, beginning on August 8, 2019, I decided to “move” (can you really call it “moving” when all you’re doing is repacking your 1 suitcase of belongings?) to Buenos Aires (“BsAs”). Almost four months later I’m once again packing up for a new destination, but before I go, I wanted to add to the recommendations I made in my prior post, and update some advice that I may have not gotten right the first time.

Cost of Living. When I visited Buenos Aires in late June, the Argentine Peso (ARS) value to USD was about 40:1. After the primary elections in early August, the value of the ARS dropped significantly, and remains at around 60ARS:1USD (this is as of November 27, 2019). Prices of some goods (in restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) were increased to reflect the change, but many prices remain the same as before the devaluation; as such, for Americans (and many others around the world with a strong currency at the moment), Buenos Aires is an incredibly affordable place to visit or live. Which brings me to…

Credit Cards, Cash, ATMs, and Getting the Most for your Currency Exchange.

Credit Cards: In my first blog I observed that Buenos Aires was still heavily a cash-based economy and that your ability to use credit cards was far more limited here than much of the world. It is true, in comparison to some other parts of the world, but in the last few months I’ve relied heavily on credit cards as well, and am not nearly as cash-dependent as I thought you had to be to live/travel here. Nearly all restaurants, cafes, bars, stores (including chain grocery stores) accept some form of card payment, and most have no minimum spend limit (or if a minimum, it’s rather low). Card Tip: I do recommend having 2 cards with you at all times if you’re going to rely on card payment, one credit and one debit, as some places only take debit, or other times, a foreign credit card won’t work with the store’s payment system/technology. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, and if you have one of each, that’s your best bet as some places accept payment only from one or the other.

ATMs & Exchanging Money: I also noted before how crazy high the ATM fees are and the relatively low withdrawal limits; that remains true, but you can avoid ATMs almost entirely if you plan ahead and bring USD with you to pay with/exchange. HUGE MONEY SAVING TIP: almost all businesses that accept USD for payment (and, FYI, almost all places accept the USD!), will give you change in ARS at the market rate. Meaning, if you go to a restaurant, Starbucks, or the grocery store and pay with a USD$20 bill, you will get change based on whatever the market exchange rate is, perhaps 1-2ARS less (so, between 57-60ARS to 1USD). So bringing USD and then paying for small purchases at a grocery store or cafe is a great way to get ARS at almost no fee, thus avoiding ATM fees and limits and not having to worry about finding a place that exchanges currency at a “fair” rate.

Where to Expect to Pay Cash: This will provide you cash on hand for when you do need it, which I’ve run into mostly: shopping at “veldulerias” (fruit and vegetable shops); most of the “Chinese” grocery stores, which can be found throughout the city and often have the best prices- especially on wine (“Chinese” because Argentinians refer to all such stores owned by anyone of Asian ethnicity as Chinese grocery stores); street markets/fairs (but the really large ones that are geared towards tourists, and have less food and more in terms of art, crafts, souvenirs, and clothing, such as in San Telmo or Recoleta, often accept card payment); taxis (but beware of scams! see below); tipping anywhere (even if you can pay with credit card, you can’t add tip onto credit card here, so please have cash handy to tip your server, barista, hairdresser, etc., and don’t forget tipping is standard/expected here, with 10% being the norm); and, purchasing and refilling a SUBE card (see below). That’s about it. I’ve used less than USD$300 cash during the past 3+ months in the city, and paid with everything else with a credit or debit card. (So if you’re doing math, that means you can bring well under the import limit of cash when you arrive and still have plenty of $$ for a very long stay.)

And speaking of paying with credit cards, I did the same for all of my apartment rentals. Lots more details on that below. But first, getting around.

Transportation in the City. During my first visit, I relied almost exclusively on Uber, Cabify, and taxis (if not walking). While they are super cheap and probably the best way to get around if you’re only here for a short time, if you’ve got at least 1 week and/or want to save money, make friends with public transport in Buenos Aires. It’s the only city I’ve visited in the world where all forms of transportation operate 100% by card– and not your credit card, a transportation card you need to buy. Meaning, you can’t walk onto the bus and pay with cash or coins. Upside: the same card works for the Subte (metro/subway system here) and colectivos (buses). The SUBE card can be purchased at any Subte stop, or almost any kiosk or corner market in the city with a blue SUBE sign. Cost is 90ARS (so, less than $1.50), and then you need to pay cash to upload onto/refill the card. There are machines where you can refill, but many places will also accept cash with the cashier and they will refill for you, same with process at the Subte station (this is a better option if the bills are really used and the machines reject). A ride on the Subte will cost you 19ARS ($0.32USD), no matter how many line changes you make or how far you go. A ride on a Colectivo (bus) will cost between 18-21ARS (unless you’re going really far out into the suburbs), though multiple uses in a short period of time will cost less for subsequent rides- this works across Subte and Colectivos. When you get onto the bus the driver will ask where you’re going to determine the price; you don’t need to give an address, just the neighborhood where you’re going to. If you’re worried about figuring out how to get around, I highly recommend downloading the app Moovit, which is a transportation app that works in numerous cities and is quite accurate.

Scams to be aware of: (1) I noted in my prior post that Uber is a bit risky here because it’s still illegal, so you can end up in situations where, once you enter the car, drivers refuse to take you unless you switch method of payment from credit card to efectivo (cash), or they drive you 1-2 blocks and then come up with some bullshit excuse (such as, my car is overheating) that they can’t complete the ride and you have to get out. Maybe not a big of an issue for men, or if you’re traveling in a busy part of the city during the day, but at night, you can see how this can be problematic. I’m happy to report that, since returning to Buenos Aires in August, I’ve had fewer problems, but of course on my way to airport leaving Argentina ran into major issues that just reinforced how drivers can try and scam Uber (and how you can end up in a serious jam if you don’t have any cash to hail a cab). And be aware, if you take an Uber, you need to sit in the front seat- less risk the driver will get pulled over or be identified as an Uber driver when it just appears that they have a friend in the front seat). And be aware that if you plan to have Uber pick you up at one of the airports, they cannot pick up directly where the rest of the taxis pick up- so you need to have a phone that works (because they will message or call) and you probably need to speak Spanish well enough to communicate with the driver so you can understand the pickup point. (2) I have never had an issue with cab drivers giving me “fake” money as change, but at my language institute here they warned us this is a common scam. If you pay with a large bill, drivers will often hide a few “fake” bills in with the rest of the change they are giving you, and since most people don’t sit in the cab and examine/count change before exiting, odds are, you won’t realize you’ve been scammed until you exit or try to pay. Best bet, always have smaller bills with you so you can pay as close to the actual cost as is possible.

Finding a Place to Stay/Live in BsAs. If you’re here for vacation, you probably booked your hotel, hostel, or Airbnb prior to your arrival. (So you may want to jump forward past this section.) But if you haven’t booked yet and are planning to come for a longer-term stay and want to know what your options are, here’s what I’ve learned:

Renting inBsAs. If you are moving here (or, like me, coming for an extended stay) and don’t have a job coordinating housing for you, then your options will be more limited (though, everything is negotible so keep reading!). A few facts about renting an apartment in BsAs proper (if you move outside of Capital, I think the restrictions lessen): (1) contract term is LONG! Rental contracts here are for a 2-year term, anything less than that is “temporal”; (2) Costs for rent and services go up throughout the duration of your lease. The rental rate advertised for an apartment is effective only for the first 6 months, after which (and for each 6 month after, through the contract) rent prices will increase 15%-20% (this rate is negotible, and is technically illegal, so it will not be part of your official rental agreement, but will be part of a side agreement you sign, and everyone, big and small, does this so no way to avoid); for the majority of rentals, in addition to monthly rent, there is a separate fee that covers common areas and building services and some (but very rarely, all, so read fine print) utilities–and these fees also tend to increase by the same % every 6 months; (3) Unless you have friends, family, or some other connection in the city, you probably won’t be able to satisfy all of the requirements to enter into one of the 2-year rental contracts anyway. See, to rent in BsAs you must have a “Garantia”, which basically gives the owner a secured property interest in some other property within the city of BsAs. In addition to the security deposit (2 months is typical here), the Garantia offers the owner protection in the event you leave before the end of a contract term, refuse payment, or destroy their property. So unless you have someone who can offer you this Garantia, or if you’re willing to take the serious hit that comes with paying a company to acquire one (which may be worth it, depending on your situation), foreigners don’t have access to the majority of the rental market in the city. You may be thinking (a) what’s the advantage of entering into a 2 year lease anyway, and (b) why didn’t you start with this information?! Well, as to (a), you can find much better prices for unfurnished, long-term rentals, than anything you can find on the short-term market (like anywhere in the world). So, to offer comparison, I could easily find a 2BR apart, with 2+ bathrooms, and double the size, in the same neighborhood I’m currently living in, for less than I’m currently paying. And if you know you’ll be here long term (and have a permanent type visa that permits you to move your things, or, you’re up for buying what you need to furnish), you get WAY more for your money. Also, majority of the rental market here still operates with the traditional, 2-year contract, so searching for anything else also results in far fewer options. And as to (b), I truly believe anything is negotible, especially in a market hurting like this one. When I was thinking of living here permanently and searching for apartments, not only did I not have a garantia, but I couldn’t show income statements from a local job. But what I do have: USD and my savings. If you have enough saved up to offer the owner to pay the full 2 year term upfront (or, possibly less, in 6 month increments), there are few owners who will decline USD and money in hand to wait for a tenant who may not come along for months. The market is currently saturated and there are so many apartments for rent. And if you have saved up enough to pay the full 2 years all at once, you can probably also negotiate around the 6 month increases, and thereby save yourself quite a lot of money over the 2 year period (however, costs are something separate, because those are not payable to the owner, rather, to the building and utility companies, so you will still need to pay those with whatever the increase is). (4) Another way to possibly negotiate around the Garantia or income requirements is to rent directly from an owner and not go through a realtor. When you’re searching for apartments (see #5 below, use the filter “dueno directo” to limit all search results to those directly from an owner. (5) The process of searching can be mind-numbing. There is no equivalent to MLS in Argentina. There are a few websites that tend to show quite a few of apartments available for rent, and offer lots of filters so you can search by neighborhood, price, etc., and are a good start (all are in Spanish): Argenprop; Zona Prop; and the site that is kind of the Amazon-Ebay-Craigslist of Latin America, Mercado Libre (just use search function for “alquiler departamento” and you will find all the same filters as in the other real-estate only sites/apps). Beyond this, I recommend walking around the neighborhoods you want to be in and looking for signs. This is because each inmobiliaria/realtor here has access to information only about their listings, so posting signage is super common here. Plus, the numerous realtor storefronts across the city have info sheets posted to their windowfronts, so if you see something you like, go in and talk to them. Another really great strategy: when you view an apartment, talk to the realtor and tell them what you’re looking for in terms of size, budget, neighborhood, and ask if they have anything else. This can offer some very promising leads. If you do this with everyone you meet with at a showing, you’ll let lots of leads.

Airbnb: (1) For most short-term (less than 6 month) stays, Airbnb is still your best and most affordable option. To start, you can pay with credit card, so you can avoid issue of having to bring or withdraw a lot of cash when you’re here. Also, unless you find an apartment that is “dueno directo” (which means, you’re leasing directly from the owner and not “inmobiliaria” = realtor), you’re going to get hit with commission that will obliterate any price difference between Airbnb and “cheaper” local sites. (2) Oddly enough, this is one of the few places I’ve stayed where there’s not a huge difference between the price of renting a room in a house vs. renting your own apartment. The biggest price difference comes in terms of location (see below). (3) In most places listed on Airbnb, you get a decent discount (5%-15%) off the price for staying at least one week, and really good (15%-25%) discounts for staying a month! The discount seems to be up to the individual owner, so there is quite the variation, but worth paying attention to. In some cases, it can be cheaper to pay for a full month, even if you’re not there for the full month, if the discount is high enough (because you’ll still pay less than if you just paid the per night undiscounted rate). Also, don’t shy away from places that are newer; my current place is super cheap because, in addition to the monthly discount, the owners offered an additional % off for the first few people to stay here. They’re trying to build on-line reviews. Yes, maybe it’s a bit more risky than a place with lots of reviews, but it’s been so worth it for me.

Neighborhoods to Stay/Live.

Favorite Neighborhoods: Over the last several months I have lived in a couple different neighborhoods within Palermo (this part of the city has been sub-divided into around 8 different sub-neighbhorhoods) and in Recoleta/Barrio Norte. All of the northern neighborhoods in the city tend to be more affluent (but keep in mind, you’re in Latin American and especially with currency value in Argentina at present, this doesn’t mean expensive), safe, and are home to the bulk of parks, restaurants, bars, museums, and are much better connected with public transportation. I absolutely love living in places that feel “authentic” and sometimes shy away from the “nicer” parts of cities, but no reason to do that here. I’ve met few non-Argentinians during my several months living here; it’s not like by living in one of these neighborhoods you’re isolating yourself from “real” locals. Instead, you’re well connected to things you want to do and see, and it’s safe. (And as a single female traveler, I love being able to explore freely, come and go in evenings, and not worry about my safety.)  Within Palermo, I have absolutely fallen in love with Palermo Chico and Palermo Soho. Palermo Hollywood is probably the most concentrated with amazing bars and restaurants, but if you’re not living near Santa Fe (the northern border of this neighborhood), you’re not close to the Subte and will have to rely almost exclusively on Colectivos to get around. That said if I was to live here permanently, I’d probably remain where I’m at right now, which is right on the border of Barrio Norte and Recoleta. This neighborhood is a bit older, gorgeous, a bit quieter than Palermo, but still easy access to everything in the city (and a very quick bus or metro ride to Palermo). I’ve done a lot of talking about affordability, but what exactly does that mean? Well, my first apartment was a large 1BR, 1BA located in Palermo not far from Alto Palermo Shopping, and I paid $720/month (that included all utilities, plus wifi). I then did a short-term 10 day stay at a place in Palermo Hollywood just to fill in the gap before a trip back to the US, and paid only $153 total (but this place had no kitchen so without the use of a friend’s house/kitchen, I definitely would’ve had to eat out all meals). My current apartment in Recoleta, which is by far the nicest, most modern, and most fully equipped (utilities here include not only typical water, gas, electricity and wifi, but also weekly cleaning and a cable TV package with every premium movie network), costs me only $615 for the month!!

Other Desirable Options: Villa Crespo is just south of Palermo and a more residential neighborhood that can be an affordable option for people looking to live in the city but pay less than some of the other northern neighborhoods cost. Belgrano is a bit further to the west, but it has all the charm and walkability of Palermo, full of local markets, cafes, and restaurants, as well as being the home of China Town. Colegiales is an affluent, residential neighborhood located next to Palermo and highly desirable, but not nearly as well connected with public transit.

Speaking of Noise in the City, Advice: if looking at apartments on Airbnb or hostels and you’re a light sleeper, you may want to avoid anything that lies on a major road (Santa Fe, Callao, Scalabrini Ortiz, etc.- check out Google maps and if it looks big, it is), unless the unit is really high up or the owner can confirm that (1) bedrooms are “contrafrente” (meaning, in the back, and not facing the street), or (2) they have installed double-pane windows (which are not that common here, given that many buildings are rather old). The Colectivos run all day/night and it’s impressive how loud they are. Also, if staying in a neighborhood like Palermo, consider street noise, especially if you’re in a house. For example, Palermo Hollywood and Soho are full of charming houses (and not just big, high-rise apartments). And even if you’re not staying proximate to a bar or restaurant, especially on weekends, you can pretty much guarantee drunk people will be merrily walking and loudly talking into the wee hours of the morning past your rental. So for you light sleepers: stay high up, ensure double-pane windows, bedrooms contrafrente, or make sure you have earplugs with you.

Other Options (Less Desirable): During my June visit, I stayed in Monserrat and was quite happy with that location. However, after getting to know the city better, not sure I’d recommend staying or living there. This really is a business district, so it’s dead at night. And while it puts you in the middle of the southern(ish) neighborhoods of San Telmo and La Boca, and the northern neighborhoods of Recoleta, Barrio Norte, and Palermo, you will have to utilize a bus, taxi, or have a long walk to get almost anywhere you want to go. La Boca is famous for its beautiful colors, art, and fascinating history, not to mention the Boca Juniors stadium, and while it remains pretty cheap, it’s also one of the more dangerous parts of the city (at least, at night). So I can’t advise staying there. San Telmo is the heart of the city (literally, it’s the first neighborhood and has existed for 500 years) and is gentrifying, which has brought more safety than La Boca, but it’s still known locally as one of the less desirable neighborhoods. It’s very popular with young backpackers and younger tourists, given its affordability and volume of bars; I’d say it’s definitely more of a “hipster” neighborhood. So if you’re on a tight budget and young, this could be the perfect spot for you- just be careful and city-smart when you’re out and about at night. Only major downside to San Telmo: it’s not connected to the Subte so you’ve got long bus rides to get to most all other areas popular in Buenos Aires.

Restaurants (in case you’re new to my site, I am a plant-based eater, but I’m ALSO a foodie who spent much of my time in BsAs going out to eat with meat-eaters, so anything recommended below satisfied not only me but got rave reviews from those folks too; plus, many of the restaurants below are not plant-based, just have plant-based options). If it’s listed below I LOVE it so will skip most descriptions, though if I have any favorite dish(es) or recommendation(s), I’ll note those.

To start with, if there’s a list of restaurants I first discovered when I came to BsAs for “vacation” (in quotes because it’s not really a vacation when my life is one big, beautiful travel adventure- more like a short holiday within my longer life-holiday, but “vacation” is shorter to type) and I still highly recommend all the bars and restaurants noted here

Sacro is FABULOUS! It is entirely plant-based, but if you’re a meat eater don’t let that scare you off. The restaurant has a stunning outdoor courtyard in the back that provides an oasis in the city. And the food is packed full of flavor. If you don’t want to just take my word for it, on Trip Advisor it’s currently rated the #8 of more than 5,000 restaurants of all types in BsAs!!

Casa Munay (save room for dessert! I rarely ever say that! But DAMN it’s good here, definitely not just some afterthought)

Buenos Aires Verde (um, WOW! the Raw Bruschetta is absolutely mouth watering!)

Goin! (1672 Laprida, a short walk from Hospital Aleman, great for lunch or if you want a fresh pressed juice or smoothie; the staff is awesome and they don’t mind if you hang out with your laptop for quite some time)

Koi (Palermo Hollywood) Really decent dumplings, baos, buns, and not traditional but still very tasty ramen (and yes, they can do vegetarian!). And a really fantastic cocktail menu!

Estilo Veggie (Palermo Hollywood) Super affordable and the best fresh juice I’ve had in BsAs (which is a big statement, because this city LOVES freshly pressed juices and you can find them everywhere.

Pizza Vegana (Palermo Hollywood) gluten free and HOLY SH$T this is shockingly good. The faina is less awesome (it’s really thick, which is very different from normal), but stick to regular pizza and you won’t be disappointed. Still can’t believe they don’t use real cheese.

Arepera Miss Venezuela (several veg options and these arepeas are HUGE, as in 1 will be enough for your meal, unless you’re a big dude or starving- and at around 250pesos each, a value!)- located in Palermo Hollywood.

Vincent El Absurdo Fonda Club (went for brunch, no menu, the owner/server verbally told us what they had that day- just 3 types of pasta- and WOW! Some of the best gnocchi I’ve eaten anywhere in the world)- also in Palermo Hollywood.

Cafes

Despacho de Sabores (Palermo Hollywood) Absolutely lovely food too (the desserts!!!) and you gotta try the Pomelada.

Hacienda Coffee Company (Palermo SoHo, just 1/2 block from Plaza Armenia; owned by a young female, also a really great space to hang out in; few places in the city offer lots of creative latte flavors, so this was a welcome treat! Though I’m lavendar latte obsessed, I was really disappointed with the lavendar latte here, so skip it.)

Bars

Koi (above!)

Anasagasti (“hidden” bar on Anasagasti street, across from Alto Palermo Shopping; the entry doors look like they belong to a medieval castle)

Personal Care (Medical & Grooming)

For brows: I was super(!!!) impressed with Guzel (I went to the Microcentro location at Maipu 829). FYI: they do eyebrow threading!!! Cost = 350pesos (at the time of writing this, that’s around $6)

Healthcare: this city has a reputation for really fantastic medical care, so there are no shortage of options. I’ve had nothing but fantastic experiences at Hospital Aleman, the German Hospital (and if you don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry). If you’re planning to move here or be here awhile, your best bet is to sign up for a health insurance plan through one of the hospitals. I pay around $150/month (my plan is through Hospital Aleman) and that payment covers just about any and all medical care I could possibly want or need-my doctor’s visits, tests and exams of any sort, and medicines. I have a very comprehensive plan that includes lots of extras (including reimbursement for gym memberships) because I have a joint plan with my Argentinian boyfriend- you could definitely get a more basic plan for cheaper. And no, you don’t need any sort of residency to sign up for the healthcare insurance plan here.

Parks/ Public Spaces

You can’t go wrong. The city is just FULL of them and I enjoyed all that I visited. Parque 3 de Febrero en Palermo has a stunning rose garden and small pond that you can enjoy on a paddle boat (FYI, rose garden was in full bloom as of mid-November). Recoleta has city blocks full of parks that are often full of guys and girls laying out and enjoying the sun. And I’m pretty sure my other article mentioned the beautiful Botanical Garden (but in case I forgot, go!).

For Info/Websites

The app “Disfrutamos BA” will show you loads of events going on in the city, including lots of free happenings. Only catch: it’s all in Spanish.

The Kirchner Cultural Center is worth a visit just to check out the gorgeous building itself. Housed in the City’s former post office, they redeveloped it to include a stunning concert hall and there are so many FREE concerts and events happening- you just need to reserve the FREE tickets online in advance.

If you love tango, you can pay a lot of money to see a tango show at some restaurant or business. Or, you can go to THIS website, which provides daily lists of all the places you can go and find tango concerts/dancing- including outdoor dances and those that include lessons. So for between 100-300ARS you can get a lesson and dance the night away (or sit back and watch folks who are really good, and it will still cost much less than paying for a more tourist-designed show).

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