Argentina Budget Breakdown

From lush jungles to an urban metropolis, an Antarctic way station back north to the desert, Argentina was a country of diverse landscapes and incredible vistas. After exploring Iguazu Falls, we gorged ourselves on Buenos Aires's cultural and culinary offerings. After a three day journey, we then (figuratively) hiked our way from Ushuaia to Bariloche before a good rest and plenty of wine in Mendoza. We did a lot, we moved around a lot - it must have cost us a fortune, right?  Well, we planned to spend $90 a day for the two of us, or $45 per person, per day. How did we do? Let's see!

Total Spent: $3,084.80
Days in Country: 37
Daily Total: $83.37
Daily Per Person: $41.69

And here's our spending breakdown:

Money Spent % of Budget
Accommodation $697.85 23%
Eating Out $433.08 14%
Entertainment $201.49 6.5%
Going Out $6.80 <1%
Groceries $169.99 5.5%
Miscellaneous $0.55 <1%
Tours $326.67 11%
Transport $1,248.37 40%
Official exchange rate was about 6 Pesos per US Dollar, but see below for more information

Official exchange rate was about 6 Pesos per US Dollar, but see below for more information

We traveled far and spent plenty, but we were able to beat our projection by nearly $7 a day for both of us. Also, despite the notoriety of Argentina being very expensive to travel in, we only spent about $3 a day more per person than we did in Peru. How? The blue market.

What is the Blue Market?

Argentina's economy is volatile with inflation being a very real and dangerous force in terms of their peso. In the 5 months since we left the country, the official rate has gone from 6 pesos per dollar to 8 per dollar - a devaluation of 33%! As a result, there are a lot of Argentinians who prefer to keep their wealth safe by converting it from Argentinian Pesos to more stable currencies - US dollars, Euros, and Pounds. The Argentinian government has strict regulations on the amount of these currencies their residents can own, so as often happens when demand outstrips supply, a black market emerged. Blue Market is the tourist phrase for it - the term used in Argentina is dolar blue. You can check the current going rates on this website.

Being a black market, exchanging money on this market is illegal. That being said, it is so easy and relatively out in the open that I would find it hard to believe anyone getting into trouble over it. Walking down Av. Florida in Buenos Aires, there are men every few meters shouting "Cambio! Cambio! Change money?" to every passing tourist. Our first experience with the dolar blue happened on this street. We walked down the street, asking a few of the men their rates, haggling towards a higher rate. The official rate was 6 ARS per dollar, but most of them were offering 9 to 9.5. We finally found one guy offering 9.6 and went with him. He led us into a shopping complex and chatted with Anaïs before taking us into a shop where the windows were covered up. There were two desks, one where a man was exchanging money and another where a "boss" was going over notes and talking to a local customer. We exchanged $1000 in $20 bills and got 9600 pesos in exchange (they prefer $100 bills as these are easier to get out of the country, so you will get better rates with them). After looking over the pesos - something you must do - and exchanging a few we didn't like (rips, weird colors, etc.), we left the office and the man from the street walked us back to Florida and gave us his card, telling us to call him if we had more to exchange. Then we went for a walk and got some ice cream (helado).

We exchanged money two more times - once with Xoom (we didn't bring nearly enough cash with us) and once on the streets of Mendoza, where we got 9 pesos per dollar. Xoom was really easy to use and, despite the rate being lower than on the street (we got 8.82 with Xoom vs. 9.6 on Florida, both transactions happening in Buenos Aires), you have the added safety of going to an official money transfer office and not a random person on the street. It's also a great option for those who don't bring/have enough cash.

The short of it is that we could not have beat, or even come close to meeting, our predicted budget without the blue market. Some may disagree with what is in essence a crime, but we didn't mind exchanging our money this way. It allowed us to see and experience a lot more of the country than we could have. We were able to infuse more pesos into various local businesses and restaurants that we couldn't have otherwise. And, we can't stress this enough, it saved us a ton of money. Looking over our totals, we spent approximately 25,750 pesos. At the official exchange rate, that would have been US$4,595. We saved $1,500 by using the blue market. And, since we didn't have enough cash, we left some money on the table. We could have saved even more!

Back to our Breakdown...

Transport is getting a bad rap in our breakdowns. In South America, the distances are long (48 hours on a bus, anyone?) and the cost of living can be fairly low, so transport ends up looking worse than it is. It's not cheap, but at the same time, it could be a lot worse. In Argentina, all our overnight trips included food, usually dinner and breakfast, plus drinks that often included wine at dinnertime, so that help offset the price. We also rode in Cama class a good bit as it was the only class on the two longest routes we traveled: (1) BA to Ushuaia, and (2) El Calafate to Bariloche. So, transport could have been cheaper, especially if we had found cheaper flights for BA to Ushuaia or perhaps routed our travels a bit differently to avoid cama-only buses. 

Also, don't forget to have coins or very small bills for the guys who put your bags on buses or bring them down. It's customary to tip them. Some of them will ask for specific amounts per bag, some don't, so watch the locals and see what they pay him to make sure you don't get fleeced.

Eating out was generally expensive and we didn't do a lot of it. It was cheaper to buy groceries and make meals at our hostels, something most travelers did. We splurged in Buenos Aires in terms of dining and much of our Eating Out budget was spent there. In a perfect world, with more cash entering the country and getting the 9.6 pesos-per-dollar exchange for $3000 instead of $1000, we would have eaten out more. Despite that, we were able to experience plenty of parrillas, Malbec, and helado, so we can't complain!

Accommodation was expensive and, like in Rio, we stayed in dorms most of the time to save money. Everywhere we stayed provided breakfast of some sort, all of them self-serve and all you can eat. The breakfast menu was often the same everywhere - bread with spreads, corn and frosted flakes, treats, coffee/tea/Tang, and fruit. It got old at the time, but being in SE Asia now, we sometimes miss waking up to mounds of bread and jams and random treats.

Tours included two things - Perito Moreno Mini-Trekking and our Beagle Channel boat tour. After hiking Torres del Paine, we decided that going forward, Tours would only include (1) multi-day experiences, such as TDP and Salkantay, or (2) organized tours with companies (our past budgets reflect this, so no worries). Mini-Trekking was great, as was the boat tour (if not a little boring on the ride back), and we would recommend these to everyone. Entertainment includes museum entries, La Catedral tango club, bike rentals, winery entry fees, and Iguazu Falls.

Argentina in Retrospect

We loved our time there. Buenos Aires is at the top of both of our 'Cities we Could Live In' lists. The neighborhoods felt similar to some in Los Angeles, especially Palermo SoHo and Hollywood (go figure!). There was great food wherever you looked and the public transportation system was expansive. It was also the city where we most often got confused for locals, with other porteños coming up asking for directions on multiple occasions. We were there in November, or spring, so the weather was amazing: sunny, clear skies with highs usually between 70 and 80°F (21 to 27°C, roughly). That being said, we know this past summer was very rough on the city, so we're not sure if we'd want to be there long term.

Then there's Patagonia. Words just...they don't work. New Zealand has the reputation for vistas and scenery, and we agree its amazing (posts coming soon!), but Patagonia might be better......if you have good weather. Huge caveat, we know, but most of our time in Patagonia we had that great weather. Yes, there was the snowstorm in Ushuaia and the "bad" day in TDP, but those were our only sub par days in the month we were there. We were incredibly lucky. As a result, we fell in love.

We did mess up with our journey to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires. Well, mess up may not be the best phrase, but we would never do it again and we would never recommend it to anyone. The food was terrible (Andesmar and subsidiaries have the worst bus-food in Argentina), the views were not that great, and it gets mind-numbing to be on one bus for that long. If the trip hadn't been broken up by our late arrival in Rio Gallegos, I might have arrived in Ushuaia a zombie. Flights aren't that much more expensive, so take our advice and fly.

Argentina is a beautiful country and we wouldn't hesitate to spend an extended period of time there. We still need to visit Puerto Madryn and swim with seals. We need to make stops between Iguazu and BA and see the missions there. Cordoba, Rosario, the whole northwest - missed those too. Someday, we'll get there. Someday...