Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and one of the largest cities in the Southern Hemisphere.
Language: Spanish (Castellano/Rioplatense) – They speak quickly, pronounce some letters differently, and have some regional vocabulary, but for the most part it is similar to other Latin American Spanish
Currency: Argentine peso. As of February 2015, there are 2 different exchange rates because Argentina is in a financial crisis. The official exchange rate is called the Dolar Oficial and is around 1 USD = 8.6 pesos. The semi-illegal black market exchange rate is around 1 USD = 13.2 pesos. However, the rate of inflation is extremely high, so be sure to check the current rates (just google Dolar Blue). Nobody uses the official exchange rate, and you will get ripped off with the official rate if you try to exchange in the airport or at an ATM. In order to get the Dolar Blue rate, you have to make sure you bring cash in USD (preferably $100 bills) to Florida Street in Buenos Aires and approach the dozens of money changers yelling “cambio” on the street. They will offer you a rate close to the Dolar Blue and take you into a “casa de cambio” nearby to change your money. It seems sketch, but it is really not. (Tips: always check all the bills for watermarks before you give them your USD. Bad casas de cambio will give you fake bills, but real ones will always have a watermark. If they don’t let you look, then walk away, they are probably fake.) Generally, things in Argentina are less expensive than in the United States if you exchange at the Dolar Blue.
Getting in: Argentina requires that US citizens pay a reciprocity fee of $160 to enter Argentina, which is good for multiple entries within 10 years. You need to fill out a quick form online and print it out prior to arriving in Argentina to prove you have paid the fee.
Getting around: Buenos Aires has a good subway system (Subte) and a good bus network where most of the buses run 24/7. The public transportation is extremely cheap and safe, but you will need a SUBE card to use it, which you can pick up at a number of locations, but not at the airports. So for your first ride out of the airport, ask if someone can pay for you with their SUBE card and offer them a dollar.
When to visit: Spring and fall are probably the best times to visit because of comfortable weather, but there are not really any bad times. Just make sure you are staying somewhere with A/C if you come in the summer (December or January).
How to visit: The spring/fall off-peak rate with American Airlines miles (flying LAN, American Airlines, or any other American Airlines partners) is 40,000 miles round trip from North America. American Airlines miles are fairly easy to get by signing up for credit cards (as of Feb 2015 they have multiple cards with 50,000 mile sign up bonuses). See my credit cards page for more details. Alaska airlines miles are a little bit harder to get, but can also be used for 40,000 miles round trip from the US or Canada (flying American Airlines and Alaska Airlines only). If you want to pay for a ticket, they usually run at least $700-$1000 roundtrip from the US. Buenos Aires has two airports, Ezeiza (EZE) which is the main international airport and is located farther from the center, and Aeroparque (AEP) which is located closer to the center and handles shorter distance international flights and most domestic flights.
Highlights of Buenos Aires:
Buenos Aires is a mix of cultures. It was founded in the 1500s by the Spanish but has since had many immigrants, most notably from Italy. Since all education is free in Argentina, and the best university in Argentina is the University of Buenos Aires, people from many Spanish speaking countries come here to study.
Buenos Aires is split into many neighborhoods (barrios) that each have their own feel. El Centro/San Nicolas is where you will find the national government buildings and Florida Street, a pedestrian only street with lots of shopping and casas de cambio for changing money.
San Telmo is a hip neighborhood with lots of bars at night, as well as a central square filled with tourists and a street (Defensa) that hosts a large flea market every Sunday. San Telmo is also home to Cafe San Juan, one of the best places for Argentinian food at a reasonable price.
Puerto Madero is an old industrial port area which has been transformed into an upscale shopping and dining area. Recoleta is a wealthy neighborhood with beautiful older European-style buildings. La Boca is a very colorful but poorer neighborhood in the southeast where Tango is rumored to have started. Lastly, Palermo is a very trendy neighborhood to the west of the center where many young people live. If you enjoy nightlife, Palermo has the best bars and clubs in the city and can get very crowded.
As for food, Argentine cuisine is very meat-focused. You can get giant beef steaks with good seasonings, or asado/barbecue. The Argentine form of empanadas are also very popular. The dishes are all huge. Argentine wine is the perfect complement to any meal, as it is relatively cheap and amazingly good, coming from Mendoza or the San Juan region of Argentina. There are also various local breweries in Buenos Aires, including Antares, which has a large selection of different varieties of beer, many of which do not exist in the United States.
Overall, Buenos Aires’ culture makes it a great place to sit back, relax, and enjoy.