last updated to ensure up-to-date information: Feb 2018
Guide to Buenos Aires: Tips & Advice from a Local
Well, an almost local. I’ve lived in this ciudad de la furia for eight years now, for most of my adult life. We have a love/hate relationship with each other, the kind most passionate people, uh, I mean cities, can often illicit. Below I’ve written out all of the information I always give to my friends, and their friends and friends of friends (and on it goes) when they plan their vacations to Buenos Aires. If you have any questions about planning your own trip, just ask in the comments! I’d love to help anyone enjoy their time in my adopted hometown.
First & Foremost, Forget about “Paris of South America”
First off, I apologize if I’m offending any porteños reading this. But Buenos Aires is absolutely nothing like Paris. It’s true that Buenos Aires is far more European than the rest of its neighbors in South America, and the locals take great pride in this. French, Spanish, and mainly Italian immigrants flooded Buenos Aires at the beginning of the 20th Century and there is no denying the impact all of this had on the local culture.
However. Big BUT. Buenos Aires is not Paris. And that’s not a bad thing! Buenos Aires is vibrant, lively, and also a little grungy. It’s a hodgepodge. Right next to a building that would fit right in in Paris you’ll find a rundown abandoned 1990’s office building. This is what I love and hate about this city. But isn’t that contradiction in feelings perfect for a city full of contrasts?
So my advice to anyone planning a visit to Buenos Aires, let go of any expectations and you’ll be open to love Buenos Aires exactly for what it is.
Like most of South America, Spanish is the mother tongue here. But unlike most of South America, locals of Buenos Aires speak with a unique accent and vocabulary to the rest of the continent. Castellano Rioplatense, or River Plate Spanish, or even more simply Argentine Spanish, refers to the Spanish spoken around the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) here in Buenos Aires. The “ll” and “y” is pronounced with a “sh” sound. Calle becomes cashe, pollo sounds like posho. Buenos Aires is also home to its own slang, called lunfardo. If you’re interested in Spanish and want to sound like a local check out the books below (Che, Boludo is a great and fun resource).
How to Get Here
EZE – Ezeiza, Ministro Pistarini International Airport
The international airport is located 22 kilometers outside town but feels much further. If you read something about a reciprocity fee required for citizens of the US, Canada or Australia, FEAR NOT. This has gone by the wayside for all three countries. How to get into town from here?
Manuel Tienda Leon
Manuel Tienda Leon is a trusty classic. You can get your ticket for their bus from their booth located just after you exit customs. They have two stops: their station in Puerto Madero and the Aeroparque airport. It currently costs $260-275 pesos, for current prices check here. They also offer a Remis service for $950 pesos if you’d prefer a taxi.
For a taxi, book one of the remis services you’ll see just as you leave customs. After customs but before you’re out in the public area there’s a tiny room with booths offering taxi services. Prices differ on what area of the city you’re going to. You can pay with a credit card. Do not hail a taxi outside. They will charge you whatever they feel you’ll pay. It is safest to arrange for a taxi/remis at one of the booths inside.
To UBER or not to UBER
While Uber isn’t an option FROM the airport, it’s ideal for getting there. Uber and its competitors will be much more comfortable and significantly cheaper than any taxi or remis. Take this with a grain of salt, uber did not make any friends when setting up shop here in Buenos Aires. They followed their usual bull in a china shop policy and are often taken offline.
I suggest also considering their competitors that have taken a more legal approach. Cabify is a great option (if you use my code, ERINM7, you’ll receive a credit to use towards your first ride). Cabify is from Spain and internationally recognized, with friendlier business practices than uber. Easy Taxi is another option that is getting a strong foothold here. You can download these apps to your phone ahead of time to make things easier.
But don’t use these services from the airport. They’re not allowed to pick up passengers from the airport, but they are good options to consider within the city and on your return trip back to Ezeiza.
AEP – Aeroparque Jorge Newberry Airport
Aeroparque is the smaller airport reserved mainly for domestic travel. If you’re flying into AEP, count yourself lucky. Aeroparque is in Palermo on the Costanera Norte (on the river). Transportation is much cheaper than from Ezeiza, you’re already in town! There’s an official taxi line out front where you can grab a taxi straight to your hotel/Airbnb.
Already being within the city center makes a taxi very affordable and the most convenient option. However if interested, Manuel Tienda Leon is also an option here. You can take their bus to their Puerto Madero terminal or to connect to the international airport.
When to Visit
Spring & Fall
Like in most places, spring and fall offer the best weather. Spring (mid-September through November) is ideal, and November is the best month to visit (in my personal opinion). The purple jacaranda flowers begin to bloom throughout the city, lining the streets and parks with tones of lavender. Fall is another great time to visit, with mild weather in March and April.
Summer (December-February) is a BEAST in Buenos Aires. It is hot as hades and humid as hell, very similar to Houston in July. Visiting during the holidays? Christmas Eve is the big holiday here, not the 25th. Argentines get together for family dinners and shoot off fireworks at midnight. Find a terrace to enjoy the show. New Year’s Eve may sound tempting, but beware that NYE is a family-centered holiday here, just like Christmas Eve. Don’t expect a massive Times Square-style party in the streets. Locals will be counting down the clock with their families. In January the city empties when the locals leave to spend their summer vacations in Mar del Plata, Punta del Este or Miami.
Winter (June-August) is dreary in Buenos Aires. While the weather never drops to insufferable lows, it is a wet, humid cold. And what fun is the cold without any Christmas cheer? When you’re cold in Europe or NYC, at least you have the contagious holiday cheer to keep you going! But if you can only visit in Winter, fear not, it’s not insufferable.
Late Mornings, Late Nights
The daily schedule in Buenos Aires runs a few hours later than the average American’s daily routine. Mornings are sleepy with light breakfasts (pastry, toast and a coffee). Lunch is available from noon until around 2 or 3. Dinners can vary. Restaurants open at 8 but most don’t fill up until around 10 pm. But don’t worry if you’re hungry early, I go out to eat at 8 pm all the time, ain’t no shame in my game. Happy Hours, when offered, are usually between 7-9pm, sometimes starting earlier but not usually ending any later than 9. Boliches (dance clubs/discos) don’t start to get wild until after 2 or 3 am. But I have no further tips for that, I’m far past that life stage haha.
The official currency is the peso. To check the day’s exchange rate click here (with the way it fluctuates I’d prefer not to put any set rate in print). In the not so distant past, there existed a black market to exchange your dollars at a more advantageous rate than you’d receive from a bank. The government had banned currency exchange in what was referred to as the “cepo” (translates to “clamp”, I don’t think I like that translation haha). The new government has opened up the market and this black market (referred to as the “dolar blue”), no longer exists. You can now exchange your money at any ATM without being ripped off (aside from the ATM fee that is).
You will also hear cries of “cambio cambio cambio cambio” as you walk down Florida street downtown. These people are referred to as arbolitos, or “little trees,” in reference to their green “leaves” of dollars. I don’t recommend exchanging money with them. It’s always possible you’ll be slipped a few fake bills (or all fakes). With the exhange rate as it is today, just use an ATM.
Where to Stay: Barrios of Buenos Aires
In The Heart of the Action
Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood
This is the go-to neighborhood for most expats and tourists for where to stay and live in Buenos Aires. Soho and Hollywood are two sub-barrios within the enormous umbrella neighborhood that is Palermo. They border each other, separated by Avenida Juan B Justo. They’re both full of sidewalk cafes, bars, restaurants of all types and offers the best nightlife in the city. They’re hip and beautiful. Enjoy the street art and picturesque streets covered with canopies from the trees lining the streets.
Stay here if being close to the best restaurants and nightlife is what you’re after.
Recoleta is full of beautiful mansions, luxury hotels, and stunning architecture. You may see Barrio Norte also appear as an option. Barrio Norte is technically part of Recoleta but consists more of large apartment towers rather than historic mansions (and it is intersected by commercial Avenida Santa Fe). For that old-school Recoleta vibe, try to find a place near Plaza Francia.
Stay here if you booked your ticket with your heart set on seeing the infamous “Paris of the South.”
San Telmo lies towards the south of downtown, sitting between Plaza de Mayo and La Boca further to the south. This was my first home in Buenos Aires and will always hold a special place in my heart. With cobblestoned streets and historic buildings, it has a certain charm. However, don’t come with any illusions of grandeur. Many of these old buildings are crumbling and decaying. However, I think this creates its own sort of unpolished beauty. San Telmo is full of historic cafes, bars, and parillas where you can find some of the best beef in town. It’s centrally located to plenty of tourist attractions to make your daily explorations easy.
Stay here if you appreciate a bit of history. Try to stay on or near Defensa or Balcarce streets.
Crossing Avenida Paseo Colon from San Telmo, you’ll find Buenos Aires’ youngest neighborhood. It feels polished and modern, with new luxury apartment towers lining the docks. It can feel a bit isolated from the rest of the city as it isn’t very easily connected with public transportation and you can only get in and out via certain streets.
Stay here if you prefer things clean and modern. However, I find it a bit sterile. I don’t personally recommend staying here but definitely come for a stroll.
Live Like A Local
Villa Crespo borders Palermo, separated by Avenida Cordoba. Despite being home to some great restaurants and bars of its own, Villa Crespo is much quieter than its popular neighbor. The neighborhood is also home to some of the city’s best street art, outlet shopping (if that’s your thing) and its own futbol team (Atlanta).
Stay here if you want to stay within walking distance of Palermo’s nightlife but enjoy a more residential feel.
Moving northwards past Palermo Hollywood you’ll find Colegiales. Colegiales is a residential neighborhood with smaller houses and apartment buildings. It’s getting more lively with new restaurants opening up every year but it’s still full of young families and cute homes. You’ll require taxis or public transportation to get to the heart of things, but it’s not far.
Stay here if you like to live like a local when you travel.
Even further north, after Colegiales, you’ll find a behemoth of a neighborhood, Belgrano. Belgrano is enormous, just like Palermo. Avenida Cabildo is its commercial center, full of shops and chain restaurants. Closer towards Libertador Avenue you’ll find Chinatown and large apartment buildings near Barrancas de Belgrano. Or stay near Plaza Castelli to experience the posh Belgrano R area, with historic old homes and tree-lined cobblestoned avenues. Subte line D on Cabildo will have you in Palermo, Recoleta or downtown in a flash. If you stay near Plaza Castelli the train at Belgrano R Station will have you in Palermo in 5 minutes or downtown in 20.
Stay here if you’re looking a quiet, residential feel that’s family friendly.
While in Belgrano you can live like a quiet, relaxed local, in Almagro you’re in the middle of it all. This is a bustling commercial neighborhood and is a more middle-class barrio in comparison to Recoleta’s very upper class demographic. To continue the needless Recoleta comparisons, it’s also less easy on the eyes. Almagro is grungy and busy. It’s not the Paris of the South, it’s pure Buenos Aires, you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. Random fact: Almagro is home to Pope Francis’ favorite football team!
Stay here if you want to live like a local but not lose the big city hustle and bustle.
The SUBE is the travel card you’ll need if you want to take any form of public transportation. Buses don’t accept cash, and subway stations no longer sell tickets. If you want a SUBE, check this map here for an official selling point. Under the Provincia drop down, select CABA, and then under Localidad, select your neighborhood of choice. But it will be easiest to either purchase one in a Subte station ticket window or by asking around in any kiosko (convenience store) that has the SUBE logo on the door until you find one that sells them. The cost should be 25 pesos each. In the subway stations they’ll only sell you one per person. You can also load money onto them in kioskos or in the subway stations.
How to Navigate
The city government has their own answer to Google Maps called “Como Llego.” Visit the website here to map out your route, or download the free app from the iTunes store here. It offers public transportation options as well as walking and biking directions. This app is a great resource, I use it over Google Maps 10 times out of 10.
In Buenos Aires, the bus is king. There is absolutely nowhere that a colectivo (bus) won’t take you. There are so many it can be very intimidating to try. If you’re brave, start with the 152. The 152 line will take you anywhere a tourist could possibly want to go. Starting at its terminal in La Boca, it passes through San Telmo, snakes behind the Casa Rosada on it’s way to Plaza San Martin in Retiro where it hangs a left up Avenida Santa Fe. It crawls northwards along Santa Fe, crossing 9 de Julio into Recoleta, then into Palermo, and continuing northwards to Belgrano and the northern suburbs.
To take the bus, tell the driver where you’re going (the price depends on distance traveled), then pay by placing your SUBE card on the little machine. Respect the line, porteños aren’t messing around, they respect the order of the line when boarding the bus. The elderly, pregnant women and children have priority to a seat, so don’t pretend to not see them unless you want a tongue lashing from everyone on the bus, including the driver.
The subte (short for subterraneo, or the underground) lines in Buenos Aires are in the shape of your hand. The lines all originate downtown (or in your palm) and branch out, never to meet again. The government has ramped up construction on the H line (the yellow line above) in recent years, which has made connecting lines a bit easier.
The train station you’ll most likely visit is Estacion Mitre in Retiro. There are three lines that leave this station. The Tigre Line takes you to, you guessed it, TIGRE (to visit the river delta). The station has been recently remodeled and is in impeccable condition. It is worth a visit whether or not you plan to take the train.
Just like you would in any large city, exercise caution. But don’t stress, overall Buenos Aires is a safe city. You don’t need to worry about violent crimes or kidnappings or anything of the sort. However, you do need to be careful with your belongings as there is a lot of petty theft. Your pockets or purses can be picked on a busy subway so keep your valuables in a closed bag in front of you. The most common occurrence is the motochorro (moto-thief), where someone on a moto will just grab your bag or phone while they speed past you.
One thing is certain, if anyone demands your belongings, don’t argue with them. Hand it over. An iPhone or a camera is never worth risking your life for. Also, keep in mind that while certain neighborhoods (La Boca for example) have bad reputations, you should be equally aware everywhere you go. Thieves follow the money and that is usually in the nicer neighborhoods.
If you’re planning your trip and have any questions at all, ask away in the comments! I want everyone who visits to have a great experience so don’t hesitate.