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Why Buenos Aires Was One Of The Cheapest Destinations We’ve Visited And How It Could Have Been One Of The Most Expensive In South America The Paris of South America was laid out as the last stop on our six-month exploration of the continent. We’d been staying at hostels, bouncing around chaotically, and working wherever we could – busy common rooms, sardine-can cafes, and spotty-wifi’d apartments. At thirty (I know I’m still young), the energy of the 20-year-olds we’d met on our travels had finally eluded me. Buenos Aires was designed as our climactic respite – six weeks in a nice apartment punctuated with red wine, steak, and enjoying one of the most iconic cities in the world where we could relax and gather some energy before we moved on to Europe. But despite BA’s location in South America, it’s a pricey city compared to its continental neighbors. While it might not dominate headlines in the US or Europe, Argentina’s economy and political infrastructure have been in a constant state of flux for decades, resulting in a temperamental rate of inflation and a heavily protectionist economic strategy. While we were there, inflation was approaching an astonishing 70%. Without delving into the intricacies of Argentinian financial policy, the effects of the previous decades mean the cost of living has soared. Many shops don’t even bother with price tags as the cost fluctuates so much. So it was a surprise, after working our way through Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, to find the cost of a meal or a coffee closer in USD value to that of a cheaper American city. In some cities, we could have a three-course meal with drinks and barely scrape $30. In Buenos Aires, we suddenly had to be careful. Something we’d heard mentioned before arriving was the Argentinian Blue Dollar. Because of the country’s fluctuations, Argentinians look for foreign currency, in particular USD, to help keep their savings or other financial aspects of their life from being too badly affected. While the official rate for the Argentine Peso is currently listed as $1 USD for $140 ARS, the Blue Dollar rate is listed at $1 USD for $272 ARS (at time of writing, it was actually more when we were there). That was an insanely big difference and one we thought we needed to take advantage of. The caveat, however, was that we needed to take US currency into the country. No currency exchange office in the world was offering pesos at the blue dollar rate. In Cusco, Peru, we withdrew as much as we could, which worked out at around $1200 or $326 thousand ARS. It virtually cut our costs in half. A pint of beer on a night out went from the usual five dollars to almost $2.50. We didn’t exchange the money right away, so had a week or so of working with cards and normally withdrawing cash. Withdrawal fees were as high as $13 USD, regardless of how much you took out, and a lot of places flat-out don’t take cards. Cash is king, and there’s a surprised look on the faces of vendors when you pull out an Amex with hopes of paying. If you don’t feel comfortable travelling with large quantities of cash, which is understandable, it is possible to do it through Western Union, although the fees can add up and rates can often be slightly better on the street. It’s still far better value than using card or withdrawing cash on arrival. Of course, there is the question of legality. Exchanges are made at places called Cuevas, as well as a few more official-looking exchange bureaus. It’s technically illegal, as it goes against the official valuation of the currency, and the government doesn’t like it, but no one is prosecuted for using it. Most of the population uses it to protect themselves and get more value for their salaries in the event of further inflation. With prior knowledge, we could have cut our living costs in half too. We used Airbnb, which means everything is paid for online before our arrival. Choosing another rental platform, or Facebook page with apartments to rent could have allowed us to pay in cash, slashing the amount we would have paid. One of the few things that stays relatively unaffected, seemed to be the wine and steak. Grabbing a couple of gargantuan bife de chorizo, one of the country’s favorite cuts worked out to only $2.50 a piece when using the Blue Dollar. A nice bottle of Malbec could be as cheap as $2.50 in cash too, making for an excellent night in. Of course, if you’re there for a shorter time than we were, you’ll spend more time out and about. There’s an abundance of steakhouses, known as Parrillas, where an unbelievable piece of steak can be found, and the Argentinian take on pizza is unique, to say the least. As we creep into the shoulder season, it could be a great decision to make this year’s trip a Buenos Aires one. The Blue Dollar could make it a cheap one too.

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Why Buenos Aires Was One Of The Cheapest Destinations We've Visited And How It Could Have Been One Of The Most Expensive In South America The Paris of South America was laid out as the last stop on our six-month exploration of the continent. We’d been staying at hostels, bouncing around chaotically, and working wherever we could - busy common rooms, sardine-can cafes, and spotty-wifi’d apartments. At thirty (I know I’m still young), the energy of the 20-year-olds we’d met on our travels had finally eluded me. Buenos Aires was designed as our climactic respite - six weeks in a nice apartment punctuated with red wine, steak, and enjoying one of the most iconic cities in the world where we could relax and gather some energy before we moved on to Europe. But despite BA’s location in South America, it’s a pricey city compared to its continental neighbors. While it might not dominate headlines in the US or Europe, Argentina’s economy and political infrastructure have been in a constant state of flux for decades, resulting in a temperamental rate of inflation and a heavily protectionist economic strategy. While we were there, inflation was approaching an astonishing 70%. Without delving into the intricacies of Argentinian financial policy, the effects of the previous decades mean the cost of living has soared. Many shops don’t even bother with price tags as the cost fluctuates so much. So it was a surprise, after working our way through Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, to find the cost of a meal or a coffee closer in USD value to that of a cheaper American city. In some cities, we could have a three-course meal with drinks and barely scrape $30. In Buenos Aires, we suddenly had to be careful. Something we’d heard mentioned before arriving was the Argentinian Blue Dollar. Because of the country’s fluctuations, Argentinians look for foreign currency, in particular USD, to help keep their savings or other financial aspects of their life from being too badly affected. While the official rate for the Argentine Peso is currently listed as $1 USD for $140 ARS, the Blue Dollar rate is listed at $1 USD for $272 ARS (at time of writing, it was actually more when we were there). That was an insanely big difference and one we thought we needed to take advantage of. The caveat, however, was that we needed to take US currency into the country. No currency exchange office in the world was offering pesos at the blue dollar rate. In Cusco, Peru, we withdrew as much as we could, which worked out at around $1200 or $326 thousand ARS. It virtually cut our costs in half. A pint of beer on a night out went from the usual five dollars to almost $2.50. We didn’t exchange the money right away, so had a week or so of working with cards and normally withdrawing cash. Withdrawal fees were as high as $13 USD, regardless of how much you took out, and a lot of places flat-out don’t take cards. Cash is king, and there’s a surprised look on the faces of vendors when you pull out an Amex with hopes of paying. If you don’t feel comfortable travelling with large quantities of cash, which is understandable, it is possible to do it through Western Union, although the fees can add up and rates can often be slightly better on the street. It’s still far better value than using card or withdrawing cash on arrival. Of course, there is the question of legality. Exchanges are made at places called Cuevas, as well as a few more official-looking exchange bureaus. It’s technically illegal, as it goes against the official valuation of the currency, and the government doesn’t like it, but no one is prosecuted for using it. Most of the population uses it to protect themselves and get more value for their salaries in the event of further inflation. With prior knowledge, we could have cut our living costs in half too. We used Airbnb, which means everything is paid for online before our arrival. Choosing another rental platform, or Facebook page with apartments to rent could have allowed us to pay in cash, slashing the amount we would have paid. One of the few things that stays relatively unaffected, seemed to be the wine and steak. Grabbing a couple of gargantuan bife de chorizo, one of the country’s favorite cuts worked out to only $2.50 a piece when using the Blue Dollar. A nice bottle of Malbec could be as cheap as $2.50 in cash too, making for an excellent night in. Of course, if you’re there for a shorter time than we were, you’ll spend more time out and about. There’s an abundance of steakhouses, known as Parrillas, where an unbelievable piece of steak can be found, and the Argentinian take on pizza is unique, to say the least. As we creep into the shoulder season, it could be a great decision to make this year’s trip a Buenos Aires one. The Blue Dollar could make it a cheap one too.