Each traveler carries back their own images of Buenos Aires. For some, it might be the classics: tango in Plaza Dorrego, copious malbec and asado, wide avenues, and neoclassical architecture. For others, it might be the changes in feel between barrios, the daily conversations with fruit and vegetable vendors, or the Madres of Plaza de Mayo walking in front of the Casa Rosada. It could be anything, even a moment – like a roar during a match in the Bombonera or the breeze coming off the Río de la Plata. Fast-paced, creative, and full of traditions, Buenos Aires is a place you just want to keep getting to know better.
Buenos Aires has four seasons, though they’re all fairly mild and free of extremes, barring some intense rain every once in a while. The best temperate weather is during spring (September to November) when the city is full of blooming purple jacaranda trees, and fall (March to May) when the autumn colors take over. In the winter (June to August), the temperature can drop to around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but there’s usually no snow. The summer months (December to February) can be humid and hot, but rarely unbearable. If you’re looking to avoid crowds, consider coming during Easter, when many locals take a break from the city, and during students’ summer break in January.
Argentina uses the Argentine peso. The conversion is $121.45 per 1 USD. While credit cards are accepted in many places, it’s essential to carry cash to move around the city and for tipping. Bring some dollar notes and exchange them where you find the best rate (aka, not at the airport), or use reputable ATMs to get local currency.
Tipping is expected for anything that involves a service. Expect to tip between 10 and 20 percent at restaurants and bars; it’s unlikely they will include it in the bill. Tip bellboys between 50 and 100 pesos, and tour guides around 10 percent of whatever you paid for the tour. Tipping cab drivers is almost never expected, but a few pesos would be appreciated if the taxi drivers helped you with your luggage.
The official language is Spanish…with a twist. Porteños, the name for locals of Buenos Aires, use some slang that comes from a dialect called Lunfardo. Like the rest of Argentine people and Uruguayans, porteños speak Spanish with voceo, meaning that the personal pronoun “you” (singular) does not translate to “tú” like in the rest of the Spanish speaking world, but to “vos.” So, for example, “What do you want for dinner?” translates to “¿Vos que querés de cenar?”
You’ll get by with English just about anywhere tourists frequent, but a little bit of Spanish will open a lot of doors around here.
Some useful Spanish phrases:
Some Lunfardo slang:
Walking around Buenos Aires is an essential part of the local experience. It’s the best way to experience a neighborhood and soak in the energy of the city. However, it’s important to stay alert, even during the day, and avoid side streets or anywhere else that looks shady at night (follow your gut instincts).
If you’re not a local, the subway is your best friend. Colectivos (urban buses) are way too complicated, so forget about figuring out their logic. When it comes to buses, it’s not a grid of public transport, it’s a spaghetti plate. The subway is fairly easy to get around, though.
If you prefer ground transportation, always go for “radio taxi” options, i.e. taxi drivers working for a company. You can identify them with the “radio taxi” sign on the car roof. It’s less likely they will scam you. Uber is not legal, but it operates anyway. It might or might not be cheaper than regular taxis. Don’t you ever dare mention Uber to taxi drivers, unless you want to get into an argument.
The train is mostly used to go to the suburbs in greater Buenos Aires. On a first visit to Buenos Aires, most people only leave the capital city to go to Tigre, the area known for restaurants, craft and fruit markets, and water sports, but the train is also valuable for other day trips.
Buenos Aires’ public bike system is called Ecobici. Even though there are bike paths throughout the city, it’s best to choose quiet streets filled with other bikers. If you’re hitting the main trafficked areas, look at both sides when crossing a street, and don’t assume car drivers will give you any kind of priority, or that pedestrians will watch out for traffic before crossing the streets.
Buenos Aires is a much safer city than you may have been led to believe, but like most urban areas, there are still many things to look out for. Watch out for pickpockets in busy streets, markets, and on public transport. Avoid keeping your wallet and phone in your back pocket. You’ll also notice that many porteños carry their backpacks on their fronts when in crowded areas. Another common crime is counterfeit currency, so train yourself to tell legit bills from fake ones. Make sure the ATM you intend to use looks reputable and is being used by locals, and avoid withdrawing currency at night.
I asked my LGBTQ friends how safe they feel on the streets of Buenos Aires when holding hands or just being affectionate with their partners. One of them said, “It’s not San Francisco or an ultra-progressive European city, but it’s also not a conservative town. I think it’s one of the most liberal cities in Latin America, only behind Brazilian cities.” In 2017, there were 107 reports of hate crimes based on sexual orientation in the city, with most of the victims being female trans people working in the sex industry. LGBTQ people in my circles feel mostly safe showing PDA in public, and applaud Buenos Aires’ lively queer nightlife.
There is a police station devoted to visitors, with English speaking officers, called “Comisaría del Turista.” It’s located at 436 Corrientes Avenue (five blocks away from the Obelisk). Officers there also speak French, Italian, Japanese, and Portuguese.
The Tourist Ombudsman's office provides information to tourists, and makes recommendations to government agencies and private companies, such as hotels, travel agencies, transport companies, and other businesses related to the travel industry on behalf of tourists.