Parillas and the Blue Dollar exchange, Argentina
If you’ve been following any of our previous posts, it’s very apparent that the best place to get ripped off because you’re a tourist, is by a cab driver. When arriving at a new city, don’t speak the language, and you have all your luggage with you and just want to get to your hotel and check in, your options are pretty limited if you don’t have someone to pick you up.
Minh and I arrived at the Buenos Aires airport and hopped into a taxi. Minh pulls up on his phone (pinpointed on google maps) our hotel location and we ask our taxi driver to take us to the Holiday Inn Express. The taxi driver is like ok yea yea, I know where it is and doesn’t bother to look at the location on Minh’s phone. After we take off, I notice his meter isn’t on and we point it out to him. He pulls out a rate sheet that has the area we’re headed to with the price next to it. It’s about 3x the price it’s supposed to be. At this point we can’t really do anything about it, since we made the mistake of not making sure he was going to turn on his meter before we took off.
He drives for a good 20 minutes while Minh is tracking where we are going on his phone, and it seems we’re nowhere near where our hotel is. He stops at a place called Colonia Express and tells us – Colonia Express! Here it is. We tell him, no, this is the wrong hotel, we are at the Holiday Inn Express and Minh shows him the location on the map on his phone again. The driver says ok and drives back to where we came from and takes us to the Colonia Express Docking area (where boats take off from).
Again, we tell him, no this is not where we need to go. Our hotel is called Holiday Inn Express, and Minh makes him take a close look at the map on his phone and we have to tell him what street to go down and where to turn.
We finally arrive at the right hotel and Minh grabs a front desk person at the hotel who speaks English to help us translate while I pull the luggage out of the car. We tell the front desk person at the hotel the situation and he tells us how much it should cost from the airport (3x less than his rate sheet). He helps us communicate to the cab driver that we are only going to pay him the fair rate since he got lost so much and didn’t even turn on his meter. We didn’t have change, so the front desk guy runs in to get change for us first so the cab driver doesn’t take off with our money. Lucky for us that the person at the hotel was willing to help us. It’s always such an adventure trying not to get taken advantage of by taxi drivers!
[pi_wiloke_quote quote=”Make sure your taxi driver knows the name and location of where you want to go, and make sure to agree on a price before you jump in!” author=”Two Peas Travel Tip”]
Every morning when we would wake up, Minh would sing Madonna’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” We were there for over a week, and he would sing it every single day, multiple times a day.
Based off our great experience of doing free walking tours in Chile, we ended up joining some free walking tours in Buenos Aires as well. Another great introduction to the city while also learning about the history.
One of the things Minh was looking forward to the most when we arrived in Buenos Aires were the Steakhouses (Parillas). We visited various Parillas during our time there, but the most memorable ones we went to were La Carniceria and Parilla Pena.
While we were at La Carniceria, there was a camera crew there and we found out they were from The New York Times filming a video series called 36 Hours. It doesn’t seem to be released yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see if Minh and I end up in the background of some of their shots!
Update: video was released! See if you can spot my 2 seconds of fame (and Minh’s hands cutting his steak! lol) around the 02:40-50 mark:
While in Buenos Aires, we checked out the highly rated Konex Show (thanks Connie for the recommendation!). It’s a live drum show and has a very young crowd. I think if we were to go back in a few years we would feel extremely out of place, as we felt like we were already older than most people in the crowd. It was very entertaining to watch the show and the crowd as well, as some people get really into the music and dance their hearts out.
Some other places worth visiting are the Botanical gardens in Palermo, the giant metal flower (Floralis Genérica), and this giant bench!
For anyone planning on visiting Argentina, the best advice I would give to anyone going from the US would be to bring US Dollars with you! Don’t bother exchanging money beforehand or pulling money from the ATMs, or even using credit cards while you’re there.
A lot of factors come into play of why (debt crisis, government restrictions, inflation, etc), but basically what you need to know is that there is an Official Bank Rate and a Black Market “Blue” rate. You want the Blue rate, as it can get you about 30-40% more than the official bank rate by exchanging US Dollar bills you’ve brought with you from the States.
For example, while we were there, the Official Bank Rate would have given us 940 pesos for $100 USD but when we exchanged using the Blue Rate, we received about 1500 pesos for $100 USD.
So how do you go about getting this Blue Rate? Any main bus station or tourist heavy area will have numerous people yelling out “cambio, cambio, cambio” which means change. These are the people who will give you the blue dollar rate. A word of caution though, it is illegal to exchange on the Blue Market, but it’s something the government and police “look the other way” as it is imperative to keeping their economy stable.
So off Minh and I went to go exchange our money on the well known Blue Market Exchange street in Buenos Aires – Florida Street. Right as we turn the corner there is a greasy looking guy in a leather jacket in the corner saying “cambio, dolares, cambio, cambio” and Minh approaches him and asks what his rate is. They agree on a rate and we ask him if he has an office we can go to (a local guide told us any “good” exchange place will have an office so you can check that they don’t give you counterfeit bills). He says yes very enthusiastically and tells us to follow him. We get to a building where the windows are covered in a beach scene with the words “KINGS OF FLORIDA” all over it. We step inside and the whole room smells of cigarette smoke and there are about 5 guys surrounding a desk with a big stack of cash where 1 boss lady sits. Oh, and of course, this giant poster hanging right in the center of the room.
Boss lady looks at us and says in her thick accent “How much you want to change?” We tell her and they hand over a giant stack of Argentine Pesos (the largest Argentine Peso banknote is a 100 bill). After we inspect each bill making sure it’s not counterfeit, another guy hands us a rubberband for our giant wad of cash. Everything looks good, we exchange “thank you’s”, make sure our giant rubberbanded cash stack is well hidden before we step out and Minh and I walk out of the building as fast as we can and discuss how that was the sketchiest thing we’ve experienced yet. As we get to the end of the street, we’re not sure where the subway station is to get home and the inital leather jacket man from the exchange place sees we might be lost and walks us to the right subway station entrance down the street. Greasy leather jacket man turned out to be a standup, helpful guy. Lol, what an experience!
[pi_wiloke_quote quote=”Argentina Money exchange: Exchange your dollars on the Blue Market for a better rate, but beware the sketchy process and check all your bills are not counterfeit, and go straight home afterwards, as locals are probably aware that you are carrying a lot of cash on you!” author=”Two Peas Travel Tip”]