Twelve Tips for the Traveller to Argentina
1. Take enough US dollars to Argentina – do not rely solely on your credit card. The credit card machines in shops and restaurants are often “out of order”. Also, Visa is the most widely used. My Mastercard wasn’t accepted at a few establishments, neither do I believe is Diners’ Club accepted all over. So, take enough of Uncle Sam’s greenbacks along. That is accepted all over excepting for taxis and small shops.
2. Carry peso notes of small denominations if you use taxis – they often will not have change for anything larger than a 50 peso note.
3. If you do not speak Spanish, have your hotel’s card with you all the time to show to taxi drivers. They do not speak English and might not understand the way you pronounce your hotel’s name. Also ask the concierge to write the name of any place you want to visit on a card for the taxis. Have a map at the ready.
4. If you do speak some Spanish and want to practice it, tell people you are French speaking, else those who speak some English will switch over to broken English and you will spend your holiday listening to bad English instead of foisting your bad Spanish onto them. Nobody speaks arrogant French these days so you’re fine with the French line.
5. Take a pocket knife and a hard plastic plate with you everywhere– it can be useful for a quick snack or for some fruit you might want to buy. Always have toilet paper with you (that goes for anywhere in the world by the way). Always have a corkscrew and two wine glasses at the ready in case the opportunity to partake of a good Malbec – say a Luigi Bosca 2006 Reserve – suddenly presents itself.
6. Tap water is potable in Mendoza, being straight from the Andes, but it’s not the case everywhere. Buy bottled water from supermarkets at around 3 pesos for 2,5 litres. Resist the Evian water at 22 pesos per litre that hotels place in your room for your tantalising convenience. I once opened one by mistake.
7. Argentina is not an expensive country at current exchange rates. It is a medium priced emerging country. The discount in prices to European cities is similar to Cape Town’s for the same quality merchandise. So one can afford to splash out a little.
8. The two shows to which we went on the Avenida Corrientes both started at 9PM and continued for two hours without an interval. There are apparently no intervals during most shows. So use the restrooms just before the show.
9. It is important to plan your activities according to a daily and weekly schedule. The shops on St Telmo are e.g. closed on a Monday, as is the National Art Museum. Nothing happens in St Telmo before 11AM even on Sunday, the busiest day. So don’t pitch up there early in the morning. You will waste your time. Befriend your concierge – they are good. Many places close for lunch but will be open till late (e.g. travel agencies).
10. There is no rail network in Argentina, so make sure you plan your bus schedules if you’re traveling over land. The bus services are good, well-run and clean. Air travel can be a mission: almost all flights between the various destinations in the country go via Buenos aires. This increases the cost of air travel and travel, therefore budget accordingly, also with respect to time.
11. Watch those so-called antique markets such as those in St Telmo. Most of them aren’t. Know your antiques, chandeliers, paintings etc. before buying, else you’ll be had.
12. Don’t go to a free tango lesson. You’ll end up trapped with millions of tourists in a confined space and won’t be able to move, let alone learn anything. If you want a lesson, a tango teacher told me to go to Tango Brujo. They charge 15 pesos for 90 minutes and you get individual attention, or at least we did. After two lessons and you can hide yourself and your partner in the middle of the floor at a busy Milonga if you have a feel for movement (don’t embarrass yourself by asking those who know to dance with you!). Tango Brujo also has intermediate and advanced classes, as well as classes for special techniques for women. Go to a milonga at Maipu 444 on a Saturday night to see how the locals conduct a tango evening (milonga). A bit crowded though. If you’re gay, the same venue caters for you on Wednesday nights I’m told, as does Tango entre Muchachos.