When I first arrived in Buenos Aires back in March of this year, I was shocked by the prices. I had just finished traveling through Central America where I could get a night in a wonderful hostel for US$6 and a good meal for US$3.00.
I had been to Buenos Aires back in 2009 for a 2-week vacation, so I already knew the prices would be a lot higher than in Central America. I did not realize Argentina had experienced 25% inflation every year for the last few years.
So what is a budget traveler to do?
Make it work.
I had already been living simply for the first 5 months of my travels. I was excited to get to a big, vibrant city, so I wanted to enjoy what Buenos Aires has to offer.
I learned that I could enjoy the city without blowing my budget.
I planned $1000 a month to live in Buenos Aires.
And I stuck to that budget.
For me, the key has been being very diligent about keeping the basic, everyday costs in check (e.g. lodging, food, transportation).
I have updated my Budget page to include my average daily expenses in Buenos Aires. If you are planning to visit Buenos Aires on a small budget, these tips might help you keep your expenses in check AND still enjoy the city.
Budget Travel Tips for Buenos Aires
#1 – Find a hostel with a good kitchen, so you can cook many of your own meals.
Actually, I should say “decent” kitchen. In my experience, hostels in Buenos Aires are not very nice, and the kitchens are usually the worst part. Some kitchens have terrible pots, pans, and cooking utensils (or they do not have any at all). Some kitchens are disgusting. Some are so small that two people cannot even be preparing food at the same time.
Always take a full tour of the hostel before committing if you have any expectation of cooking your own meals.
#2 – Find a hostel that offers eggs and/ or cereal in addition to the traditional medialunas and bread (empty calories).
My meal savings plan was to eat cereal in the morning. Then I came back just before breakfast closed and made myself eggs and toast for lunch.
Yep, I’m that cheap! But I was able to have some tasty dinners!
#3 – Shop around for your groceries.
Groceries, fruits, and vegetables are expensive in Buenos Aires. Of course, cooking for yourself is still a much cheaper option than eating out. Shop around and look at the prices. I have found that supermarkets, carnicerias, and verdulerias can have drastically different prices, even those a block away from each other.
#4 – Buy your wine at a “chino.”
Chino is the term used here for the supermarkets that are owned by the Chinese. I have been told they are organized and buy their wine in bulk to get large discounts. You can find a 10 pesos or more difference in some bottles than at one of the large chain grocery stores. But remember that not all Chinos are the same. You still need to shop around.
#5 – Learn to use public transportation.
Although taxis are cheap in Buenos Aires compared to many places, you will save a lot by using public transportation. The subte (underground train) is quite easy to figure out and has pretty good coverage of the city. The downside of the subte is that is closes early (around 10 or 1030pm).
Fortunately, there are tons of buses, and they run 24-hours (less frequently at 3am, but at least they still run). The buses are a little tricky if you have no clue what you are doing and are not fluent in Spanish. However, once someone explains it, it is not that difficult. If you do not know someone that can help you out the first time, I suggest taking a city tour with Jonathan from Buenos Aires Locals Tours because he will explain the bus system to you and even take you on a bus ride and subte ride during the tour.
I absolutely LOVE the website http://mapa.buenosaires.gov.ar/. If you click on Como Llegar, you can enter your starting point and your destination. It will show you your best public transportation options (walking, subte, bus) with travel time, directions, and map.
#6 – If you want to try a nice restaurant, visit at lunch.
Prices are usually cheaper. Many restaurants (like the fancy La Cabrera or the moderate El Trapiche) offer a menu ejecutivo. This is basically a set meal that usually comes with a main dish, side, and a beverage.
#7 – Take advantage of the numerous free activities in Buenos Aires.
There is of course the obvious…. walk around and explore. There are many different neighborhoods in Buenos Aires where you can spend several hours just walking and looking at the architecture, the trees, the shops and cafes, and the people.
There are more museums and art galleries in this city than you can imagine. Plus the city government hosts a lot of events throughout the city.