I handed our hostess two stacks of bills, one of dollars, one of Argentine pesos. We’d withdrawn money at the Buenos Aires airport to pay the remaining rent on the apartment we’d rented in the Recoleta neighborhood. She looked at the second stack disappointedly. “Oh,” she said, “I thought I told you I only take cash.” I glanced at Rodrigo out of the corner of my eye noticing that he was looking as confused as I felt. I hesitated, “that is cash.” “No,” she said. “I don’t accept Argentine pesos.”
Thus we were introduced to Argentina’s dollar-hungry, blue-market, ever-fluid economy. We learned very quickly that expenses were sky-high unless you could pay in US or Euro cash. Food, lodging, gas, replenishing our toiletries … everything was much more expensive than our South American rule-of-thumb estimated costs. Halfway through Argentina we were able to stem some of the damage by transferring dollars to ourselves via a blue-market service, Xoom.com. This auto-magically gave us a 45% discount on everything since we received 12 pesos per dollar instead of the official 8.4 pesos per dollar we were getting when withdrawing cash from ATMs or using our credit card.
Argentina is perhaps best characterized by our road-trip. Excited about seeing Jesuit missions, dinosaur bones and penguins, we’d planned almost three weeks of a Chevy Chase Family Vacation-esque tour of the country. We sketched out the details, but I neglected to adjust my estimates to account for a rental car, gas, and toll roads, which explains the transportation deficit of almost $2,000.
The closest we came to matching actuals-to-estimates was with lodging. Our apartment was almost exactly aligned to our original estimates. We had budgeted for a splurge in staying at an all-inclusive Estancia (traditional Argentine ranch) for three days. We stayed at two B&B’s during our road-trip with above-average nightly rates (our most expensive B&B was two rooms for two nights in Neuquen for $522) but offset those costs a little by staying at two very simple hostels for 6 nights.
As with Chile, in Argentina’s wine-country we had some amazing gastronomic experiences and bought several bottles of wine. We found that shopping and cooking for ourselves was very difficult to do while road-tripping, so we ate at restaurants more than we’d originally planned, which increased our food costs. All told we spent $1,806.32 eating out and only $378.81 at grocery stores, a ratio unlike any other country we visited in South America.
Entertainment/Excursions/Education included things like seeing a Tango show in Buenos Aires ($321), visiting the Che Guevara museum (~$30), whale watching ($342) and kayaking with sea lions ($452) in the Peninsula Valdes, and touring dinosaur sights in Neuquen ($262).
Argentina was a lesson in financial planning: I have become better about updating our estimates before arriving in a country, and am adjusting our budget based on better real-time data. Despite the cost, our 25 days were filled with amazing experiences that we don’t regret. Hearing our daughter’s joyful exclamations over the Sea Lions, watching our son laughingly try out Tango moves, and taking selfies with penguins are priceless memories that epitomize why we decided to take this trip around the world.
Budget Report: Argentina
Total Cost: $10,828
Cost per day: $433.14
Cost per person per day: $86.63