Budget Synopsis: Argentina

Days in country: 56
Food: $664.21
Lodging: $583.42 (23 nights Couchsurfing/Workaways, 4 nights as a gift/promo, 6 nights on overnight bus)
Transport: $2,078 (buses and airfares)
Entrance fees: $131.25 (Iguazu, Tierra del Fuego, Perito Moreno Glacier)
Tours: $36.46 (bike/wine in Mendoza)
Souvenirs: $52.30
Other: $18.30 (deodorant, photocopies, shoe glue, health supplies)           


TOTAL: $3,563.94= $63.64/day for 2 people 

I have to admit that given the exorbitant amounts of money we spent here compared to the rest of our travels, I was pleasantly surprised to see our daily average this "low" (our widely outdated guide book lists daily costs as $35/person). That being said, we were completely unprepared for what inflation and lack of previously subsidized bus transport (the government shut that off in November 2011) would mean to our budget--those two realities set the tone for our experiences here. All I can do is sing the praises of Workaway and Couchsurfing for saving our butts once again--we absolutely would have been pushing $100/day without them.

STEVE'S GRINGO TIPS FOR TRAVELLING IN ARGENTINA

Steve: Coming into Argentina it would have been nice to have known or expected a couple of things. So in the hopes that some American/Western traveler does a Google search looking for advice, maybe they will find these helpful. Without further ado...

- Bus Travel: As my wife already mentioned bus travel was no longer subsidized as of November 2011, so couple that with inflation and fares are at least triple what our guidebook lists. Some Argentines seemed to get a little defensive when we brought up the cost of bus travel so I will concede a couple of things: 1) the buses in Argentina are generally nicer than buses in all of Central and South America; 2) compared to the U.S. or other Western countries bus prices are comparable if not better. That said there are no other budget alternatives--as noted in our last post planes often don't fare much better!--and prices seem to be the same across the board. While in Cordoba I went up to at least ten different companies to compare prices and they varied by less than 3%...I don't know what if any anti-trust laws exist in Argentina but this smells of price fixing. In neighboring Bolivia bus companies were required to post government-mandated maximum rates for all destinations and often the companies lowered prices to get their buses filled, because that's what you do in a competitive, capitalist system right(?) (Editor's Note: this is dripping with sarcasm and irony since Bolivia is one of the more socialist countries in South America). I know Argentina is not Bolivia, but I'm just saying...

- Exchange Rates: Okay, this topic has really riled my blood many a time during our stay. Go to any currency exchange site and check on the U.S. dollar versus the Argentine peso. As of this post, it is "officially" $4.9 pesos to $1 USD. Now just before entering Argentina I exchanged some of our Bolivianos and was pleasantly surprised to see that I got almost one-to-one, this with the Boliviano being over 6 to the U.S. dollar. I should have exchanged it all right then. Upon trying to exchange the rest of our Bolivianos across the border I was shocked to find money changers offering about a third of what I got in Bolivia. I eventually had to go into a back room with some guy to exchange money wallet-to-wallet just to get a better rate. Welcome to the black market Steve.

We started hearing from different people that they didn't use that rate, something along the lines of "oh it's not the official rate, you have to go off the black market rate." It turns out that in an effort to curb inflation the Argentine government artificially pegged the peso to the U.S. dollar and then stopped banks from actually issuing U.S. dollars. So people in the know and with proper connections (i.e. all of Argentina) go to their "guy" and bring in their U.S. dollars and get a rate that is at 6-to-1 or better. If you can, prepare ahead and bring as much U.S. currency as you might need and/or are willing to carry and ask around with people that you trust. What do you do if you don't have a "guy" or have access to U.S. dollars? Some people we know have successfully used a website called www.xoom.com where you can wire money from a U.S. bank account in USD and pick up you money in pesos all while getting a rate over 6-to-1. I know it has worked for some people but an internet search for complaints bring up a whole smorgasbord of disasters and warnings. We were wary of handing over routing numbers and such so therefore stuck with the traditional ATM route. Which brings me to my next topic...

- ATMs and Surcharges: I am already sensitive because people (generally Argentines) seem to snicker when you tell them how you go about getting money. What makes it worse are all the times that you have to hit up ATMs just to be reminded that you're getting ripped off because your're a foreigner. We were unable to find an ATM that dispensed more that $1,000 Argentine pesos per transaction, which accounts to just under $200 USD using the "official" rate that banks must charge. Now throw in multiple bank fees and you're getting charged upwards of 3% per transaction. In order to make cash last I used my Capital One credit card wherever possible--to their credit (pun completely intended) there are no international usage fees--but I still received the garbage "official" exchange rate. As a foreigner travelling in another country our hands have been pretty much tied. To put this into perspective, if you take our total expenses for our stay in Argentina compiled by my lovely accountant wife and deduct for the differences in the "official" and black market rates you're looking at roughly $600 U.S. dollars. Ah, good times.

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