15 things you should know before visiting Buenos Aires
1. EATING HOURS
In Buenos Aires, Portenos (locals) have lunch between 1pm -3pm and then most restaurants close for siesta. Many restaurants are open again by 7pm or 8pm, however, only tourists eat at those hours. To eat with the locals, plan on going to dinner after 9pm; peak hours are between 10pm and 11:30pm.
A mini-meal is eaten around 6pm, it’s called media tarde or merienda, and roughly translates to “afternoon” tea. This normally consists of medialunes (similar to a sweet croissant), tostadas, coffee, tea, mate (an Argentinean drink that tastes like very strong green tea) or beer.
Another piece to keep in mind is that people take much more time to eat. For example, I went to coffee with a local recently and it was 2 hours. In the U.S. it is rare for coffee to last over an hour. Be ready to relax and enjoy your eating experience because it will not be rushed.
2. TIPPING & WAITERS
A standard tip in Argentina is 10% of the bill. If for some reason the service was very bad, you do not need to tip them at all. If the service was great, they appreciate a tip over 10%. Tips are only in cash. You cannot put it on a credit card.
You’ll find that the wait staff don’t hover around as much as they do in the United States and you will often need to flag them down (discreetly) for them to come over. They rarely stop by to check and see how everything is going. This is because they don’t want to rush you.
The water from the tap is safe to drink in Buenos Aires, however, if you want to be extra safe I recommend buying bottled water. Go to a grocery store to do this as the small vendors will charge much more for small sizes of water.
Also, during meals at restaurants, it is not common to be served water automatically. You need to ask for it and it is not free. Sometimes the wine is free and the water is charged. When ordering water, waiters will always ask you if you want the water with or without gas.
4. EATING ON THE GO
Eating on the go in Argentina is a very strange concept to portenos as they prefer to relax and enjoy their meal. You will see no one eating or drinking on the streets, unless it is mate (we’ll get to that next).
As you walk along the streets of Buenos Aires, or anywhere in Argentina, you’ll notice people drinking out of cups (normally carved from a little gourd) with metal straws sticking out of them. This is mate and is practically sacred in Argentina. The native Guarani Indian people called it the “Drink of the Gods”, Argentinean gauchos call it their “liquid vegetable”, and you can’t avoid seeing locals carrying this around. It is an infusion of dried leaves of the yerba mate plant and hot water. Locals drink this all day and share it with friends out of the same cup. It is common to see groups of friends lounging in the park and passing the mate cup back and forth.
Surprisingly, it is difficult to find it as a menu option at restaurants because locals normally bring it with them. However, if you ask nicely, many restaurants will allow you to sample this tradition.
6. DOG POOP
Beware where you walk. All throughout Buenos Aires, there is dog poop on the streets. I’m not sure if it’s from stray dogs or locals not cleaning up after their dogs, but it’s something to keep in mind.
When signing a receipt you will need to write your full ID number under your name every time. Make sure you have your ID with you because they will usually not let you use a credit card without it.
8. PLATFORM SHOES
This may not be the style a year from now, however, everywhere you look the women here wear platform shoes (think Spice Girls in the 90’s). I’ve had a very hard time finding sandals that do not have a platform on them here. It is common to see women walking around with a 3-4 inch platform at all times (especially at night).
You can only take out about $200 at a time from ATMs because of the economic situation. They will charge you about $7 or more every time you do it. If you have a non-fee debit card, bring it! Also, try to pay with a credit card as much as you can and save the cash. Since the ATM fee is so high, you’ll want to savor every peso you have.
10. GETTING AROUND TOWN
Surprisingly, we’ve found that the metro (subway) is not the most efficient transportation system. Often it takes the same amount of time walking that it does taking the subway. However, that could be because of the area we are in. With that said, you should always take Uber here. It is extremely cheap, normally around $4 for a 20 minute ride and safe. Taxi’s should be avoided as they charge more than Uber’s and try to rip you off. Also, if you do take a taxi they will likely not have change (or say they don’t have it), which will lead to an even higher cost.
Don’t walk around with your smartphone out. The locals don’t do it and it’s slightly dangerous as someone could grab it from you.
Most locations have wifi, which can easily be connected to with your phone. I do not recommend connecting to open networks as anyone can hack into your phone. Only connect to networks that require a password. All restaurants/cafe’s will provide you with the code if you ask.
12. “I’M FROM AMERICA”
Don’t say you’re from America. This is offensive to Portenos or anyone living in South America, as it infers that the real “America” is the U.S. and everywhere else is not considered America.
13. CRIME HOTSPOTS
Buenos Aires is overall a safe city, however, you should be careful to avoid certain areas. Avoid straying from the tourist district of La Boca and avoid Constitucion at night. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or wristwatches in public. Be mindful of anyone suddenly fussing over you in public as they are likely creating a distraction while another tries to pickpocket you.
14. ARGENTINA’S POLITICS
Argentina is a country who’s past is a roller coaster of financial booms and gripping political soap operas. As one of my tour guides said, “Argentineans past time is protesting”. I’ve also been told that although Evita is famous, it is very split on how people view her; some love what she has done and other’s despise it. It’s best to avoid talking about politics and Argentina’s history unless a local brings it up.
15. TRUST THE LOCALS RECOMMENDATIONS
When it comes to the food scene, ask your waiter what they recommend. They know the food and know what is best. I made a mistake of staying with what I knew when I first arrived and I didn’t like any of the food. Then, finally, I let a local order for me and had the best meal in weeks.