With so many top 10 things to do in Buenos Aires lists, best of Argentina articles and travel forums full of thousands of recommendations, let’s change things up a bit to the complete opposite. In any city there are tourist traps and things travel veterans know not to do. Here is our helping hand to you.
1. The most basic of basic things NOT to do in Buenos Aires:
Do not under any circumstances exchange currency at the airport booths. Times have changed and currency controls have been lifted! Read up on the latest tips for exchange rates in Argentina here. General rule of thumb now is to get some pesos at the airport at either the Banco Nacion bank or use your debit card at the airport ATM.
–B. Avoid taking a random taxi from Retiro bus/train station, EZE international airport, the BuqueBus port station and national airport Jorge Newberry (AEP). These 4 locations are notorious for having dishonest cab drivers that run scams. Arrange airport transportation ahead of time with these guys or use one of the indoor booths. At the Buque Bus port and Retiro locations, walk a few blocks away from the entrance/exit and hail a “Radio” taxi.
2. Rent a car if you have a death wish. Why rent a car when you have public transportation heading in almost every feasible direction, thousands of readily available taxis and a very walking-friendly city?! The drivers in Buenos Aires are very aggressive and many of the intersections lack any stoplights or stop signs. Drivers are to make split second judgments based on who’s car is approaching faster, who has more traffic on their street and whether or not their street has a dip before the intersection signifying they must yield. It’s like an impromptu game of car chicken. Parking is also a massive pain and deserves its own subsection discussing the “trapitos“, but we’ll save that for another day. Skip the stress and take a taxi, hired car, or bus, or the subway or a train.
3. Get your haircut. Haircuts in Buenos Aires are stylish especially amongst the women, but the barbers lean towards “mullet”. Choose wisely, use a recommendation that is tested and true. Whatever you do, don’t go to the cheap Supercuts-looking joint. I have received more sub-par haircuts in Buenos Aires than anywhere else in the world because I still think a haircut should cost $10 dollars. My name is Jed, but I don’t need the mullet to match.
Do consider swinging by a proper old school barbershop for a straight razor shave or maybe make a day of it with the Man Tour.
4. Ethnic food, as in food that is foreign to Argentina, will 9 out of 10 times be weak. With importation regulations increasing by the minute, getting high quality spices, ingredients and equipment is an expensive and difficult task. Check out some of the closed door restaurants that specialize in a particular style or follow the great food blog Pick Up the Fork that will rarely steer your wrong.
5. Visiting El Caminito in La Boca. For those of you who have not yet completed your research on your list of things to do in Buenos Aires, El Caminito is that picturesque scene of colorful buildings by the riverside. What really awaits you is the stench of stagnant port water, cheesy keepsakes and 3 square blocks of aggressive peddlers attempting to coax you into their restaurant, shop or touristy picture scenes. Do not go around exploring the area outside of what appears to be tourist friendly. It is not safe.
Do get an in depth tour of La Boca with a guide that really knows the history and has contacts in some of the hidden art and community centers. The El Camninto area is quite interesting and a historically relevant section of Buenos Aires when explained properly. I would recommend a private Buenos Aires guide (like Madi Lang from Buenos Aires Cultural Concierge) or Anda Resposible Tour: La Boca & Beyond.
6. Stay out of the Red Zone. Speaking of areas you should not explore, check out the Buenos Aires Good and Bad area map. Constitucion, La Boca (outside of the El Caminito area) or the area behind the Retiro bus station aka Villa 31. These are the neighborhoods you are warned about. Heed ye warning and pay attention when you are near these areas.
7. Do not stay in downtown Buenos Aires. Avoid renting an apartment or staying in a hotel in Centro unless you are here for a short period of time (1-2 days). Opinions may vary on this, but being an expat in Buenos Aires for 8 years I can confidently say that downtown offers little with regards to nightlife. Shopping and the general area can be covered in a day. Also it is a bit sketchy after dark in some areas. There are just too many other superior areas in Buenos Aires to consider like Recoleta, Palermo Soho, Palermo Hollywood and San Telmo.
8. Stay away from the “Shoppings.” The large Shopping Malls are notorious for being overpriced and general time burglars. If you are visiting Buenos Aires for a short period of time I would say skip these altogether unless you are genuinely interested in seeing the popular fashions of the general population “on sale”. Any shop that happens to be selling traditional Argentinean keepsakes (except the high end shops like Cardon, etc.) are simply buying them from the artisans at the readily available street fairs and marking the price up 200%. I am looking specifically at you, Alto Palermo, Abasto and Patio Bullrich.
Instead of the Buenos Aires shopping malls, check out the weekend ferias like San Telmo antique fair, Recoleta artisan fair and Mataderos market for your general keepsakes shopping needs.
9. Trusting any postal service is a terrible idea. Fed Ex envelopes are about the only thing that get through with a decent frequency. Anything in a box will 90% of the time get snagged in customs aka the pit of despair. You can look forward to multiple trips to the mail distribution centers, chats with surly custom agents and “green card” requests (bribes). Your best bet is to find a friend that is making the trip and has some spare space in their luggage, check into Entrusters or a similar service like Grabr…or roll the dice where the house wins way too often.
To give you an idea of how frustrating the experience can be check out the BA Expat site threads over the years. At the very least they offer good advice as to what to do sandwiched between all the complaining and horror stories.
Vices and Bad Habits (Sex, drugs and rock n roll below- reader beware)
10. Enter Cabarets and Strip Clubs at your own will. These clubs are the typical honey traps they appear to be. I have never heard a tale that ends well with a traveler wandering into a cabaret. If that’s your thing find a brothel or a strip club (that sort of tango is legal here and ends the way you’d want it to). Cabarets that promise “free ___” can be a costly mistake in Buenos Aires. For other mistakes you should avoid while in Argentina and a bit more of an explanation as to why those cabarets are bad news.
11. Say NO to Drugs. And Paco. It is a thing you should probably not do in Buenos Aires…there is a drug here called “Paco” and Paco is bad. Pasta base (aka paco) is that chemical residue that is left over after the cocaine production process. Sure, there might be some high quality devil’s dandruff mixed in there, but it’s not worth it. Paco and its damages to the human body are most similar to its northern relative crystal meth or maybe an accelerated version of crack. Not a pretty habit to pick up while abroad.