Buenos Aires, Argentina doesn’t tend to crop up on many destination lists for budget travellers, but it’s definitely possible to explore this amazing city without breaking the bank. From beautiful European-inspired architecture to delicious Argentine-style food and unrivalled nightlife, there are many reasons to put it on your travel bucket list for 2017.
Here’s our advice for how to have an amazing time in Buenos Aires on a backpacker budget.
Budget accommodation in Buenos Aires
The city is packed with hotels, guest houses and hostels to suit all price points – below are three budget options. We stayed at one and friends stayed at the others, giving glowing reviews:
Portal Del Sur: a hostel in historic building located centrally in Montserrat, it’s a short walk to plenty of the most famous city sights and is a relatively quiet, laid back hostel. Dorms from 13USD, private rooms from 46USD.
The Milhouse: enjoying a reputation as a party hostel, this is the best place to stay if you want to experience Argentine nightlife and meet lots of fellow backpackers. Dorms from 14USD, private rooms for 3 upwards from 61USD
Art Factory: somewhere in the middle of the above in terms of atmosphere, this is located in Palermo which is a perfect spot for local bars and restaurants. Dorms from 13USD, private rooms from 43USD.
Getting around Buenos Aires
As with all large cities transportation can suck up a surprising amount of cash, so it’s worth ensuring that you’re travelling around cost effectively. Luckily, Buenos Aires boasts an excellent public transport system, and many areas are easy to get around on foot.
The underground or ‘subte’ system dates back to 1913, and has six lines providing great coverage of most major districts. View live notifications and the map here. If your destination isn’t on the metro, buses are just as easy to navigate. There’s a handy website here to help you navigate the bus system – fares are typically less than 1USD.
Make sure to buy a SUBE card as cash is not accepted on any metros and few buses. We and many others struggled to find out where to purchase one and ended up spending unnecessarily on taxis for the first couple of journeys we took in the city! They have recently announced that SUBE cards will be sold at ticket offices, which should make them easier to locate. The cards cost around 1USD and can be recharged.
Buenos Aires is split into neighbourhoods or barrios, with around eight that are popular with tourists and host the main points of interest. A great way to get around on foot is to pick one or two barrios in an area and explore these over the course of a day. For example, if you spend a day in Palermo or Recoleta there’s plenty to do and walking is a good way to see more than you would by just taking public transport to the highlights.
Some great self guided walking routes can be found online if you prefer a little more direction, or want to explore more extensively on foot.
Cheap eats in Buenos Aires
Eating and drinking out in Buenos Aires is probably going to end up as one of your main expenses unless you’re very careful. We found ourselves spending far too much on eating out the first couple of days – especially getting taken in by set price lunch menus that seem to offer good deals, but aren’t that great. The Recoleta area is bad for this – so try to avoid if you can; poor quality food for far too much money!
One of the best ways to eat for cheap is by ordering local specialities, and empanadas are our top choice. These are really tasty, have all kinds of fillings available and only cost around thirty cents. They’re quite small so make sure to order a few to fill up on. We also found a lot of hostels offered weekly “asados” (barbecues) which were great value and sociable – plenty of food for around 5USD.
If you are looking to sample some more of the famous Argentine cuisine then you can’t go wrong by heading to the traditional “Parillas” in the San Telmo district for amazing steak at bargain prices. When it comes to drinking, a bottle of house red is always a safe option in Buenos Aires and can be picked up for just 6-7USD.
Top 5 free & cheap things to do in Buenos Aires
Whilst you can spend a lot of money on tourist attractions in Buenos Aires, there are also many budget options to keep you entertained. Our favourites include:
La Recoleta – No visit to Buenos Aires is complete without seeing this famous cemetery, and whilst it may sound like a slightly odd way to spend an afternoon, you have to see it to believe it. Containing thousands of elaborate mausoleums – many of which are protected as National Historical Monuments – the cemetery has been voted one of the most beautiful in the world. Entry is free with maps available for a couple of pesos.
Japanese Gardens – One of the largest traditional Japanese-style gardens located outside of Japan, this is a beautiful spot to wander round and enjoy a coffee. It features granite sculptures, a lake filled with carp, several bridges and even a Buddhist temple. Admission fees are less than 2USD.
San Telmo Market – Known as an area that’s slightly rough around the edges (although we found it charming with its cobbled streets and old buildings) San Telmo Market is definitely worth a visit. It’s particularly good if you’re able to visit on a Sunday as this is when the weekly antiques market takes place. Many local artisans set up shop for the day selling all manner of things. There are also plenty of cheap street food options and cafes alongside the market.
Museo de Bellas Artes – For culture vultures there are many museums and galleries in Buenos Aires, but this is undoubtedly one of the best. Expect to see worldwide art from the Middle Ages through to the 20th century, alongside collections of some of the finest Argentinian artwork as well as many sculptures.
Buenos Aires Architecture – Affectionately known as the ‘Paris of the South’ and for good reason, the city is filled with stunning European-style architecture. Whilst some may charge for tours or not be open to the general public, it’s free to look! Try to see the Plaza de Mayo, Obelisco de Buenos Aires, Congressional Plaza, Casa Rosada and Teatro Colon for some particularly impressive examples. It’s also a good way to learn more of the history of the city.
Pro Tips for Buenos Aires
Finally, a couple of last tips to help you get the most out of your time in Buenos Aires without blowing the budget:
Free Tango – Whilst you can pay hundreds of pesos to watch a tango show with dinner at one of the city’s theatres, it is possible to get a taste of this famous dance for free. If you head to La Boca many of the bars there will have performers dancing the tango out front. We spent an hour or so with some wine and even complimentary bread watching one of these afternoon shows – feel free to leave a tip to show your appreciation
Walking tours – To get a more in depth understanding of the different districts of this enormous city, free walking tours are available on a daily basis.
Nightlife – Our last piece of advice may not be budget friendly but it’s definitely fun – have a night out or two. Buenos Aires nightlife is some of the best in the world. Unmissable nights out include: La Bomba de Tiempo, a weekly show in a disused olive oil factory featuring some of the most amazing percussion you’ll ever see; and the globally famous show Fuerza Bruta.
So there you have it – Buenos Aires may be an expensive city but it can certainly still be an affordable place for backpackers. It’s more than manageable to have a great time here for 50-60USD per day if you’re careful with what you spend.
Passionate about exploring on a budget, Sarah Edwards is currently touring the world with partner Rob – read more about their adventures at www.natravelblog.com or chat to them on Twitter at @natravelblog