In November 2013, my husband and I spent two wonderful weeks traveling around Argentina for our honeymoon. We packed our days with city adventures in Buenos Aires, backpacking in El Calafate and El Chaltén, and wine touring in Mendoza. It was blissful. It was beautiful. And because of Argentina’s unique exchange, it was cheap!
While planning for our trip we contacted a local travel service. Traveling to four different cities requires a lot of in-country trains, planes and automobiles and we didn’t want to mess it up. Our agent gave us some interesting advice – bring cash!
As you may already be aware, debt crisis in Argentina is leading to tough currency restrictions and increased control from the government. This, along with growing inflation rates, has caused a quickly devaluing peso. With two recent defaults, 2001 & 2014, and constant fear of another, Argentinians are putting their faith in stable currency. Enter the rise of Argentina’s underground money exchange – Dólar Blue. Here, your US dollar will go much further than the official legal exchange rate, but before you fill your bags with cold hard US cash, read through to better understand if the Blue Market is for you.
First and foremost, it’s illegal. Although, not highly regulated, you should still know that the Blue Market is more of a discreet exchange. The Blue Rate is traded in various locations throughout Argentina. From non-descript office buildings to proper exchange houses (Casa de Cambios) – sometimes out in the open on busy streets in larger cities.
The host at the apartment we were renting from in Buenos Aires had a ‘guy’ – an arbolito – with whom she arranged an appointment. This was the first of our shady money dealings. If you’re comfortable enough to ask someone at your accommodations, they may be able to direct you to any number of the above exchange scenarios. Usually, referrals are made to exchanges with better rates; however, you can venture out and find them on your own. If you’re staying in a larger city you shouldn’t have a problem – though smaller cities may prove more difficult.
If searching on your own, there are a few pointers for success. Familiarize yourself with the word ‘Cambio’ (change). People who are willing to exchange dollars to pesos will summon you with this simple phrase – Cambio! Cambio! Try busy, touristy streets. Walk up to the person; if you are lacking in well versed Spanish just repeat Cambio? They will give you a rate and if you like it, great. If you think you can do better, move on. Grid Walking Tip: larger bills will get you a better rate; most ‘exchangers’ want crisp $100’s.
Check the Quick Links below for sites which publish daily Blue Market rates. The accuracy is questionable, but these sites can be a good gauge to determine if you feel the rate is worth traveling with the extra cash. And as with almost any situation in a foreign country, try not to look the part of a lost tourist (even though we are!). Be smart and observant and take note of your surroundings. If it doesn’t feel right, take that as a sign. Be comfortable and confident. Do extra research – talk to friends and family, read more blogs and articles. The more you familiarize yourself the more at ease you will feel. It’s ok if the Blue Market is not for you!
Whatever your thoughts are on taking advantage of the Blue Market, make sure to relax and enjoy beautiful Argentina. The meat is good, the wine is great and the locals are friendly. Want to know more about our trip? Links are below for additional Argentina posts on Grid Walking.