Your pound will go a long way in Buenos Aires - which means you get to live the high life in one of South America's hottest cities
UK arrivals to Argentina were up 30 per cent year on year this January, and in the restaurants, bars and shops of Buenos Aires Brits aren’t hard to spot. It’s not their dressed-down appearance next to the oh-so-casual Portenos, as the capital’s residents are known. Nor their pinkish hue, as mid-summer temperatures scoot towards 40°C. No, the main giveaway is the explosive 'how much?!?!' as they glance over menus, examine designer price tags or pay for drinks in the achingly hip bars. Because Buenos Aires is absurdly, ridiculously, Monopoly-money cheap.
In the early 90s the peso was decoupled from parity with the dollar, savings were frozen, riots erupted, the economy imploded and presidents came and went quicker than Maradona could palm the ball past a goalie. Shopping trips to Miami were out; rifling through bins for cardboard and cans to sell for a few cents was in.
The economy is bouncing back but the value for visitors due to the weak currency remains. With around five pesos to the pound, you’ll be hard pressed to pay more than £5 in a cab across town (if you’re really counting pennies, a metro trip is 15p), a lunchtime set menu in a café often leaves change from £3, an all-in posh night out including dinner, drinks and clubbing shouldn’t break £40, and locally made designer clothes are an absolute steal.
Base yourself in Palermo Viejo, a formerly tatty now thoroughly up-and-come neighbourhood, which hasn’t compromised its working class soul. A 15-minute cab-ride from downtown, it’s a one-stop shop of stores, cafes, bars and clubs. A good hub there is Home Hotel Buenos Aires
, a small hotel that opened last year, owned by London record producer Tom Rixton and his Irish-Argentine wife Patricia. It’s full of people way too beautiful for their own good, the lobby a fusion of glass and concrete, while rooms mix shag pile rugs, French antique wallpaper, Scandinavian sofas and Jacuzzis. There’s a spa downstairs and a bar with a large selection of vodkas and kitsch wine boxes with pictures of Maradona on. Best of all, you’re looking at around £37 per person per night in a standard room (two sharing). Other options in the area include Five Cool Rooms
, Malabia House
and Che Lulu
, or rent your own apartment through ByT Argentina, from around £130 a week.
Even if you are in a flat, with the peso so sickly there’s no point self-catering. Start your day by taking your laptop to Bar 6 (Armenia 1676) to send smug emails to friends at home over breakfast. (Don battered jeans, T-shirt and Havaiana flip-flops to blend in with the locals.) Weekend brunch, complete with mini bottles of champagne, is best at Scandinavian-inspired Olsen (Gorriti 5870).
Fortified, it’s time to move (not very far) to the shopping. Men can stock up on Hoxton-esque fashions at a smidgen of London prices at boutiques such as El Cid (Gurruchaga 1732) and Felix (down the road at number 1670), or urban essentials at Hermanos Estebecorena (El Salvador 5960). For design outlets and ladies’ fashions in small one-off boutiques mooch along the streets west of Plazoletta Cortazar, especially Honduras, El Salvador, Malabia, Armenia and Gurrucahaga. No one ought to be able to leave Argentina without a pair of sunglasses from Infinit Boutique (Thames 1602), absolutely no question the world’s trendiest shades. Most cafes, restaurants and parillas (steak houses) in this area offer a set lunchtime menu ejecutivo, where a substantial weekday main course with a glass of wine and coffee is only around £3.
Come evening and things follow a very Spanish pattern – go out before 10 o’clock and you’re a freak. For a dinner splurge (well, £30) hop in a cab for Sucre, about ten minutes away in Belgrano, a hip venue with tasty Euro-fusion food, tasty décor and tasty wait-staff. Back in Palermo, an alternative would be Casa Cruz (Uriarte 1658) with its loungy, see-and-be-seen vibe and 'Argentinian urban food', preceded by drinks at the all white, candle-lit Omm (Honduras 5656) or the studenty (but cool), Oxfam-on-acid Acabar, a minute’s walk away (Honduras 5733). If you’re still up for it, Club 69 at Niceto Club (Niceto Vega 5510) packs them in on Thursdays, but don’t go before 3am when the 70s funk and disco morphs to house and the place fills up. You’ll probably leave around dawn with a smile on your face - but whether that’s the cheap booze, or the thought of how happy your bank manager is you chose Argentina for your hols, could be open to debate.