Last week I took a semi-last minute trip to Argentina with the sole intention of crossing off one of my bucket list destinations, one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World: Iguazu Falls. I’ve been wanting to cross this off the list for a while because, I mean, well, just look at it!
South America, however, is a very long way from the little island chain of Hawaii, so I was going to need to cut some corners in order to justify it financially.
The plan was to meet up with one of my good friends (and fellow world traveler), Ronna (aka Ron Diggz). Ronna and her hubby Greg were recently married and are currently on a five month honeymoon around the world. (I know, right?!?) The rendezvous point was their spot in Buenos Aires, where they’d rented a sweet loft apartment in the posh Palermo Soho neighborhood. From there, Ronna and I took a side trip to Iguazu (a 2-hour plane ride from Buenos Aires) while Greg hung out to do a little bit of work and a lot of crossfit. In all, I’d only be in Argentina for a quick 6 days and 5 nights!
I’ll probably do a bunch of posts on this trip, seeing as how it was so epic, but for now I just wanted to deliver on the title of this post. Here, in slight detail, is how I did Argentina on the cheap:
1) I used miles for a large chunk of the trip. More specifically, I used the miles I had earned on a credit card I took out to fund my trip to Iceland in August.
Before I left, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which at the time was offering 50,000 bonus points after $3,000 worth of purchases in the first 3 months. (Current offer is 40K after $4K in 3 months). I took advantage of all the bonuses the card offers and ended up with enough miles to book a free r/t flight Honolulu to Buenos Aires. I had to fly a very roundabout route to get there, but the total for my ticket was $93. Plus, I was upgraded to Economy Plus on every leg, and on one leg I was even bumped up to first class!
2) We took advantage of Argentina’s notorious black market for money, the Blue Dollar.
Gringo In Buenos Aires does a good job explaining the situation in more detail, but essentially, ever since Argentina’s extreme inflation sparked an economic crisis, the value of the pesos plunged and the black market for money was born.
The difference between the Blue Dollar Rate and the official exchange rate is staggering. While we were there, we could have traded $1 US for 8 pesos legally, or $1 US for 12.5 pesos underground. That’s a pretty significant difference, and it adds up over the long run. I don’t normally travel with cash, but my advice if you’re headed there, is to bring as many US dollars as possible, because cash is king. As for finding someone to change your money on the black market, it isn’t that difficult. There are hidden exchanges fronting as stores everywhere, locals shouting “cambio” (or “change”) on Calle Florida, or, as we learned, everyone has “a guy.” Do be on the lookout for counterfeit bills. Supposedly there’s a lot in circulation, but we didn’t get any.
3) We got an associate rate at the Sheraton Iguazu, the only hotel located inside Iguazu National Park. And the rate included 50% off all food and alcohol.
Ronna hooked up a massive discount at the Sheraton, which helped us out in a number of ways. For starters, the rooms at Sheraton average $300/night. Our room was about 750 pesos/night, which would have translated to $90/night at the official rate.
But at the blue dollar rate it turned out to $60/night. Likewise, our dinners, which consisted of two salads, two meals, two bottles of wine, and some extras, averaged $25 US per person. And a full continental buffet complete with mimosas and fresh OJ was included in the cost. Additionally, because our hotel was located in the park, we didn’t have to pay for transportation, and we only paid the park entrance fee one time, even though we accessed it on three different days. I know it’s not in everyone’s budget at rack rate, but if you can swing it, I highly recommend this hotel. If you don’t book it, you will walk past it every day anyway, wishing you had taken me up on my advice. Just look at that view of the falls from the property. The proximity can’t be beat. Oh, and if you do book it, get the club sandwich. It’s pretty grindz.
4) We took advantage of Argentina’s many cheap and free sites.
On my one full day in Buenos Aires, Ronna & I fueled up on cheap eats (read: empanadas y cervezas), and headed over to the Recoleta Cemetary.
Aptly located in the city of the same name, Recoleta is widely hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries. It’s like an entire city of mausoleums, each meticulously designed to fit the desires of the owner. It was filled with the tombs of Argentina’s elite, including the likes of Eva Peron (aka Evita), and it was stunning. We also did one of Buenos Aires’ free walking tours. We missed the historical tour, and instead ended up on the “cultural” tour, where we learned that because it’s government-funded, most women in Buenos Aires get plastic surgery (specifically, breast lifts) every 3 to 4 months. We also learned that locals are charged 35% every time they use their credit card outside of the country and the country has banned all imports. You don’t see any foreign brands in Argentina.
And there ya have it folks. That’s how I was able to do Argentina on the super duper cheap. I realize not everyone can get the discount at the Sheraton, but you should all be able to take advantage of the blue dollar rate, and those who can swing it should always be looking at the best way to maximize mileage and partner programs! I promise to get some photos up soon. There’s just so many to sort through! Oh, by the way – Ronna has a blog, which you should definitely check out! She posted a few pics from our trip, but their overall journey is much more impressive.