Practicalities for Buenos Aires

Free WiFi is now widely available in cafes and ice cream parlors.  Just bring a laptop and you’re set! And, unlike many places in the US, you can stay for an hour with just a coffee by your side and no one will bother you.

The city is exuberant  - but that also means noisy.  Buses and trucks are very loud, and they seem to run night and day.  If you are not sure that your hotel or flat is sound-proofed, invest in some good earplugs!

The use of diesel fuel for buses, among other sources, means that the city air is dirty.  Don’t bring white slippers!  Light-colored jackets or coats may need cleaning frequently – fortunately the city is also full of laundries and dry cleaners.

Good walking shoes with relatively thick soles are a must – the sidewalks are hard, and in many places you’ll still find cobblestone streets.  Walking in the parks means walking on gravel-covered pathways.  Trendy versions of running shoes or tennis shoes are seen everywhere – save the high-heeled boots for evenings when you just take a taxi to your restaurant.

While you are walking, watch what’s over your head; the balconies are full of potted plants, which seem to be watered until they overflow the balcony – and onto your head if you pass underneath.

If you are traveling in southern autumn/early winter, pack a pair of gloves and a light scarf – it won’t get as cold in Buenos Aires as it does in Chicago, but when the humidity is near 90% and the temperature drops to about 34F (1C), and the wind picks up, you’ll be glad for the warm accessories. (If you have a jacket with a zip-in liner, even better.)  

Spring travel can also bring surprising reversals of temperatures.  Don’t count too much on long-range predictions via Yahoo or the like…most weather models were developed in the northern hemisphere, and often do not work for the southern hemisphere.  If it rains, don’t worry; umbrella vendors will appear almost by magic.  And bring a bathing suit in case you decide to go to a spa, or find that your hotel has a Jacuzzi even though the website did not mention that.  A few ounces will save you a lot of trouble…and if there is no Jacuzzi, a few ounces will not matter!

Chilly weather also highlights the lack of hot water in many restaurant and café bathrooms.  A small battle of hand sanitizer will come in handy.

Tipping:  Argentines are likely to tip 5% for a “normal” propina, and 10% in a nice restaurant.  As a visitor, best to tip 10%; don’t put it on your charge card – hand the tip to the waiter.  

Restaurant reservations (reservas) – Out of high season, a reservation may not be necessary, especially as the local diners will probably arrive much later than most tourists – which means that you could be the first diner at 9 pm and leave a full restaurant at 11:30 p.m.   If you can, make a reservation anyway, it gets you a little more attention and ensures that you will get a decent table.  Almost all restaurants have opted to be smoking-free since the law was changed in early 2006, but a few of the largest have set aside smoking sections and will ask you if you want “fumador” or “no-fumador.”  Cafés and bars have generally set up tables outside – sometimes with small heaters – for smokers.

Coffee – The various brands of coffee served in cafés can be quite different in taste.  Each café will serve only one – its own in the case of chains like Martinez or Piacere, or a name such as Segafreddo or Cabrales.  If you find one you like, use that as a guide to choosing other cafés. 

© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, Richard W. Tripp, Jr.