This article is part of our Budget and Money Report series.
Our per diem expenses cover food, lodging, gas and other supplies and travel costs for three people. We travel in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner, tent camp in paid facilities roughly 70% of our nights and eat less than 10% of our meals in restaurants. This budget does not reflect personal spending money, which is mostly used to buy souvenirs and booze. We don't track this money, but we do know we have not come close to spending our budgeted amount of $10 per person per day.
I'm going to try something a bit different for this budget recap. For two reasons: first, our esteemed, much valued and irreplaceable budget book flew the coop somewhere around our second ferry crossing of the Strait of Magellan. This leaves me with a three week gap in the records that cannot be reconciled, meaning a per diem breakdown is impossible to calculate.
Secondly, and much more importantly, Argentina is a financially screwed up country at the moment. Yearly inflation is estimated to be around 50% which has hugely devalued the currency. To compensate. the government has enacted a series of policies to attempt to stabilize the Argentinian peso and keep stores, money changers and banks from increasing rates and prices faster than citizens can keep up with. Quite a few of these policies are unpopular and are viewed by many as being ineffective.
The end result is that people in Argentina want dollars. They need a currency that is stable and are actively converting as much of their savings into dollars as possible to keep from losing massive amounts of money as the peso continues to drop in value.
This has also had the affect of making Argentina a more expensive place to travel in recent years, unless you bring and change US dollars inside the country. While the official rate was around 4.85 pesos to the dollar while we were there, we were changing dollars at a rate of up to 8.5. At times we changed large amounts of dollars and "made" over $500 in the process. Certainly worth the time and effort.
Because our exchange rate varied so dramatically, any numbers I give you in US dollars are effectively useless. As we learned, all numbers you come by for Argentina from a blog or travel guide, whether in US dollars or pesos, should not be trusted. Until the financial situation stabilizes, add 50% for every year old the information is and you'll be closer to the actual price.
|Number of Days:||65|
|Average ATM Exchange Rate (AR Pesos per USD$):||4.85|
|Budgeted Per Diem:||$82.45|
|Actual Per Diem:||$86.15|
|Per Diem Budgeted:||$5,359.25|
|Per Diem Spent:||$5,620.92|
We stayed more or less on budget during our time in Patagonia. Higher-than-expected costs were offset by hunting for a better exchange rates. We went over largely because of a few large one-time expenses such as ferry crossings, tips for our Antarctica cruise, and many gas fill-ups due to the thousands of miles we drove through Argentina.
We were able to change money at rates between 5.5 and 8.5 throughout southern Argentina and Buenos Aires. The best rates were always found in larger cities. Smaller towns with only one or two official money changing venues usually only offered a rate of 6 to 7 pesos per dollar. It is possible to change money everywhere, asking at any store will eventually lead you to find someone who wants to buy dollars. Banks will only offer the official rate, the same one you get by withdrawing money from an ATM. This should be avoided at all costs.
Some discretion is advised. While very common, the act of buying dollars isn't technically legal without the proper paperwork. As an ignorant foreign tourist it's not likely you will get in trouble, but potential buyers may be put off by a lack of discretion on your part. All but once we changed money at an official "casa de cambio" and it wasn't any different than any other time we've swapped currencies throughout our trip.
You will get the best rate by bringing dollars into Argentina and changing them in the country. It is legal to bring up to US$10,000 in cash per person into the country without needing to declare it at customs. You have to stock up on dollars before you enter the country, it will be impossible to legally acquire dollars in Argentina at the official rate. The only option is the black market where you will get the same rate you hope to change at. Not that it will do overlanders much good, but you are allowed to buy up to US$500 at the official rate at the airport in Buenos Aires provided you have proof that you're flying to a country that uses dollars as a currency.
We got dollars in Chile by withdrawing Chilean pesos from an ATM and changing them into dollars at a bank or money changing booth. We lost 1-2% on that trade, but considering you stand to gain 30-50% by changing the dollars into Argentinian pesos, it's not a problem. You can negotiate for better rates by changing more money, so consider buying a lot of dollars, at least $1,000. Another option is to pool money with fellow travelers to negotiate a better rate.
You can also buy Argentinian pesos at a more favorable rate in bordering countries. We got rates between 5.5 and 7.5 by changing Chilean pesos directly into Argentinian pesos. The same can be done in Uruguay, although we did not need to change money there, pesos were being sold at a rate of nearly 10 to the dollar. It may be necessary to return to the same money changer several times throughout the day to be able to exchange all of your money. We found that Argentinian pesos were constantly being bought and sold, especially at the change houses that offered the best rates. It's a matter of being there at the right time before someone else snatches up the pesos.
Here is a list of the places we changed and the rates we got. Keep in mind that with any currency exchange, your rates will vary:
Because the Argentinian peso is so devalued, do everything in your power to get rid of all of your pesos before you leave the country. In Uruguay every place we found was buying pesos at a rate of 19 to the dollar. That's 1/4 of the rate you will get from an ATM. Chile was a bit better, but the rate offered was still almost half the official rate.
For the reasons mentioned above, giving you numbers for what we spent on food, lodging and gas is fairly pointless. Rather than be overly specific, I've limited this section to general advice and given you some vague numbers in Argentinian pesos rather than dollars in the hopes that will be more useful.