Trip Coach: November 7, 2006

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Writer Ian Mount answered your questions about Buenos Aires

Ian Mount: Hi there, thanks for joining me. This is Ian Mount, and I'm ready to answer your questions about Buenos Aires and day trips outside the city. Hope I can be of some help!

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Reno, NV: Would you be kind enough to recommend several moderately priced hotels in Buenos Aires? The last time I was there (May 2005) I had a wonderful time, but my hotel was less than comfortable. I had a similar problem on my previous trip to Argentina. There must be clean, well located hotels available. Where are they?

Ian Mount: It's depends what you mean by "moderately priced", but one option I'd point you toward is a 'boutique hotel'. In the last three years, there's been a boom in really lovely small hotels in Buenos Aires, usually renovated old homes, where rooms go for between $80 and $120. They're somewhere between a B&B and a regular hotel (some have restaurants and spas, some just serve breakfast). The trendiest (and most high design) of them is the 18-room Home Hotel in Palermo Hollywood, where rooms start at $115. In San Telmo, there's The Cocker, where rooms start at $85 (always, check on my prices) and in Palermo Soho there's 1555 Malabia House with rooms from $105 and Bobo where rooms start at $100. There's a ton more: I did a post on my own blog about the boom in these places (http://www.goodairs.com/2006/06/its-raining-boutique-hotels.html) and Budget Travel also had a story about them. A note on prices: often (usually) the prices don't include taxes, which run 21%.

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Pheonix, AZ: Can you recommend three clean small hotels or B&Bs in Buenos Aires offering a convenient location, close to subway (subte) station, and rates less than 50 US dollars (or 150 Argentine pesos) per night, including any taxes? It's helpful if the selected lodgings have email addresses to facilitate direct communications for reservations. Thanks!

Ian Mount: I'm going to dodge your question a little, as a) I really don't know the budget hotel scene in B.A. too well and b) there's a better way to find accommodations in that price range. There are thousands (literally) of apartments you can rent short-term, for anywhere from one day to six months, and with prices at some $200/week (or less), if you're staying more than 3 days it's actually cheaper to rent an apartment and gives the added bonuses of offering you a kitchen and making you feel a bit like a resident. I've used ByT Argentina to book a place for my mom and that worked out well, and I know the head/owner of Whats Up Buenos Aires who's a trustworthy guy. There are tons of these services, many of which are probably honest and pleasant, but those are the two I know best.

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Cedarhurst, NY: This Feb, we will be in BA for 4 full days. We have already arranged a 1 day excursion to the Pampas and a 1/2 day city bus tour. Any suggestions for the other 2 days? And can you also provide some recommendations for restaurants? Thank you

Ian Mount: Like I mentioned in the article, I find estancia life and the gaucho culture totally fascinating, so I'd think about a trip to San Antonio de Areco and one night at Estancia El Ombu or La Bamba. If you feel that's been covered by your Las Pampas tour, you could take the Tren de la Costa up to Tigre, a delta city where the rivers are the roads and the front stoops are docks, and take a boat tour, eat lunch, etc. Lovely little town.
Also, restaurants. There are so many that it's hard to pick what to recommend. For steak, I especially like La Dorita and La Cabrera (both in Palermo). Carlitos, across from the Boca Juniors soccer stadium, is one of those classic places where the owners comes out, says "Pasta or meat?" and then brings you tasty food until you're done. And Sottovoce, on Avenida Libertador in Recoleta, has the city's best Italian food (at least for me).

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North Smithfield, RI: Ian, How would I plan a side trip to the northeastern portion of Argentina, Apostoles in the Misiones district?

Ian Mount: I'll have to say that you got me there. Here's the Missiones Government tourism site, which shows that among other things on November 15 the province will be hosting the 24th National Festival of Wood. But, seriously, I've been to Iguazu waterfalls, which is lovely but tourist-packed (and sometimes waterfall free during drought season, so check before you go) and to Posada La Bonita, a quiet jungle lodge which is truly one of the most peaceful places I've ever been. About Apostoles, I'm a little in the dark.

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Raleigh, NC: I'd love to plan our next trip to Buenos Aires, but my husband thinks anyplace in South America is too dangerous. Sure, there are some crime-ridden, scary places on any continent. We've been all over Europe, and I just don't believe Argentina is any more risky than, say, Germany. Am I right? Do you get the feeling that the locals have any particular disdain for Americans? Where can I go for more information of the safety of the city? I'm really excited to break out of our travel rut, but we both need to feel comfortable of course. Thanks so much for your help!

Ian Mount: Buenos Aires used to be one of those absurdly safe cities where people left their front doors unlocked (at least that's what my Argentine friends tell me), and while it's no longer that I certainly think of it as being as safe as, say, New York. Of course, walking around a tourist area, carrying an expensive digital camera, and screaming in English is probably the best way to be pickpocketed, but I think that's likely true anywhere. And there are some neighborhoods I wouldn't walk around at 4 a.m. (again, like anywhere). In the news you will see a lot of very sensational crimes--"express" kidnappings of wealthy Argentine businessmen, rapes in the subway, etc¿but overall I find it to be wonderfully unintimidating, friendly and safe, especially for tourists. I used to live in New Orleans, another tourist heavy city, and to put it mildly Buenos Aires is far safe. I don't know any official statistics on the crime rates, but here's the US State Department sheet on the country.
As for disdain for Americans, I've never really felt any. There is an incredible disdain for the current president--so his-and-hers "I Love Bush" shirts wouldn't be a great idea--but Argentines generally distinguish between the people and politicians.

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Toledo, OH: What is the safety situation in Buenos Aires? Also, what is the inflation rate in the cost of apartments?

Ian Mount: I'll point you to the last question re: safety. As for inflation, the rate is about 10-12% a year, which means hotel rooms that used to be $80 (US) are now some $100 (US). If you're asking about apartment buying, that really depends on the neighborhood. In hot neighborhoods like Palermo--where foreigners are buying houses and apartments--prices have maybe doubled in the last four years, while in more local barrios prices have risen at a more reasonable pace.

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Irving, TX: Is it safe to rent a car in Buenos Aires and drive from town to town in Argentina?

Ian Mount: I've only done that once with a rented car--to drive down to Mar de las Pampas for this article--and I found it totally safe. Cintra (my wife) and I used to have a car in the city, and we never had any trouble either in or outside the city (we drove to Cordoba, for example). One warning: the highways are pretty scary sometimes, as they're often two lane (one in each direction) undivided roads with 130 km/h (80 mph) speed limits and tons of cattle trucks. So if you're a tender hearted driver... (Here's a bit on the highways from the blog Cintra and I keep: http://www.goodairs.com/2006/10/basta-en-la-ruta.html)
If you're thinking about leaving the car in Buenos Aires overnight, I'd think about putting it in a garage as opposed to on the street, as I've heard of a bunch of car theft (though I've never experienced it and I left our car on the street a bunch).

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New Orleans, LA: I will be in Argentina from December 13 through December 23. I am going with two twenty-something girlfriends. We are going to be in Buenos Aires for most of the trip but we would like to go either to Mendoza or to the beach for a few days of that trip, and are trying to decide which one to do given the time restraints. Which one do you suggest and why?

Ian Mount: I'd suggest the beach vacation, as it's definitely more of a 20-something scene and it would give you a true opportunity to see the crazy "flash" side of Argentine culture, all models and fashion shows and silliness. The only downside is that you're there right before the beach season kicks off--Christmas Day is when everyone heads to the beach--but I suspect Punta del Este (in Uruguay) and Pinamar (in Argentina) will be packed with the young and beautiful (and the prices will be a little lower than post-Christmas).
Of course, Mendoza is lovely--don't get me wrong. I went there last year during that time and it was beautifully sunny and visiting the bodegas was totally fascinating (though if you're doing wine tasting, I'd get a driver--a "taste" in many of these bodegas is half a glass, so after three or four "tastes" driving is out of the question). Around that time it's very hot during the day (though sometimes there are hail storms; very odd). If you're into wine, horseback riding in the mountains, etc.--if you want more nature than craziness--that's where I'd go.

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Dallas, TX: We are arrive in to Buenos Aires the 18th of November for 7 nights and would like to take a side trip. I've been told Cordova is an easy trip from BA. I've also been told not to miss Montevideo and the coast. What would you suggest?

Ian Mount: Cordoba is an 8 hour or so drive and, to my mind, not a place you "have" to see (the city of Cordoba, that is). The foothills around it are beautiful, however, so if you're into camping that would be a great place to go. As for Montevideo, I found it to be--ok, I'll say it--dull. So I'd go to the coast of the three options you mention. In Argentina, Mar de las Pampas (of the article) is beautiful and silent, and the two towns next to it (Las Gaviotas and Mar Azul) are even more peaceful (all sand streets, bad cell phone coverage, etc). And I think in parts of those two towns you have to move around via horse. We're talking mellow. As for the other beach towns, Mar del Plata is more of a beach city¿think, say, Atlantic City--while Carilo is a very beautiful, upper-middle-class beach resort and Pinamar and Villa Gesell are more for "partying" (Pinamar is wealthier, I think, and Villa Gesell has more high-schoolers, but those are only quick impressions).

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Sarasota, FL: I will fly into Buenos Aires the morning of Dec. 25 and will be there a couple of days on an OAT trip, going to Antarctica for small cruise ship. I was in BA 2 years ago and thought we would go to Christmas Mass at the beautiful 1500's white church on the hill in the arts area. What else is available on Christmas day and the day after, like museums or other things that won't be closed due to the holidays? Thanks, Lee

Ian Mount: Wow. That's tough. Everybody stays up until 5 a.m. on Christmas eve, sleeps late on Christmas day, and then drives (or rather sits in a traffic jam) to the beach on Christmas afternoon. I honestly can't think of much that's open, I'm sad to say. It's a great day to walk the city, of course, maybe walk along the Costanera (the riverside road near the domestic airport) past the Fisherman's Club and just relax.

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Washington, DC: We are going to Buenos Aires over Christmas and New Year's. Can you tell us what to expect on New Year's and any great family ideas where all the kids are in the low to mid 20's? Thanks!

Ian Mount: New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve nights are truly fun in Buenos Aires, albeit a bit nutty. There is a huge Argentine obsession with fireworks, and on these two dates it seems like every citizen of the city has been issued two roman candles, a quarter stick of dynamite, and 12 bottle rockets. Don't even try to sleep. Instead, it's fun to walk the streets after midnight. Everybody's out shooting off what are presumably illegal munitions (there's nothing like seeing a policeman teach a 7 year old light a small bomb). It is also the night of late night parties (though this may appeal more to your kids). And we mean "late night". Last year we went to a dance party/nightclub set up on the Ciudad Cultural Konex--a very cool old olive oil factory remodeled into a museum/event space--at around 2 a.m. Sadly, we were turned away at the door and had to come back an hour later--because the event hadn't started yet.

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University Park, MD: On an upcoming Saturday in Nov. we would like to travel from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay for a short visit. However, the fast Buquebus leaves at either around 11 am or around 7 pm - neither time works for us. Is there any other ferry that we might take beside Buquebus? Many thanks.

Ian Mount: I know of no other ferry company that goes there (or any other ferry company at all, to be honest). You could take a bus, but it would take four times as long. You could also take the slow ferry, which takes 3 hours (versus 1/1.5) to cross but is very pleasant. Very open inside the ferry, with café style seating (as opposed to the fast ferry, which is set up like an airplane), and you can go on deck (which you can't do on the fast ferry) to watch the river go by and get some air. They leave at something like 9 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. (if you want to start late at night). For buses, places like Plataforma 10 bring together tickets from various bus companies. They might have some BA-Colonia trips.

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Katonah, NY: We'd like to plan a trip to Buenes Aires from March 22nd thru March 28th, 2007. Might fares come down between now and then or is it better to book now? It looks like AA is the only carrier with nonstop service. Is this true? Thank you.

Ian Mount: I'm always a fan of booking ahead, but carriers do sometimes come out with fares closer to the dates if you're willing to take a little risk. This might be especially true for March, which is just after the high season (the beach season ends at the end of February), so prices shouldn't be too crazy then. As for direct flights, I think American is the only direct from New York (though Aerolineas Argentinas may go direct sometimes), United comes from DC, Continental (I think) from Houston, and several from Miami (American, Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN, I think).

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St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands: We are considering flying to Buenos Aires to be married there, preferably by a Catholic priest. We would like to stay at a great hotel for approximately a week to 10 days sometime around December 1st of this year and will need have someone on the hotel staff assist us with the details. Please let us know if this is a service that any of the hotels or wedding coordinators can offer. All the best, and thank you in advance for your kind response and/or suggestions.

Ian Mount: I think I have some bad news for you: the US Dept of State site on getting married in Argentina (http://buenosaires.usembassy.gov/marriage_in_argentina.html) leads with "NO MARRIAGE CAN BE PERFORMED IF BOTH PARTIES ARE TOURISTS IN ARGENTINA." To verify this, you might sign up with an expat group like BANewcomers and see if anyone there has done an Argentine marriage.

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Fort Collins, CO: I am leaving for Argentina on January 30th and plan on being there until about the middle of April. I have two and a half months to see the country's various regions. I am wondering what order I should go in. I want to see the places Ian mentioned in his article (the estancias and the beaches), but I also plan on spending about a month in the Lake District (in and around Bariloche helping on a farm with the harvest) and would like at least a week in Buenos Aires. I am trying to figure out what order I should see all of these places to make sure I get to them when the weather and the crowds are at their best. I'd appreciate any suggestions you could give so I can get the most out of my trip. Thanks so much, Lauren

Ian Mount: Just a few quick ideas: 1) Prices at the beach go down through February and into March, but it's often still beautiful at least until the beginning of March. 2) If you want to check out the wine harvest in Mendoza, the first week of March is insane (it's the official wine harvest) so everything is more expensive. But much of the harvesting gets done after the festival, so if you go the second or third week of March you could do some picking at a wineyard and enjoy the city (which is truly beautiful and, compared to BA, very orderly) on the cheap. 3) I think you'd want to get to the Lake District before it gets cold, but that's not until June or July.
I would love to give more specifics but I'm running out of time...

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Ian Mount: Thanks for all of your questions, and come down and enjoy Argentina! -- Ian

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