Diego Lafuente’s personal blog

December 29, 2008

49 pesos


Vacationing in Argentina with euros or dollars is not cheap at all

Some people might want to kill me for writing this, but the topic makes me laugh quite a bit. Two days ago, I went out in the city of Buenos Aires with a friend after a wild night and decided to have breakfast at a typical local bar that was not at all pretentious. I have had breakfast in several major cities in Europe, and each one has its own particularities. The most characteristic thing is that every city has a kind of base rate that informs you how people live or how they deal with things in their country.

Sometimes you are in a country where, due to its economy, you can have breakfast three or five times cheaper than in your city. Even up to ten times if you go to Asia or certain areas of Latin America. That is why vacationing in such places has a double charm: you go with euros, and your money goes a long way, allowing you to do many things and spend more freely. But it is not always like that. There are countries that, even with more submerged currencies and economies, have European prices or even more expensive ones. That seems to be the case of Argentina, a country full of locally produced raw materials sold at European or even higher prices.

For example, in Spain, a good breakfast cannot cost you more than 5 euros, and in some provinces, for 2.50 euros, you can have a very fulfilling breakfast because the products are not imported from other provinces or countries. For the local economy, 5 euros is an important but affordable amount. With a bit of cunning and a willingness to walk, you can have a good breakfast for less. In Berlin, I had breakfast like a king for 3 euros and as much as I wanted. For 4 euros in Rome, I had breakfast as if I were having lunch, and I didn't see many fields where pigs were raised or coffee was grown. In the south of France, for 5 euros, I savored butter with spices and some exquisite freshly baked bread along with coffee and milk that I think I will never enjoy again in my life. But in Argentina, it was not like that.

I ordered the following:

  1. 2 coffees with milk.
  2. 2 Toasted Sandwiches (bikinis).
  3. 1 mineral water.

And the cost of breakfast was 49 pesos (10.30€). I couldn't believe it, and I started to wonder what was so special about the mineral water or the bikinis to make everything so expensive. I usually have a ham sandwich (not sweet) with tonic water and a good cup of coffee with milk for 3.50€ at the corner of my house, which has no competition compared to what I consumed the day before yesterday. An Argentinean needs 735 pesos to have breakfast like this every day, if we were to order this individually every day. Yes, it's crazy.

The mineral water was not from the pure water reserves of Alaska. The Cuban black label coffee was not either, and the milk was not like Swiss imported milk, and the ham did not taste like some cured in Salamanca. I think all the raw materials of my breakfast were locally sourced; however, the prices were outrageous.

It surprises me that in my country, a country with a much larger area than many first-world countries, with natural springs of mineral water, vast fields to raise pigs and produce sweet hams as well as top-quality cheeses, and even surplus milk production, everything is charged as if I were having breakfast at the 5-star Barceló Hotel in Palma de Mallorca (which serves better and more food). Honestly, I don't understand it.

But that's not all; I have friends who have traveled to many parts of the world, and no one pays 10 euros for breakfast. I remember the stories of friends who went to Thailand and paid something like 90 cents for breakfast, which is affordable for locals, and people who also had breakfast like the locals for the same amount in other parts of the world. But in Argentina, it seems that things are not seen the same way. And it's not just in the big cities; in Mendoza, breakfast was not far off at 41 pesos for two people.

Lunch and dinner are serious matters. Prices never dropped below 37 pesos per person without ordering any extravagances. Even three McDonald's combos cost 66 pesos. And the most expensive dinner was 700 pesos, which was a delicious barbecue for four people.

If I were consuming imported items, I would accept the high prices, but to pay as if these were culinary extravagances or raw materials imported from the remotest parts of the planet when they are produced in the country is unacceptable.

What a crazy situation, isn't it?