Thursday, November 5, 2015

While I’m waiting to actually get to South America and officially start sending back pictures and stories of the roads less traveled, I’d like to go over a few practical tips that are left out of most peoples travel stories. Things that are good to know before you even get to South America.

Sure, beautiful pictures of cathedrals and long vistas of twisty misty mountain roads are fun to look at. But what about buying money on the black market in Argentina? Who writes about that? Not many people. Heck, most people don’t even know what a Blue Dollar is. But it can save you 1000 dollars U.S. if you know what it is when shipping your bike home from Argentina and buying an airline ticket when your trip in South America ends, since Buenos Aires is the go-to place to leave from.

As an American this looks like a lot of money:

And it is. A thousand bucks will last a long time in Argentina. But here’s the thing. If you go to an ATM in Argentina the machine will spit out Argentine pesos at the official rate which is 9.55 pesos to the dollar as of today. How do I know that? You go to google and type in “dollar to Argentine peso” and it will tell you every day what the official rate is. So you will get 955 pesos for every $100 U.S. if you go to an ATM in Buenos Aires when you step off the plane like I will next week.

Fine. That seems clear enough. Except that there is an unofficial rate that google doesn’t tell you about unless you look more carefully. It is published daily in the Buenos Aires newspaper and called the Blue Dollar rate. Today it is at 15.55 pesos to the dollar. What that means is that all I have to do is go to the city center to the main square and look for a guy shouting CAMBIO, CAMBIO on the street, or ask around for a money changer (cambio is spanish for changer or exchange) and he will give me 15 pesos to the dollar. WOW!!!! And the government turns a blind eye to this practice although they hope most tourists are too paranoid to take advantage of it. But not me. I’ll take 1500 pesos for a c-note over 955 all day long. It makes your money go 50% farther so travel is way more affordable.

The thing is, you need crisp 100 dollar bills. No tears, no missing corners, in fact no old bills. This is important. Money changers in South America even at banks are EXTREMELY picky about the quality of your bills. And they don’t want 20s or 50s. Sure they will take them, but you get a lower rate for small bills. Who knew? So now I bring crisp 100 dollar bills from home. $1000 for every month I’ll be in Argentina.

I carry it with my passport in a money belt that I never take off except to launder it or when I shower. It is made by travel gear and I got it at REI. So here are the essentials. Passport, cash and moneybelt. Don’t leave home without them:

I have some Argentine pesos leftover from 2014 when I flew out of Buenos Aires.

750 Argentine pesos. When I left the official rate was 8 pesos and the black market rate was 12 pesos. I knew I was comiing back to continue my journey so figured this would get me to the money changers downtown so I don’t have to get ripped off at the airport ATM like 90% of tourists. At current rates 750 pesos is around $50.

Okay. So lets say you are just reading this ride report as you are heading to Buenos Aires to ship your beloved motorcycle back to Europe. And you only have credit cards and other plastic because lets say you are a prudent and cautious traveler. Let’s face it probably German since they have long vacations and aren't afraid to travel. And you have very little cash on you. I met people like that over near the Andes that told me you can get a really good exchange rate somewhere between the low bank rate of exchange and the black market rate through a website called It is what most ex-pats living in Argentina who are paid from the U.S. in dollars use. I never used the service, but worth checking out if you need a few thousand dollars changed for shipping expenses and airline tickets.

Also I noticed that you can get U.S. dollars out of some ATMs in Uruguay which is just across the river from Buenos Aires.

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