The first thing that you will need to do when you arrive in town is to change money. Due to the devaluation of the Argentinian peso, there were two exchange rates when I last went in 2014. In December that year the official government-set rate was AR$8.4 to US$1 whereas the ‘blue’ rate fluctuated between AR$14 and AR$12 to the dollar, quite a significant difference. You can of course use your credit and cash cards but then everything would be a third more expensive as they use the official rate.
October 2018 update: the current rate is a very high 39.47 per US$.
October 2016 update: the difference is very small now, just 15.40 per US$ as opposed to 15.00 in normal exchange places.
Despite government clampdowns it was still possible to go to semi-secret ‘Casa de Cambios’ which will give you the blue rate. I went to two during my stay in BsAs. The first was in a small shopping arcade at Posadas 1564. As you enter on the right you will see a door with a picture of a cow on. Ring the bell to gain admission to the waiting room and then wait your turn to go through to the exchange windows. It was very busy on the morning I went. They also changed sterling here which was stronger than the dollar at the time (about AR$19 to £1).
The second place was at 938 Florida in what looked like a residential building. Breeze past the concierge with a ‘hola’ and take the lift on your right to floor five. Ring the bell of flat 5B and when tell them you want ‘cambio’ on the intercom when they answer (they don’t speak English). They will buzz you through into a small secure room where business is conducted through a small hatch. I got AR$14.4 to the dollar here when the official rate was AR$8.5.
Both establishments were honest and felt safe but only seemed to be open in the mornings. Walking down Florida (or any main street in big towns) you’ll be assailed with chants of ‘cambio, cambio, cambio’. These guys will probably take you to a casa de cambio but they might change small amounts on the street. Personally I’d avoid doing that as there’s much less security.
Many restaurants will also provide exchange services, although the rate will vary greatly. For example, on Junin Street in Recoleta (facing the front entrance of the cemetery), Clark’s offered a rate of $11.4 to the dollar, whereas Montana (the place with the plastic cow outside) offered $12 and the black guy outside the Freddo ice cream shop $12.2.
Some business minded hotel concierges might also be able to help you out if you are discreet, i.e. don’t ask them in front of colleagues and cameras and conduct the transaction in your hotel room.
In all cases you will get a better rate for lower notes ($1s, $10s, $20s) than high dollar notes ($50s, $100s). So, how much to change? This will of course depend on your spending habits but personally I reckoned I needed 500 pesos for taxis to work per day on average in BsAs, and another 500 pesos a day personal spending, but then I’ll happily use all of that on a single meal with wine. In the provinces I’d spend half that amount, so it really depends on your appetites and where you are.