Things to Know About Money in Patagonia

by Eve O’Neill

1. There’s a black market for American dollars
About 10 years ago, Argentina defaulted on their national debt, and the Argentine peso lost all of its value. Banks froze people’s assets and fortunes became worthless overnight. Now, in an effort to keep Argentine currency in the country (and in theory help it retain its value), their president has placed a limit on the amount of American currency that any individual citizen can buy.

Why would you want to buy American currency? Because American currency holds its value. If you keep all of your money in pesos, and the peso devalues again, then you lose all your money. But if you have American dollars, no matter what happens to the peso, you will have something of value. So, in lieu of savings accounts, people are hoarding American dollars in cash. The problem is, people are no longer allowed to have American dollars. Boom — black market.

In many store windows there are signs offering better prices for food and services if you pay in dollars. Every family I stayed with offered to arrange services for me that they would book, pay for in pesos, and then request that I give them American money in exchange.

2. Prices of things
• A bottle of Fernet: $4
• Six empanadas and 1.5L of Coke: $10
• A four-hour boat ride through the Beagle Channel, hunky Argentinian scientist/tour guide and unlimited yerba mate and beer included: $50

3. Tipping policies are way more sane
You do not tip cab drivers. You also only tip waiters 10%. Tipping 10% was kind of difficult… it made me feel extremely rude. I had a free continental breakfast in a hotel in Buenos Aires where the concierge, this kid who looked like he was still in high school, actually waited on the breakfast tables personally while simultaneously running the front desk. I left as a tip about the equivalent of what a cup of coffee would cost him, and that seemed fair to me, but I think the amount of cash I left embarrassed him.

4. … but cubierto is super lame!
“Cubierto” is something that you may see itemized on your restaurant tab, and is basically a fee for your silverware. It’s 8–20 pesos, or about $1.50 to $4, and universally annoying to tourists and Argentines alike.

5. Nobody wants your pesos
I have about $40 in pesos I was unable to spend before I left, and no bank will exchange it. Apparently the currency is so volatile brokers are unwilling to handle it.

Eve O’Neill works at Yelp. Photo via.