I recently drew attention to the decline in value of three major currencies--the Australian and Canadian dollars and the Japanese yen--making travel to Australia, Canada and Japan cheaper (for Americans with U.S. dollars) than in a long while. No sooner did that phenomenon occur than another currency--that of the Argentinian Peso--made pikers out of the currencies of Australia, Canada and Japan.
Although the official exchange rate of the Argentine Peso is approximately 8 to the U.S. dollar, the "black market" rate has plummeted to a value of 15 pesos to the dollar. By exchanging their dollars for pesos in a skillful manner, American vacationers in Argentina can enjoy some of the cheapest daily costs in a long time.
Does such a tactic--using the "black market"--run the risk of breaking the law in Argentina? Do you act unethically in a way that concerns the Argentine government? Apparently not, in the opinion of experts I've consulted. Virtually all tourists to Argentina seek to obtain "blue pesos" (that is, pesos obtained on the black market), and everyone in Argentina is aware of that common practice. Most tourists simply ask the concierge of their hotel to exchange currency, and that concierge will either give you the greater number of pesos on the spot, or will tell you--quite openly--where you can obtain pesos at an exchange of 15 to one. Making an advance reservation by phone or e-mail, you simply ask for the peso rate of your hotel, and then send dollars figured at the one-dollar-to-15-pesos rate.
What you should not do is exchange your money on a streetcorner, responding to the various shady characters who accost you for that purpose. And you should always keep in mind that these tactics do not usually work at the very expensive Argentine hotels catering to wealthy businessmen and the like; they simply adjust their rates to prevent you from enjoying a windfall. It is the moderately-priced and inexpensive hotels in Buenos Aires and Argentina, the kind that also cater to a local clientele and therefore can not raise their peso rates indiscriminately, that offer such savings to you. They will continue to quote their usual peso rate.
Why is Argentina experiencing a drastic drop in the value of their currency? It is a result of a broader economic crisis that saw Argentina recently defaulting on its international debts and bonds; things there are pretty bad, and a largely-middle-class population is beginning to feel the pressure. Neverthess, Argentina does not yet experience widespread poverty, and the attractions of that impressive country remain as compelling as ever. The steak dinners you buy are remarkable and cheap; the tango lessons are presented everywhere; the nightspots and varied evening performances (concerts, opera) are wonderfully entertaining; and the country is quite safe for people wandering about at night. Some 400,000 Americans visit Argentina each year, and that figure is bound to skyrocket in the face of a weakend currency that makes all normal tourist expenditures some 30%-or-so cheaper than used to be the case.