The Buenos Aires metro -- called the subte -- is the fastest, cheapest way to get around. Buses are also convenient, though less commonly used by tourists. Get maps of metro and bus lines from tourist offices and most hotels. (Ask for the QuickGuide Buenos Aires if it's available.) All metro stations are supposed to have maps on hand, but they are rarely in good supply.
By Metro (Subway)
The subte is the fastest and cheapest way to travel in Buenos Aires. Six lines connect commercial, tourist, and residential areas in the city Monday through Saturday from 5am to 11pm, and on Sunday and holidays from 8am to 11pm. These are the official hours, but because of budget cuts, many lines stop running by 10pm. However, they don't always close the stations after the trains have stopped, and you could end up waiting for trains that will never come, so ask someone if a train is running in the direction you need during later hours. Service has also been reduced through a lengthening of the wait between trains, even during busy daytime hours, making for extremely crowded trains. A new line, the H or Yellow Line, has been partially built along the Jujuy-Pueyrredón corridor, and existing lines have also been expanded. See the inside front cover of this guide for a map of the system, and be aware that new maps given out or posted at stations might not correctly reflect subway extensions. Visit www.subte.com.ar for maps and other information. The interactive site also gives estimated times and transfer information between stations.
The flat fare is 1.10 pesos. Every station has a staffed ticket window. Some stations have ticket vending machines, but they're unreliable. You can also buy a subte pass for 11 pesos, valid for 10 trips. The passes are cheap and demagnetize easily, so it's a good idea to buy an extra to have on hand. Trains get crowded during rush hour and are not air-conditioned, so they can be hot in summer. Free subway maps are available, but stations run out quickly. Always be cautious of pickpockets, including tiny pocket-height children who can easily be overlooked. The trains are also full of people trying to sell you odd trinkets.
Try to ride the A line at least once; it's a tourist attraction in itself. The oldest line, it runs along Avenida de Mayo and uses some of the system's original rickety wooden cars. Lima station, in particular, retains most of the original ornamentation and copies of advertisements from the turn of the 20th century.
Neither Recoleta nor Puerto Madero has subte access. Most of Puerto Madero, however, is accessible via the L. N. Alem subte stop on the B line. It's a 5- to 20-minute walk, depending on which dock you're going to. Puerto Madero also has a light rail train running near it that costs 1 peso, but it's slower than walking and thus not particularly useful. If you're going to Recoleta, the D line runs through the bordering neighborhood of Barrio Norte, so you can avoid spending money on a taxi by using this line and then walking 15 minutes to Recoleta.
Be aware that wildcat strikes are common on the system, though workers rarely stop trains between stations. Sometimes these strikes are limited to payment windows, not affecting trains, allowing you to ride for free.
The streets of Buenos Aires are swarming with taxis. Fares are generally low, with an initial meter reading of 5.80 pesos, increasing 58 centavos every 200m (656 ft.) or each minute. (A 20% higher rate goes into effect at night.) Most of the taxi rides the average tourist will be taking will cost $3 to $10. Remises and radio-taxis are much more reliable than street taxis. Radio-taxis, when hailed on the street, are recognizable by plastic light boxes on their rooftops, though not all will have these. If a cab is available, the word libre will flash in red on the windshield. Ordinary taxis, more likely to be run by members of Buenos Aires's infamous taxi mafia, do not have these special light boxes. A rarely enforced law means taxi drivers can stop only if their passenger side is facing the curb. If available cabs are ignoring you, cross to the other side of the street and hail again.
I personally have had few problems in taxis, but it's always best to err on the side of caution. If you speak English loudly with fellow passengers, identifying yourself as a tourist, expect your ride to take longer than it should, with strange diversions ensuring a higher fare than is normal. You can prevent this situation by being discreet about the fact that you're from out of town, having a general idea where you are going, and keeping in mind the one-way street system. Drivers often use traffic problems as their excuse for the longer route. Though most taxi drivers are honest, a substantial number of tourists have been ripped off by dishonest drivers. One common scam among drivers is to say the passenger paid with a smaller-denomination bill than they actually did. One way around this is to know in Spanish the value of your bill, announcing it to the driver when requesting change. (Or, better yet, have exact change on hand.) Another scam is to say your bills are counterfeit and then keep them regardless. Tips are not necessary, but many locals round up the fare to the nearest peso.
To request a taxi by phone, call Taxi Premium (tel. 11/4374-6666 or 11/5238-0000; www.taxipremium.com), a service used by many top hotels.
Traveling by Taxi -- If you need a taxi, I strongly recommend that you call in advance for a remis or radio-taxi. Better yet, ask an employee of your hotel, restaurant, or other venue to call on your behalf, as a representative of that establishment, which will ensure greater accountability from your driver. If you must hail taxis on the street, use only those with plastic light boxes on their roofs, indicating that they are radio-taxis. Since the economic crisis began, robberies by street taxi drivers have increased sharply. Remises are only slightly pricier than street cabs, but far safer. Most hotels have contracts with remis companies, and they're accustomed to calling for patrons.
Buenos Aires has about 140 bus lines that run 24 hours a day. The fare is 1.10 pesos and up, depending on the distance you're traveling. You'll pay your fare inside the bus at an electronic ticket machine that accepts only coins and provides change. Many bus drivers will tell you the fare for your destination and let you know when to get off, but most speak only Spanish. Locals are just as helpful and will sometimes make an almost comical effort to ensure you don't get lost.
The Guía T is a comprehensive if confusing guide to the city bus grid and bus lines that divides the city into quadrants. Buy it at bookstores, newspaper kiosks, on the subte, or on the sidewalk from peddlers. (Unfortunately, the city has yet to offer a bus route map that includes city streets and landmarks, which would be helpful to tourists and locals alike.) Note: The bus system is notorious for pickpockets, so be very cautious when riding it.
You'll probably find yourself walking more than you planned in this pedestrian-friendly city. Most of the center is small enough to navigate on foot, and you can connect to adjacent neighborhoods by taxi or the subte. Based on the Spanish colonial plan, the city is a wobbly grid expanding from the Plaza de Mayo, so you are not likely to get too lost. Plazas and parks all over the city offer wonderful places to rest, people-watch, and meet locals. Sidewalks are in terrible condition and often covered in dog droppings, however, so watch your step while taking in the local beauty. Be aware that most tourist maps of Buenos Aires are not typically oriented with north at the top. To keep a sense of direction, remember that Avenida de Mayo runs east-west, with Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo at the eastern terminus and Congreso at the western terminus, and 9 de Julio runs north-south from San Telmo (at the southern end) to Retiro (at the northern end).
Navigating Buenos Aires's Grandest Boulevard: Avenida 9 de Julio -- Avenida 9 de Julio might be the world's widest boulevard, but finding buildings by their addresses on it isn't so easy. Locals might tell you an office or store is on Avenida 9 de Julio, but then, when you look at the address they've given you, the street will be called something else. That's because instead of being numbered along 9 de Julio itself, buildings take their addresses from their positions on the streets running parallel to 9 de Julio, all of which became part of the boulevard when it was widened. These are: Cerrito, on the northwest side of 9 de Julio; Carlos Pellegrini, on the northeast side; Lima, on the southwest side; and Bernardo de Irigoyen, on the southeast side of the boulevard. (Also note that, in the case of Bernardo de Irigoyen, it's the perpendicular street Rivadavia and not the typical Av. de Mayo that serves as the break for name changes in streets running north to south in the city, another source of street position confusion for tourists). Whether the Avenida is referred to by its full name, formalized as Nueve de Julio, or shortened to 9 de Julio, it's the same thing.
It's become easier than ever to get around Buenos Aires by bike. The city has an extensive system of protected bicycle routes that traverses many neighborhoods. Look for the map Red de Ciclovías Protegidas at tourism kiosks, or visit www.mejorenbici.gob.ar. The Ecological Reserve outside of Puerto Madero is also an ideal destination for bicycle enthusiasts. More and more hotels are offering free bicycles or rental bicycles for their guests.
On the fourth Sunday of every month, at 4pm, there is a Critical Mass (Masa Crítica) meeting of bicyclists at the Obelisco. Visit www.masacriticabsas.com.ar for more information. The website www.amigosdelpedal.com.ar also has more information on group biking excursions.
Buenos Aires is not a place where you need a car. We don't advise that you drive yourself unless you're heading out of the city. If you must rent a car, contact one of the international rental companies at either airport or one of those listed below. Most hotels can also arrange car rentals. Typically, rental cars are manual, and automatic cars are expensive and difficult to reserve, running at about $100 per day. Gasoline is about $2 per liter in Buenos Aires. Most driver's licenses from English-speaking countries are accepted at rental agencies. Visit the Automóvil Club Argentino, Av. del Libertador 1850 at Tagle (tel. 11/4808-4040, 11/4808-6200, or toll-free 0800/888-9888; www.aca.org.ar) for maps and more information about driving in Argentina. Note: Most local motorists disregard traffic rules except for one -- no turn on red.
Rental cars are available from Hertz, Paraguay 1138 (tel. 800/654-3131 in the U.S., or 11/4816-8001); Avis, Cerrito (9 de Julio) 1527 (tel. 800/230-4898 in the U.S., or 11/4326-5542); Dollar, Marcelo T. de Alvear 449 (tel. 800/800-6000 in the U.S., or 11/4315-8800); and Thrifty, Carlos Pellegrini (9 de Julio) 1576 (tel. 800/847-4389 in the U.S., or 11/4326-0418).
Commuter trains, which run with great frequency and are very cheap, are not ideal for most tourists visiting Buenos Aires. However, the system can be useful for side trips from Buenos Aires, especially to the river island resort town of Tigre; La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province; and the beach resort of Mar del Plata.
The Tigre Delta is best reached by train from Buenos Aires and then a boat or launch from the train station if you're continuing on to the islands. Trains from Buenos Aires leave for Estación Tigre from Estación Retiro, Avenida Naciones Unidas and Libertador across from Plaza San Martín, every 10 to 20 minutes along the Mitre Line. Tickets cost about $1 round-trip. Call tel. 11/4317-4445 or 0800-3333-822 for schedules and information, or visit www.tbanet.com.ar. This same train line stops in Belgrano, near Buenos Aires's Chinatown district, and in the wealthy northern suburban towns of Vicente Lopez, San Isidro, and Olivos, where the Presidential Residence is.
A train also runs from the Constitución station, at the intersection of Avenida Brasil and Lima in Plaza Constitución, to Estación La Plata, at the intersection of avenidas 1 and 44 in La Plata. Ticket prices are about $3. Trains run about every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the day, and the trip takes about an hour and 20 minutes. In Buenos Aires, call tel. 11/4304-0028 for train tickets; in La Plata, call tel. 221/423-2575; and call tel. 0800-3333-822 toll-free nationwide, or visit www.tbanet.com.ar.
Trains from Constitución to the beach resort of Mar del Plata run 3 times a day. In Mar del Plata, purchase tickets at the train station, located at avenidas Luro and Italia (tel. 223/475-6076 in Mar del Plata, 11/4304-0028 in Buenos Aires, or 0800-3333-822 toll-free nationwide; www.tbanet.com.ar.). The train takes about 4 to 5 hours.
A word of caution about trains from Constitución: While the station and surroundings are colorful, they can also be dangerous. The trains connecting to La Plata and Mar del Plata also pass through some of the poorest parts of greater Buenos Aires, and are also often used by rioters coming to the city for demonstrations. Pickpocketing and theft are very common. I do not actually recommend traveling by train to La Plata or Mar del Plata; it's better to use the buses. Traveling by train to Tigre is, however, another story, and while pickpocketing can occur and you should be as cautious in Estación Retiro as you would in any North American or European train station, this train system is nowhere near as problematic as the system connecting to the southern suburbs.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.