Florida Street near LaValle on downtown Buenos Aires’ pedestrian mall, it’s inevitable to come across some shady-looking characters yelling out or whispering, ‘cambio, cambio!’
These ‘unofficial’ (read: illegal) money changers, known in Lunfardo as arbolitos, do offer dollar and euro exchange rates that are much better than the banks, but it’s not recommended for casual travelers to take anyone up on their offer.
By doing so you’ll not only advertise that you’re carrying a wad of cash, but you’ll also have no recourse if things go wrong.
Black Market Exchange Versus the Bank
Despite potential problems, because of the huge difference between the official exchange rate and the black market rate as of 2012, some travelers and residents are bringing in dollars to sell on the black market. If you do decide to do this, just make sure you know a reliable exchange house. A place called ‘City’ nearby at Florida and Corrientes is one place that locals use.
The worst-case scenario is that one may find oneself in an intimidating situation or stuck with a pocketful of fake pesos notes. The best-case scenario is that everything will go fine and you will save quite a bit of money. It’s better to avoid the risk unless you know what you’re doing.
To do some sightseeing and money exchange all at once at an official bank, try the nearby historic, Standard Bank.
Now that the disparity between the ‘official’ exchange rate and the black market rate has reached 30% or more, those with U.S. bank accounts are using Xoom to transfer money at a much more favorable rate. To learn how to use it, read our post ‘How to Use Xoom in Argentina‘ on our sister site, Wander-Argentina.org.
Sex Show and Brothel Scams
These clandestine ‘cabarets’ such as those Julio Cortázar once encountered nearby in Galeria Güemes have existed in this area a long time but are today rather predatory in nature.
Those who enter into these ‘whiskerias‘ as old timers call them, will almost certainly find some unpleasant surprises, and possibly get roughed up and shaken down for money they weren’t planning to spend.
Although customers are usually invited to take a look around for free, signs in many of the establishments state that there is ‘a minimum drink charge’ and that management can’t be held responsible for any valuable personal items that go missing.
Local men who enter these places are typically charged around AR$50 for a drink plus the same for one or more scantily clad bar girls. Tourists who are generally unfamiliar with the swindle are the holy grail for these businesses and the prices quoted to them will certainly be excessive. The higher the price demanded, either for services or to extricate oneself from the situation, is an indication of how dumb, rich or scared they judge the customer to be.
Prostitutes in these establishments, generally women from poorer provinces or countries such as the Dominican Republic are sometimes trafficked women. Generally they charge upward of AR$300 (on top of the drink charges) and should be considered a high health risk as the sex industry is a legal grey area and is unregulated, with no std screening in place.
As with money changing around Florida Street, if you are the victim of a swindle of seduction it almost certainly won’t help to go to the police — it’s an open secret that they receive a cut of the profits and some top politicians have been accused of being involved in the industry.
In short: nothing good can come from following strangers on Florida Street unless you know the turf. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
For those who understand Spanish, this hidden camera exposé from the popular local TV program, ‘Fuera de Foco‘ shows how the cabaret bait and switch works: