[Update: As of December 2015 the market for “Blue Dollars” has changed. You can read more about why here. Check online currency listings for the most up-to-date information. Continue reading for a great story on how this black market exchange worked.]
The first order of business in Salta was to exchange money for Argentinean Pesos. For a couple of years now Argentineans have lost faith that their peso will hold it’s value. The preferred currency is US Dollars, which gives people with US Dollars a great advantage.
It’s called the Blue Dollar, it’s the unofficial/black market money exchange. The official exchange rate for dollars to pesos is 1USD = 7.78.
But on the black market the rate is as much as 1 = 12. The only problem is you can’t get US Dollars in Argentina easily. The last chance to get US Dollars easily is ATM’s in La Paz, Cusco, and Lima. In Salta the money changers are everywhere by the main plaza. I walked around until I found a guy to give the best rate. They first offered 10 but a minute later I had talked them up to 11.5. If you have hundred dollar bills you’ll get a better exchange than smaller bills. For hundred dollar bills I got 11.5 pesos per dollar. For the twenty dollar bills I got 10.5 pesos per dollar. There was no shady back room deals, simply sat at a cafe table in the middle of the busy plaza and made the exchange. I was surprised to see that the “Blue Dollar” rate is even printed in the papers and mentioned in the news on TV.
If you’re traveling from the US or even other countries, Argentina is the worst place to use your credit or debit card for purchases. You will get an even worse rate than the official rate plus the fees you have to pay.