First, the bad news. It takes a really long time to fly from the United States to Buenos Aires. A really long time -- more than 10 hours nonstop from New York City. If you aren't traveling first class (we weren't), coach class is full (it was on our flight) and you can't sleep on airplanes (I can't), you are going to suffer.
Now, the good news. It's worth it.
Buenos Aires is a bustling, exciting metropolis of 3 million people (the metropolitan area is four times that size) that has the look and feel of a grand European capital. But it also has a casual, South American flair that is nothing like Paris or Rome, to which it is often compared.
It has plenty of cultural and tourist attractions and a pleasingly temperate climate. Many people don't speak English, so a little Spanish goes a long way. But even if they're struggling to understand your English, Portenos -- as natives of Buenos Aires are called -- are friendly and helpful.
Perhaps best of all in these cost-conscious times, Buenos Aires is very affordable, thanks to a highly favorable exchange rate. You can easily get by on less than $100 a day without having to sacrifice comfort or starve. I know because we set out to prove it.
Airfares from New York are currently running about $500 to $650 roundtrip. Ours was close to the upper part of that range on American Airlines.
Landing at Ezeiza International Airport, you can take a taxi into the city for about $25. Or do what we did: catch the city bus for about 2 centavos, about 80 cents. The buses are plenty enough, but the trip takes two hours.
For lodging, we focused our search on the Bohemian working-class neighborhood of San Telmo, which is close to the downtown business district. We visited one place that had rooms for the equivalent of $20, but they were small and dark with hard mattresses and no private bath.
We settled on a new hostel called the America del Sur on Chacobuco Street. It was bright, modern and spotlessly clean. For around $15, you can get a bunk in a four-person dormitory-style room. We opted for private rooms, which cost a shade more than $50.
The people behind the counter were lively and cheerful. Reggae music blared from hidden speakers and they invited us to help ourselves to a huge refrigerator in the lobby that bore the bright blue-and-white insignia of the popular Argentine beer Quilmes. Inside were plenty of bottles of cold Quilmes and bottled water.
I asked Fernando, a bespectacled, bearded young man at the front desk, what were the best three things about Buenos Aires.
"The night life, the women and the people," he said.
I asked Laura, a pretty young woman working beside him, what the one thing a visitor to Buenos Aires should do. She told me two things: "Dance the tango. And eat barbecue."