GETTING THERE: United has nonstops to Buenos Aires from Dulles, currently for $1,247, and flights that connect in Miami or Atlanta are offered from all three Washington area airports by American, Delta and Air Canada. One-stop fares are starting at $860 round trip, but Web specials sometimes drop as low as $650.
GETTING AROUND: An extensive bus and subway network offers cheap transport, with tickets starting at about 25 cents. Taxis are also a relative bargain: the meter starts at just over 50 cents. But because of safety concerns, don't flag down street taxis; call or hail radio cabs from reputable companies, including Radio Taxi Sur (011-54-11-463-82000), Radio Taxi 5 Minutos (011-54-11-4523-1200) and Radio Taxi Diez (011-54-11-4585-5007).
To visit an estancia (ranch) near San Antonio de Areco, a car and driver (which can be arranged independently or through the estancia you are visiting) generally costs about $50 each way. There are also comfortable modern buses from the city to San Antonio de Areco, and the estancia owner can pick you up there. My preference: Have a driver pick you up at your hotel the morning of your departure, instead of wasting time finding the bus station. After your estancia stay, ask for a drop-off at the colonial town of San Antonio de Areco, buy a ticket (about $5) for a later bus trip back to the city, and spend a pleasant afternoon visiting the town, its gaucho museum and silver shops. Shops owned by artisans are spread out and can be hard to find. You can arrange a personal tour, for $15 (half-day) or $25 (full day), by contacting Magdalena Ramirez at email@example.com.
WHEN TO GO: Buenos Aires has a mild climate. Average temperatures in January, the hottest month: about 74 degrees. June, July and August are the coldest; average temperatures all three months are about 50 degrees. The shoulder seasons -- spring and fall -- are perhaps the best time to visit the city. Of course, if you plan to use the city as a springboard for visiting other parts of the country, plan for temperature variations as drastic as those in the United States.
ESTANCIAS: The three guest estancias in San Antonio de Areco are Estancia la Bamba (011-54-2326-456-293, www.la-bamba.com.ar); El Ombu de Areco (011-54-11-4710- 2795, www.estanciaelombu.com); and Estancia la Portena (011-54-2326-453770, www.estancialaportenia.com.ar). Overnight visits -- meals, tea and riding included -- start at about $95 per person in a bedroom or apartment. You can also arrange to visit for the day and have lunch, then stay in the town of San Antonio de Areco, where a double room in the simple but pleasant La Aurora (387 Matheu, 011-54-2326-45-4219) begins at about $30 a night, including breakfast.
AIR/HOTEL PACKAGES: My Web search turned up packages beginning at about $850 for a week's stay, but in some cases required two connections, and in others charged a single supplement for both my friend and me because our trips originated in different cities. Frustrated, I turned to a travel agent. At Travel Place in Potomac (301-299-4850), an agent familiar with Buenos Aires found a $900 six-night package with a nonstop flight from Dulles, and no single supplements. Find other travel agents, who typically do not charge a fee for packages, through the American Society of Travel Agents at www.astanet.com.
Check under "Packages" in this week's "What's the Deal?" column (Page P3) for a $649 Buenos Aires package from Miami.
WHERE TO EAT: The average citizen in Argentina consumes 130 pounds of beef a year -- more than twice as much as Americans. One of the most popular steakhouses: La Cabana Las Lilas (516 Ave. Alicia Moreau de Justo, in Puerto Madero). Entrees begin at about $10. A hip choice: Radioset (1130 Ave. Alicia Moreau de Justo, Puerto Madero), where disc jockeys and radio personalities broadcast live from glassed booths within the restaurant. Entrees begin at about $8.
Posada de 1820 ( 501 Tucuman, in Centro) not only served me a good meal -- beef and pasta are specialties -- but also tracked me down somehow at my hotel to return the credit card I'd left on the table. Entrees begin at about $7. The Italian restaurant Campo dei Fiori (1411 Venezuela) is a bit off the beaten path in an old neighborhood called Montserrat, but a favorite of locals, with a wide selection of pastas and sauces, priced separately. A plate of pasta and sauce starts at about $6. Las Nazarenes (1132 Reconquista, in Retiro) is a high-quality, old-line beef restaurant with an exceptionally friendly staff. Entrees start at about $8. For a proper English tea, try the Claridge Hotel (535 Tucuman, in Centro, 011-54-11-4314-7700), for $7 per person.
If you make it to San Antonio de Areco, you'll find a number of charming but very inexpensive restaurants, including Almacen de Ramos Generales (143 Zapiola, www.ramosgeneralesareco.com.ar), where entrees start at about $5.
WHERE TO STAY: You can't go too wrong if you choose a hotel in the lively, centrally located neighborhoods of Centro, Retiro, Palermo or Recoleta. I was happy at the Reconquista Plaza (602 Tucuman, 011-54-11-4311-4600, www.reconquistaplaza.com.ar), although light sleepers may be bothered by street noise. Prices for a double begin at about $90 a night -- another measure of the value of a package.
For the ultimate in luxury, the newly opened Faena Hotel (445 Martha Salotti in Puerto Madero, 011-54-11-4010-9000, www.faenahotelanduniverse.com) is stunning. Designer Philippe Starck teamed with Argentine clothing designer Alan Faena to turn an old warehouse into a boutique hotel. Double rooms start at $315 a night. Or better yet, sleep cheap and try a day pass to the Faena's luxurious Turkish bath.
INFORMATION: The governments of Buenos Aires and Argentina both have Web sites, at www.bue.gov.ar and www.turismo.gov.ar; or call the Argentina Tourism Office at 212-603-0443.
-- Cindy Loose