Tourists Find Bargain Nips, Tucks in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES ~ Attention global shoppers: Argentina is offering first-class plastic surgery at up to 75 percent off American and European prices, a fact that has booming numbers of tourists shelling out money for a nip or tuck.

Sure, Argentina has all sorts of charm on which visitors dwell: its famous tango dancers, shopping, fabled grass-fed beef and non-stop nightlife.

But it also has some of the world’s most experienced plastic surgeons, working at what are, globally speaking, deep discounts.

“For my vacation, I wanted to have a good time, and have my breasts redone, and in Buenos Aires I did both for not a lot of money,” said Adriana, a 28-year-old Italian woman who asked that her full name not be given.

Since Argentina’s 2001 economic meltdown, the exchange rate has gone from one peso to the US dollar to three pesos. Even as the dollar has weakened against other currencies, it remains strong against the peso, making both surgery and travel expenses a steal.

A breast implant procedure costs an average of US$2,500 in Buenos Aires – when the price for the same procedure can be triple or more in Los Angeles, Paris or Madrid.

“But the quality is the same!” insists surgeon Guillermo Blugerman, who leads a team of 20 at the B&S clinic, which specializes in cosmetic surgery.

“Before the devaluation, we were able to import top-quality machinery,” Blugerman said.

Virginia, a 22-year-old Spaniard, made the trek to Argentina on a friend’s recommendation and said she was motivated by the price as well as the professionalism of healthcare staff. She couldn’t be happier with her new curves.

Argentine surgeons say they are ahead of European counterparts on some procedures. Laser liposuction, for example, was developed in Italy, “but we have improved it to make it one of our specialties,” said Blugerman.

Cosmetic surgery is anything but new in Argentina.

Local women often speak with pride about their procedures, what they hope to “do,” and how to stagger the work.

“Local demand always has been big,” says Soraya Abboud, a manager at Ultrasthetics Argentina. So “our surgeons are among the most experienced.”

Even today, 60 percent of all procedures are done on residents of this developing country of about 36 million people.

“There have been a lot of cases of people who sold their homes to get surgery,” Blugerman adds.

Argentina is number three in the world in terms of the number of cosmetic procedures per capita, Blugerman says, trailing neighbor Brazil and the US.

Some clinics have teamed up with travel agencies.

Since 2003, the Plenitas clinic, for example, has offered patients side trips to scenic windswept Patagonia in the south, or steamy Iguazu Falls in the north as a follow-up to taut skin or new breasts.

Surgery-plus-side-trips tourism is picking up.

“About 40 percent of our foreign patients opt for this kind of plan,” said Martin Diaz, Plenitas’ marketing chief.

Tourism professionals, meanwhile, have tried to get on the surgical bandwagon. Some, like the travel agency Tangol, offer clients a range of activities, including a Boca Juniors football match and a tango course, and – why not, as long as you’re here? – silicone injections or a facelift.

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