- 45 days
- La Catedral – A low key milonga with a young crowd.
- Graffitimundo tour – A tour around BA checking out some of the amazing graffiti.
- Free Walking Tour – Cerri takes you around major spots in the city via public transportation. The tour is free, but tipping is encouraged.
A bumpy 6 hour flight from Quito and BAM! we were in Buenos Aires. As we rode in a cab towards our apartment in Palermo Soho, we got a chance to take in the city from a distance. It just so happened that there was a full moon which illuminated the night sky. The horizon of the city immediately reminded us of the many drives we had taken along the BQE between Brooklyn and Queens, especially the one we had taken not more than a month earlier when we flew out of LaGuardia. That was where the similarities with NYC ended.
You have probably heard, “Buenos Aires is the Paris of the South.” We had heard “San Francisco is the Paris of the West” and just as that was way off, so was this. Yes, Buenos Aires has a fascination with Europe, specifically France and Italy, but it is just that. Between dilapidated late 19th and early 20th century homes (so unfortunate as this was possibly our favorite part of Buenos Aires), you get a glimpse of how Italy and France inspired the architecture. So many amazing buildings are for sale in various states of decay, while nasty poorly-constructed apartment buildings are being erected next to them.
The more we looked at the landscape of the city, the more we saw how this country had been through some shit. In order to understand why Buenos Aires is the way it is, it’s important to understand its history. Over the last century, Argentina has seen multiple economic collapses and multiple military states, both of which caused many to lose everything including family members who mysteriously disappeared. Although we were informed of the Argentina’s turbulent past, it would be unfair for me to attempt to give a history lesson here. Ultimately, the thing to realize is that Argentines have suffered in the past and tend to live for the day, not because they are new-age hippies, but because they know that tomorrow they can literally lose it all.
Buenos Aires is a very large, safe city. There are tons of neighborhoods that can be explored and lots of things worth seeing and doing in each. Since we were staying in Palermo that was the neighborhood we explored the most. It is arguably the center of eating, drinking, and shopping in Buenos Aires. It is the younger, hip neighborhood where lots of visitors from around the world stay and is the largest barrio in Buenos Aires. It is split into multiple districts which seem to be referenced by different names depending upon where you look. The core districts however are Palermo Soho, Palermo Hollywood, and Palermo Chico.
The public transportation system is excellent and can be used to get around most of the city. Check out FYI Buenos Aires for more specifics.
Things to do
Even after spending over a month in BA, there were still things we didn’t get to do or see. We did, however, hit most of the highlights. Below are a list of things that we think you must do in Buenos Aires.
5 Things You Must Do and See
Recoleta Cemetery – If you are considering visiting Buenos Aires, then you have already been told to check out Recoleta Cemetery and yes, it is that amazing. This incredible maze of mausoleums is both exquisite and what nightmares are made of. From the polished marble to the ornate sculptures this miniaturized city of the dead is incredibly beautiful and worth a visit or two even if you know nothing about the deceased. We enjoyed it so much we visited it twice.
Feria de Mataderos – Well off the beaten path of tourists, Feria de Mataderos is held every Sunday in the Mataderos neighborhood (in case you couldn’t put that together). If you want local flavor, both literally and figuratively, this is the spot. Dance tango with locals while bands perform on a large stage, snack on some of the best empanadas Buenos Aires has to offer (see our Food BA post for details), or admire handmade wares from one of the many stalls.
Watch a Game with Locals (futbol) – We were fortunate enough to be in Argentina during the World Cup which meant it was a party every time Argentina played. The streets emptied at game time and erupted with unbridled joy with every goal Argentina scored. The energy (both ecstatic and tense) is incredible and contagious. If you visit, make sure to either go to a local club game or find a bar with locals to watch. Keep in mind that the city is highly divided over its teams, so make sure to wear the right colors.
El Zanjón de Grenados – Whether a history buff or not, this private museum and tour is well worth the trip. We did this on our last day in Argentina and we wished we had done it earlier. Starting as a private manor for a wealthy leather-trading family, its staff and guests, this mansion transitioned into a tenement building in the early 20th century and fell into disrepair over 40 years. As a tenement, it was a home to families from all over the world of different races and religions, but this is only part of its unique story. Have a look at their website to learn a bit more. To be honest, we were really hard on Buenos Aires at first, but getting this further insight into the history of a city that arguably should never have been a city, gave us a deeper understanding and appreciation that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Milonga – Ok, so we didn’t have a great experience when we went, but we picked a bad night (the day after a national holiday). Still, this is a must do. Forget expensive tango shows where you are a passive onlooker. Check out one of the many milongas in the city to watch the talented locals dance tango while you enjoy tapas and drinks. It is possible that you will get asked to dance (be concious of your suggestive eye-contact), but don’t let that scare you off. La Catedral is the one most recommended, where you can find tango classes, vegetarian fare, and a very low-key younger crowd.
For more things to do and see check out the details section.
Food and Drink
Probably the most frustrating part of our trip to Buenos Aires was sorting out the dining experience. We entered expecting a well-cultured society that valued high quality ingredients and excellent preparation. We were so wrong. We don’t know whether the palates of porteños aren’t sophisticated enough, or if it is just ignorance, but a good portion of the food in BA is total shit. Even considering that Buenos Aires is synonymous with steak, it can be done poorly and don’t expect to just hop into a cool-looking cafe and have a good cup of coffee, either. If you don’t have a recommendation, don’t bother. However, if you follow those recommendations, you will probably have some excellent meals, especially steak.
For more info on finding the right eats in BA, check out our BA Food post.
Final Thoughts on BA
We had an excellent time in Buenos Aires, but going into the trip we had considered it a possible place to live after our travels. Although we will definitely return for a visit, we just can’t imagine ever living there; at least not in the near future. There is lots of potential here, but there is also almost as much uncertainty. For a South American vacation, however, Buenos Aires is a great spot, especially for jumping off to other regions.
Have you been to BA? Share your thoughts and experiences here or on Twitter @retreat2movefwd.