Hello, Buenos Aires!!
Buenos Aires (BA) was, by far, the city I was most excited to visit prior to leaving for this trip. And it definitely didn’t let me down! From the minute we got off the bus on Friday, March 9th, I knew we were going to love it. And we did. So much so, in fact, that we decided to spend over a week and a half exploring what it has to offer.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. One can immediately sense the European influence. The charming neighborhoods tend to resemble something more like those in France or Italy, with old European style architecture, small cafes with good coffee and pastries on every corner, antique stores and boutique clothing shops, beautifully manicured parks with sculptures and fountains, and cobblestone roads. It was very easy to get caught up in all of it- just spending hours on end walking around admiring the buildings, parks, and people.
We had a lot of highlights throughout our stay here!
- Our Hostel/BBQ Night:
Located in an older part of BA, San Telmo, just south of the city center, our hostel (America del Sur) resembled a hotel more than a hostel. 7 floors sectioned off into 4 rooms each, some with dorms others with private rooms. The main floor was spacious with a small lounge hosting plenty of reading material on BA, a decent sized eating area with adjacent kitchen, and a large outdoor courtyard where people could gather for drinks or partake in an Argentine BBQ. Our room was a private room, perfect for a traveling couple. Equipped with a comfortable bed, TV (where we actually caught a Bulls game against the Heat and they won!), air conditioning, private bathroom, and even a blow dryer for me. That was a first since we started traveling!
The hostel staff was always very friendly, offering a smile during all hours of the day and always willing to provide local insight on the different things BA has to offer. On different days of the week a member of the staff will take a group staying at the hostel to various neighborhoods on a free walking tour for anyone interested.
Our first night staying at the hostel they were conveniently offering a flat rate all you can eat and drink traditional Argentine BBQ. Being tired from our 18 hour bus ride from Puerto Madryn, we jumped on the prospect having someone else cook for us. BBQ’s are also a great way to meet other travelers on your first night in a new location. As promised they served us various kinds of homemade salads and an assortment of meats cooked on their parilla (brick charcoal grill), while we mingled with other friendly travelers exchanging stories and recommendations from places we have been.
- Our first night in the city:
After our delicious BBQ, a few drinks, and enlightening conversations, we decided to head out to a local bar, conveniently located right across the street from the hostel. The night life in BA does not get going until 2am or 3am but a few bars open up for the pre-party crowd around 10pm. Derek and I, along with two new friends, waited in a short line before ascending some stairs to a second floor un-named un-marked bar known only as red door for its bright red door entering the otherwise black building front.
Once inside, the bar resembled any typical American drinking hole with a crowed bar front, lounge area, and a pool table nestled in the back room offering laid back amateur friendly competition. The music was an arrangement of Rock and Roll classics (George Harrision’s “I got my mind set on you”, the staff knew every word) to Latin Pop, and everything in between. Ironically, after traveling thousands of miles from home, we spotted two items that brought us right back to the states. A tip jar for the staff with “Save Farris” on it and crazy enough a Bells Brewing Company sticker (Derek’s favorite small brewery located in Michigan and now popular all over the Chicago land area) plastered on the wall behind the bar. Too funny! We shared several drinks with our new friends, played a game or two of pool, and eventually left the bar around 4am, only to be followed up by a few more drinks back at the hostel before calling it a night. Welcome to Buenos Aires!
- The neighborhoods (San Telmo, Centro, La Boca, Recoleta, Palermo):
Throughout out time in Buenos Aires, we took a lot of time to explore the various neighborhoods of the city. Like most big cities, the different neighborhoods are all very unique and have very different personalities and things to offer.
San Telmo: San Telmo is the neighborhood in which our hostel was located and where we spent the most time. This neighborhood is an older one of the city, and it’s full of cobblestone streets and aging mansions. Although it’s a little more run down than other parts of the city, the streets are lined with shopping boutiques and several outdoor cafes where you can sit and have a coffee or glass of wine. The streets here are narrow, and it feels like you could be walking through a city in Europe rather than one in South America. It is a very energizing and artistic part of down, and it was very easy to get caught up in the charm and just spend hours walking around. We would recommend staying in this area as there were a lot of things to do and see at reasonable prices.
Centro: Not too far from San Telmo is the Town Center and main business/financial center of the city. Walking the streets here, there are also several important political buildings and monuments such as: Obelisco (looks similar to our own Washington Monument), The Metropolitan Cathedral, Palacio De Congress, Teatro Colon, the Casa Rosada, and main town square. The Casa Rosada (“Pink House”) is an interesting building which is the capital building for Argentina as BA is the capital of the country. It was on the balcony of this building that the famous Eva Peron gave speeches to her people who gathered outside in the main city square to hear her speak. As a fan of the “Evita” story, I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to see this! Currently, the main city square is where people come to protest and share their political opinions. There are a series of statues and memorials here, most prominent of which is a permanent monument to recognize soldiers who had been killed while unsuccessfully trying to take over the Faukland Islands thirty years ago. For anyone keeping up with current events, there are currently heavy tensions between the UK and Argentina as these islands off the coast of Argentina are still owned by the UK (and oil was recently discovered in the area). You could definitely feel the tension in the signage and in watching the local news. It reminded us of Ushuaia when the British Flag could be found with a giant “X” through it in boat ports and there were signs comparing the British to pirates. Travelers from England that we met claimed they definitely weren’t openly volunteering their nationality unless they had to.
La Boca: La Boca was the first neighborhood and settlement of Buenos Aries, and lays across the original port for the city (although no longer functioning). Boca’s defining factors are its architecture and that it is home to the Boca Juniors- BA’s primary soccer team. The streets are lined with very bright multi-colored metal buildings. Originally, upon development of Buenos Aires, this came about because paint was limited and people decorated their homes with the colored wood and metal from the ships. Over time, this became such a differentiating element of La Boca that local artists continue to paint the buildings with bright and lively colors and murals. Although improving, Boca is still one of BA’s poorer neighborhoods and isn’t exceptionally tourist friendly. As such, it’s great for a walk during the day, but it’s not recommended to explore this area at night (especially without a guide) as robberies, etc. are all too common.
Recoleta: Recoleta is one of the snazzier parts of Buenos Aires. It is safe, clean, renovated, and walking the streets feels almost like you could be in Old Town in downtown Chicago. It has beautiful architecture and several shops and cafes. The main attraction, though, is the Cemetario del la Recoleta. This is Buenos Aires’ elite cemetery where many of Argentina’s best are laid to rest, including the very famous Evita Peron.
Palermo: Like Recoleta, Palermo is a more upscale neighborhood of BA. It is full of café and shop-lined streets, some of the most beautifully manicured parks we had ever seen, botanical gardens, and even a zoo. There are also several museums. Palermo is the part of the city with the hippest clubs and restaurants and the trendiest shopping. Like many of the other neighborhoods of BA, it also has beautiful old colonial-style architecture.
Before arriving to BA we stumbled upon a website on things to do in Buenos Aires. Landingpadba.com. Not only did they have a ton of great information about the city itself, but also sold ticket packages to a few of the city’s main attractions, one of which was a Boca Jr. soccer game. This was high on our things to do in South America and we were told there was no better place to watch a game then a Boca Jr. game in the La Boca neighborhood of BA.
We emailed back and forth with the company and before we knew it we were all set. They shuttled us to and from the game, which was perfect since La Boca is not the safest place, especially after a heated soccer game. We disembarked from our shuttle bus a few blocks from the stadium. Following our guide, we were led down into an open subbasement that led out to the street of some random building. Down below we were joined by a few other groups, where we consumed pitchers of beer and grilled meet, just as we would at a typical tailgating event back in the states.
Once fed, we were each given an ID card, with a picture of a stranger on it, for admittance into the game. Inside we were instructed where and where not to sit. Our section was directly across from the “Crazies”, some of the most insane, loyal, frenzied, involved, vocal fans on earth. Take drums, horns, flags, banners, passionate locals plugged into 1000 volts of electricity each (our only explanation of how these people convulsed, shook and chanted for the whole match) and you get the excitement of a national championship game for a regular season game. Not that our sections was tame by any standards, but looking across the field at what looked like a two hour raging party was electrifying. The match itself was actually exciting too. The two of us are by no means avid soccer fans but you can’t help but get involved. A back and forth game with 9 goals scored doesn’t hurt either. Sadly Boca Jr. lost but the memory of that game will stick with us for a life time.
- San Telmo Antique Market on Sundays
Our neighborhood of San Telmo hosts a world famous antique market on Sundays. A mix of colonial architecture, cobbled stone streets, street performers, vendors, and tango music and you can’t help but fall in love with your surroundings. On the interior of the street, artiest and craftsman sell their hand made work, while the store fronts are lined with clothing boutiques, restaurants, and other antique stores. A few of the stores were high end selling gorgeous rare collections. The street fair encompasses a stretch of about 10 to 15 blocks ending on the far end in a beautiful tree and flower filled plaza. This is a must-see for anyone visiting BA and the San Telmo neighborhood.
- Evita’s Grave
Another must-see for anyone visiting BA is the Cemetario del la Recoleta. As mentioned earlier, this is Buenos Aires’ elite cemetery where many of Argentina’s elite are laid to rest, including the very famous Evita Peron. We decided to take a visit here to see the grave of Evita, but found that the cemetery has even more to offer.
We walked to the cemetery from San Telmo, which was quite a long way but gave us the opportunity to explore Centro and Recoleta neighborhoods on our way. It seemed it ended up as an “Evita Day” as we passed the building where Evita gave her famous speeches while walking through Centro.
Cemetario del la Recoleta itself is absolutely beautiful. In this cemetery, people aren’t buried underground but are rather encased in family tombs. There are dozens upon dozens of intricately decorated tombs from the past 300 years. Many of them contain several generations of family members, and ornate stained glass allows you to see inside the tombs and see several decorated caskets and memorial displays. On a quiet sunny day in BA, it was quite eerie knowing we were surrounded by so much death.
Evita’s tomb is relatively small and of more simple design, but you can immediately tell its one of the most visited. The outside contains various engravings outlining the good she did for the Argentine people throughout her life. All year round, flowers lay at the door of the tomb as visitors come to pay their respects. To this day the Argentina population still loves and celebrates Evita.
- The nightlife
Now the real night life does not get started in Buenos Aires until 2 or 3am. Some of the most popular spots don’t even open until 2 and close around 9am. This mixed with the heat surely explains why the city shuts down in the afternoon for siesta!
Not having any appropriate clothes to go out in, we both purchased some more appropriate evening wear so we would not be turned away in our hiking gear. It was simple for me to find a couple cute dresses in San Telmo, and Derek purchased a tight pair of grey jeans ( if they had his, size they would have been purple) and a tight v-neck argile patterned t-shirt. For those who know Derek, this is not his particular style. Alas, “when in Rome.” This was Buenos Aires where fashion comes first, so why not.
Our evening got started at a local open air bar with great live music. A four piece band playing a mixture of Amy Winehouse, Janis Jopplin, Raegge, and Latin music kicked off the night well. After killing a few hours with some friends from our Navimag adventure, we headed out to a night club. The people were beautiful, the music was great and we danced until 6am. Not quite making the 9 am closing time, but we were ok with that.
- Tango lessons/show
Tango is a staple in BA. It can be seen all over the city, from street performers to professionals. The presence and attitude of tango city-wide adds to the sexiness of the city. Wanting to see a live show, we signed up through our hostel. The package actually included lessons and dinner beforehand.
A shuttle picked us up from the hostel winding its way through the city, picking up a few other couples as we made our way to the show. When we arrived we were led upstairs to a dance studio where the men were place on one side of the room and the women on the other. Our instructor (a member of the show) was very charismatic, bilingual, and above all good teacher. He taught the moves of the dance to the men and women separate, then let us practice them together with different partners. Not to confuse our brains and feet, the part we learned was broken into 3 different phases ending in the signature tango pose. I was asked to demonstrate two key phases of the dance in front of the whole class. Not considering myself a great dancer, I was so nervous! Derek took photos.
Versed in the artful dance of the tango, we were ready for dinner and the show. The theatre was well designed and intimate. Above the main floor off to the side of the stage hung a balcony where the musicians performed. The music was just as great as the dancing! Tables surrounded the stage on three sides forming a U shape. The dining area was no more than 2 to 3 tables deep so viewing was never obstructed. Seven performers in all; 3 women, 3 men, and one old man acting as emcee who sang between pieces. Each piece took us through the history and evolution of the tango. Costumes changed to fit the time era as did the music and dance.
Sometime after midway the dancers came out to dance with the crowd. As the dancers came out, the first was the best female dancer; tall, beautiful, and dressed in full tango attire. Unexpectedly she asked Derek to tango. In front of a full theatre, he had to quickly remember my moves with a professional. Somehow he pulled them out without too much embarrassment. It was my turn to take the pictures!
- Palermo and Our BA Steak Dinner
On one of our last night in Buenos Aires we decided we would go out for a nice steak dinner. Argentina is known for its quality of beef. We wanted to replicate our experience in Rio Gallegos, where we had the best steak of our lives, so we followed a Lonely Planet recommendation and headed up to the Palermo neighborhood.
We spent the whole day up to dinner in Palermo. We walked the streets, did some shopping, and explored the beautiful parks. The parks were some of the most amazing we’ve ever seen. In some, locals would congregate, playing soccer or playing drums/music and dancing. Like Chicago, it seems like every person in the city was outside on a beautiful summer day. Other parks we explored were very beautifully manicured, with hundreds of flower patches, rose gardens, fountains, and cobblestone walkways. The botanical gardens are also in this area, so we decided to take a stroll to get a feel for the native plants of the South America.
Working up an appetite with all the walking, we went out for our BA steak dinner. Net, we had a great dinner, but even this highly recommended steak house we could find in BA didn’t compare to the steak dinner we had in Rio Gallegos.
- Trying to watch NCAA basketball abroad
We were in BA for the start of the March Madness. For anyone who knows Derek, you know he loves his March Madness and college basketball. So, for opening weekend we obviously needed to find a place to watch a few games!
After some searching, we found only one bar in the city that would show all the games. So, one afternoon we hung out at a bar watching basketball and eating chicken wings for the first time since we arrived in South America. It was packed with a combination of other American travelers looking for the games as well as a bunch of locals who couldn’t care less about basketball.
Buenos Aires is amazing city. It’s a city that makes one feel alive. The streets, building, and people are beautiful and friendly. Perhaps one day we will invest in a vacation home here J
We left BA for something completely different- Uruguay. We will be posting more on that soon (I know there was quite a wait for this- we’ve been on the go-go-go!).