Known as the Paris of South America, I spent about a week in Buenos Aires (BA) and think it is one of the most underrated cities that I’ve ever visited. The city is incredibly rich in culture, art, history and colonial architecture and I found Portenos (people of Buenos Aires, from the port) to be incredibly warm and welcoming.
While flying to Argentina may not be the cheapest ticket (around $1200 CDN), once you arrive everything is very inexpensive (sadly for the country due to an economic crisis and subsequent high inflation, but wonderful for us tourists!). Being in the Southern hemisphere below Ontario, Argentina is an amazing alternative for a winter getaway; it is their summer during our winter months and there’s no time change!
Before you leave, you may want to get some pesos in smaller bills. Fake bills are a major problem and smaller-valued bills are very difficult to get your hands on (which makes tipping and the like very difficult). ATMs are easy to find once you’re there, but the exchange rate fluctuates greatly, so keep your eye out for a good time to exchange your money.
Where to Stay
BA has pretty distinct neighbourhoods that each offer a different feel and experience. I stayed in Palermo Hollywood, which was a short walk from Palermo Soho, the neighbourhood in which I found I spent the most time. I also find it’s generally a bit safer to stay in neighbourhoods with an active nightlife so that they’ll always be people around when you’re heading home at the end of the night. Boutique hotels and pensions are common and not difficult to find. Renting short-term flats is very popular in Argentina, and Craigslist is a great source.
Keep in mind that the subway costs about 10 cents to ride and taxis are insanely cheap, so no matter where you stay and where you want to go, getting around is very easy. Just make sure the meter goes on when you get in the cab!
What to Do
I would most definitely recommend walking around the neighbourhoods, as they each offer a different vibe and experience.
Probably one of my favorite things about BA is the incredible graffiti that adornes each neighbourhood, so make sure to take some time to enjoy it!
Downtown (“Microcentro”) is great to walk around from Plaza San Martin along Florida, a pedestrian-only avenue that will remind you of the great famous streets that are often found in the epicentre of major cities. There are some fun leather stores, some souvenir shops, a big mall (Galeria Pacifico) and the hood always has an energetic buzz going on. Plaza de Mayo is nearby, which houses government buildings and Casa Rosado, the Pink House where the President resides and where Evita famously stepped out on the balcony to speak to the Argentine people.
San Telmo is famous for its Sunday antique market. This area has a bohemian feel to it and is the oldest neighbourhood. The cobble-stoned streets offer a romantic walk in the evenings. San Telmo is also a great area to see a tango show (which usually includes dinner), or better yet, to take tango lessons and then go dancing!
Recoleta is the fancy, upscale neighbourhood with a European flare. The streets are lined by manicured trees, there’s boutique shopping and restaurants and it’s fun to roam the streets looking at the beautiful homes. Recoleta Cemetery is what brings most tourists to this neighbourhood and should not be missed. Where Eva Peron (Evita) and other famous Argentines are buried, the Cemetery is a mini-city of its own and words will not do it justice. Visiting the cemetery is an absolute must. Recoleta is also home to the modern art gallery called the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA), which I really enjoyed. Check out the exhibits ahead of time; I was lucky enough to see much of Frida Kahlo’s work when I was there.
Palermo (my favorite!!) is divided into Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Soho, and Palermo Viejo. Palermo is young and hip and showcases BA as a prime Latin American city. There is a great nightlife concentrated around Plaza Serrano and good restaurants in Palermo Hollywood. Just know that the clubs don’t open until midnight and go right through the night until the morning! Palermo Soho, which really reminded me of Soho in New York City, had amazing shopping by South American chains and local artists, great restaurants and a night scene consisting of smaller bars. Palermo Viejo is known for its parks, so it’s a great neighbourhood to go for a run (helping to make room for more empanadas!).
La Boca is probably the most photographed part of BA. Very touristy, but well worth the visit, La Boca is next to the major port in the city and home to many immigrants. Walk through the streets lined with colourfully painted homes and watch the street performers and tango and flamenco dancers put on a show in the streets! La Boca is also home to the city’s world-famous football (soccer) club. GO SEE A GAME! There is no better way to dive into local culture like seeing a football match in Argentina. We bought tickets and transportation together, organized and sold at a hostel.
Visiting Buenos Aires also situates you well for some pretty incredible side trips. Consider visiting Mendoza, the wine region of the country and visit the vineyards on a bike tour. Maybe take the short ferry from BA over to Uruguay and visit a new country entirely. Montevideo is a cute beach-side town in Uruguay that people say is very easy to travel and still relatively untouched by tourism. Cordoba and Iguazu are popular side trips too, and domestic flights within Argentina make travelling by plane very cost and time efficient.
Where to Eat
You may think everything I’ve written about so far is reason enough to go to BA, but I haven’t gotten to the best part of the city: THE FOOD. Be prepared to eat your way through the city and for your jeans to be tight when you return home!
The local specialties I constantly (over)indulged in were empanadas, filled with meat (asada), cheese (queso) or vegetables. The smell of the pastries coming out of the oven in bakeries on every corner will never get old. At the same bakeries you’ll see savoury pies filled with pumpkin, ricotta cheese and spinach – don’t miss them! Dulce de leche (caramel) is the flavour of choice and Argentines even spread it on bread like peanut butter for breakfast. Alfajores cookies are meringues with dulce de leche filling and are delicious with coffee. If BA knows anything, it’s ice cream (helados). Freddo is a popular chain that featured something like 3 different dulce de leche flavours on any given day and never disappointed.
Cows in Argentina are all grass-fed and as a result, the steak (asado) and BBQ (parilla) are among the best in the world. Combine the unbelievable meat with local Malbecs from Mendoza (around $10 CDN for a nice bottle in a restaurant) and you know what you’ll be having for dinner. I would recommend making note of the different cuts of meat in Spanish before you go so you’ll have an easier time ordering your dinner. There is also a large Italian population in BA, so pizza and pasta are plentiful and delicious.
Dinner is served very late in Argentina, so if you’re making reservations or planning your meals, the first seating is usually around 9:30 pm. Try and get used to this schedule by having a late lunch and maybe even a siesta! I had incredible meals and highly recommend the following restaurants:
- La Cabrera – A famous steakhouse that is entirely worth the hype regardless that it is chock-full of tourists. There are always long lines, but they graciously serve you champagne & meat while you wait! It looks like they take reservations online as well.
- Osaka – A Japanese/Peruvian restaurant that was delicious, unique and very swanky. Think really different sushi and ceviche. This place was superb quality and had such great ambience. I made a reservation here ahead of time.
- Quimbombo – Located in Palermo Soho, which is perfect as a starting point for a night out on the town, this restaurant came highly recommended and featured delicious Malaysian. It was a welcome break from our steaks.
- Olsen – A Scandinavian restaurant with the coolest decor ever. While I’m sure it’s a happening spot for dinner, I went for brunch & it was amazing. The menu was filled with smoked fish, bagels, fresh soups and open-faced sandwiches. Amazing how this brunch transported us to Europe for a few hours that day and it was heavenly!
Dance, eat, and shop your way through Buenos Aires, it will be a trip of a lifetime!