Buenos Aires was much talked about during our travels, so we were keen to find out what made everyone love the city so much first hand. After arriving from Colonia by ferry we made our way in a cab (BA yellow cabs are fast and cheap) to our apartment in Palermo. We had opted for an AirBNB apartment to give us a bit of space after staying in quite a few shared dorms. The apartment was great and came with everything we needed plus a balcony with a great view and even a rooftop pool! With 9 days dedicated to exploring Buenos Aires, it was the perfect launchpad for us to see the city we were so eager to visit.
The Historic Center
On our first day we headed straight to the centrally located Plaza de Mayo and took in the many impressive, politically important buildings including the Piramid de Mayo, Casa Rosada and the Metropolitan Cathedral. We then walked past the Obelisco, an iconic spike-shaped landmark, before ending up in a small square in front of the Teatro Colón for lunch where we befriended by a baby parrot!
We ended the day with a meal at Las Cabras, a traditional Argentinian Parilla (Steak House). Wanting to try everything, we ordered the 'Completo', the must try dish. It arrived on a huge tray! The chorizo pan, chicken escalopes and steaks were really delicious, the intestines and blood sauce were definitely a required taste and the quantity of food was completely obscene! (we had to doggy bag it). We left feeling totally stuffed having definitely had the ‘Completo’ Argentinian meat experience!
Palermo is known for being a stylish, trendy and upbeat area with world-renowned restaurants, lively nightlife and some beautifully well-kept parks in the north of the district. As the weather was good we decided to walk around the Largos de Palermo and Tres de Febereo Parks, which had tranquil lakes and a very impressive and picturesque rose garden. We also visited the Japanese Gardens, which was very therapeutic (although a little overpriced).
Since arriving in South America we had wanted to improve our Spanish skills. After a recommendation from fellow travellers we decided to book ourselves in for private tutoring with a charming BA resident named Yanina. Neither of us had any prior Spanish-speaking knowledge so it was challenging, but great to have one-on-one lessons with our wonderful tutor. After the lesson we were offered some Mate (pronounced Mat-ay), a traditional bitter tea and important part of Argentinian culture. As Brits and big tea fans we appreciated the tips in Mate etiquette and were fascinated by the meticulous preparation!
Our Spanish tutor had given us lots of good recommendations for authentic tango bars in Buenos Aires, so that evening we headed to El Boliche de Roberto, a cosy and traditional looking bar in the Almagro neighbourhood. We were a little surprised to discover it was a singing-only tango night, but we grabbed a table at the front, ordered a beer and waited for them to start. The duet were totally captivating from the moment they began, with beautifully harmonious tango ballads that the locals heartily sang along to. We sat and watched for a few hours, completely enthralled by the music.
The following night we decided to try out Yanina's second recommendation: a 'tango disco' night at La Catedral, a club in the same neighbourhood of Almagro. Neither of us are natural dancers so we decided to take Tango lessons. The teachers initially seemed pretty unsympathetic to beginners, but after a few attempts we eventually got the steps right and had a fun hour circling the dance floor. Once our lesson ended we watched local couples dance well into the early hours. There was also a band that made an appearance, playing typical South American music with flutes, guitars and drums accompanied by traditional tap dancing.
One of the main attractions in Buenos Aries is the famous Recoleta Cemetery, a town-sized graveyard filled with decadent graves dedicated to the rich, famous and elite Argentinians. The extremely rich even had mausoleums built for themselves and their families, from small rooms to full-sized chapels where people could visit and pay respect. It was fascinating to see how much money and effort had gone into the resting places of the deceased. We spent a couple of hours walking up and down the narrow rows of the cemetery, peering into the creepy cobweb covered graves and tombs.
Close by in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas was the Floralis Genérica, a giant metal solar powered flower sculpture designed by architect Eduardo Catalano. Unfortunately after a mechanical failure the flower petals no longer open and close, but it still looked great
As the weather was looking a bit grey on one of our days we decided to visit The Latin American Art Museum (MALBA) to get a taste of old and new artworks throughout South American history. We really enjoyed all the exhibitions, ranging from Inca artefacts, European-influenced paintings depicting the simple life in the Andes to more weird and wonderful mechanical sculptures and abstract art.
Our favourite exhibition was entitled 'Marcados' (Marked) by artist and photographer Claudia Andujar, a Polish Jew that had been liberated from Belson concentration camp as a young girl. She had embarked on a project later in life to help immunise the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon. The provocative and moving black and white portraits were taken once tribe members had been immunised and given a numbered badge, and questioned the ethics of being 'branded' for either life or death, drawing comparisons with Nazi concentration camp badges.
The bohemian barrio of San Telmo was next on our list, and we spent an afternoon wondering down the old colonial streets, peering into the many eclectic antique shops in the area. We had a quick coffee in Bar Plaza Dorrego, one of the oldest bars in San Telmo that overlooked the cobbled plaza.
We then stumbled into Pasaje La Defensa, a restored two-story mansion tucked away from the main street with a beautiful tiled courtyard and terrace filled with small cafes, artist studios and antique shops. We spent an hour strolling around the the sun-filled space, taking photos and enjoying the peace away from the crowds.
La Bocca & Lanín
When researching things to do in Buenos Aires, images of La Boca always cropped up, so we were keen to visit the area despite reading that it had turned into a bit of a tourist trap. Although the shanty-town style buildings made from brightly coloured timber and corrugated iron were really eye-catching, the atmosphere was a little tacky. It was a shame to see that a once traditional part of the city had fallen to cheap souvenir shops and locals flogging photo opportunities, but was worth a visit non-the-less.
After seeing the main streets we didn't hang around too long, so after taking a few snaps we decided to visit a gentrification project we had read about on Lanín Street. On arrival we were greeted with an amazing street lined with mosaic-tiled houses fronted with colourful yarn bombed trees. It was definitely the coolest street we'd seen in Buenos Aires. From Lanín Street we decided to walk 20 minutes to the nearest metro (Constitution), but as we made our way we definitely felt unsafe and were lucky to avoid trouble before we reached the station. We later found our walk in a map of areas to avoid (worth a look if you are visiting BA).
Feria de Mataderos
Another tip from our Spanish tutor was to visit Feria de Mataderos, a traditional Gaucho market about an hours bus ride from Palermo. After figuring out the bus system we jumped the 55 bus across town and arrived at the unofficial flea market not far from the beginning of the market. We wondered past the various stalls selling everything from delicious local delicacies to hand-made musical instruments and brightly coloured woollen blankets.
Tigre is a small town an hours train ride north of Buenos Aires. It’s a popular escape from the bustle of the city, and we were recommended to go by our airBNB host. Unfortunately we’d timed it badly as we visited it on a Monday where pretty much everything was closed aside from a short boat tour showing life on the waterways. We managed to sneak into the museum grounds to get a few photos, but to be honest we left feeling a little disappointed with Tigre.
Bomba de Tiempo
We had been recommended to go to the popular drumming show by fellow travelers we'd met in Brazil. We had intended to go on the previous Monday, but as it was cancelled we had to wait a week. It was well worth the wait! We made our way to the Ciudad Cultural Konex, an open-air music venue in Almagro, and by the time of the show was about to start an eager crowd had already filled the space. The drumming was sensational and the crowd, including ourselves, we're loving it. Once it finished we randomly bumped into two people we'd met on our travels, so we joined forces and set out for the after party.
With its combination of European-esque style and it's Latin American soul we fell hard for Buenos Aries, and we couldn't have enjoyed our stay more. From elegant buildings and tango culture to amazing culinary delights and wild nightlife, we found BA to be a fascinating city of layers and surprises: for us it was the perfect introduction to Argentina.