Buenos Aires – There Is A Reason Why This City Is The Second-Largest Metropolitan Area In South America!
Cross the street and everything changes. Buenos Aires, more than most cities of a comparable size, gives you the feeling of a patchwork quilt city – a city which is defined by its neighborhoods (barrios).
If you ask a porteño, one of Buenos Aires residents, where he’s from, he won’t say Buenos Aires – he’ll give you his neighborhood’s name. And if you ask him which barrio is the best, any self-respecting porteño will tell you that his barrio is.
It’s best to take this advice lightly and sample a handful.
The barrios commonly visited by tourists and travelers include, in descending order of popularity:
Buenos Aires’ equivalent of New York’s Upper East Side or London’s Knightsbridge. Fancy, ornate and posh. A quick list of things to see and do include the cemetery, the lobbies of the five star hotels (of which the Alvear is the most ostentatious), and Avenida Santa Fe’s shopping.
Known for its parks as well as its restaurants, bars and colorful little shops. When Palermo is mentioned as the best place in Buenos Aires to go out, it’s probably Palermo Viejo and Palermo Hollywood (two micro-barrios) that are being referred to. They’re BA’s hippest places to be seen at the moment, where you can take part in the city’s crazy nightlife that doesn’t even begin to slow down until the sun’s already risen. (A proper Buenos Aires night out should finish with breakfast.)
This is where Buenos Aires’ suits go on a business day. It’s the center of the nation’s economy, a place of high rise office buildings, narrow crowded streets, and exhaust fumes. For the tourist without business concerns, it’s almost entirely devoid of interest (though you wouldn’t know it from the large numbers who flock there). Towards San Telmo, in the older part of the downtown area, there are sites to be seen, however: the Plaza de Mayo, the Casada Rosada (the “Pink House”, Buenos Aires’ equivalent to the White House) and the Manzana de las Luces are all worth a visit.
A barrio of cobblestone streets, antique stores, and colonial area mansions. In the early days of Buenos Aires, the Spanish and upper-crust criollos established themselves in this area and built grandiose buildings with interior patios. When those moneyed citizens fled San Telmo and took off for Recoleta to escape cholera epidemics in the late 19th century, the mansions were abandoned to squatters and San Telmo was transformed into the center of Buenos Aires bohemia. Recently, interest from visitors, foreign and Argentine alike, has brought gentrification to the barrio. This means security, once a sore spot, has improved, but prices have shot up as well.
One place where it is still best to watch your wallet though is La Boca. As a matter of fact, it’s really only recommendable to visit the tourist area of El Caminito where the Argentine Federal Police have been stationed to watch your back. This little street, with its bright colored houses, has very nearly been touristed to death. Still, no visit to Buenos Aires is complete without a visit to the fabled street of garish colors. On game days, the soccer stadium in La Boca is another major reason to visit the barrio.
When you come to Buenos Aires, though, do yourself a favor and try to break out of the established tourist routines, if only for a little while. Just a few recommendations of the lesser visited barrios, where your fellow-citizens and fellow travelers are less likely to be tagging along with you, include:
Las Cañitas in Belgrano. Restaurants, restaurants, and restaurants galore (a stone’s throw from Palermo).
What Sant Telmo used to be, Almagro still is: Bohemian. Check newspaper listings for tango concerts, independent theatre and other events in the area. Meanwhile, the cafe Las Violetas, on the corner of Rivadavia Avenue and Medrano street, is amongst the most beautifully restored historic cafes in the city.
An outlying barrio where the city’s butchers still ply their trade, is also a find, not so much for the barrio itself but for the Sunday afternoon markets which take place in the barrio’s main square. This market is not to be confused with the markets in San Telmo or Recoleta. It’s bigger, better, with a greater variety of authentic hand-craft goods – leather and silver amongst others. In the spring and summer months, gauchos from the nearby countryside perform rodeo displays at the market as well.
Plaza De Mayo
Plaza De Mayo has always been the centerpiece of the city. Impromptu demonstrations are still held here weekly including the Mothers Of Plaza De Mayo who still mourn their children from the “Dirty War”. This public space is situated in front of the Casa Rosada, or “pink house”, where the president has his offices and Evita performed her speech to millions. The old Cabildo and the Metropolitan Cathedral also border the plaza and are worth a tour. The best way to see this attraction is on the daily Buenos Aires walking tours.
The Recoleta Cemetery in the elite neighborhood of Recoleta brings to life the history of its country like no other graveyard in the world. Presidents, dictators, legends, heroes and scoundrels are all buried side by side in a gorgeous display of sculptures and architectural masterpieces. Evita Peron is buried here after her corpse was stolen and copied and stolen again. The cemetery is 13 acres and it can be easy to get lost so a knowledgeable English speaking tour guide is a must.
The most unique neighborhood in Buenos Aires with vintage Spanish architecture, interesting restaurants and nightlife including tango shows. Also found along these cobblestone streets are antique shops and the history of Tango. On Sunday, Plaza Dorrego is filled with arts and crafts booths and in the evening, this historic square turns into a giant tango dance called a milonga. This is the arts district and bohemian area of Buenos Aires and although there are many tourists, it is a good idea not to dress too flashy.
The world’s first outdoor museum and can be found in the working class neighborhood of La Boca, which is anything but a museum. Caminito has a strong Tango theme amidst the coventillos, or old dwellings of the Italian immigrants that came to the city and worked on the docks. An artist named Jaun Quinquela Benito painted these small houses many colors making this a vibrant and fascinating area of the city. Here you will find tango cafes, arts and crafts and many tourists. This area closes early at 6pm and can be a little rough after dark.
The Colon Theater
One of the best opera houses in the world and has held that title for 100 years due to the acoustical design and beautifully constructed interior. The Teatro Colon also houses one of the most extensive costumes collections on the planet. Tours of this Buenos Aires attraction are currently Monday through Friday beginning at 11am.
Buenos Aires Restaurants offer some of the best beef and wine in the world. There is an entire district along the old port called Puerto Modero specifically for great restaurants. The befe de lomo and befe chorizo are the best cuts of the cow and go great with a Mendoza Malbec. Buenos Aires also has a café culture and the oldest and most interesting of them all is Café Tortoni.
A pedestrian street located in the center of the downtown and is always packed with beautiful people. There are countless shops for just about everything you can think of including Argentina leather, souvenirs, clothes and electronics. You may also witness free Tango demonstrations going on creating huge crowds. You will also find gigantic shopping malls on this city street including one of the most beautiful in the world called Galaria Pacifico. Make sure you hold onto your purse or wallet while strolling this attraction and prepared to be bumped into a few times.
10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires has always been a mysterious and dynamic destination and like any big city, you can have a variety of experiences.
Generally, those who visit Buenos Aires are glad they did. It is one of the most unique cities in the world and truly offers something for everyone.
However before you travel to another country, it is wise to glean information from those who have recently visited or even better, from people living there.
Here are 10 things to know before visiting Buenos Aires Argentina.
1. The Culture. They speak Spanish in Buenos Aires and the accent takes some getting used to. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still get by but you may encounter some difficulties with taxis, shopping, and menus. Most people related to tourism speak English. The people are mostly friendly and very conservative keeping old traditions alive. Argentines are hard working people and work a 9-hour day without a nap. Families are the core of the culture and every Sunday is dedicated to spending time with loved ones. Everyone is good looking, even the dogs.
2. Is it safe? Buenos Aires is safe compared to most cities of 13 million people. The most common crime is petty theft including purse snatching and pick pocketing. You will always want to be cautious of this. But the murder rate is incredibly low, the kidnappings of the past have subsided, and there are plenty of police on the main streets to keep an eye on things.
3. What is the environment like in the city? Buenos Aires is an extremely urban environment and the noise and activity is constant. The weather is mild all year round with a few weeks in February that swelter, and a few weeks in August that get chilly. Pollution does exist on weekdays and can cause breathing troubles and the throat to itch. The streets are narrow and walking can sometimes be precarious. The architecture is a treasure trove spanning the last century.
4. What is the political situation? At the moment, politics in Argentina are stable with President Kirchner at the helm for the last 3 years and leaning toward the left. Argentines are very vocal about how they feel and there are peaceful protests around the government buildings several times a week. Throughout the last 70 years, there have been dictators and democracy and a strong rally for socialism. Despite a strong distaste for President Bush, in general the people of Buenos Aires are open minded to foreigners and enjoy meeting them.
5. How is the economy doing? The economy in Buenos Aires is thriving with small businesses, global companies, huge fashion districts, endless restaurants, and a growth in tourism. The University Of Buenos Aires is excellent and keeps the work place progressive. After the devaluation in 2001, the country had some difficult years, but now unemployment and homeless statistics are low and dropping. Foreign investment is booming and creating jobs in almost every sector.
6. Where should I stay? Choices for accommodations are staggering and each neighborhood will offer a different experience. You should rent an apartment if you are planning on staying a week or more. You should try to find lodging in a central part of the city keeping transportation costs low. Recoleta is surely the best neighborhood and very central. The Microcenter is the center of the city and most hotels and hostels are located here. Wherever you stay, make sure you are a few floors up from the street noise. It can be a serious annoyance for tourists and locals alike.
7. What should I pack? All you really need is your passport, something to help you sleep on the plane, and a camera with extra batteries. Everything else is available here at bargain prices. Laptops are accepted but cyber cafes are everywhere. Anything that can’t fit in 2 suitcases may be taxed heavily at the airport. Make sure to leave plenty of room in your luggage for souvenirs. And don’t forget to bring a pair of comfortable shoes.
8. What about money? Bring cash and exchange it at the airport. ATM’s are plentiful but have a $300 USD limit. To exchange money in the city, go to the financial district and look for signs that say “cambio” and bring your passport and an address of where you are staying. Currently $1 USD is worth about 3 pesos, which is good news for the tourist. Very few places accept credit cards. Only restaurants, grocery stores, and banks will break a 100peso bill. So always carry change with you. Always!
9. Transportation. Getting around Buenos Aires for a tourist will consist of 3 methods. Subways are cheap, safe, and only crowded at rush hour. (9am and 7pm). Taxis are also inexpensive but you may be taken on the scenic route if you speak English. Always have the necessary address written down so you can hand it to the driver. And finally, walking is the best way to see the city so make sure you carry a map. For locals, the bus system is the best transportation because there are so many. If you are brave, remember when you get on a bus, always tell the driver “ochenta”.
10. What happens after I get off the plane? When you arrive at the Buenos Aires International Airport (Ezeiza), you will first go through immigration. Before you get in line, make sure you have filled out the visa they give you on the airplane. Hand the visa and passport to the official for stamping. After that, go to baggage claim and collect your things. When you enter the terminal, go around to the right, all the way to the back to where a blue sign says “Banco”. Stand in this line to exchange your money for the best rate in the airport. Next, go to the center of the terminal where an indoor white taxi stand is. Tell them “Capital Federal” and have an address where you are staying. The cost is about 54 pesos and you will be escorted to a white taxi that will safely take you to your lodgings.
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