Buenos Aires

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Apr 03, 2007

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

One of the benefits of being at such a nice hotel is that the breakfast buffet is great! Lots of fresh fruit, juice ...

The historic area around the Plaza de Mayo is interesting but not as extensive as I would have guessed: Casa Rosada where Eva Perón addressed the people, Metropolitan Catedral, some of the first buildings built during the major construction around the turn of the century.

Robert from Uyuni is in town as well. We had arranged to meet up. Go for lunch at Puerto Madero which is the result of a major renewal that converted warehouses along the waterway. Very pretty with lots of restaurants and cafes. Great spot to have a beer. American culture has invaded with TGI Fridays and s intruding amongst the traditional cafes. The best restaurants are completely full despite being huge.

We meet up again later at my hotel which won't let him come up, even when accompanied by me, because he does not have ID. Many little things like that bothered me about the hotel which should not be a problem when you are paying for exceptional service.

Good meals in BA cost almost 2x that of Salta, Mendoza ... Still inexpensive by US standards ($10 to $20 for a good steak). We are trying to stay up late so that we can hit a club which does not get going until around 2:30 AM. It is about 1:00 and we look for 1 club that is supposed to be nearby but can't find it. We go for a drink instead.


La Boca

La Boca, on the banks of the Río Riachuelo, originally developed as a trading center and shipyard. This was the city's first Little Italy, giving the neighborhood the distinct flavor it maintains today. La Boca is most famous for giving birth to the tango in the numerous bordellos, known as quilombos, which once served this largely male population.

The focus of La Boca is the Caminito, a pedestrian walkway, named ironically after a tango song about a rural village. The walkway is lined with humorously sculpted statues and murals explaining its history. Surrounding the cobblestone street are corrugated metal houses painted in a hodgepodge of colors, recalling a time when the poor locals decorated with whatever paint was left over from ship maintenance in the harbor. Today many artists live or set up their studios in these houses. Along the Caminito, art and souvenir vendors work side by side with tango performers. This Caminito "Fine Arts Fair" is open daily from 10am to 6pm. La Boca is, however, a victim of its own success, and it has become an tourist trap. While the area is historically important, most of what you will find along the Caminito are overpriced souvenir and T-shirt shops and constant harassment from people trying to hand you flyers for mediocre restaurants. In the summer the smell from the heavily polluted river becomes almost overbearing. Come to this area because you have to, but if you are short on time, don't let the visit take up too much of your day. What remains authentic in the area is off the beaten path, whether art galleries or theaters catering both to locals and to tourists, or the world-famous Estadio de Boca Juniors (Boca Juniors Stadium and Museum).

Use caution in straying too far from the Caminito, however, as the less patrolled surrounding areas can be unsafe. The police are here not for protecting the locals but for the tourists. Once the shopkeepers go home, so do they. Still, at dusk and away from the Caminito is where you will have the most interesting interactions with the neighborhood residents who quietly reclaim the streets and stroll along the waterfront. Most come not from Italy now, but from the poor interior provinces of the country. Caution: It's best to avoid La Boca at night.

San Telmo

Buenos Aires's oldest neighborhood, San Telmo originally housed the city's elite. But when yellow fever struck in the 1870s -- aggravated by substandard conditions in the area -- the aristocrats moved north. Poor immigrants soon filled this neighborhood, and the houses were converted to tenements, called conventillos. In 1970 the city passed regulations to restore some of San Telmo's architectural landmarks. Still, gentrification has been a slow process, and the neighborhood maintains a gently decayed, very authentic atmosphere, reminiscent of Cuba's old Havana. It's a bohemian enclave, attracting tourists, locals, and performers 7 days a week on its streets. The collapse of the peso has also meant that a glut of antiques, sold for ready cash, are available for purchase. The best shops and markets in San Telmo line Calle Defensa. After Plaza de Mayo, Plaza Dorrego is the second-oldest square in the city.

San Telmo is full of tango clubs; one of the most notable is El Viejo Almacén, at Independencia and Balcarce. An example of colonial architecture, it was built in 1798 and was a general store and hospital before its reincarnation as the quintessential Argentine tango club. Make sure to make it here at night for a show. If you get the urge for a beginner or refresher tango course while you're in San Telmo, look for signs advertising lessons in the windows of clubs.


Palermo is a catchall term for a rather nebulous and large chunk of northern Buenos Aires. It encompasses Palermo proper with its park system, Palermo Chico, Palermo Viejo, which is further divided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood, and Las Cañitas, which is just to the side of the city's world-famous polo field.

Palermo Neighborhoods -- Palermo Chico is an exclusive neighborhood of elegant mansions off of Avenida Libertador, whose prices were seemingly unaffected by the peso crisis. Other than the beauty of the homes and a few embassy buildings, this small set of streets tucked behind the MALBA museum has little of interest to the tourist.

Palermo proper is a neighborhood of parks filled with magnolias, pines, palms, and willows, where families picnic on weekends and couples stroll at sunset. Designed by French architect Charles Thays, the parks take their inspiration from London's Hyde Park and Paris's Bois de Boulogne. Take the metro to Plaza Italia, which lets you out next to the Botanical Gardens (tel. 11/4831-2951) and Zoological Gardens (tel. 11/4806-7412), open dawn to dusk, both good spots for kids. Stone paths wind their way through the botanical gardens. Flora from throughout South America fills the garden, with over 8,000 plant species from around the world represented. Next door, the city zoo features an impressive diversity of animals.

Parque Tres de Febrero, a 1,000-acre paradise of trees, lakes, and walking trails, begins just past the Rose Garden off Avenida Sarmiento. In summer paddleboats are rented by the hour. The Jardín Botánico, located off Plaza Italia, is another paradise, with many South American plants specially labeled. It is famous for its population of abandoned cats, tended by little old ladies from the neighborhood, another delight for kids to watch. Nearby, small streams and lakes meander through the Japanese Garden (tel. 11/4804-4922; daily 10am-6pm; admission $1), where children can feed the fish (alimento para peces means ""fish food") and watch the ducks. Small wood bridges connect classical Japanese gardens surrounding the artificial lake. A simple restaurant offers tea, pastries, sandwiches, and a few Japanese dishes such as sushi and teriyaki chicken. You'll also find notes posted here for various Asian events throughout the city.

Palermo Viejo, once a run-down neighborhood of warehouses, factories, and tiny decaying stucco homes few cared to live in as recently as 15 years ago, has been transformed into the city's chicest destination. Palermo Viejo is further divided into Palermo Soho to the south and Palermo Hollywood to the north, with railroad tracks and Avenida Juan B. Justo serving as the dividing line. The center of Palermo Hollywood is Plazaleto Jorge Cortazar, better known by its informal name, Plaza Serrano, a small oval park at the intersection of calles Serrano and Honduras. Young people gather here late at night in impromptu singing and guitar sessions, sometimes fueled by drinks from the myriad of funky bars and restaurants that surround the plaza. On weekends there is a crafts festival, but you'll always find someone selling bohemian jewelry and leather goods no matter the day. The neighborhood gained its name because many Argentine film studios were initially attracted to its once cheap rents and easy parking. Palermo Soho is better known for boutiques owned by local designers, with some restaurants mixed in.

Las Cañitas was once the favored neighborhood of the military powers during the dictatorship period of 1976 to 1982, and the area remains the preeminently safe and secure neighborhood of all of the central Buenos Aires neighborhoods. A military training base, hospital, high school, and various family housing units still remain and encircle the neighborhood, creating an islandlike sense of safety on the area's streets. Today, however, the area is far better known among the hip, trendy, and nouveau-riche as the place to dine out, have a drink, party, and be seen in the fashionable venues built into converted low-rise former houses on Calle Báez. The polo field where the International Championships take place is also in the neighborhood and is technically part of the military bases. The polo field's presence makes the neighborhood bars and restaurants great places for enthusiasts to catch polo stars in season dining out on the town, celebrating their victories.


The city's most exclusive neighborhood, La Recoleta has a distinctly European feel, which locals say is a piece of Paris transplanted. Here, tree-lined avenues lead past fashionable restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and galleries. Much of the activity takes place along the pedestrian walkway Roberto M. Ortiz and in front of the Cultural Center and Recoleta Cemetery. This is a neighborhood of plazas and parks, a place where tourists and wealthy Argentines spend their leisure time outside. Weekends bring street performances, art exhibits, fairs, and sports.

The Recoleta Cemetery, open daily from 8am to 6pm, pays tribute to some of Argentina's historical figures and is a place where the elite can show off its wealth. Weather permitting, free English guided tours take place every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am from the cemetery's Doric-columned entrance at Calle Junín 1790.

Adjacent to the cemetery, the Centro Cultural Recoleta holds art exhibits, theatrical and musical performances, and the Museo Participativo de Ciencias. Next door, the Buenos Aires Design Recoleta features shops specializing in home decor. Among the best is Tienda Puro Diseño Argentino, which features high-quality items designed and manufactured strictly in Argentina.

Plaza De Mayo

Juan de Garay founded the historic core of Buenos Aires, the Plaza de Mayo, in 1580. The plaza is the political heart of the city, serving as a forum for protests.

The Argentine president goes to work at the Casa Rosada. It was from a balcony of this mansion that Eva Perón addressed adoring crowds of Argentine workers. You can watch the changing of the guard in front of the palace every hour on the hour, and around back is the Presidential Museum with information on the history of the building and items owned by various presidents over the centuries.

The original structure of the Metropolitan Cathedral was built in 1745 and given a new facade and designated a cathedral in 1836. The Cabildo, the original seat of city government established by the Spaniards was completed in 1751 and restored in 1939. A striking neoclassical facade covers the Legislatura de la Ciudad (City Legislature Building), which houses exhibitions in several of its halls; ask about tours. Farther down Calle Perú are the Manzanas de las Luces (Blocks of Enlightenment), which served as the intellectual center of the city in the 17th and 18th centuries. San Ignacio, the city's oldest church, still standing at the corner of calles Bolívar and Alsina, has a beautiful altar currently under renovation. Also located here is the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires (National High School of Buenos Aires), where Argentina's best-known intellectuals have gathered and studied. In addition to weekend tours, the Comisión Nacional de la Manzanas de las Luces (tel. 11/4331-9534) organizes a variety of cultural activities during the week.

Puerto Madero

Puerto Madero became Buenos Aires's second major gateway to trade with Europe when it was built in 1880, replacing in importance the port at La Boca. But by 1910 the city had already outgrown it. The Puerto Nuevo (New Port) was established to the north to accommodate growing commercial activity, and Madero was abandoned for almost a century. Urban renewal saved the original port in the 1990s with the construction of a riverfront promenade, apartments, and offices. Bustling and businesslike during the day, the area attracts a fashionable, wealthy crowd at night. It's lined with elegant restaurants serving Argentine steaks and fresh seafood specialties, and there is a popular cinema showing Argentine and Hollywood films, as well as several dance clubs such as Opera Bay and Asia de Cuba. The entire area is rapidly expanding, with high-rise luxury residences making this a newly fashionable, if somewhat isolated and artificial, neighborhood to live in. Of note is that all of the streets in Puerto Madero are named for important women in Argentine history. Look for the Buenos Aires City Tourism brochure Women of Buenos Aires to learn more about some of them. At sunset take a walk along the eastern, modern part of the renovated area, and watch the water shimmer in brilliant reds as the city forms a backdrop.

As you walk out from the port, you'll also come across the Ecological Reserve. This area is an anomaly for a modern city, and exists as proof that nature can regenerate from an ecological disaster. In the 1960s and 1970s, demolished buildings and debris were dumped into the Río de la Plata after the construction of the autopista (highway system). Over time, sand and sediment began to build up, plants and grasses grew, and birds now use this space as a breeding ground. If you're interested, you can ask travel agents about bird-watching tours. In the summer adventurous Porteños use it as a beach, but the water is too polluted to swim in and you must be careful of jagged debris and the homeless who set up camp here. In spite of limited protection, Puerto Madero development is slowly creeping onto the preserve.

Plaza San Martin & The Surrounding Microcentro Area

Plaza San Martín, a beautiful park at the base of Calle Florida in the Retiro neighborhood, acts as the nucleus of what's considered the city's Microcentro. In summer months Argentine businesspeople flock to the park on their lunch hours, loosening their ties, taking off some layers, and sunning for a while amidst the plaza's flowering jacaranda trees. A monument to General José de San Martín towers over the scene. The park is busy at all hours, and even the playground will be teeming with kids and their parents out for a post-midnight stroll. Plaza San Martín was once the location of choice for the most elite Porteño families at the beginning of the 20th century. The San Martín Palace, now used by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Círculo Militar, once the home of the Paz family who own the La Prensa newspaper; and the elegant Plaza Hotel testify to this former grandeur. The construction of the modern American Express building unfortunately destroyed this once completely classical area.

Plaza San Martín cascades gently down a hill, at the base of which sits the Islas Malvinas-Falkland Islands War Memorial, a stark circular wall engraved with the names of the nearly 750 killed in the war and an eternal flame, overseen by guards from the various branches of the military. The memorial directly faces the Elizabethan-style British Clock Tower, recently renamed the Torre Monumental, though most locals still use the old name. It was a gift from the British who built and ran the nearby Retiro train station complex. Oddly, it remained unscathed during the war but was attacked by a mob years later who also toppled an accompanying statue of George Canning, the British foreign secretary who recognized Argentina's independence from Spain. The tower is open to the public and provides a good view of the city and the river.

Calle Florida, the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Buenos Aires, is teeming with stores. The busiest section, extending south from Plaza San Martín to Avenida Corrientes, is lined with boutiques, restaurants, and record stores. It extends all the way through Avenida de Mayo to the south, turning into Calle Perú, where many international banks have retail branches. Day and night here, street performers walk on glass, tango, and offer comedy acts. You'll find the upscale Galerías Pacífico fashion center on Calle Florida, where it intersects Calle Viamonte. Most of the shopping on the street itself, however, is middle of the road. Leather stores abound, so compare prices and bargain by stopping into a few before finalizing your purchase. Calle Florida intersects with Calle Lavalle, a smaller version of itself, which has even more stores, most of lesser quality, and some inexpensive parrillas worth visiting. The street is also home to numerous video- and electronic-game arcades, so it's a good place for teenagers to hang out in while you shop around, though it might be easy for them to get into trouble as seedy characters do hang around this area.

Avenida Corrientes is a living diary of Buenos Aires's cultural development. Until the 1930s, Avenida Corrientes was the favored hangout of tango legends. When the avenue was widened in the mid-1930s, it made its debut as the Argentine Broadway, and Evita's first apartment was here so she could more easily search for work after arriving in the city. Today Corrientes, lined with Art Deco cinemas and theaters, pulses with cultural and commercial activity day and night. It is also home to many bookstores, from the chains that sell bestsellers and offer English-language guidebooks, to independent bargain outlets and rare-book sellers. The Obelisco, Buenos Aires's defining monument, marks the intersection of Corrientes with Avenida 9 de Julio. Whenever locals have something to celebrate, this is where they gather, and it's exciting to watch flag-carrying crowds shouting and cheering after Argentina wins an international event.
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