Buenos Aires – Visiting the City Dubbed the Paris of the South

 

After spending a week in Brazil, my friend and I had planned on visiting this city dubbed The Paris of the South accredited mainly to its architecture but also to its lifestyle rivaling some of the biggest and most fashionable European capitals.

 

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The iconic Obelisco standing at 67.5 meters high

 

I don’t have any riveting stories to tell like the one in Brazil except that it actually hailed while we were in Buenos Aires in September. We were told it hadn’t rained that much or been that cold in years and, you guessed it, hail was unheard of. Maybe it was a prediction of things to come. Just a few weeks after returning home, Argentina was hit with a major economic crisis – banks were freezing people’s accounts and the whole country wreaked havoc.

Besides being the birth place of tango and the final resting place of Evita Perón (the First Lady of Argentina from 1946-1952), I didn’t know much about Buenos Aires. I soon found out that this seemingly inconspicuous metropolis had much to offer including 9 de Julio Avenida (partially pictured above) – the widest avenue in the world. From its many barrios (neighborhoods) to its gauchos, Buenos Aires was ready to sweep me away.

Read on to know more about this Latin metropolis with the presumptuous nickname – The Paris of the South.

 

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01. PLAZA CINCO DE MAYO

This centrally-located square in the barrio of Montserrat holds a very significant historical meaning – it was here that Argentina was led to independence on May 25th, 1810. Many political debates and marches still take place here today.

Plaza Cinco de Mayo was also the meeting place for the weekly gatherings of Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Founded in 1977, this group of mothers started silent protests in this square to bring attention to the mysterious disappearance of their sons during the Argentinian Cold War. This association is still going strong defending human rights but the last silent protest was in 2006.

The emblematic Casa Rosada, appropriately facing Plaza Cinco de Mayois the pink(rosada)-hued palace that houses the presidential and governmental offices and a museum (but I didn’t go).

And what can I say, any well-appointed plaza with lush greenery in the middle of an urban setting is always inviting!

 

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02. EL CAMINITO

El Caminito is a quirky pedestrian street in the barrio of La Boca. With its cheerful and brightly painted facades, it might just be the most photogenic barrio in Buenos Aires. It reminded me of a movie set – a temporary installment ready to whisk you away.

And it does.

With accordion-playing musicians, tango dancers (of course) and a variety of artists lining the pedestrian street, there’s always something to see and photograph. There are many cheap souvenir shops with tango-related memorabilia but with a keen eye some nice things can still be found.

Some might say El Caminito is very touristy and, in fact, it is shamelessly so (although there weren’t bus loads of tourists when I went). It was revived precisely to attract more visitors to the poverty-stricken area. La Boca is coined as Buenos Aires’s poorest barrio; this is made evident if you step outside the rainbow-colored perimeter but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting (just be cautious when walking outside the tourist area).

 

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03. SAN TELMO

This more bohemian barrio is bursting with charm but is much less extroverted (but no less interesting) than El Caminito. With its cobble-stone streets and pretty wrought-iron balconies, the distinct architecture reminded me of why Buenos Aires was often referred to as a city with European flare.

If you have a soft spot for street markets where you can find local artists selling their original artwork and stalls overflowing with antiques, then make sure to head to San Telmo on a Sunday.

Despite the grey skies that hovered above, San Telmo turned out to be my favorite barrio.

 

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04. LA RECOLETA

A more refined, upper class barrio in downtown Buenos Aires but just as pleasant to walk around. La Recoleta is a lively area with many bars and restaurants where middle-class porteños (locals) like to hang out. It’s mostly known for La Recoleta Cemetery to which hundreds of visitors from all over the world flock to each year. Why you might ask? This is where the tomb of Evita Perón is located as well as the tombs of other members of the Duarte family.

I can understand why one wouldn’t want to visit a cemetery but this one is worth it even if you’re not a fan of Evita Perón. The tombs are actually quite impressive. Made of marble and stone, each one is elaborately decorated and equally ornate depending on the means of the family. The paths are all paved making a visit in the labyrinth-like cemetery easier to navigate and quite enjoyable despite its somewhat morbid nature.

If you’re a cat lover then you’ll be spoiled (and possibly heart-broken) here as there are many, many cats roaming around the cemetery. When I was there, a woman was feeding all of them; hopefully someone is still taking care of the numerous feline residents of La Recoleta Cemetery.

 

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05. PUERTO MADERO

Puerto Madero with its more contemporary vibe and industrial-influenced architecture is very different from the rest of Buenos Aires. It was originally a port left in a state of decay until it was revived into a much more gentrified neighborhood than the other character-laden barrios found in Buenos Aires. Here you’ll find high-end restaurants, trendy bars and upper-class residences making you feel like you’ve left The Paris of the South and landed somewhere in London.

It was very quiet the day we went (it’s probably much more happening at night) but I enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and seeing another side (literally being across the bridge) of Buenos Aires.

 

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06. SHOPPING LIKE A PORTEÑO

Calle Florida was (and still is) the main shopping street in downtown Buenos Aires. From elegant clothing stores to lesser-quality variety shops, this pedestrian street was always busy with all sorts of people including street performers and the occasional panhandler. Tango dancers were never too far away either – a constant reminder that I was most definitely in Argentina.

 

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Where did my face go??

 

07. VISIT TIGRE

Approximately 28 kilometers outside of Buenos Aires is a town where the only way to get around is by boat because all the ‘streets’ are actually canals running through the Parana Delta. Easily accessible, we had taken the train to go and a taxi to get back to the city. Once in Tigre, taxi boats were available to bring passengers (mostly locals – we didn’t encounter any other tourists) wherever they needed to go.

Back in 2001, Tigre wasn’t much of a tourist attraction but rather more of a weekend destination for porteños who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Now it has apparently become an upmarket tourism area including a few spa developments. Nothing like when I went in 2001 when the only attraction was the novelty of the canal-laced town itself.

 

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08. GAUCHO RANCH & PARRILLA

You can easily book an excursion to the many ranches found outside the city – we had chosen Estancia Santa Susana. Upon arrival, gauchos – cowboy boots, cowboy hats, red handkerchiefs ‘n all – will greet you with friendly smiles and even friendlier hugs.

The menu – actually there was no menu but rather an open-air barbecue called parrilla which was laid out for everyone to see – consisted of meat true to Argentinian culture and cuisine. Be prepared, there will be more meat than you probably care to eat. I don’t eat red meat but back then I did eat chicken so I had a taste of it – a huge, sizzling breast was laid out before me.

After everyone finished their meal, some traditional music came on and a cheery red-cheeked gaucho asked me to dance. How could I refuse such an endearingly jolly face? I gave it my best but most of my effort was put into laughing the whole time!

Not being a meat lover, I still enjoyed experiencing a day in the life of the Argentinian gauchos.

 

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09. ENJOY A TANGO SHOW

Of course.

Tango originated in the 1880’s right here in Buenos Aires. Often accompanied by instruments such as the accordion, the piano, the violin or the guitar, in my opinion, tango is one of the most sensual and passionate dance ever to have been created.

 

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10. BE PREPARED – YOU WILL BE ASKED FORCED TO TANGO

Pictures don’t lie.

 

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A tango lesson – in my sneakers – with the artist Guillermo Alio

 

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Have you been to Buenos Aires? What did you enjoy the most about this cosmopolitan city? Did you have a favorite barrio? 

 

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  • Kristine AARSHEIM

    Tango lessons and a whole lot of cats, now that sounds like something I’d enjoy! Argentina has been on my bucketlist for quite a while now anyway, ever since watching the biopic based on Evita Peron when I was a child. The country is so rich on culture and history!

  • Crazy Dutch Abroad

    La Recoleta looks really appealing to me. Buenos Aires might be one of my destinations for next year so I was very pleased to read your post. Have you felt unsafe? Wondering if it is OK sit work in a coffee shop with a laptop…

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I went to Buenos Aires at a time when tourism wasn’t very popular and still felt safe. Now Buenos Aires is a very coveted destination and a lot of travelers go there so I’m sure it’s even safer (especially La Recoleta).

      • Crazy Dutch Abroad

        Thank you Lydia!

  • Marissa Abao

    That’s so cool that you got to dance tango! I am not that good in dancing but I would love to learn some moves. The grilled meat selections look tasty too. They have their own Argentinian meat cuts which I am curious to know. Did they serve your grilled chicken with some sauce?

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I don’t remember having any sauce with my chicken but if you’re a meat lover then Argentina is a great place for you!

  • Argentina is definitely on our bucketlist! We have heard so many great things and your post confirms it. There is so much to see and do! Hopefully we will get the chance to visit in the near future.

  • Raghav

    Beautiful post and I love your vintage-ish photos in it. Argentina is a country that I have always wanted to visit but I found planning for South America – one continent I still haven’t put foot in – difficult because it is half way across the world and requires a lot of time because of that. Still, loved the post and BA looks beautiful and very quaint.

  • Neha Verma

    I can see you had a lovely trip lady. Thanks for the detailed out post. There seems to be so much to see and so much to do..I will keep all these in mind for planning out my travel here.

  • Allison Green

    I can see why it has that nickname! The architecture is so beautiful. La Boca looks really fun and colorful as well. Can’t wait to go one day!

  • I also hardly know anything about Argentina but it seems like a perfectly charming place. And even though your pictures are old I still think they capture some great aspects of the city. (And those kitties!)

  • Punita Malhotra

    Buenos Aires seems so lively, colorful and vibrant. And so many fun things to do, including the tango! I love the architecture and the vibe all around.

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Buenos Aires is a charming city with lots to offer!

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    Hi Kasey! Argentina (well, Buenos Aires) felt very comfortable and easy-going to me. It’s a great city with so much to offer!

  • Tara

    Looks like a great vacation! I wouldn’t mind visitng for a day or two.

  • This looks like such a great vacation! I remember going to Argentinian Tango classes….not an easy dance to learn that’s for sure, but fun nonetheless:)

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I once took Salsa lessons – I have no coordination whatsoever – it was a disaster…lol! I can imagine Tango being very difficult to learn but it’s such a beautiful dance!

  • Imaobong Asuquo

    Buenos Aires definitely has this calm and tranquil feeling all over
    Very beautiful too!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I really enjoyed it – very charming for a big city!

  • Tiffani Denham

    It looks like you had a great time and learned a lot. I have not been to South America but it’s definitaly on my list. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nicole Glover

    Looks like you had loads of fun dancing, or being forced to dance!..lol One of my most favorite things to do 🙂 As a former ballroom dancer is lovely seeing all that Tango going on! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I’m awful at partnered dancing….lol! As a former ballroom dancer you would definitely enjoy all the tango in Buenos Aires. It was so enchanting to see people dance in the streets!

  • megkerns

    Seems as though you’ve done so many fun things and gone a ton of wonderful places. I envy your sense of adventure! (And I’m glad you got out before the crazy money-freezing incident)

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      I was so saddened when I had learned about the crash when I got back home. Argentina seems to have become a very popular travel destination. Hopefully it’s helping with the economy!