Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina, home to the nations beloved football and tango. It’s the third largest city in South America, and so the districts work as multiple smaller cities. In the centre, there’s Palermo, Relocetta, Retiro, Microcentro, Puerto Maras, Montserrat, San Telmo, La Boca….the city is dynamic, multicultural and buzzing with life.
Buenos Aires is a young city, and one of the last places to be colonised in 1536 and the old gateway to Peruvian gold. Built on the whim on the aristocracy, the city channels its European heritage through open squares, grand statues and wide avenues (apparently the widest in the world). It’s architecture is an attempt to keep up with the powerhouses of the world: London, New York & Paris. The city grew and grew, developing in each area according to its audience. In the boom the country called for more Europeans to migrate to their new prosperous country. However, the people who came weren’t the expected French and English, instead there were thousands of Italians, Spanish, and polish people. Popularity meant more people, and soon the world was on its way to Buenos Aires.
Through the migrants, tango was born, as was the culture of the city. One area is mixed Korean, Jewish & Muslim, all of them now South American and part of this Argentinian hot pot. See an Amazonian rubber tree next to the Catholic Church, just across the road from a French palace, in front of which are English phone boxes, French lamp posts, and Italian scooters. Eat a Lebanese babaganoush, an English afternoon tea or a Mexican quesadilla feast. My advice? Go for Italian cuisine. In Buenos Aires, 40% of the population are Italian, bringing with them gorgeous grub and flamboyant hand gestures.
La Boca is the place to embrace being a tourist. You can’t avoid the fridge magnets and miniature Maradona figurines, and it would be a shame not to go, as La Boca is an explosion for your senses. Houses are multicoloured, the sky is blue, people tango in the bars, beef is hot and barbecuing on the street and futbol is right round the corner.
Palermo is the centre of chic, the shoreditch of Buenos Aires. The streets are narrow, filled with trees and cut with alleyways. Here you’ll find bars, rather nice furniture shops, craft beer and overpriced but very tasty cakes. Nearby is the Zoo, Japanese Garden and Rose Garden among others. Even though it’s the capital city and not that warm, siesta time has remained a tradition from its Spanish origins. So thanks to hot farmers resting from the 40 degree heat, Buenos Aires closes up for six hours or so on a winters day. If you’re going to see Palermo, try going after 8pm, when bars heave with people and spill out onto the rooftops.
Spend a sunny afternoon in La Recoletta Cemetry. Where the rich and famous of Buenos Aires built family tombs that measure up like houses. The ‘mine is better than yours’, ‘anything you can do I can do better’ rules apply here. See Egyptian Jesus, black polished marble, stained glass domes and elaborate Vatican-like statues. Spend fifteen minutes or three days, the graveyard is endless and a must see in the city.
Determined to see the heart of the city, and mildly obsessed with dance, I took myself along to a tango class. Tango in Argentina is respected, crafted and loved. There are infinite ways to experience it, and while you’ll find them mostly tourist traps, they’re a thrill all the same.* One tango class in Buenos Aires isn’t going to make you an expert, but it’s a jolly evening that is definitely worth a try. Tango classes tend to be either a long course or small taster lessons. If you don’t fancy having a wiggle, shows are everywhere too. They start at A$100 and go up to A$3,000, 4,000, more! If you’re in the right place at the right time, you may be able to watch some for free, as people practice in the squares.
*Mine was an hours basic tango class, followed by a short Milonga, a tango orchestra and finally small performance. I arrived early and nervous, and found a chair somewhere in the dark. People slowly plumped up the room and then we were off! I learnt the correct stance (no squeezing up with a rose in my mouth), the feel of the tango and mostly a lot of walking. The fun was in dancing with complete strangers, trusting them to guide you round the dance floor and, for me, moving to some good music.*
Other places worth a look:
-El Ateneo Grand Splendid: A 100 year old theatre, now filled with thousands of books.
-Free walking tour: Learn it all from the locals.
-Plaza San Martin: The aristocrats front garden.
-Puerto Madero: The old port is nice restaurants and chic flats.
-San Telmo Market: Blocks and blocks of market curiosities, every Sunday in San Telmo.