Introduction to Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina’s cultured capital, is many people’s favorite city in Latin America. With its thriving arts and music scene, feisty Latin character and fascinating history, Buenos Aires is a heady amalgamation of the old and the new, and many visitors end up hooked and stay far longer than originally planned. Its rich past is very much apparent in the city’s beautiful architecture with streets of French-style apartments, opulent palaces, grand plazas and parks right across the city. There are also a whole host of museums and sights to explore and a fantastic literary and café culture.
Exciting and cosmopolitan, Buenos Aires is arguably one of the most 24-hour cities on the planet. However, nocturnal city life is not the sole territory of the young, and you’ll often find people of all ages out walking their dogs at 1am, grabbing a coffee and a chat in a local café or a midnight ice cream. Though Argentina is rightly famous for its beef, and the traditional Asado (BBQ) is a way of life here, steak is not the only thing on the menu, and there is a thriving and varied restaurant and café scene. Art and music are the heart and soul of the city and every other porteño (Buenos Aires local) is either an artist or a musician. Though there are musical styles to suit absolutely every taste, the one that is synonymous with Buenos Aires, and which fascinates and seduces many, is of course the tango. An authentic and inclusive tango scene is very much alive and high kicking in the city, with young and old, locals and visiting enthusiasts, all taking the floor together, and the international and gay tango festivals held in Buenos Aires every year.
What not to miss in Buenos Aires
Plaza de Mayo
The heart of the city is the Plaza de Mayo (May Square), surrounded by the Casa Rosada (Government House), the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Cabildo (City Hall during the Spanish colonial period). This is a popular spot for social demonstrations, which still happen every once in awhile.
The city’s symbol is the Obelisco, a 221 ft. tall (67.5 m) obelisk, stuck in the middle of the Avenida 9 de Julio (9th of July Avenue), which at 16 lanes is considered the widest street in the world. On this avenue is also the Teatro Colón (Colon Theater), one of the finest Opera Houses on the planet.
A 20 year old neighborhood that started as a refurbishment of the old docks in the port and now holds the city’s most modern buildings, its fanciest restaurants and some of the most luxurious hotels.
Recoleta, is in walking distance from downtown Buenos Aires. Here you’ll find the city’s most important cemetery, where Evita Perón and other famous local personalities are buried. It is also where you’ll be able to see why Buenos Aires is considered the Paris of South America as this bourgeois neighborhood is filled with stunning and opulent buildings.
The gaucho is to Argentina what the cowboy is to the United States. These are the men who live on estancias (ranches), away from the big cities and work in agriculture and cattle breeding. In Argentina, most of the gauchos lived and still live in the Pampas, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Due to its traditional horse breeding culture in the Pampas, Argentina stands out in sports that involve horses and is considered the world capital of polo. A glamorous game where horses, trainers and riders make up each team.
One of the most pleasant day trips you can make from Buenos Aires is taking a small hop to the other side of the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) and landing in Colonia del Sacramento, on the Uruguayan coast.
Football fever is rife in Buenos Aires and the Argentines are so passionate about football that many people liken it to a religion. Catching a game at the famous La Bombanera, Boca Juniors’ home stadium, is up there at the top of every sport enthusiast’s list.
Keep your cool
Keep your cool. One of the legacies of Italian immigration in Buenos Aires is the undeniably delicious ice cream and sorbet on offer. There are heladarias (ice cream parlors) on every corner and they are open late serving ice cream by the scoop or the kilo in a bewildering array of flavors.
The opulent Colon Theater Opera House is a grand construction with a stunning interior and boasts some of the best acoustics in the world. A program of opera, ballet and classical music runs throughout the year and tickets can be bought online or at the box office with prices to suit every pocket.
Getting a taste of the tango scene in Buenos Aires is an absolute must. Whether you catch a sit-down show, stop to admire a street performance or, go underground in one of the many late night milongas, be sure to catch a glimpse of this integral element of the city and its people.
San Telmo Market
San Telmo Market is a buzzing Sunday street market in one of the oldest parts of town. The winding cobblestone streets are filled with stalls selling all manner of things old and new. It’s the perfect place to pick up gifts, catch some local music and people watch.
What you need to know
When to go
Buenos Aires can be visited at any time of year and there is plenty to do rain or shine. However, in the height of summer (January-February) it can get very hot and humid and this is when many of the locals head out of town to the coast. For those who stay, the city government organizes a calendar of free music, arts and cinema events in outdoor venues across the city. Perhaps the best time to visit Buenos Aires is spring-time and early summer (October-December), when the trees are in blossom, skies are blue and alfresco dining can be enjoyed to the fullest. The winter months can get nippy, but skies are often blue. If you’re a tango enthusiast, there is an international tango festival and contest in August.
How to get there
Buenos Aires is accessible by plane through two airports: Ministro Pistarini Airport (better known as Ezeiza airport), which is about 22 miles (35 km) away from the city and it’s where international flights arrive. The other one is the Jorge Newbery Airport (better known as Aeroparque), located downtown, where domestic flights and flights from Uruguay arrive.
If you come from Uruguay, a quick way of reaching Buenos Aires is through ferry boats that take three hours at the most. The port of Buenos Aires also receives each year almost 90 cruises that sail around South America.
Buenos Aires is also reachable by buses that arrive from all other local cities and bordering countries.
Where to stay
As with every big capital city, Buenos Aires has a wide range of options in lodging, so you should have no problem in finding a place to feel comfortable.
The world’s most well known five-star hotel chains are present downtown, together with other local luxury hotels. You may also find lots of lower rated hotels all around, small boutique hotels and hostels. Renting a house or an apartment is probably the cheapest choice.
Getting around Buenos Aires is possible by minibus or colectivo which run throughout the city, though sometimes a bit crowded, especially during rush hours. One should keep an eye on one’s possessions while taking such transport as pickpockets and muggings do occur. Taxis are cheap, safer, and a preferable mode of transport – private taxis should be called by telephone as they are more trustworthy.
Buenos Aires has also a seven line subway system or subte which covers some of the important areas of the city. This is the easiest way to move around as you can travel quickly and avoid traffic jams, although it may get hot, especially during the rush hour when the carriages get crowded. You should watch out for pickpockets here too.
Trains could be useful only if you visit some of the farther away attractions, such as the port of Tigre.