Buenos Aires, Argentina
Che boludos! Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires (the city meaning Good Air), which was founded upon swampland on the Rio de la Plata river in Argentina. From struggling with indigenous genocide, to war, to the plague, to viscous dictatorships and military occupations, this city has been through it all - no doubt about it. What remains today is a colorful, vibrant architectural wonderland with lively people, flavorful foods, die hard futbol fans, copious graffiti art and tango serenades in the street. It has a population of about 12 million residents and is the second largest city in South America.
Before we get into the good stuff, lets not forget some general information before you depart. Most tourists located in the northern hemisphere, I remind you that you'll be swapping seasons in Argentina, since it lies below the equator. Argentina has one of the worst interests rates on the globe, so I do not recommend using an ATM at all (20%). Bring cash with you and exchange it there into pesos. Their currency has been so unstable over the years, that even as “Porteños” (a Spanish term, which refers to residents of the port city), convert their savings into USD to avoid losing the value, since American dollars don't fluctuate as easily. Okay, so now to the fun stuff... as my favorite city in Latin America, I've compiled some personal recommendations to share.
what to do?
San Telmo Market:
This market is a dizzying assault on the senses, from the smell of burning palo santo wood, to the man yelling and selling fried empanadas in the street, to the crowds bunched tightly around antique tables, topped with memorabilia pre-World War 11. I recommend allotting a few hours here, and begin by grabbing a bite in the indoor portion of the market, then walk outside along Defensa street, dead ending at Plaza Del Mayo. Additionally check out Park Lezama (a historical park known for slave trading back in the day). Interesting fact about San Telmo, it was historically the elitist area and was home to the wealthiest families. That is up until the middle 19th century when yellow fever killed around 8% of the residents of Buenos Aires.
Plaza Del Mayo
This plaza is literally where history has shaped this country, for better and for worse. Still today, there are daily protests that take place that you can take part of. Additionally, there is a museum where you can learn about this important landmark. You can also gaze upon Casa Rosada or "the pink house", which is the governmental building where the president works from. At the center you'll find the May pyramid, which is the oldest monument in the city. This plaza also was the scene for numerous important occurrences in Argentine history such as bombings, protests and important revolutions for the country.
This beautiful and large reserve is the equivalent of NYC's Central Park. It is a place to find nature at the edge of a concrete jungle, after a chaotic architectural curation. You can rent bikes with Biking Buenos Aires and enjoy a lovely ride through the swamplands (on a paved path of course). You'll find the typical image of families or lovers sipping their mate and indulging in pastries by the Rio de La Plata, the widest river in the world. Directly east and you'll hit South Africa - directly south and you will hit Antarctica. This location is great for jogging, bird watching and picnic dates.
This port is a fairly new "hot spot" for locals to enjoy fancier restaurants, taking a boat out, or checking out the docked tall ship. The ship has circumnavigated the globe numerous times with the Argentine navy. You can also find here the Puente de la Mujer, a 6 million dollar suspension bridge designed by the corrupt architect, Santiago Calatrava. It's called the woman's bridge because it is said to resemble a tango dancers heel, as it drags across allowing boats to pass. The sky scraper realty here is some of the most expensive in the entire country; with apartment owners such as Leo Messi and multinational corporation bosses. This area is also referred to as Little Dubai, where property sells for up to 16,000 USD per square meter!
The neighborhood of Palermo is like the Soho of NYC. Hipster bars, upscale restaurants, caffes filled with remote workers and amazing yet overpriced shopping. It is the largest neighborhood in the city and used to be residential and quite "dangerous" twenty years ago. But now, this area has by far the most lively nightlife for drinking and dining. You can also find things to do like Los Bosques (a garden where one can go on a warm day and enjoy beautiful flora), the planetarium, MALBA (museum of modern art), and the Evita museum. There are free walking tours that start in Palermo, website linked here.
In Recoleta, you can check out the GORGEOUS cemetery, where the first lady and Hollywood glamorized character of Evita Peron is buried (as well as the living dead girl). Legend has it that a girl was buried here and then came back to life. When one of the overnight guards heard her screaming, they came to open up the casket and found scratch marks on the inside, as if the had tried to escape. Back in the day, misdiagnosing death was surprisingly common, and there are multiple stories such as this one. It was SO common that in fact some caskets had bells attached to the inside, incase the dead person woke up! They could just ring the bell and alarm the grave watchers they were back. Weird, I know.
This touristy area is the birthplace of Tango. Although most do not know the famous dance came from a rather promiscuous beginning. Men used to fight each other outside of brothels in La Boca, arguing over who'd be first to sleep with a prostitute, waving her handkerchief on the balcony to show she was on duty, or DTF. The sensual dance resembles two people almost trying to trip each other. They eventually taught it to women and everyone started dancing it in the streets. Immigrants from all over Europe who couldn't speak the same language, could use the universal language or music. This music was something everyone could understand, connect with and integrate each other's traditions. Check out "caminito" or little walk to see colorful houses, paintings for sale, delicious cheese bread and more. But don't hang around this neighborhood once the sun goes down alone. Or with friends. Really, just see it in the day time to be on the safe side; as there is a huge reputation for petty theft here.
The city of Tigre is a nearby hour train ride outside of the city, which makes it a short getaway into nature for city residents. Upon the banks of the Tigre river, you'll find homes drastically ranging in economic value. The experience of renting a home, taking a taxi boat and relaxing while having a traditional asado or barbecue with friends or family is a typical weekend in Tigre. Check out all day biking and kayaking tours from Biking Buenos Aires to visit Tigre below.
CITY BIKE TOUR
Life on two wheels is a solution to many urban landscapes that battle congestion. To see this specific city by bicycle will not disappoint, especially with Biking Buenos Aires. This company has friendly guides who are expats, artists, teachers, travelers and locals. Their mission is to bridge cultures and come to a better global understanding through organizing bike trips for travelers from around the world, and educate them about Argentine culture and history. I had such a genuine and holistic experience with their community by learning, absorbing, experiencing and adventuring all while feeling incredibly safe and not having to worry about following a map or navigating in traffic if I had done it alone. Use my code "typsysoulriding" for 10% off a tour HERE!
One thing you MUST try while in B.A. is mate, a holy plant and life staple to the region. It was a custom of the indigenous group which was adopted by gauchos, Argentina’s cowboys who essentially created their beef industry. Gauchos drank mate as an appetite suppressant, while working long days out ranching cattle when it was only possible to stop once a day to eat. It's the country's social drink, so you'll see people drinking it EVERYWHERE - EVERYDAY. In a group setting, the person serving the mate is called the ‘cebador’. Make sure to always point the bombilla (metal straw) towards the person you're passing it to next, or else it implies you don't like them! Yerba, or the leaves, contain caffeine which can give you a buzz, help with digestion and offer many antioxidants; thus it has become popularized in health programs. For example now you can even find mate energy drinks in Wholefoods!
Digital nomad and need a workspace in B.A.? Check out my absolute favorite, La Maquinita. They have desks, Skype booths, swings for break time, conference rooms, a community kitchen and rooftop patio for a scenic lunch spot. With locations in Villa Crespo, Palermo Soho, Belgrano and Cordoba and more, this is the hip office space you'll feel productive at, all while in a local community setting.
I studied Spanish here in a one month intensive course with Expanish and really enjoyed my experience. They do study abroad programs, home-stays, private lessons and 20/30 hour week intensives. Check them out!
This classic theater can seat 2500 spectators and provide standing room for another 500. It is BEAUTIFUL and has a full season schedule for the ballet, opera and touring shows. Be sure to check it out if you're a fan of architecture and music (website linked here).
Sunae Cantina - hands down the best meal I've ever had! Try the fried fish or pad thai with a paired jasmine vodka cocktail, and the halo-halo or sticky rice balls for a memorable dessert!
Don Julio - arguably the best steakhouse in the city... expect long wait times, but enjoy the complementary champagne outside in line.
Nino Gordo - a Japanese and Spanish fusion, with a hipster ambience and younger crowd.
Donnet - vegetarian heaven, with all things made from tasty mushrooms or hungos.
Kebab Roll - Trendy, and artistic place with killer Pakistani food.
Extrawurst - Authentic German food when you’re craving a schnitzel.
Gran Dabbang - an unexplainable yet delicious fusion of Indian food, in a modern and creative manner.
Siamo Nel Forno - The most authentic pizza joint in the city.
Buenos Aires Verde - Simply put, a vegetarian’s heaven!
Masa Taco Pop Ups - check out where Masa is holding pop ups at different restaurants over the city on their instagram.
NOTE - Besides my staple glass of malbec, sweet alfajores with dulce de leche, and cheesy empanadas, this country was VERY difficult for me to eat in as a vegetarian. Although if you ride the carnivore train, start saving space now...
Types of Traditional Parilla Meats
Bife de chorizo – sirloin steak
Entraña – skirt steak
Bife de lomo – tenderloin / filet mignon
Vació – flank steak
Tira de asado – rack of ribs
Bife de costilla – rib steak
Types of Empanadas
de carne – ground beef with onions
carne picante – beef with cumin
jamón y queso – ham and cheese
roquefort – blue cheese
humita – corn
queso y cebolla – cheese and onion (my personal favorite)
de verdura – spinach or swiss chard in a white béchamel sauce
WHERE TO DRINK
Temple Bar - for large groups and large beers (pair with greasy cheese fries).
Calle - a speakeasy bar hidden behind the back of a pizza shop.
Bar de Kowalski - a converted school turned into hip concert venue with monthly peñas (a group of folkloric musical artists who come together for a celebration of art and food).
COFFEE SHOPS / BAKERIES
Ninina - very cute, modern white cafe with great coffee and very instagrammable.
Tostado - multiple locations, great grilled cheese and healthy juices.
La Panera Rosa*** my favorite (multiple locations) - try their waffles with dulce de leche!
Salvaje - the best pan in town! Crunchy bread loafs and your classic avocado toast.
Padre Coffee Roasters - a good meeting spot with interesting coffee creations.
B.A. was one of the largest slave trading ports in South America and because of its massive waves of immigration from all over the world starting in the 1880's, around 6 million Europeans flooded into the country. Mostly from Spain and Italy, and then others like Russia, France, Germany, England and Poland. These new Argentines brought their own heritage, foods, music and energy which have all influenced the culture of Buenos Aires. That's why you hear a different type of Spanish dialect here, that almost sounds Italian and sing-songy. That's why people hang out at cafes in the street and the city is called the "Paris of South America". That's why you hear eastern European folk themes within the blended tango genre. That's why the architecture is so unique, and why the people's faces are so ethnically mixed here. This place is a colorful, savory blended city of magic and nostalgia.
I hope you enjoy your trip to Buenos Aires and use some of these tips! I am currently residing here for about half of the year, so be sure to reach out when you're visiting for a quick cafecito!
Your Comandante, Alejandra Martinez