I hope everything’s been good with you all!
The last few weeks have been a complete whirlwind of events, I am having such a hard time keeping the day and time straight with all the travel I’ve been doing. What a blessed life I have that I get to be concerned about things like that! Currently, I’m in the south of Argentina but I want to write to you about my trip to Buenos Aires to one, update you all and two, to make sure I don’t forget anything important!
Day One: Arrival, Downtown, and Classic Argentine Dinner
So, after Carnaval in Rio, I left for a three week trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Patagonia (to read about that click here and here) with two friends, one old and one new :). After we flew in, Sulema and I hopped in an Uber and drove to our hostel, called Voyage Recoleta Hostel. Two things right upfront, Uber in Argentina is technically illegal because it competes with the taxi services too much, but the app is still live for foreigners. Be careful that they don’t double charge you! Drivers will sometimes say that the transaction is by cash only, this is not true, don’t be taken advantage of. Secondly, our Hostel was recommended from Hostelworld.com, and overall it was nice! Breakfast was slightly disappointing, wifi wasn’t super strong, but the building itself was in this beautiful old French style row house and the staff were amazing. Reasonable price, good location, so overarchingly has my recommendation as well.
The first thing we decided to do once we arrived was to stretch our legs and take a walk around downtown to get our first taste of the city. We got great gelato along the main avenue called Avenida 9 de Julio, stopped and shopped for hiking boots, and saw Plaza de La Republica. There, we saw a great monument from the past Olympic games where we got awesome pictures against a giant plant-covered BA statue. Sounds weird, looks cool, trust me. 🙂 The downtown area felt like any other busy urban area with people in business suits rushing past shop fronts and newsstands. I noticed a metro system which seemed pretty prominent and popular, although we would never end up taking it.
Our first night we met up with a third friend from Rio named Ricardo and after Phoebe arrived on her late flight, we all went out for a late dinner to at La Cabrera Parrilla Palermo, an Argentine Churrasco place, for some good meat! It was pricey, more pricey than I wanted to pay, but Ricardo picked the place so we just went with it. The food was well worth the price though because the portions were huge and the meat was so well done there was no arguing the authenticity of the place. After being rejected from entrance into one bar because we weren’t dressed appropriately, we found another bar down the street with no entrance fee and had a nightcap before heading back to our hostels. In general, people dress up more in Buenos Aires, far more than in Rio, especially for a night out. So, having us in our street clothes, probably with barbecue sauce leftover on our chins, we were not adding to the chic appeal of a night club. Regardless of being turned away, it ended up being a fun night, and we went to bed happy to be starting our trip on the right foot.
Day Two: La Boca and Riverfront District
The next day, we got up just in time to catch the tail end of breakfast before heading out to exchange money and head to the east side of the city for a walking tour. We almost didn’t make it to the tour because of our tardiness, but after hopping in a cab we where whisked across town into the sunny region of La Boca. Throughout the drive, I got my first taste of what Bueons Aires looked like, and can wholeheartedly confirm that it has a prominent European flare. The architecture is stunning and the streets are wide with trees lining every boulevard. Each neighborhood is very distinct, as I would come to know in the next few days, and the city had a general feeling of calmness to it. Despite it having a large population, we never saw many people on the street, or felt the anxiety a big city typically brings. I was actually able to rest and stroll through winding streets in the sun without worry of theft or mugging.
Arriving in La Boca, however, had much more of a historic feel to it. The two story buildings were very brightly colored, and tango music mixed with the sun and smell of tapas to create a magical afternoon space. We walked with a guide to learn that the region was home to many of the original Italian immigrants from Genoa. Throughout lengthy political discrepancies, the region of La Boca actually declared themselves an independent country and raised the Genoese flag in a form of protest in the late eighteen hundreds. The original Yellow Fever outbreak also happened in La Boca and for a period of time, nobody would enter except for doctors or priests as the disease took over. Seen as a kind of slum, La Boca was left to deteriorate for many years after the outbreak subdued. Great fires swept through the homes, and La Boca’s reputation was tarnished for many years until the historic society stepped in to declare that the architectural style of La Boca was unique and should be preserved. The picture I’ve attached above is an example of the newly renovated buildings, and now La Boca is a buzzing tourist spot.
The neighborhood is also known for a it’s world famous football club, Boca Juniors, and it’s politically charged street art. Displays of protest and unease were prominent in grand murals across all streets, even having one protest piece on the wall of a preschool playground! Its said that Tango was also started in the streets of La Boca, and so music and dancers filled corners to give tourists mini-lessons. After sitting and people watching in a cafe for a moment after the tour, we went back home for a nap before getting ready for dinner with our new German friend Leo. We went to a restaurant in a mall and I had disappointing pizza, but hey, you can’t win them all… After dinner we went to the Riverfront district and landed at a place called Johnny B Good for wine and tapas. Three bottles later, we shut the place down and decided we weren’t finished for the evening so we went to a regatton club and danced for a few hours. Dancing in general is more conservative in Argentina. Its much more of the classic, two person swaying and spinning bit rather than the get down feel of Rio but I appreciated how much more Latin it felt.
Day Three: Books, Parks, and Palermo
The evening ended late, and in the morning Phoebe and I just rested before getting brunch at one of the world’s top bookstores called El Ateneo Grand Splendid. It was three blocks from where we were staying and was originally a theater for performing arts. The ceiling murals and crown molding were all still in place, but the seats were just replaced with rows and rows of book shelves. You can imagine that this felt like heaven to me! The cafe was on the stage and we had the best two-hour brunch just chatting about old loves. That afternoon we got ice cream and relaxed in a park, then got in a taxi and stumbled upon the Palermo district of Buenos Aires for dinner. Palermo is very much the hipster soho district with craft breweries and boutiques lining the streets and explosive murals on the walls. Young families walked around the evening artisanal market and there was a light scent of incense in the air. Phoebe and I checked out the amazing street art and then sat at a pink cafe for tea time. It was quite lucky that we just stumbled upon the square per our taxi driver’s recommendation because we tried to find it again the next night and ended up walking forty minutes unnecessarily because Palermo is so big. Frankly, we had a magical afternoon and returned to the hostel happy and rested.
Day Four: Recoleta Cemetery and Final Dinner
The next day, our last full day in the city, we walked to centro to see the main square and take some pictures before our walking tour of the Recoleta cemetery. This was amazing! The mausoleums were big, ornate creations, holding beautiful sculptures and pieces of art amongst the resting souls. Our guide was so animated in telling us the history of the cemetery and of each person’s story in how they ended up there. Some mausoleums held up to 65 bodies and would lawfully belong to the original family for eternity. It was so interesting to hear the story of Evita, a former first lady that is revered as a Saint to Argentinians, and her chaotic journey after death to find the proper burial place for her. It was important to learn about Evita to learn about the Argentine people and their open political wounds that the country is still healing from. Because I cannot do Argentina’s history justice, here is a link better describing it. By the time we left, the sun was hanging low in the sky, and after grabbing Leo again, we met two more Germans for a burger and drinks.
Overall, my impression of Buenos Aires was incredibly positive! I felt very rested and also felt that there was plenty to do. I know that in our four days there we did not even scratch the surface of Argentine culture and rich historical background, but it was so nice to experience the city and meet all the wonderful people we did. I have to say, I also loved the pace of this leg of the trip. It allowed time to relax and we didn’t feel rushed to get everything done in two days, but we also weren’t there for too long looking for extra things to do. Of course, in a city like Buenos Aires you could spend a week and a half there and still have things to do but overall, I am very excited to return to the city one day to continue my journey in Argentine culture!
Quick closing tips: Don’t be overwhelmed by the exchange rate, I know its steep but you get used to it.
Be careful you’re not taken advantage of by taxi or Uber drivers, keep track of the rate and what sort of bills you give them.
Be patient with Argentine Spanish, it’s different but really beautiful.
Take advantage of the walking tours, like mentioned above the neighborhoods are all so different, packed with their town history that its worth having someone there to tell you about it.
Next Read: Ilha Grande-A Weekend in Paradise