When we first selected Buenos Aires as the starting point of our trip, we definitely had an impression of a cosmopolitan European style city with beautiful architect and enormous avenues reaching from one side of the city to the other. As our planning progressed, this image was slowly replaced with a vision of a Gotham City style city with dangers lurking around every corner as we read up on the various horror stories you can find on the internet.
After five days here, I would say that the reality is something in the middle and probably leaning more towards the European city than Gotham City. It was definitely a nice place to relax for a few days, wandering the streets during the day and getting set for the adventure ahead of us.
Some of the buildings in Buenos Aires scream opulence and wealth, however, just round the corner can be an area of massive poverty. Whilst this is probably the same of most big cities around the world, it just feels like quite an extreme example of this when you compare the mansion blocks of Recoleta with the cobbled-together homes in other areas such as La Boca.
We expected it to be hard to wander around the city, although in reality with a good dose of common sense we were comfortable walking around. We were warned beforehand to avoid doing things like walking around with our phones in our hands and it also gave a degree of comfort to know that our rucksack always had a padlock on too.
There’s an awful lot to see in BA and in part a concession to how spread out everything is and partly in concession to safely travelling around some areas, we took the Tour Bus. This has two routes which cover off pretty much the whole city to a certain extent from River Plate’s Monumental stadium at one side of the city to Boca Junior’s La Bombonera at the other end (more about football further down). It’s hop on and hop off, although we actually ended up only hoping off a couple of times so that we could see everything. If we’d had a few more days, I think I would have been tempted to hop off more often and explore some of the barrios (areas) that would have been harder to reach.
Parks, greenery and scenery
One of the first things that struck us, even just driving into the city from the airport, was just how green a city Buenos Aires feels. There appears to be trees everywhere and the big parks such as El Rosedal de Palermo are really beautiful to wander around.
The city is full of the purple-flowered Jacaranda and we were really lucky to see these in bloom. It’s said that if one of the flowers falls and lands on your head it’s good luck, and so fingers crossed that’s true as we timed it just as every bit of wind blew hundreds of the flowers off the trees! Talking of good luck, we’re still trying to decide if it counts as good luck or not as bird poo landed on Rich’s head – conveniently Rich had his sunglasses on his head and so, other than a tiny spatter, the sunglasses caught the whole thing!
The architecture around the city is a real mix from various bits you wouldn’t write home about to some stunning architecture such as some of the grand classical-style embassies of Recoleta and the stunning Teatro Colon. We also loved the slightly bo-ho feel of Palermo Soho where, if budget had allowed, Sue could have filled another whole piece of luggage with goodies from the numerous boutiques around this area.
Buenos Aires is certainly a city of art – there must be at least four or five large art galleries dotted around the place. What’s really impressive though is the art that is dotted around the city outside from classical sculptures to the beautiful and clever street art. The street art really captured our attention and we’ve popped some of our favourite pics below.
Up in Recoleta there is another piece of really clever art – a mechanical masterpiece called ‘Floralis Generica’. This is a large metal flower which opens up during the day and closes at night as a real flower would. It’s definitely worth a visit.
We’ve both enjoyed the musical Evita and have been fascinated by the story of Eva Peron and it seems it still capture the imagination of people here in Argentina too. There is a giant mural on the side of the Ministry of Social Development which dominates the Avendida 9 de Julio. We also visited Recoleta Cemetery which although slightly morbid is fascinating to see. Definitely not to be recommended if you’re not keen on the sight of coffins! After what is rather ‘fraudulently’ described as a pilgrimage (see here for more details), Eva Peron’s body was buried in the Duarte family vault (which is rumoured to be bomb-proof to avoid any further ‘pilgrimages’!). It’s incredible that to this day there are nearly always still fresh flowers left every day in tribute to Evita.
Passions: Football and Tango
Argentines are certainly passionate people and there are two activities that seem to capture this more than others: tango and football.
Tango is a passionate dance which grew up in the bars and cafes of the San Telmo barrio. The city is full of ways to experience tango from extravagant shows to more authentic experiences in some of the dance halls. We were a little lazy in this aspect and lumped for the Tango Porteno, almost like a Las Vegas version of tango. The show is certainly impressive albeit it slightly cheesy and touristy. The dancing is incredible though with leg flicks and high kicks a plenty. At Tango Porteno you can also enjoy a three course meal before the show, however, we chose to go for just the show. This meant that we ended up sat further back than those who had been in for dinner but overall we’re pretty happy we made the right decision. You can definitely get a more authentic experience of tango though as some of our fellow travellers did by visiting the Cathedral, a giant dance hall which is filled by dancers enjoying a tango. Be prepared for a late night though, as we were arriving at the airport at 7.00 in the morning to fly to Iguassu, hordes of people were only just leaving one of the nearby nightclubs!
Football is a religion in Buenos Aires and we were saw the good and bad sides of this whilst in BA. The two stadiums are incredible to behold – particularly Boca Junior’s Bombonera stadium which appears out of nowhere in the La Boca area. Our hotel for the first few nights was themed on Boca Juniors which gave us a sense of the history of these clubs. The rivalry between the two clubs is intense dating back to the days when River Plate were also based in La Boca. River Plate gradually moved from this very working class area of the city through to the more affluent area of the city whilst spending a lot on players earning themselves the nickname of the ‘los millionaires’. Whilst we were in Buenos Aires, the two teams were due to meet in the final of the biggest cup competition in South America, the Copa Libertadores. This match was dubbed to be the derby to end all derbies – el superclassico!
You could see the passion of the fans from earlier in the week when 50,000 Boca fans turned up to watch their team train in the Bombanero (earning Boca a stadium closure from the city authorities for overfilling!). On the morning of the match there was a real buzz about the place with fans of both teams congregating outside the respective team hotels. We watched as the Boca team bus made its way to the Bombanero surrounded by a police escort and tailed by an armada of Boca fans on scooters.
Away fans are banned in Argentina which probably says a lot of how the passion can spill over into violence and that’s definitely what happened next. As the bus approached the Monumental, it was ambushed by a group of River Plate fans and the vast majority of windows were smashed by flying bottles, stones and possibly a tear gas grenade (at the time of writing it’s still not clear whether the tear gas that affected the Boca players was thrown into the coach by River Plate fans or was accidentally released into the bus by the police trying to hold back the River Plate fans). A number of the players were suffering the effects of the tear gas when they arrived in the stadium as well as some players having cuts from the broken glass. In true CONMEBOL (the South American football association) fashion, there then proceeded to be a farce where CONMEBOL (and FIFA supposedly) tried to pressure the teams into playing the game. This all despite the fact that the Boca players were vomiting in the changing room whilst their captain, Pablo Perez, was in hospital having treatment on a cut to his eye. After multiple delays and a frankly farcical statement from CONMEBOL doctors, the match was finally cancelled for the day and somehow the fans dispersed with relatively little trouble.
Now as we sit on a plane to Iguassu, the final is due to be played at 5pm tonight, however, just to add to the complications, the city authorities have closed the stadium. It will be interesting to see if the game is played at all!
Late update: in the end the game was called off again and they still don’t know when, whether or how it will be played!
As part of this trip, I’m keen to run in as many different places as I can – Buenos Aires was definitely a bit of a challenge. There are some amazing places to run such as the parks where there are long loops that can be run, unfortunately the block nature of the city streets makes it hard to run anywhere else so you either have to travel somewhere to run or just accept that you’re going to have to stop fairly regularly to cross a road. In the end I took the option of crossing roads to get to Puerto Maderes where its then easy to run around the various docks (which recently hosted the Youth Olympic Games rowing) without having to cross too many roads.
We stayed at the Hotel Boca by Design which turned out to be a really great shout. It’s a modern hotel with great facilities (pool, gym etc.) – the only slightly frustrating thing was that the bar and restaurant are shut in the evening. It’s location is pretty good for exploring most places as long as you don’t mind walking.
On the last day we moved hotels to join our G Adventures tour which meant we stayed one night at the Hotel Park Royal. This was a little more basic (no pool or restaurant) but was a comfortable night’s sleep.
One thing that was definitely a good shout was booking a transfer from the airport to the hotel on the first day. We booked ours with Rideways (they give a 10% discount if you have bookings with Booking.com) and just meant we didn’t need to worry about getting the right cash or anything at the airport as it was all sorted.
Once in the city there are definitely some areas that are fine to walk around as long as you’re sensible with your valuables. We would definitely recommend using the Tour Bus as a good way to get your bearings and to see all the different bits of the city.
Five days was never going to do justice to a city as interesting as Buenos Aires and there’s so much we would like to do in more depth. Last night over dinner we heard about a bike tour you can do including La Boca which we would definitely be keen to try if we were back in Buenos Aires. La Boca in general is an area we didn’t really see properly and seems really interesting.