Buenos Aires doubles as not only the last stop of our around-the-world trip, but also as the longest we’re spending in any one place. For six days, we ate tender Argentine steak, drank the rich Malbec wine, and partook in the spectacular music scene of one of the world’s greatest cities.
There are always pretty good fares from the continental U.S. to South America (check on some of American Airlines’ super saver deals if you’re looking to use miles). But as with Paris, this was part of our larger around-the-world trip. If you’re interested in reading about how we booked that trip, we’ve already done a pretty thorough job of documenting it.
As is true with many airports, EZE lies well outside the city limits. Unlike some of the ones we’ve been to recently, there’s very spotty public transportation to and from. Your best bet is probably to just bite the bullet and pay for a cab into the city. It shouldn’t be that expensive (around $30–40) and it’s probably worth it. We were lucky to have our host offer to come pick us up at the airport and drop us off at the place we’re staying.
I’d mentioned in my Paris report that I always like to stay in an Airbnb, if possible. For those that don’t know, Airbnb is a site where locals can advertise rooms, apartments, or even entire houses to rent. Many people equate it with couch surfing, but honestly, it’s much closer to a hotel than that free alternative. Most cities I’ve seen have offers for entire homes or apartments, which to me, is even more preferable than a hotel. If you’re lucky and book as early as you can, you can often stay in prime spots for much less than a hotel would cost.
We booked this Airbnb pretty early in our planning and we had good communication with our host, Ruy. The apartment itself is everything you’d look for when visiting a city: not only close to several restaurants, banks, and public transportation options, but also within walking distances to many of the things you’d want to see in Buenos Aires. We stayed there for all five nights and the accommodations were more than adequate.
The only potential downside is that we were only offered one key, which was necessary to both get into the apartment and out of it. That meant that we were pretty much sticking together for the bulk of this trip unless we planned ahead enough to figure out a way around this problem.1 There was also one morning where we didn’t have hot water, but it was back on in a couple of hours, so that’s not really anything to worry about, at all.
When I think of Buenos Aires, I think of steak, wine, and tango. That wasn’t far off. The city is lined with parrillas (steak houses) all offering their own take on the staple and each offering their own particular version of Argentina’s delicious Malbec wine. We’ll offer up some suggestions below, but honestly, it’s tough to go wrong here. Everywhere we ate was delicious.
Historically, the bulk of my knowledge of Argentina centered on Juan Peron and his wife Eva, also known as Evita. The politics and intrigue of the real story play out as well as an Shakespearean tragedy, but even sixty years after her death, it’s completely obvious how much of a role she stills plays in the minds of Argentine people. It’s impossible to escape her visage on the sides of buildings and many of the city’s most popular destinations have an Evita aspect to them, as well.
Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada
The hub of all political life in Buenos Aires. And I do mean all. Casa Rosada is the mansion and political residence of Argentina’s president (completely analogous to our White House). We didn’t get a chance to tour it, but saw the spectacular building from outside its iron fences.
But where all the official policies of the country may originate from Casa Rosada, the feelings of the people are demonstrated in Plaza de Mayo. As we were there, things were being cordoned off for what looked to be a huge demonstration later that day. Asking around confirmed that this was not an unusual event; the Argentine people love to protest and they love to do it in Plaza de Mayo. While there were several people camped out in the plaza, I never felt unsafe or as if anything bad would happen. It was completely evident that this is just a part of Argentine life; I just remained aware of my surroundings (as I do in any big city) and was completely fine.
Just behind Casa Rosada is one of the better museums I’ve been to on this trip. The Bicentennial Museum was developed from the old Argentina customs office that was recovered and then renovated to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Argentina. It takes a a chronological look at early 19th century Argentine life all the way through its current presidency. While most of the exhibits are in Spanish, the pictures and artifacts alone make this worth a trip.
La Recoleta and Recoleta Cemetery
Probably Buenos Aires swankiest neighborhood and its most famous sight. La Recoleta tracks well with some of the most yuppie neighborhoods I’ve seen: farmer’s and artistan’s markets line the streets, microbreweries seem to pop up everywhere, and outdoor seating subsume every available sidewalk in the area. It’s very much worth taking a morning and walking around, the area is incredibly beautiful and it reinforces the idea of Buenos Aires as a modern city.
As in life, death, I guess. Recoleta Cemetery is famous for its decadent monuments to those that have died. It’s almost entirely privately funded, and it shows. Many of Argentina’s most famous people have been buried here, including, funnily enough, Evita herself.2 Tall monuments line what can only be described as streets and streets of tombs, each one clearly trying to outdo the one that came before it. Recoleta is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and absolutely worth a trip. There’s an iPhone app and several maps available for guiding viewers through the cemetery, but unless you’re well-versed in Argentine history, culture, and politics, most people will be completely unknown (at least they were to me). There’s no signage or anything explaining each tomb, though, so if you want a little context, going on one of the guided tours is your best bet. At the very least, grab a map and ask one of the guides to point you in the direction of Evita’s tomb.
La Brigada Parrilla
One of San Telmo (a Buenos Aires neighborhood) most famous steakhouses, La Brigada did not disappoint. We were treated to one of, if not the best steaks and bottles of wine I’ve ever had; it was so tender that the restaurant literally only provides a spoon to cut it with. I’m not much of a food critic, but trust me, go to this place. Prices were a bit higher than normal and more in line with what you’d see at a nice steakhouse in the U.S. We made a reservation before going, so it may be a good idea to do the same. As with most places that serve dinner in Argentina, the restaurant didn’t even open until 8pm (Those Argentines are a late-eating bunch).
El Tigre and Delta
I love going to cities, but going to the small towns outside of large places tends to be more my speed. El Tigre was about an hour train ride outside of Buenos Aires and was one of my favorite places I’ve had the opportunity walk around. (Mike and I repeatedly remarked it reminded us a lot of Napier, New Zealand.
While it was nice to stroll around in a small town, people mainly go to El Tigre for the river and its delta. After flooding destroyed several parts of the city, the people decided to just go with it and form their town around the water. While El Tigre has a main commercial area linked by normal asphalt streets, the bulk of the residential area is linked by waterways; everyone lives right on the river and uses boats to get to the main section of town. We had the opportunity to take a ride on one of the commercial boats to see the some of this area. It was a great contrast from the city and I highly recommend it, if you have the time.
Much like the bicentennial museum, very well put together. But your enjoyment will probably depend on how interested you are in Eva Peron. It’s fairly small, so it’s easy to get through, but the museum is laser focused on all things Evita (as it probably should be).
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Good: Buenos Aires loves it protests and that extends past the kind where you air your grievances in Plaza de Mayo. We had the opportunity to see some local bands play late one evening. The theme: all were repurposed songs from failed revolutions. I couldn’t understand much of what was being sung, but the energy coming from the bands absolutely couldn’t be matched. This seems like it’s done fairly regularly, so if you get a chance, head down to the Centro de difusión Cultural Severino DiGiovanni.
Good: Buenos Aires is known for its food, so we spent the better portion of two days eating our way through the city.
Bad Eating probably kept us from seeing all we should. Oh well, priorities!
Bad: Remember how I said I think of steak, wine, and tango when I think of Argentina? Yeah, well, we never got to see any tango shows. That’s totally on us and there are several every night for you to see. Be better than us and go see one!
Ugly: In Recoleta Cemetery, there were several of the tombs and monuments that had fallen into various states of disrepair. As in they’d completely crumbed in on themselves. In what can probably be described as a bit of karmic justice, families are required to pay a monthly upkeep fee for the cemetery to make sure that the relative’s final resting place receives regular maintenance. If a family doesn’t pay (for any reason), the tomb is ignored. One of the most shocking sights was to see all of this wealth in life and in burial, be completely for nothing twenty years after a family stopped paying the monthly maintenance fee.
Tip of the Trip
One thing our host told us as we were coming into the city: Buenos Aires is well known for its Italian food. I’ve never been to Italy (though, that should be remedied next month), but the Italian is absolutely spectacular, if not the best I’ve ever had. There’s plenty of restaurants around; make sure to take at least one night and have some pasta somewhere. (Supposedly the pizza is also really good, but we didn’t have a chance to try it.)
Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)
- Edit: We asked our host as we were leaving if there were additional keys, turns out there were. He probably still should have offered them to us in the beginning, but you can ask him about them if you stay in the same place ↩
- There’s some controversy about Evita being buried here. Rightfully so. Before marrying Peron, she came from extremely humble beginnings and spent most of her time as First Lady of Argetina speaking for the rights of the poor. Recoleta Cemetery is completely counter to everything she stood for. ↩