Argentina’s capital city is one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world; its popularity among travellers a clear reflection of its addictive allure. The splendid setting, incredible architecture, delicious cuisine, unsurpassed wines and unmistakable Latino feel of Buenos Aires makes it an unsurpassed holiday destination in South America; safer than La Paz, cleaner than Santiago and infinitely more beautiful than Lima, Buenos Aires is a favourite among those who simply love all the great things about the Latin world, but prefer to avoid the less-desirable bits and bobs that are usually associated with this part of the globe.
Yet this may have been true of the Buenos Aires of the 90s, when the economy was booming and all seemed flawless. Since the catastrophic collapse of its economy and drastic devaluation of its currency in 2000 however, the Argentinian gem has struggled to maintain its prestigious and unblemished reputation as the ‘Paris of South America’. Nowadays, a whole new class of struggling porteños abound; locals who may have been middle class over a decade ago, but now find it almost impossible to survive. Not only is petty crime on the rise, but so is the incident of violence, kidnappings, home invasions and other transgressions which were once only synonymous with the country’s less-wealthy neighbours. On a good note, foreigners are seldom targeted for anything more than simple tourist-overpricing, so this tid-bit of info is shared purely for awareness reasons.
Now to the really good news…
The famed economic crisis may have decimated most local’s savings and sent the country into despair, yet it also spurred an absolute wave of foreign tourism. Considering BA was akin to Paris or New York in all respects (including prices), it literally became the most modern yet cheapest capital city in the world overnight. Everything in Buenos Aires was up to European standards (think plastic surgery, dentistry, shopping etc) but everything cost one tenth of the price of most European cities. If you’re after an interesting and eclectic city to visit on your next vacation, one which offers an infinite smorgasbord of sights, activities, gastronomic and shopping options then do yourself a favour and get down here already! You could enjoy one f the most rewarding and least expensive holidays ever.
The ins and outs of Buenos Aires
Divided into 48 distinct barrios, or districts, the city of Buenos Aires is a sprawling, busy metropolis which may at first seem impossible to negotiate. The great thing is, however, that most tourists tend to concentrate on a few delightful nooks of the city; namely the historic, shopping and dining areas. As far as the best barrio to stay in, that all depends on 1) how long you’re planning to stay and 2) what your priorities are. Here’s our low-down on the most popular hoods in Buenos Aires, with a wee mention of the pros and cons of all.
Saturated with more shopping, sightseeing and dining option than most people can handle, the city’s centre may not be the most authentic suburb to stay in, but it’s definitely the most convenient if you’re planning to stay in BA for just a few days. Major sights and services are within walking distances and subway stations abound so you won’t be wasting much time getting to and from major POIs. Having said that, do keep in mind that this is also the business district of the city and it does tend to be rather quiet in the evenings. If you want to dive into the night-life scene, look elsewhere; if you want to expend most of your energy during the day however, then this is the place for you.
Regarded as the swankiest corner of Buenos Aires, Recoleta is home to some of the best hotels and most divine 5* restaurants in the whole city. Stunning colonial architecture and perfectly manicured gardens complete the postcard-picture perfection of the best side of the Argentinian capital. If money’s not an issue and luxurious surroundings is what you crave then by all means head to Recoleta! On the con side of things, this is one hood which is not well serviced by the subway system, so keep some of that extra cash at hand for taxi fares.
Our favourite barrio in Buenos Aires would have to be San Telmo, the most charming and eclectic hood of all. Possibly one of the last ‘central’ parts to be gentrified, San Telmo is ideal for those who want a cultural, historical and rather edgy adventure. Picturesque and colourful cobblestone streets, a funky atmosphere and superb night-life offer the discerning tourist a more authentic Argy experience. If you don’t want your trip to be sanitized, and aren’t easily intimidated, then look no further than San Telmo. If you don’t speak a word of Spanish, have never been to South America and are travelling with your mother, then this may not be the best barrio for you. Here is also where most backpackers and hostels can be found.
This suburb is a hybrid between Recoleta and San Telmo, it boasts some grand architecture and fine dining and shopping options, yet it also offers the young and hip atmosphere usually associated with San Telmo. If you really are travelling with your mother, and she’s of a curious disposition, then this barrio could be the ideal choice for you. Infinitely green and sprawling with superb natural enclaves, Palermo is where locals flock to on week-ends to bike ride, horse ride and picnic. The largest barrio in Buenos Aires is a residential haven and ideal for those who want a quiet escape after a busy day’s outing. Subway service is not the best here either so be prepared to walk mucho or to spend a little extra on taxi fares.
Buenos Aires’ harbour-side area is fast becoming the most ‘in’ corner of town although (just between us) we do fail to see the appeal. Yes, the waterfront is full of top-notch eateries and hotels, yet the expansiveness of the district (which is still business oriented) and the wide avenues makes the suburb feel desolate and isolating. Although we’d highly urge you to spend a whole evening along the port dining on superb Argy steak, we dare say it could be the most boring corner of the city to stay in.
Puerto Madero may have been greatly improved in the last decade yet it still has a long way to go before it reaches the sort of appeal of most other harbour-side hubs around the world, so considering the fact that the hood is not well serviced by public transport, this may be convenient only for those who want a waterfront top-floor suite to stay in when in town.
BA’s Ezeiza International Airport (also knows as Ministro Pistarini) is the absolute hub of the entire country and is obviously serviced by all major international airlines. A sprawling and insanely busy airport, Ezeiza is not necessarily difficult to negotiate, but you should expect the whole custom-process to be very time consuming.
Due to recent changes, based on the usual ‘reciprocal’ visa requirement, citizens of the US, Australia and Canada must now pay a Visa entry fee before setting off. Register and pay online here after you’ve booked your flight. EU-passport holders will get their free 90-day visa upon arrival in BA.
Surprisingly, there’s no rail service which connects Ezeiza Airport to the city centre, so buses and taxis are the only way to cover the 25km distance. If you want a hassle-free and safe ride into town on your first day, then we suggest you head to the remises (private taxi) booth at the arrivals lounge and pre-pay for a taxi to your hotel. Keep your receipt and you’ll get a discount if booking your return ride as well.
Whilst normal taxis and public buses are obviously cheaper, you’ll have to know how to bargain hard for the former and deal with your luggage on an overcrowded and painfully slow ride for the latter.
If you’re travelling to BA with friends, consider booking a private airport transfer before you leave home. For a total of US$60 per vehicle (max of 4 passengers), you’ll have someone waiting for you at the arrivals lounge who will escort you all the way to your hotel. If you choose this option you won’t even have to change money or use the ATM at Ezeiza, thus avoiding the airport’s steep exchange rates.
Word of note: if you’re planning to visit other parts of South America after visiting Buenos Aires, do keep in mind that internal flights in this continent are rather expensive, especially when considering South America still abides by a dual-pricing system which sees foreigners charged more than residents. Book ALL your flights before leaving home, unless you plan to take long-haul coach rides to get around. This, by the way, is not something we’d particularly recommend: not only are distances enormous but the quality of roads and bus services in South America are notoriously dodgy. No matter what words of ‘warning’ you may hear or read about…hopping on an overnight bus ride is by far the biggest safety risk you can possibly take in South America.
Getting out & about:
Enough of the safe rides…it’s time to have some fun! Getting around Buenos Aires is an easy affair, thanks mostly to its grid-like planning and comprehensive public transport system. Taxi rides within the city are inexpensive, so hitching a comfortable ride is certainly a good option outside of peak-hour traffic times, at the end of a fruitful shopping expedition or late at night.
On foot: it’s possible to get around Buenos Aires for days on end on the power of your own legs alone. The city centre and its surrounding suburbs are not only easy to navigate on foot, but they’re also brimming with wide tree-lined avenues flanked on both sides by gorgeous shops and great cafes and restaurants, making a ‘long walk home’ surprisingly enjoyable.
By bus (colectivos): there are literally hundreds of different bus lines which not only reach every corner of the bustling city but also operate round the clock. To make your life easier we suggest you sit down with a map of Buenos Aires and circle the suburbs you want to visit during your stay. As soon as you arrive in your hotel ask the concierge for direction by either bus of subway to your desired destinations and keep the map with you at all times. Alternatively, you could always buy a Guia T booklet, which is the local council’s totally confusing attempt at helping you navigate your way around on public transport all by yourself. Good luck with that!
Bus rides within the centre limits are cheap but you’ll need coins to buy the tickets on board and at least some basic knowledge of Spanish. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help on a bus in Buenos Aires, the friendly locals will do their utmost to make sure you don’t get lost!
By subway: Buenos Aires’ Subte is possibly the most used by visiting tourists, as rides are cheap (about US $0.25) and stops frequent. Buy a multipl- ride ticket at the first station you encounter and save yourself the hassle of having to buy a separate ticket each time.
Insider’s tips: due to the annoying recurrence of petty crime on the city’s public transport system, you should note that both colectivos and Subte should definitely be avoided after 8pm and treated with heightened caution during peak-times when claustrophobic crowds make it nearly impossible to remain ‘unpicked’. We strongly suggest you pack a comfortable pair of shoes for daytime, when walking is by far the fastest, most convenient and safest way to get around, and stick to metered taxi rides during the evenings.
Puerto Madero via Wiki
Street Tango by Gustago Brazzale via Flickr
Pink House, Plaza de Majo via Wiki
Recoleta by Phillip Capper via Flickr
San Telmo street performers via Wiki
Palermo gardens by Wally Grom via Flickr
Puerto Madero by Demiante via Flickr
Colectivo via Wiki
Subte via Wiki