This Buenos Aires Guide is a guest post written by my travel cohort and sister, Andrea Belgrade. Andrea has traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, South America, and the USA and is always pushing boundaries or finding herself in hilarious and unusual situations. This Buenos Aires Guide is the first installment in a guide series for Argentina.
Before arriving in Buenos Aires, I landed in Patagonia. If the world were flat, I might have thought I was near the edge of it. The land was so vast and barren in places. Towns seemed at risk to be blown away by the strong Patagonian winds. Then I arrived in Buenos Aires and again I was surprised. It was nothing like southern Argentina in appearance and culture and it was nothing like Venezuela, the only other Latin American country I had traveled to.
It wasn’t just the physical city, the people themselves were different from my previous conception of Latin America. In Venezuela you could see a blonde from a mile away, but in Argentina I almost wondered if I could blend in. Porteños pride their city as being the ‘Paris of Latin America’ and to some extent that was true. While sitting inside Teatro Colón in San Telmo, I asked myself, “Am I even in Latin America?” Even among the dead, Europe’s influence was alive and well.
As I walked from Recoleta to Palermo, I was greeted by street art activism. The intensity and the passion of these messages reassured me that I was indeed on the same continent as Venezuela, where political activism is strong. I walked from Recoleta to La Boca, passing the ultra-modern Puente de la Mujer and again I asked myself, “Am I still in Latin America?”
Continuing south, European influence made way for the vibrant street art until I arrived at my destination – the iconic, brightly colored neighborhood within la Boca. For the first time, I heard Tango music playing out on the street at midday. Artists were selling touristy trinkets and everything but Spanish was being spoken. While guidebooks led me to believe this was quintessential Buenos Aires, it didn’t seem right.
After a few weeks in the city I came to realize, “I don’t know what Buenos Aires is.” There are so many influences from all over the world, and rather than melting together to become a homogenous city, you find an incredible cultural mosaic. Buenos Aires can’t be defined by a single neighborhood, a single culture, or a single passion. What is Buenos Aires? It’s a little bit of everything.
Buenos Aires Guide: Know the Neighborhoods
Buenos Aires is huge, so be mindful of where you choose to stay. Each area has its own feel, and it can take quite a bit of time to get from one side of the city to the other. You also want to be somewhere you feel safe so you can explore more with less hassle and worry.
Palermo was my favorite area- it has the nightlife, good restaurants, festivals, and cool graffiti. Especially if are planning to go out at night, I would recommend staying in Palermo since clubs are nearby – traveling around the city at night is not as accessible or as safe as in the day time.
Recoleta is a very nice, safe area, and hosts the famous Recoleta cemetery. Eva Peron is buried here along with many other famous Argentineans. I thought it was fun to just wander through the narrow lanes and imagine what kinds of stories were buried in the crypts.
San Telmo is another popular area with things to do, but when I told my classmates I was going to be staying there, they strongly suggested I rethink my decision and I even heard one girl gossiping to her friend, “That girl is planning to stay in San Telmo… by herself!” I ultimately did change my plans, so I didn’t get a chance to see if they were right or wrong.
First off, it is really far away and difficult to get there – the subte doesn’t connect and buses can be difficult to figure out. And while this area looks amazing in pictures, I wasn’t that impressed when I was looking at it in person. I might have missed some things because I didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it felt really touristy and fake. I don’t think this is an authentic Buenos Aires experience. The area around there is less safe than some other areas of Buenos Aires, but it does have some pretty cool graffiti.
Traveling abroad offers a perfect opportunity to learn a new language, and if you want to make the most of your language learning opportunity you might find it beneficial to take a course. The better you speak the language, the more opportunities you will have to connect with locals and have a meaningful cultural exchange. Also, be sure to learn phrases related to bargaining. I’ve found that locals find me more endearing when I attempt to make sassy retorts in the local language. Some have even gone on to teach me more phrases for turning them down!
There are lots of different options to study Spanish in Buenos Aires – one being Vos. The classes are really informal, and they mostly work on your conversation skills. This works because the class sizes are so small – we usually had just 3-5 people. They also like to switch which instructor you have so you get exposure to different speakers. This is both good and bad. I felt like some of the teachers were definitely better than others (I would ask for Nico if he is still working there). If you want to really focus on structure you may want a different program, but for a refresher course this is the perfect option. They also offer different social events, so if you are traveling alone and want some structure to your time in Buenos Aires and a home base, this might be a good option for you.
Spanglish Exchange is a group that takes the concept of speed dating and applies it to Spanish-English conversation. There’s a really wide range of skill levels here, and it’s a nice way to connect with some Argentineans. You start with one partner and talk in English and then after some time you switch to Spanish. After you have spoken each language for a while, you switch to a new partner. When I was studying abroad in Venezuela, I felt that my language learning happened mostly outside of the classroom when I was spending time with friends, so informal conversations like these are really important for learning.
La Fuerza Bruta
La Fuerza Bruta was one of the most interesting shows I’ve ever been to. Part of what made it so cool was how unexpected and different it was. It was some kind of cross between a club and a show. I think the best time to go would be Friday or Saturday- and I would go to the final show of the night. I heard that they open it up to a party afterwards, which seemed like it would be really fun. Get tickets ahead of time- the ticket booth is in a pretty odd location, up the stairs from the Hard Rock Café. Ask someone for directions if you have trouble finding it.
Here’s a video of some clips I took from the show. One thing though – if you know you are definitely going then don’t watch the video. It’s more fun as a surprise!
Football games are for the brave. First, don’t go to a match between Boca and River. These two teams are the best in the league and so these games are the craziest. You might get robbed, punched, or worse – but maybe that’s just part of the fun! If you go in prepared, it can be amazing – just be sure not to wear the opposition team’s colors!
Teatro Colón looks like a European theatre and the shows they have are more traditional European art forms like opera, ballet, and so on. The seats here can be expensive depending on your budget, but you can get standing room seats that really aren’t so bad in terms of the view and the price. The ticket office person was telling that standing room seats had a better view than the seats set further back on the side balconies.
Tango is the dance of Argentina but I actually didn’t attend any Tango shows nor did I try to dance at a Tango club. While I can’t speak to this activity, you should know that it’s there in case you’re interested.
If you plan to go to a club, you might want to take a nap before heading out. Things don’t usually get started until about 3am, which is way past my bedtime! When I tried to hang out with my friend’s Argentine friends I was found sleeping on the sofa before the night had even begun.
Should you go?
While Buenos Aires is certainly Latin American, it is quite different from other parts of South America or Central America. I found it more difficult to make friends with locals, and at times I kind of missed the chaos and disorganization that was so classic to my experiences in Venezuela.
However, for the first-time traveler in Latin America, Buenos Aires could be a great option. The subte is relatively easy to figure out, and given the European influences, it may be easier to navigate compared to other cities in Latin America. The inter-city ground transportation is simple and luxurious, and if you have the time and resources to really explore this huge country it gives some of the most distinct and impressive contrasts. I would recommend taking side trips to Iguazu Falls, Patagonia, Mendoza, or other surrounding areas to be sure you get a breadth of experiences.
Thanks to Andrea for sharing her Buenos Aires Guide! Have you been to Buenos Aires? Did you have a different experience? Share your stories and write a comment below!