What's Up Buenos Aires

Avenida 9 de Julio, widest avenue in the world
Avenida 9 de Julio

This two-part journey to Argentina begins in Buenos Aires. Until eclipsed in fame in recent decades by Rio, the city was the Queen of South America and it remains a fascinating urban experience. The main tourist areas are The Boca, San Telmo, and the Avenida Florida but, as a result, all three have become expensive and lost much of their original charm. However, just across the great Avenida 9:de Julio (which claims to be the widest Avenue in the world), lie the more authentic areas of Recolta and Palermo Soho, where less expensive accommodation can be found; although younger travellers may prefer Palermo Hollywood with its trendy boutiques and coffee shops.

Through these areas runs the Avenida Santa Fe, one of the longest and busiest of the city’s main thoroughfares. Walking this vibrant avenue one passes literally hundreds upon hundreds of small shops selling just about everything, interspersed with traditional bars and restaurants; while a left turn onto the equally busy Avenida Callao brings one to hundreds more. These areas have a very European feel to them and it is easy to imagine that you are in Barcelona or Milan. For more variation follow the nearby Avenida Pueyrredon where, as you approach the ONCE train station, the atmosphere created by the many street traders reminds you that you are, indeed, in South America.

Buenos Aires also boasts many parks, especially in the Palermo district. Here, at the Campo de Polo, Argentina’s world elite polo clubs play their matches. Also situated in Palermo is the Evita Peron Museum, so if you’ve seen the musical and want to learn more it’s worth a visit. Everywhere in the centre are advertisements for Tango shows but many of them are very artificial affairs, staged purely for foreign tourists and bearing little resemblance to the real thing. Seek out more local venues instead. For getting around both the small underground system and the vast number of buses are very cheap but get very crowded. Alternatively, take one of the plentiful, inexpensive radio taxis.   

Away from the tourist strip the average quality of restaurants is very good and eating out won’t empty your wallet. Many inhabitants of the city are of Italian origin and so the pasta can be as good as anywhere outside Italy. Alternatively, of course, there are the steaks! Taken from cattle that have ranged free on the Pampa, the taste is like nothing you have had in Europe for a long time. Real macho carnivores go for a parilla or asado – varieties of the full Argentine BBQ experience.

Lovers of Cornish Pasties will enjoy another local speciality: empanadas. These small pastry creations come in many varieties but are traditionally filled with meat, ham & cheese, or mashed pumpkin. They are very cheap and make an excellent quick lunch or afternoon snack. To wash down your meal there are the excellent Malbec wines, while Quilmes – the local lager beer – is surprisingly good. For something non-alcoholic, tea lovers should try the national drink called yerba mate.

For those needing a break from the bustle of Buenos Aires a local train runs to the small town of Tigres where boats tour the many channels of the delta of the great Parana River. Remember too that Uruguay is only a few hours away by jet-foil across the River Plate. Most services go to the capital, Montevideo, which is worth a visit but really needs an overnight stay. For a day excursion take the shorter route to the charming old town of Colonia.

The biggest beach resort near Buenos Aires is Mar del Plata, about 4 hours away by bus but if you prefer something smaller then try the neighbouring Mar de la Pampa or Piramar. South of Buenos Aires the pampa begins. This unique, hypnotic, and seemingly endless flat landscape is punctuated only by the cattle and horses of the isolated estancias (ranches). Situated about 110 miles from Buenos Aires, the town of Tandil is a good base for exploring this area. It stands next to the only hills in the region (reminiscent of a small Dartmoor) and there are excellent walks. Alternatively, some estancias offer authentic accommodation with horse riding and other outdoor activities included. However they can be expensive.

Despite its bustling avenues and myriad of shops, bars and restaurants, the relaxed life-style of Buenos Aires is reminiscent of earlier times and, after New York, it is my favourite great city to visit. However, there’s much more to see in Argentina and next time we’ll explore the mountains and jungle of the north before turning south to Patagonia.

About the author

Born in Plymouth Keith has lived most of his working life outside the UK. Now in the twilight of a remarkable career as a University Lecturer he lives with his wife Anna in Brooklyn, New York.

He has travelled extensively and will always grab an opportunity to visit less commercial neighbourhoods and mix with the local population. His view of the world and wonderful observations give an insight into destinations our clients would often view as once in a lifetime holidays.

Errors and omissions excepted.

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