I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina in May 2017, and it was very different from the cities I have visited earlier. I stayed in the old barrio of San Telmo but was able to visit few other barrios such as Recoleta, San Nicolás, Monserrat, Puerto Madero, and La Boca.
In the San Telmo neighborhood, you can walk along the cobblestone streets admiring the architecture from the Spanish colonial times. The area has beautiful large houses, or ‘Quintas’, built for elite families in the 17th century. Due to a yellow fever epidemic in 1871, the upper classes have left the area and moved to Recoleta. So these houses were converted to Conventillos which were rented to poor European immigrant workers. It is said that in the central courtyards of these overcrowded urban housing schemes Tango was born. Pasaje Defensa, or the house of the Ezeiza family, is one such house we got to visit. Calle Defensa from Plaza de Mayo to Plaza Dorrego is closed to motor traffic on Sundays and turns into a flea market. You can walk along the side streets enjoying the tango dancers, antique shops, and hand-made jewelry vendors.
Other interesting places we visited in San Telmo are the Mafalda monument (a tribute to the famous cartoon character) and Mercado de San Telmo (the indoor market). The best meat empanadas I had were at a small shop inside the market (200 pesos) and at a bakery (Panadería Confitería) called ‘La Nueva Independencia’ (180 pesos). For meat-based fast food like Chorizo or Bondiola sandwiches, I recommend Nuestra Parilla near the market.
In the Monserrat barrio, the main attraction was the Plaza de Mayo named after the May 1810 revolution which led to Argentina’s independence from Spain. A bit north of the plaza is the cultural center where we attended a nice concert by the National tango orchestra. The admission is free for this. But you have to get tickets during the day.
If you walk few blocks northwest of the Plaza de Mayo, you reach the Obelisco, the famous landmark. There was a big protest against wage limits going on here when we visited. But with the firecrackers, drums, and chants, it appeared more like a carnival rather than a protest. Apparently, this kind of protests is a very common thing in downtown Buenos Aires.
We took a 6-pesos bus ride from San Telmo to arrive in the La Boca barrio. This neighborhood has got the name because it is at the mouth (‘Boca’) of the Matanza-Riachuelo River. We visited La Bombonera, the home ground of the famous Boca Juniors football club. Then we walked through the Caminito, with the colorful houses and local artists selling their paintings on both sides of the road. With their murals everywhere you will soon understand how important are Evita (Eva Perón), Carlos Gardel, and Maradona as cultural icons in Argentina.
Puerto Madero is a failed port project by the local businessman Eduardo Madero in the 1880s which was redeveloped in the 1990s to have luxury hotels, apartment towers, offices and universities along the waterfront. Highlights for me in the area were Presidente Sarmiento museum ship and Puente de la Mujer (‘Women’s Bridge’) designed by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava to resemble a couple dancing the tango.
Travel Tip: Although I did not come across any problems walking at night in San Telmo or Monserrat, I heard one of my colleagues got robbed using the notorious white-paint-squirt-on-bag trick. The locals advised us not to go off the well-known tourist routes in La Boca and San Telmo. It will be very useful if you can speak Spanish when you walk around.
Popular Local Beer: Quilmes
Photo Credits: Eduardo Coronado-Montoya
Here are some articles I found useful to answer the questions I had after visiting this interesting city.
- Why do Argentina, and South America in general, have had so many political and economical problems in the recent past?
- How did the Matanza-Riachuelo become one of the most polluted rivers in the world?