We really, really thought we’d love Buenos Aires. We were so sure of it, that we planned the longest stop of our entire round the world trip there. We’d have 2 whole weeks to explore, eat, and decide if Buenos Aires was really a city we could live in.
I guess I’d had romantic visions of tango in the streets, magnificent architecture and succulent steak at reasonable prices. And all of that is there, in certain neighbourhoods and for a certain price (well, except for the steak at cheap prices!), but I couldn’t help but feel weighed down by the current economic reality of Argentina.
Yes, there were gloriously beautiful neighbourhoods, with towering trees and fantastic architecture, tango on some avenues, and luxurious, old cafes as expected, but there were also some uncomfortable surprises.
We also saw newly homeless people, sweeping the street in front of where they had collected all their belongings, and businessmen in full suits digging for change in phone booths and for empty cans and bottles in garbage cans.
These are images I can’t seem to forget, and these, along with the inflated prices we had to pay for food and travel, coloured my impression of the city, in an unfortunately, not entirely positive way. It’s not that these situations don’t occur in every country of the world, it’s that the city seemed to be pervaded with an overall heaviness I couldn’t shake – despite all the glorious buildings on offer.
As tourists, we enjoyed the best of Buenos Aires, and it’s truly warm and gracious citizens, but at the end of our 2 weeks, we were definitely anxious to leave and move on to the 3rd continent on our round the world trip – Africa!
From the not entirely safe streets of La Boca (where some kind locals warned us to turn back from a certain area because we’d be robbed otherwise) to the kilometres long San Telmo street market, to the aristocracy of Recoleta, there’s enough difference in Buenos Aires’ districts to keep you entertained and walking for a long, long time.
Our Tips for a Trip to Buenos Aires
1) Stay in the Palermo or Recoleta areas of Buenos Aires
We rented a fully furnished apartment through AirBnB for the fantastic price of $20/night in the Caballito area of Buenos Aires, for the duration of our stay. We consulted a map and it didn’t look too far away from most of the sights and we liked the idea of experiencing life in a more typical neighbourhood. However, this turned out to be a big mistake.
Travel in Buenos Aires takes a long time and can be pretty frustrating (see the bus picture above). It’s not expensive, but it’s crowded and slow. We were wasting a good 2 hours per day, just trying to travel from our apartment to anything worth seeing as a tourist. Don’t skimp (like we did), and find someplace to stay that’s within walking distance of most sights if you can.
2) Book an apartment
If you’re staying in Buenos Aires for anything longer than a few days, I would recommend booking an apartment with a kitchen. Eating out in the city is not cheap, nor is getting drinks or a coffee. Additionally, most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8:30 or 9:00 at the earliest, and mostly serve only meat, starch or pasta. Steak and potatoes is nice every once in awhile, but not every night, and certainly not right before bedtime! (yeah, it’s true, we’re an old married couple)
With a kitchen at our disposal, we were able to hit the local grocery, stock up on fruits and veg and do some cooking for ourselves. We saved a ton of money in the process and ate at “normal” times of the day and night.
3) Take advantage of all of the city’s free activities
These days, Buenos Aires can be an expensive city. Fortunately, there’s a ton of free activities to fill your time with. A trip to Recoleta Cemetery costs zero dollars and is completely worth it. The Floralis Generica? Free. A stroll through San Telmo’s huge Sunday market with it’s multitude of street performers and tango dancers? Also free.
In fact, it’s even possible to take a fully guided walking tour, at absolutely no cost. We took the City Tour, and were walked through all of the major sights and given quality information, just like on any paid tour.
4) Don’t miss the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo protest
During Argentina’s Dirty War, it’s estimated that between 15 – 30,000 left-wing activists, militants and sympathizers simply disappeared. Some were held in detention camps, some were killed, and some were pushed out of helicopters. Children of the Disappeared Mothers were sometimes stolen and given to military leaders.
Every Thursday afternoon, for the last 36 years, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have protested in front of the Casa Rosada, first in defiance of the government’s policy of state terrorism, and then to learn the fate of their missing children.
It’s a painful part of Argentinian history that the country is still struggling with today, and witnessing the Protest was easily one of the most poignant experiences of our entire trip.