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B.A: European City of South America

Buenos Aires has beautiful architecture, great dining and wines, friendly people, big parks … what are you waiting for?

 

Buenos Aires is a city that combines the café culture and sophistication of the French, the spontaneity and warmth of Italians (not to mention their ice cream), the neuroses of New Yorkers and the prices of backpacker India. How all these elements are possible in one place and in one people, I don’t know. But there you have it.

It’s also one of the few remaining havens for those traveling on U.S. dollars. While the dollar is suffering from miserable exchange rates against the Euro and the British pound, it still goes a long way in Argentina. The currency crisis of 2001 turned one of South America’s most expensive cities into one of its cheapest. And while inflation is creeping in, it’s still hard to beat a place where you can get a great meal with wine for $10-20 per person (more on that in Dining in Buenos Aires) and a taxi across town for $5-7.

Families will find day-to-day life and traveling easier here than in other capital cities. While Londoners ignore children, New Yorkers flick their eyes upwards and Parisians tolerate only the silent ones, porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) expect people to be out with their children. They have a natural way with them—which avoids over indulgence—that puts other cities (and cultures) in the shade. 

We moved here from London a year ago with my then 3-year-old daughter, Indigo. And in that time she has grown massively in confidence thanks to the kindness and generosity of the people—from waiters, to taxi drivers, to strangers on the bus, to hotel staff, not to mention the friends we have made. This isn’t a city in which residents congratulate themselves on how nice they are—the rest of Latin America caricatures Argentines as arrogant and pretentious. But our experience belies that.

Neighborhoods and What Not to Miss

Buenos Aires is a big city that magically seems to shrink when you are in it. From the air, this gran ciudad of about 13 million people looks like one endless snarl of buildings, concrete and people. In fact, when I flew over the city the first time I thought, “I can’t possibly live here.”

What I didn’t realize was how, once in the city, the neighborhoods come to the fore and give you a different angle on the city every mile or two. Here’s a brief rundown: 

San Telmo: cobblestone streets, antique shops, architectural heritage and bohemian spirit.

Don’t miss: Sunday antiques market (avoid this if you hate crowds, but my daughter loves the mimes and live music); admiring the 19th century architecture of Defensa and Bolivar streets; drinks and a snack at the historic, wooden paneled Bar Britanico (Defensa and Brasil streets); and a knees-up meat fest at Desnivel (Defensa 855).

Tips for parents: This barrio is still a bit run down but changing fast (we live here and love it). Local families abound, which makes it feel less touristy than other parts. But uneven pavements make strollers a bit tricky.

Palermo Viejo: funky designer shops, trendy bars and diverse range of ethnic cuisines.

Don’t miss: Having a picnic in the greenery of Palermo’s Parque Tres de Febrero and dining at some of the best restaurants in the city.

Tips for parents: There is a playground at the north end of Palermo’s Botanical Gardens, but not in the Parque Tres de Febrero. Bring your own picnic and drinks as the park is vast with little on sale. Skip the zoo by the Botanical Gardens unless you want to see pumas or llamas (pronounced ZHA-mahs here). 

Recoleta: fine hotels, broad avenues and exclusive boutiques.

Don’t miss: Strolling through Recoleta Cemetery to see its impressive mausoleums and a trip to El Ateneo (Sante Fe 1860), a beautiful bookstore that is housed in a former theater, complete with stage and balconies. The basement is nearly all children’s books, with murals on the wall and some small tables and chairs—a great place to take a break from sightseeing.

Tips for parents: This is the safest place to stay in Buenos Aires, and nearly all travel agencies will house you here. Parts of the barrio are broad, leafy, Parisian-style avenues; other parts are tourist central with cheap fast food.

La Boca: colorful, picturesque port setting—the real birthplace of tango and the home of Boca Juniors, one of Buenos Aires’ two local fútbol (soccer) teams.

Don’t miss: Seeing the brightly painted houses of Caminito, visiting local artist Benito Quinquela Martín’s museum (Don Pedro de Mendoza 1835, discretionary entrance fee of A$5 for adults). There are multiple terraces at the top with sculptures and great views of La Boca.

Tips for parents: Caminito is a tiny street but a major tourist draw—visiting it and the art museum will take only about two hours. This is a very poor neighborhood so respect that; definitely a no-go at night.

Puerto Madero: modern, sleek high rises, converted warehouses and luxury amenities.

Don’t miss: Walking along the canals, window shopping and spotting the bird life at ecological reserve Costanera Sur. (Read about additional family activities in Buenos Aires.)

Tips for parents: Restaurants here tend to be overpriced but El Mercado at Philippe Starck’s Faena Hotel (Martha Salotti 445) is worth the price if your kids are up to more formal dining. There is a great park for kids over 6, with a trapeze rope, rope bridges and challenging climbing frames at Rosario Vera Peñaloza, just past Aime Paine.

Best Times to Visit

Argentina is in the Southern hemisphere, so seasons are the opposite from the United States. Early spring (September to November) and early fall (March to May) are probably the best times to visit—the heat and humidity in late December and January can be brutal, reaching 95-104°F and feeling worse. However, the great thing about Argentina is that it’s so vast and covers so many climates that somewhere is “in season” every month of the year.

Costs

Flights to Argentina are expensive from nearly anywhere in the world. From the United States, expect to pay anywhere from $800 to $2,000; direct flights from New York City take 10.5 hours—we have always been on overnight flights, which is far better with our daughter as she does sleep on the plane. From Miami it’s eight hours. You can get cheaper flights if you connect through Mexico City or Panama City, but the times are often unpleasant, and we always go direct when we can. 

Hotels in Buenos Aires are generally about half the price of a U.S. equivalent. However, they always charge full price to add an extra bed(s) for children—unlike U.S. properties, where we usually get by with a small charge for an added cot bed. Apartments often make more sense as you can get additional space and a kitchen for less money; some places have a pool in the building as well. Generally the agencies seem to be pretty straightforward, and the photos you see on the Internet are representative of what you get. Ask about proximity to busy/noisy roads, air conditioning if you are traveling from December to February (essential!), public transportation, and the location of the nearest parks and playgrounds. 

Getting Around

Driving here is like bumper cars—there is no respect for lanes, no one uses their blinkers and buses often pull away as the last passenger is getting off. It’s no coincidence that taxi drivers cross themselves before heading into intersections. You won’t need to rent a car in Buenos Aires—public transportation is comprehensive and cheap. Bus costs start at 80 centavos (27 cents), and the subte (subway) costs 70 centavos (23 cents). Then there are the ever-present taxis: One from Recoleta to downtown will run about A$10 ($3.27 USD).

Argentina is a huge country, and the distances from Buenos Aires to the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Iguazú Falls or Península Valdés are so great you will want to fly; both destinations are two-hour flights from Buenos Aires.

Tango, Beef and Evita

These are the three most common subjects mentioned when talking about Argentina, and I feel duty bound to cover them. 

Tango is the dance that made Buenos Aires famous, and it is still much more than a show for the tourists. You can see the real thing at a milonga (tango hall), where locals show off their moves and even the 70-year-old ladies sport impressive calf muscles and high heels. We’ve been to two afternoon milongas (3-10 p.m.; the evening ones run from 10 p.m.-4 a.m.). They are both very old school places, with wooden floors and chandeliers at Confiteria Ideal (Suipacha 384, 1st floor, tel. 5265-8069) and slightly less impressive surroundings but the same charm at El Arranque (Bartholomew Mitre 1759, tel. 4371-6767).

Indigo loves dancing and tango music (go figure), so our visits to milongas have been fantastic hits with her. At Al Arranque, an older couple brought her out on the dance floor with them. Watching her copy the woman’s movements with great enthusiasm but no skill was one of those laugh-so-hard-you-cry moments. She positively beamed all the way home that night.  

Beef is king in Argentina, and the man in charge of the asado (barbeque) is king of kings. Treat him like a god, make sure he has a steady supply of his beverage of choice and for goodness sake don’t offer any advice—any. If you don’t know any locals, head to a nearby parrilla with a long line out the door—a much better indicator of quality than prices or decor.

And lastly, a word on Evita. If you haven’t seen the movie, María Eva Duarte de Perón was the wife of President Juan Perón. She was a highly influential woman who became a cult figure, leading to mass hysteria when she died in 1952. There is something very Latin about the intensity with which females are worshipped in this part of the world. In any case, she is buried in the Duarte family tomb in Recoleta Cemetery, should you be curious.


Destinations: Argentina, Buenos Aires

Themes: Culinary, Family Travel, Urban Endeavors, Experiential Travel

Activities: Museums, Shopping, Sightseeing


User Comments

The Buenos Aires Argentina is home to one of the world’s best opera houses, Teatro Colon. It is located on the banks of the river. Portenos are very passionate about their city, and will happily relate to you their city’s heritage if you are ready to lend an ear.

Another Argentina Fan I've traveled to Argentina several times with an infant, toddlers, while 6 months pregnant, to visit my extended family and I have always loved Argentina for family travel because THEY love families and kids. Don't be surprised if strangers pick up your kids and tickle them or blow them kisses - they genuinely love children and children are welcome at just about any restaurant. My other favorite thing about Argentina is that you'll see all the generations out together - on a Saturday night at 10 pm you'll see grandparents, parents, and kids having dinner together at a nice restaurant. It's fun, it's cheap, and it's full of beautiful things to see. Go!

How Colorful!! What a colorful and fun city Buenos Aires looks like! I agree with ATLPAL, Buenos Aires is my new must-see city.

Now I want to tango! Thanks for your wonderful discription and point of view of Buenos Aires. Base on your experience, Buenos Aires is now on my list of must visit places on earth. Thanks

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