Buenos Aires: Why this city took me by surprise
The accommodation and excursions in this post have NOT been sponsored.
For some reason (I can’t name why), everyone has heard of this city but no can actually name what its famous for. And truthfully I can see why; there are no huge attractions in Buenos Aires- no ‘must sees or must do’s’. Yet people flock to this city time after time and now that I have been, I can understand why. Buenos Aires served as the midway point for my trip around South America and I loved the 4 nights I spent there. If you are planning a trip to this continent, it would be incomplete without a visit to this city- which itself serves as a great jumping off point to visit other countries too.
Watch my Buenos Aires Video here:
In this post I will outline how I spent my time in Buenos Aires and why I think this city should be high on your travel bucket list. But first, let’s begin with a PPG (Panda’s Progressive Geography) lesson.
Nomadic people lived along the Plata River for thousands of years before the Spaniard Pedro de Mendoza created the settlement of Buenos Aires in 1536. It was not particularly successful at first, as a result of the attacks of indigenous tribes who forced the settlers out of the region, leaving it abandoned until a second Spanish explorer, Juan de Garay, landed on the port once more in 1580. Garay gave the port of the new settlement a similar name – Puerto de Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires – and thus the capital was permanently established.
After repelling British invasions, the people of Buenos Aires declared independence from Spain in 1810. By the 1860s Buenos Aires was a thriving port town that soon attracted immigrants from Europe, growing to become a major city of many cultures. For many years, Buenos Aires experienced a period of wealth and explosive growth; trade with Europe expanded, with cattle and grain as the main exports. Millions immigrated from Italy, Spain, and other European countries, filling the city, primarily in the southern sections of La Boca and San Telmo. To this day, there are almost as many Italian surnames as Spanish in Argentina. Even the Spanish spoken in Argentina seems to resemble Italian in its rhythm and pitch.
When the First World War began, Argentina was one of the 10 wealthiest countries in the world. However, as the world economy stalled, the nation’s fortunes turned. Its economy lingered in recession for decades and poverty was rife amid a period of unceasing political upheaval. In 2006 Argentina repaid its staggering $9.5 billion international debt and confidence began to grow, along with the influx of tourists to Buenos Aires. The official language is Spanish and the currency used is the Argentinian peso.
Flying in: Buenos Aires has 2 airports and has international flights landing at one (EZE) and regional flights landing at the other (EPA). I flew into El Palomar Airport from Puerto Iguazu with Flybondi which is one of two low cost carriers in Argentina. I flew to Chile with Jet Smart from the same airport (the other low cost carrier). I believe that all other airlines fly into the other airport (EZE). El Palomar Airport is further out of the city and if you want to travel from or to it, unfortunately I didn’t not find a more direct or convenient way than taking a taxi.
Where to stay: My accommodation was a mid range boutique hotel with a ‘tango’ theme called Tango de Mayo Hotel. This hotel was clean, well themed, had an awesome view from their rooftop and had a great location in the city centre. I’m not affiliated with this hotel, I just thought it was great value for money.
Getting around: Buenos Aires has a well developed bus and metro network. SUBE cards which enable you to use the buses and trains can be purchased at any ‘kiosko’. Taxis are also abundant and reasonably priced. I found myself walking to most places though as nothing was over an hour of walking away.
Day 1: Caminito, La Boca
A vibrant and colourful area set in the middle of the suburbs makes for a great day excursion and introduction to Buenos Aires. You can spend hours here, watching the tango dancers, listening to live music, taking photos, shopping for souvenirs and getting lost. You can take a photo with a Diego Maradona look alike, sample different types of dulche de leche or have a caricature drawn of yourself. It’s a place where almost anything is possible!
Cost: It’s free to visit the area and you only pay for what you buy. Try to support the local artists especially the live musicians.
Panda’s Top Tip: Sneak away from the main stretch to take photos in front of the bright coloured walls away from the crowds.
A tango show
If you Google ‘things to do in Buenos Aires’, one of the main recommendations would be be to watch a tango show. Checking the prices of these shows however made me want to rethink this experience. After some recommendations from local bloggers, we finally found one at Cafe Tortini which is where the locals go to watch tango and live music. It involved queuing for a while as its a popular one but its very worth it. The show starts at 8pm and is 1 hour long. Reserve a seat in advance if you can to sit in the front.
Cost: It costs 700 pesos per person and they only accept cash.
Panda’s Top Tip: Don’t eat there- the food is boring and mediocre. Eat elsewhere before or after the show which is why I recommend making a reservation.
Day 2: El Ateneo Splendid
As a literary lover, I love to visit beautiful spaces that house books. So for me, I was looking forward to visiting this stunning old theatre that has now been converted into a book store. The architecture has been preserved and the decor suits the feel of the store. It’s worth a visit even if you don’t like books simply because its really gorgeous.
Cost: It’s free to visit and you only pay what you purchase.
Panda’s Top Tip: There is a coffee shop on site where you can enjoy a delicious alfajores… don’t miss out!
San Telmo Market
Truly the best way to learn about this city is to just wander around. And there is no better place to wander around on a Sunday than San Telmo Market. An absolute haven for gorgeous handcrafted goods of all types from earrings to paintings to toys. This is the perfect place to pick up a unique gift for friends and family. Even if you aren’t here to shop, its a great neighbourhood to walk around and you enjoy the music and empanadas on offer.
Cost: Free to browse and walk around the market.
Panda’s Top Tip: Walk out of the market towards Plaza de Mayo so you can see the pretty pink parliament building (Casa Rosada).
Day 3: Day trip to Colonia, Uruguay
You’ll need your passport for this one!
One of the essential day trips if you’re in Buenos Aires is to visit Uruguay. You can take the ferry to Colonia which is a quaint seaside town or you can go further to Montevido. We chose to spend some time in Colonia del Sacramento which is so pretty!
Watch my video about day tripping to Uruguay here:
Book the tickets: You can book the tickets from 3 different websites which you can find here, here and here. They each have their own prices which change seasonally so its worth checking them all out and doing a price comparison at the time you want to book.
When I booked, Seacat Colonia was offering the lowest prices but the website was only in Spanish. I used Google Chrome to translate and it all worked out in the end.
Getting to and from Uruguay: South African passport holders don’t need a visa for Argentina or Uruguay which made this process very simple. At the ferry port you will pass through immigration where Argentina will stamp you out and 10m away, Uruguay will stamp you in. When you arrive in Uruguay, there will be no immigration formalities.
Once you arrive in Colonia, I recommend renting a bicycle with Avis or if you aren’t able to ride, you can walk the island or rent a golf cart! Then go forth and explore! You can used your Argentinian pesos, U.S. dollars or even Brazilian Reais to pay for things. (We used Mastercard with no problems). When you leave Uruguay to return to Buenos Aires, you will repeat the passport control procedures for leaving Uruguay and entering Buenos Aires at the ferry port. Check that you have the relevant visas if necessary.
Where to eat:
Las Canas: An intimate restaurant in the heart of the city with an extensive menu to suit every palate. Service was impeccable and there were many options for vegetarians and pescatarians.
Floreria Atlantico: It’s a dimly lit speakeasy that you enter through a fridge door in a florist! Great drinks and a small menu for dinner. Reserve a table in advance if you don’t want to sit at the bar.
While there may not be any particular attractions in Buenos Aires that entice the tour bus patrons, the curious traveler will not miss an opportunity to take in this understated city by simply walking around and interacting with the friendly people. Buenos Aires also makes a good place to travel onwards to other destinations reasonably within Argentina or to other countries in the region. Don’t miss out on the delicious empanadas, alfajores, dulche de leche & asado if you’re a foodie!
HOW LONG SHOULD I GO FOR?
I think you could stay in this city for months and never scratch the surface! Spare as much time as you can when visiting!
SHOULD I PURCHASE A SIM CARD?
Wifi in Argentina was pretty decent and I didn’t find that I needed a SIM card.
DID YOU APPLY FOR A VISA?
No. Argentina is visa-free for South African passport holders. You can stay in Argentina for 90 days.
SHOULD I CARRY US DOLLARS?
No. Exchange your dollars to Argentinian pesos which are widely accepted.
Would you consider visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina? Or have you already been? Let me know in the comments below!