Buenos Aires is the cosmopolitan capital city of Argentina. Renowned for fútbol, late nights, and tango, Buenos Aires is the meeting point of European and Latin American cultures. It’s a massive coastal city spreading over 80 square miles (207 km). A collection of “barrios,” or neighborhoods, make up the city. Each boasts its own unique personality and beckons to be explored. With so much to do and so many neighborhoods to get lost in, where does one start? We’ve compiled a list of our most memorable Buenos Aires experiences:
1. Exploring the sprawling San Telmo Market held every Sunday
2. Peeping in the above ground tombs of the historic Recoleta Cemetery
3. Exercising our people watching skills at 3 de Febrero Park
4. Watching the dancers’ sensual moves at a Tango show
5. Weaving through the frenetic theater district on Avenida Corrientes
6. Shopping and dining in the trendy Palermo neighborhood
7. Visiting the colorful and spirited Barrio Boca
Marcel de Buenos Aires a lively and artistic bed and breakfast owned by a tango loving Belgian ex-pat.
L'Adresse Hôtel a chic and airy French owned boutique hotel conveniently close to the San Telmo Market.
Eretz Cantina Israeli brings authentic Israeli food to Palmero; it’s an explosion of color and flavor
Fleur de Sel offers an extraordinary tasting menu and a French inspired dining experience
For a narrative tale of our first trip to Buenos Aires, read the blog below.
Our First Trip to Buenos Aires
**During our 2015 trip to Argentine Pesos and USD were exchanged on the Blue Market. The Blue Market no longer exists.**
Arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The short flight from El Calafate to Buenos Aires went smoothly. Sylvie slept contentedly for the majority of the flight, per usual. Stepping off of the plane we were instantly struck by the humidity. It’s been awhile since we felt humid weather- we left humid Columbia and Ecuador behind months ago before a long stint in Patagonia.
The taxi to our hotel cost just under $7 USD (100 pesos). Our room was beautiful and huge! Always one to find a deal, Scott succeed in finding an affordable hotel in downtown Buenos Aires. The room was $33 USD per night, but only $20 (with the blue dollar)!
Following our standard arrival routine, we dropped off our bags and went for a walk around the city to get the lay of the land. Happy to find a Chinese restaurant (it’s been a while!) we ordered our go-to dishes for take out, too travel weary to sit for a meal. On the return to our hotel we walked down the lively Corrientes Street. Filled with pizza places, theaters, and tourists, it courses with frenetic energy.
Our Never-Ending Day: The Not-So-Fun Side of Travel
Brazilian Visa Debacle:
We were out the door before 7am for a 9am appointment with the Brazilian consulate office to apply for our Brazilian visas. But first we needed print our visa applications forms, bank statements, and flight information- all required for the visa. The front desk of our hotel denied our request to use their printer stating we had too many pages to print sending us on 75 minute frantic scramble around downtown Buenos Aires. Nothing was open so early in the morning…opening before 8am doesn’t comply with the Argentine late night lifestyle. On the verge of losing hope, we stumbled upon a place, almost a mile away, that was able to print our 17 pages. Maybe things were looking up!
Alas, they were not….we arrived at the Brazilian Embassy a little before 9 only to be told we were in the wrong location. We needed the consulate building across the street. Armed with all of our documents, we were ready- or so we thought. After a short wait in line we confidently handed over our paperwork. It turns out that without proof of a flight into Brazil or hotel reservation, we could not obtain a visa. We tried to reason with the woman at the desk and she displayed some leniency saying we could book a flight and hotel online and show her proof of confirmation on our phone.
We left the consulate in search of wifi and bought refundable fights to Sao Paulo and a refundable hotel room. Back in the Brazilian consulate we resumed our visa application. She okay-ed everything and told us that our visas would be ready on the next business day, which would be the following Wednesday, ah! (It was Friday but their office was closed on Monday and Tuesday for a national holiday) Urgh! Now we would have to leave later than originally planned. She handed us two forms and instructed us to take them to a specific bank to pay for the visas (2095 pesos each, $216 USD).
Exchanging Money on the Blue Market:
Florida Street is where tourists and locals alike exchange pesos for USD and vice-versa. The street was inundated with ‘money-men’ discreetly murmuring “cambio, cambio,” “change, change.” Dozens of them on every block. I inquired about the rate with several men. Rates ranged from 14.2- 14.4. When I found one man offering 14.5 I told him how much USD I wanted to exchange. Unable to strike a deal, I began walking away. Moments later he came after us offering 14.6, taking my bait. He instructed us to follow him for the exchange. Hesitantly, we followed him inside a building, onto an elevator, and into a room on the 4th floor. We were very skeptical but arrived in an unmarked room that was surprisingly civilized; there was a waiting room and air-conditioning. I noted a framed picture of a little boy, a son I imagine, which provided some comfort. Family men tend not to be murderers, right? The entire exchange was unhurried and calm. He handed us the wad of pesos and allowed us to examine each bill before we handed him our cash.
When we were in Salta, Argentina, a short time ago, we received just shy of 16 pesos to the dollar. Now we were lucky to get 14.6. The new president hinted that he wanted to lift the policy of ' the fixing of the peso', bringing skepticism to the market and lowering the rates. The rates now fluctuate over 5% a day.
Bus Station Pit Stop:
We took our wad of pesos and walked 45 minutes to the bus station. We needed to plan the remaining logistics of our trip, i.e. visiting Rio de Janeiro and ultimately getting to Sao Paulo in time for our December 15th flight. We were shocked to learn that a bus from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro costs 3,000 pesos ($206 USD) each. Steep.
Finally Finishing the Visa Process:
We went to the bank to pay for our visa and took a number. It was 12:45 and there were about 30 people in front of us. We had to pay the fee by 2pm or we would not get our Visa by Wednesday. Fortunately, after 40 minutes our number was called and we were thrilled to finally be done with “everything visa!"
Hotel and Transit Issues:
The previous evening we discovered that the Internet didn’t work in our room or anywhere in the hotel, so frustrating! Especially when it is advertised and we rely on it as bloggers. I’ve complained to booking.com before and have received partial refunds due to inconvenience and inaccurate advertising. I very much respect booking.com for this reason! Forced to find wifi elsewhere, we ended up at a cafe. Sylvie finished her online Christmas shopping and I was going grey from the stress of juggling 5 open webpages on my phone. I was determined to find a cheaper (and shorter) travel option to Rio. If you know me at all, you know I don’t give up on a problem without exhausting every possible solution. I was able to use my Delta miles along with a small booking fee to get a flight from Buenos Aires to Rio. 12,500 miles and $77 USD per ticket was preferable option. For an additional saving, I realized we could go to the Delta Air Lines booking office to buy tickets in person and use the blue dollar rate to our advantage, saving another $55.
Back to the Blue Market:
This meant we needed to exchange more money to pay for the flight. We had to go back to Florida street. This time was much more stressful. I struggled finding any offers over 14.2. Two transactions went south. The first time a man behind a glass screen refused to let me look at the money prior to me giving him the cash. We wanted to check the money as there is an issue on the blue market with fake money. I was so turned off that I walked away. The second time we were instructed to take an elevator to a room on the 4th floor of a building. We went alone and entered a room with two men. One man was sitting down behind a desk and the other man, a large and intimidating man, was standing between us and the door with a money counter and a drawer filled with cash in front of him. He said that we were to put the money on the table and then he would pay us the money. We said no, we wanted to inspect the money prior to giving him or cash. He acted insulted and blew us off, waving us out of the room and demanding we leave—we left in a hurry.
After several more attempts we found another guy. We followed him two blocks, through a mall, and onto an elevator. He took us to an office in the back of the mall. It was a typical mall store lined with large windows on the front wall, but the windows were painted opaque white. Sylvie and I took one look at the sketchy room and said, “we’re out!” We started to walk away as a middle-aged woman holding hands with her toddler strolled into the room. This gave us some peace of mind. So, we took out our money and handed it to one of the guys. Everything checked out and we left feeling much better. After the transaction, Sylvie told me that changing money on the blue market makes her uncomfortable and didn’t want to do it again.
Pit Stop at the Delta Airlines Office:
We hustled to the Delta office but didn’t arrive until 5:10. They closed their ticketing office at 5 sharp and were closed for the next 4 days (the weekend + holiday) Oh no! Nothing seemed to be working in our favor on this never ending day. We stopped outside a Starbucks to use their slow, but free, Internet to try to book the tickets online. I prayed it would work, if it didn’t we would need to exchange even more money for the bus tickets.
Is it Over Yet?:
Finally back in our room we relaxed with a bottle of wine. For dinner we ate at a cafeteria-style restaurant. They are extremely popular here; their food is fresh off the grill and fast. Sylvie ordered chicken and mashed pumpkin and I had a few ribs, some type of pork meat, and a side salad. When I asked what type of meat I had eaten, the waitress rubbed her belly indicating it was some type of innards….yum! We were back in our room a little after 11:30pm. After having walked over 30,000 steps for the day, we were ready for bed!
We explored the area of Recoleta, west of downtown. It’s a sweet little neighborhood with quiet cobblestone streets and tons of cafes and restaurants. We strolled the famous Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried. The cemetery is surrounded by a towering brick wall and is filled with above ground graves. The tombs are eerie to peak into. Many of the graves were lavish and expensive looking. Sadly some are not well kept and had broken glass and plants growing inside.
We stopped by the mall in Recolata, passed through a street market, and walked the streets. We saw two girls that we had traveled with in the Pampas (Bolivia) eating lunch outside at a cafe. Small world, crazy!
Later that evening we saw a tango show at Tango Porteño. We opted for the tickets that did not include dinner or drinks, which was a money saver. At the venue we checked out the menu, $6 for a bottle of water- yikes. Our seats were great, only a couple rows from the stage. The show included dancing and singing. We were impressed by the fast and fancy foot work and agility of the dancers.
We walked to Plaza Dorrego in the neighborhood of San Telmo to check out the famous Sunday street market. As we walked there we were surprised by how quiet the streets were. The San Telmo market is so large it overflowed into the surrounding streets for several blocks. There were many small antiques and handicrafts.
On our walk back from the market we stopped by Plaza de Mayo. The plaza wasn't very well kept and there was graffiti everywhere. We saw the pink government building on the perimeter of the plaza that once upon a time received its pink color from ox blood mixed with white paint.
We ambled over to the neighborhood of Puerto Moderno, which backs up to the Atlantic coast. This area was modern, like the name suggests, with tall residential buildings and wide streets. We walked along a manmade inlet passing by cafes and restaurants. No shortage of cafes in Buenos Aires, that's for sure!
We took the time to get acquainted with the city’s public transportation system. The Subte, Buenos Aires subway system, is super fast and convenient. We took the subway to the neighborhood of Palermo then continued walking to Parque 3 de Febrero. The park is huge and has a designated path for walkers, runners, bikers and rollerbladers circling the lake. The park was lively with people of all ages. Rollerblading was a popular activity and rollerblades were available for rent. We enjoyed the manicured rose garden, El Rosedal, in the middle of the park.
Parque 3 de Febrero is next to several other parks including the zoo and a Japanese garden, creating a large green area in the city. We walked by the nearby planetarium hoping a show was starting soon, but no luck. So, we grabbed a choripan from a street vender.
For dinner, we wanted to try Sarkis, an Armenian restaurant with rave reviews. We’d read that a wait is expected. Knowing this, we took the subway and arrived at the restaurant 15 minutes before it opened. There was a line 30 people deep already! The food was worth the wait. We shared a bottle of wine, babaganush, vegetables with almonds and raisins, kaftka, and lamb with yogurt sauce. Yum.
We perused the Abasto shopping mall, a short subway trip away. The mall had a movie theater and giant arcade inside. We were very surprised to see a kosher McDonald's in the food court, in the same food court as the regular McDonald's. Later we learned that Buenos Aires has a large Jewish population, the largest in all of South America. We sat in the food court and enjoyed a coffee break. These coffee breaks have become part of our daily routine- another habit we've picked up from the Argentines. They stop at any time of day to lounge over a tiny cup of coffee and sweet treat. I can safely say I am now addicted to coffee.
With the new knowledge of the jewish population we were inspired to try a Jewish restaurant for dinner, called Mishiguenes. We read reviews online and were super excited for the food. We went back to our hotel for our daily siestas- a habit we've picked up from the Argentinians. We rarely nap though, usually using the downtime to do research, use the Internet, drink wine or work out. After showering we took the subway to Meshiguenes. But it was closed for the holiday, darn! A catholic holiday, and nothing else was closed, go figure.
We walked in the now pouring rain to hail a cab to try another restaurant with great reviews. We finally hailed a cab and walked into the restaurant wet and undressed. The restaurant, Gran Bar Danzon was phenomenal. All of the trouble we went through earlier was worth it.
Finally our Brazilian visas were ready for pickup. We walked to the consulate ready for the visa process to be over. The woman behind the counter asked us for the receipts showing that we had paid for the visa. We didn’t know that we needed the receipts! We walked back to our hotel then back to to consulate. After over an hour of walking back and forth we finally had our Brazilian visas!
Later, back at the hotel we packed up our belongings. We walked with all of our bags strapped to our bodies- big bags on our backs and small bags on our fronts. We headed to Florida Street in the oppressive heat to exchange our unused pesos for American dollars. The man we exchanged with was an American from New Jersey! He had moved to Colombia to play soccer and ended up in Argentina to get into the money exchange business. He said he made a comfortable living doing it.
We found a cafe and had our daily cafesita break with medialunas, (croissants) and a beer. We used the wifi and hung out for two hours while we waited to catch a bus around 5:30.
We left the cafe in search of the bus stop located somewhere near Plaza de Mayo. As we neared the plaza however we saw that all the surrounding streets were closed and hundreds of people were parading through the streets and plaza. Street vendors were grilling up food and the smells were wonderful. We wish we had known about this celebration! We asked around and learned that the reason for the festivities was a welcome to the new president and a farewell to the former president.
As exciting as the event was, it made taking the cheap bus to the air port impossible. We were feeling distraught until a few friendly strangers asked us what we were looking for and told us to take the subway a few blocks out and catch the bus there were there was less commotion. But, when we went to the subway stop, it was closed. Thankfully another kind man helped us at the subway stop, he must have noticed the looks of confusion on our faces. He told us that there was a collective taxi to the airport 10 blocks down Florida Street.
We walked the ten blocks but could not find the location he was talking about. We stopped in a hotel to ask for help, but the conversation was in Spanish and largely fruitless. Back on the street, we asked a tour agent for help finding a way to the airport. He told us about another, more expensive bus company about 5 blocks from where we were. We walked for several blacks and stopped by a tourist information booth to ask further about airport transportation. She suggested the same bus as the man we had just spoken too. She handed us a map and explained where the stop was. We walked a few more blocks and found the Manuel Tienda Leon bus station. We bought tickets for the next bus in 30 minutes. The tickets were 160 pesos each ($11 USD each).
In the airport we took full advantage of the Amex centurion lounge. It felt like we stepped into heaven. Free food and drinks including beer and wine and champagne. We indulged and enjoyed the free wifi too. What a treat after such a long day!