Buenos Aires Pictures Guide, Argentina

Argentina, Buenos Aires, parliament condor

A Condor’s feeding ground; the Palacio del Congreso.

With a design based on Berlin’s Reichstag or Washington’s US Capitol building depending on which travel writer you believe, the Palacio del Congreso is hungrily surveyed by a condor on the Monumento a los Dos Congresos in the middle of the Plaza del Congreso.

Free tours in various languages are available Monday-Friday at 11am.

Buenos Aires, what to see and do

The third largest city in South America, BA is not a place for grand sights or world famous buildings, it’s more about the little urban experiences such as stumbling across a passionate tango display in the street (watched with as much appreciation, if not more, by locals as tourists), catching the purple jacaranda blooms in November, enjoying the occasional graphics and murals, trying not to notice tongue-entwined lovers on a bench while strolling a landscaped park, shopping for high quality local goods at very low prices, eating out at one of BA’s sophisticated restaurants for the price you would pay for breakfast in Paris and starting to party at 3 a. m.

Cafés and Restaurants

Drinks in Café Tortoni, Microcentro, Buenos Aires.

Drinks in Café Tortoni, Microcentro, Buenos Aires.

Café Tortoni has been in business since 1858 and is Argentina’s oldest traditional café.
Still popular with just about everybody from tourists to bohemians, it’s a must-try for a drink at least, or, even better chocolate con churros for breakfast, but the dinner and tango show event in the back room is good value too and in an appropriate atmosphere.

Those who are keen to avoid cheap pizzas or massive chunks of dead animal will find they can easily afford to dine at one of many foreign restaurants  where the cuisine is modern, vegetarian is not a dirty word and an excellent dinner will cost the same as breakfast in Paris.

Porteños eat late so getting a table at 8pm-9pm should be no problem. Before that time only cheap eats may be available.

Argentinian food basically means meat, huge portions of freshly killed cow grilled to perfection and eaten in digestion-challeging mass, or as a snack sandwich (lomito).

Steaks are superb so BA is perfect for confirmed carnivores, but what else is on offer?
Cheap eats tend towards good pizzas, terrible pastas, ham and cheese sandwiches, various quality stuffed pies (empanadas) or fast food, but for those who can spare a few pesos more, Buenos Aires is home to a mass of superb foreign restaurants that deliver all kinds of cuisine – including vegetarian (e. g. Spanish tapas, Japanese, Thai, Middle-Eastern) – that anyone holding dollars/euros can easily afford.

Travellers who enjoy meat, drinking and late-night revelry – serious partying starts in this city at 3am – in an urban setting at a very low cost, with regular doses of soccer and cheap travel will find BA very attractive, even if the subway trains/metro /tube does close down from 11pm to 6pm. But taxis are plentiful and cheap and many porteños party all night anyway, tubing back in the morning.

The Tango

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Tango dancing

Lunch with passion in Gitanos, La Boca.

The tango was probably conceived in Buenos Aires’ La Boca district in the 1880’s by working-class immigrants of Italian or Spanish extraction. The dance, originally a form of male bonding and a way to alleviate the boredom while waiting for the attention of prostitutes, the tango soon developed into a macho sexual prelude, a dramatic and dominant hors d’oeuvre with a paid partner.

Naturally the upstanding and Victorian citizens of BA, Porteños, were outraged by this disgusting display of outright sensuality, but younger members of the high society took the dance to their hearts and then to the world so that by 1913 it had become a respectable – though still sensuous – world famous dance. The golden age of tango had arrived.

Citizens of Buenos Aires tango in public, Argentina

And a  different form of dancing during a gaucho festival at Feria de Mataderos.

BA Sights

Casa Rosada (Pink House), the Presidential Palace in Plaza de Mayo.

The peculiar colour of the commander-in-chief’s home is probably related to the tradition of painting important buildings with a wash composed partly of bull’s blood, though some think that the colour was first conceived by President Sarmiento in order to make peace between the Federalists (favourite colour red) and the Unitarists (white).

Free guided tours of the palace are given in English on some afternoons, check time and day locally.

Caminito, La Boca.

The most popular tourist sight in Buenos Aires is Caminito in La Boca barrio, a short, narrow block of cheap and ancient housing painted in effervescent colours, apparently begged off ship crews docked nearby. Caminito is, however, something of a tiny tourist trap with buildings outnumbered by tourist buses and does not at all represent the city, nor does it take long to see.

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Museo del Cabildo

Spanish style Museo del Cabildo alongside a French style office block.

Although many Italians emigrated to Argentina older structures tend to be in Spanish or French architectural styles. This is because the buildings were commissioned by Spanish and French investors, though usually built by Italian labour.

Today Buenos Aires is a mishmash of designs ranging from the occasional gorgeous to the frequent hideous, but mostly looking fairly sad and neglected.

BA’s city-centre buildings are a mish-mash of elegant French and Spanish colonial interspersed with hideous concrete extrusions and nuevo dull glass towers, all sadly decaying as bankrupt government and businesses still struggle with the economic devastation caused by the peso crash of the early 90’s.

Travellers walking the streets would be well advised to keep their eyes on the pavement (sidewalk) rather than taking pictures to avoid ankle-snapping holes that will be filled mañana, when Argentina’s boat finally comes home – steered by an efficient and incorruptible captain who is not yet born.

Our favourite sight in Buenos Aires is less lively than Caminito, in fact it’s the totally dead Cementario de la Recoleta, last home of the rich and distinguished in Recoleta district, where wealthy, big-name families have invested staggering amounts of wonga – doubtless torn from the hands of the poor, huddled masses over the years – in tombs to die for.

Gorgeous marble statues of weeping angels, powerful generals and stern fathers, gilded murals, stained glass and sculpted bronzes crowd this space, enlivened only by flowers and somnolent cats.

Eva Peron’s tomb (aka Evita) is the most visited in Recoleta cemetery, much to the fury of the country’s elite.

Evita (neé Duarte) was an ex-actress and second wife of Juan Peron, President of Argentina from 1946-1955. Evita famously championed civil rights for Argentina’s poor and oppressed, very much against the wishes of her fascist husband and his cronies.

Eva died of cancer at the tender age of 33, and such was the antagonism towards this low-class upstart that opponents conspired to whisk her embalmed body off to Spain where she languished for years before Eva’s supporters kidnapped the body of Eva’s nemesis, General Pedro Aramburu, in order to persuade the government to permit her burial home in Argentina.

Juan Peron’s body lies in a different cemetery, in Chacarita, while General Aramburu is interred within spitting distance of Evita. Strange but true. . .

Tourists who visit Cementario de la Recoleta at the weekend can enjoy the pleasant parks immediately around the cemetery that are busy with musicians, families, painters and the biggest craft fair in the city; things are especially buzzing on a Sunday.

Floralis Genérica, a vast, kinetic, steel and aluminum sculpture blooming in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Photo by Chris Schoenbohm.

According to the gardener/sculptor Eduardo Catalano, this 18 ton, 23 m high flower was originally supposed to open in the daytime and close at night but was installed incorrectly so it now remains open constantly, but is a fascinating contribution the the park nevertheless.

Caminito, La Boca.

The most popular tourist sight in Buenos Aires is Caminito in La Boca barrio, a short, narrow block of cheap and ancient housing painted in effervescent colours, apparently begged off ship crews docked nearby. Caminito is, however, something of a tiny tourist trap with buildings outnumbered by tourist buses and does not at all represent the city, nor does it take long to see.

Subway System

Argentina, Buenos Aires, metro musician

One of the better subte (metro) trains in Buenos Aires.

While the Argentina capital’s tube trains don’t run everywhere, the lines that are available are efficient, regular, easy to use, cheap and safe, though they close down from 11pm to 6am.
They can be also quite entertaining. . .

Argentinian People

Argentina’s population in 2013 was 42. 6 million, with about a third of those living in greater Buenos Aires and 3 million in the centre, the capital district.

The people are 85% from European stock which makes it easy for Anglo-Saxon travellers to slip into the background in order to reduce the chance of being targeted by thieves. Just keep the valuables out of sight and Argentinians will be asking you for directions in no time.

With a literacy rate of 95% and a keen interest in the world as well as local current events, local people are knowledgeable and keen talkers once you get past the stony city face, with soccer, rugby or politics as a natural starting point for a lengthy conversation, but remember that a pleasant greetings is a vital start.

Buenos Aires Safety

The most common crimes in BA are distraction theft, bag snatching and armed robberies. Take particular care on public transport and in the tourist areas of San Telmo, La Boca and Retiro and keep a close eye on your possessions at all times. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or wearing jewellery. Avoid isolated or poorly lit areas at night.

Con-men have been known to rob tourists while an accomplice pretends to help remove ketchup or mustard that has been ‘accidentally’ sprayed on them. Another common tactic is slitting handbags in crowded places and snatching mobile phones while they are being used.

Passport thefts are common especially in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Leave your passport in a hotel safe or security box and keep a photocopy of the details page with you at all times.

If possible, book taxis in advance. If you hail a taxi in the street, only use a ‘radio taxi’. These have a clearly visible company logo on the rear passenger doors. If you are being met at the airport and you don’t know your greeter, confirm their identity before setting off. Alternatively use a ‘remise’ service from the official stand in the centre of the arrivals concourse.