Buenos Aires: Hits, misses, & what I wish I knew
Buenos Aires is a massive city. When people ask me about my time there, it's always hard for me to sum it up. A few words just don't do it justice.
Rather than give a short answer that tells you little about my experience, I thought I'd make a list of all the hits and misses during my time in BA.
1. Public WiFi
The last thing I want to worry about when I'm abroad is a $300 fee on my phone bill for using too much data. While I like to buy a simple international phone plan when I travel, it's always great having free WiFi available. In Buenos Aires, public WiFi was surprisingly abundant. Whether I was in a subte (subway) station, a library, or even a public park, the ability to access the internet without wasting my data made things so much easier. (Another plus: WiFi doesn't kill your battery as quickly as data does!).
Just check out this map of the city yourself.
Having free WiFi in public spaces was super useful; it even saved me from spending a dollar a minute to call my friend when I got locked out of her apartment one afternoon. Score.
2. Local Parks
If you know me well, you know I'm a nerd. While Buenos Aires is rich in history and architecture, one of my favorite things to nerd about is gardens. And BA has a handful of colorful parks with bountiful gardens to stroll through. Plus, they're low-cost or even free.
If you only have time for one park during your visit, I recommend El Rosedal in Palermo.
El Rosedal (Rose Garden) - Free
El Rosedal is free, big, and full of lovely views. Perfect for a romantic stroll or just a relaxing wander on your own, the park is meticulously curated, and filled with striking flowers and architecture. When I visited the park on my own, I was filled with wonder and nostalgia. The landscape made me feel warm and awake. My only regret was I didn't have someone to enjoy it with.
Other great options:
Jardin Japones (Japanese Garden) - About $5 or 70 AR
Not too far from the Rosedal was the Japanese Garden. Donated to Argentina as an act of diplomacy by Japan, the garden isn't huge, but it's filled with enough small, artistic details to make your visit worthwhile.
If you're lucky enough, you might also be seduced by this flirty stray kitten. I'm not even a fan of cats, but this little guy left me enamored.
Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays (Carlos Thays Botanical Garden) - Free
The botanical garden contrasts greatly with both El Rosedal and the Japanese Garden. While El Rosedal is bright and sunny, and the Japanese Garden is immaculately curated, Carlos Thays is less manicured, more earthy.
If you manage to get here, make sure you check out the butterfly garden.
The greenhouse full of succulents is also a sight to see.
3. Konex & La Bomba de Tiempo
When my friend Nata told me we would be going to a music show at the Konex "cultural center," I assumed we were heading to a small recreation center managed by the city. Something innocent, with maybe a few board games strewn across the room between tables. Not a huge music venue filled with hipsters and beer, which is what it ended up being.
Every show with La Bomba is a little different. It's a jam ensemble where the drummers improvise and communicate with each other through signs. The show plays off the rhythm and energy of the crowd to create an explosive experience unique to every audience.
Everyone is dancing. Everyone is feeling the beat. And it's a Monday night ritual you'll only find in BA.
Public transportation in BA is dirt cheap. While I initially got around using (radio) taxis, my friend Nata convinced me that using public transportation was the way to go. And she was right.
Buy a SUBE card at a convenience store (you can't always buy one in the subway station) for about $3-4 USD, and load it with pesos for your trip. Bus fare at the time I went (March 2016) was about 40 cents a ride!
The SUBE card works for the subway and the colectivo (buses). For the bus, just use Google Maps to figure out your route, screenshot the map for your reference, wait at the stop, tell the bus driver where you're heading, and it's smooth sailing from there.
Quick Ferry to Uruguay
Hand in hand with cheap public transportation was how easy it was to leave BA. A ferry ride to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, takes just an hour. Other trips to places like Montevideo, Uruguay, take just 2 hours by ferry.
1 Hour from Tigre
Just an hour away from Buenos Aires by train is the small riverside town of Tigre. The train ride from Retiro station to Tigre cost a whopping 80 cents, and it takes you right into the center of town.
7. La Feria de San Telmo
If there's one thing you can't miss in BA, it's the San Telmo fair. I went on Easter Sunday, and the market, to my surprise, wasn't deserted. In fact, it was bustling. Though the heart of the fair is in Plaza Dorrego, the marketplace spills out into surrounding streets for blocks on end, right to the edge of the Plaza de Mayo.
The fair is filled with souvenirs, artisanal art and handmade gifts, clothing, tango on the streets, and food. One of my favorite experiences was getting orange juice freshly squeezed in front of me...on the cheap.
Street performers were also out in full force that Sunday, including this fun band (wish I remembered the name!) on the outskirts of the fair. The sign behind them is to defend street performers from being targeted as criminals for playing music in the open.
While San Telmo is super fun, I recommend going during the daytime. I've heard things can get a little bit iffy at night.
8. La Boca
You may recognize this street art from the latest promo of the Bachelorette. This is one of the first things you see as you enter the Caminito section of La Boca.
El Caminito is a touristy area full of buildings painted in vivid colors.
Many Italians from Genoa immigrated to BA and called this section of the city home. It is thoroughly working class, and the areas just outside of El Caminito are considered some of the most dangerous in the city. El Caminito itself is relatively safe, but if you plan to get there using public transit, you'll have to walk a few blocks through a rough part of town.
El Caminito, while touristy, is a lot of fun. Funky statues of public figures peek out of balconies to greet you on your way in. (Say hello to Pope Francis!)
Dancers step sensually onto the uneven streets as old men croon to the carnal rhythm of the tango.
I got in on the fun as well.
Just don't forget to tip the dancers afterward...or things can get awkward!
1. Cafe Tortoni
Cafe Tortoni is one of the most popular places to visit in Buenos Aires.
Located on Avenida de Mayo, it's an iconic French-style cafe that a few famous creative types were known to frequent, including Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Gardel, and Alfonsina Storni (pictured below).
While the cafe's tango show was entertaining, I'd recommend not going to the cafe on an empty stomach. In fact, if you're not there for tango, it might just be better to peek inside, get a look at the decor, and bow out. Because it's really not worth spending half your money on a meal that looks like this:
The people working there were friendly, though. And the intimate space where the tango show was held made the whole experience a little sweeter.
Just don't go for the food.
2. Dairy Free/Alternative Food Options
Overall, my food experiences in Buenos Aires were pretty lousy. While there were some occasional good meals, I never had one meal that really wowed me. Maybe I'm just a snob, but one obstacle that really got in my way was my dairy allergy.
Because cows are one of the country's main staples, beef and dairy products are plentiful.
Also, due to Argentina's close ties to Italy, a lot of the food was Italian or had Italian roots. As much as I love Italian fare, that meant plenty of cheese and fewer food choices for me :(
Though I'm not into eating a lot of meat, I generally stuck to small dishes like beef empanadas or steak (or a hefty burger, like the one below from Burger Joint in Palermo).
I didn't get to venture into much of the traditional cuisine because I was so restricted. And while there were a few healthier alternatives (like the healthy salad below from Be Juice in Recoleta), none of the choices seemed as exciting or fun as the Argentine stuffed pizza (fugazetta) I kept seeing in store windows everywhere.
I imagine that vegans or people with other food restrictions would also have a difficult time eating in BA.
Needless to say, my tummy was kind of sad for a lot of this trip.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW
1. They don't speak "Spanish" -- as we know it, anyway
(WARNING: This is kind of a grammar lesson, but if you're a language nerd like me, you'll appreciate it!)
I've always considered Argentina a Spanish-speaking country, but that isn't necessarily true. Spanish in Argentina is NOT the same as the one spoken in Spain.
I was a hot mess in BA because I was completely unaware of this.
For one, instead of referring to "you" in the "tu" form, Argentinians use "vos"--not to be confused with "vosotros." Keep in mind that with this different word comes completely different conjugations that do not match up with how most Americans are taught Spanish in school. For example, instead of "Tu eres," the correct phrase would be "Vos sos." This can be really confusing for anyone who thinks they know the language when visiting.
Another thing that tripped me up was the accent. Words with double L's don't have the "ya" sound. Instead, the sound is a soft "j" or "zh" sound. "Me llamo" sounds like "Me zh-amo," along with some other key differences.
While I was far from a pro at speaking, I generally found people to be pretty patient with me. In spite of the few obstacles I faced while in BA, the trip there was definitely worth it--and the hits definitely outnumbered the misses!
What did you think of the article? What's on your bucket list for Argentina? Let me know in the comments below!
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