Buenos Aires: A Colorful Couple of Days
Visited Argentina in January 2018
The first night and last two nights of my family’s Argentina vacation were spent in Buenos Aires
Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) is about 45 minutes outside of downtown Buenos Aires
Stayed at a hotel in the Palermo neighborhood
Uber operates in Buenos Aires — see my tips on transportation
Always have your guard up — tourists are easy targets for pickpockets and thieves
The exchange rate during my visit was 18 ARS: 1 USD — Keep up with the news on this for your visit
Important tip: Have Argentinean pesos on you before you leave the airport
ARGENTINA IN GENERAL:
Argentinians eat late, many restaurants don't open for dinner until 8:00 pm
Make reservations in advance at the restaurants you REALLY want to try
Many restaurants and stores require you to write your passport/document number at the bottom of your receipt— have that number memorized
Put a TSA lock on your luggage. My brand new hiking boots got stolen when my luggage was lost for 3 days.
Tips are not the norm for Taxis unless they help with luggage— A 10% tip is normal for waitstaff
As a huge international city, Buenos Aires offers. a myriad of things to do as a tourist. Since this was my first time to this beautiful city, I gravitated toward a few of the touristy attractions. Here is what I chose to do during my two and a half days in Buenos Aires:
Evita Museum— Panorama— El Ateneo Grand Splendid— La Boca — El Viejo Almacen— Recoleta Cemetery
Evita Museum — Eva María Duarte de Perón is a legend in Argentina for her efforts in the women’s suffrage movement and improving the lives of the poor as the First Lady of Argentina. If you have no idea who this is, do a little reading now & then go visit the beautiful mansion-turned-museum in the Palermo neighborhood. It is worth your time.
Here are a few of Eva’s words that stuck out to me during my visit: “I am the wife of the President of the Argentine people, but presidencies expire and in the end history does not remember a simple marriage bond, but rather an unselfish heart and an upright conscience.” — Eva Perón, L.R.A. Radio Nacional, February 24, 1947.
Panorama — This delightful local boutique is full of goods sourced from Argentinian artisans all over the country. Unique jewelry, colorful hats, bold clothing — I wish this shop was my closet. Just take a peek at their instagram. After you visit the Evita Museum, stroll a few blocks and stop in. I spent enough time in this store to bore my dad and brother into getting a drink at a nearby café.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid— Located on the bustling Santa Fe Av. in the Recoleta neighborhood, this beautiful bookstore is an incredibly popular tourist destination. In 1919, the doors opened to the stunning and opulent Grand Splendid theatre. Porteños (a nickname used for residents of Buenos Aires) flocked to the theater for performances including opera, ballet, and of course tango. A few years prior, Pedro García founded El Ateneo Librería y Editorial. While they didn’t have much to do with each other at the time, their history ended up coming together. The company that eventually acquired García’s company bought El Grand Splendid theatre in 2000 to serve as the flagship of the bookstore chain, El Ateneo. The integrity of the original theater has been upheld throughout the changes in the building’s purpose over the last century. Today you can shop over 120,000 books (mostly in Spanish) along the orchestra level and balconies. If you’re thirsty, you can grab a drink at the coffee shop that sits where the stage once was. If you’re going to be in the area it is worth stopping in.
La Boca— If you’ve done even a bit of research about visiting Buenos Aires you’ve heard of La Boca and El Caminito. El Caminito is a narrow street lined with vibrant buildings and it is the biggest tourist trap in Buenos Aires. I knew this going in, but I couldn’t help but romanticize over the alleged birthplace of the tango.
La Boca means “the mouth” in Spanish. Given it’s location at at the mouth of the Riachuelo River, the nickname is fitting. This part of the river became the first port in Buenos Aires. Naturally, this is where all the European ships arrived, dumping immigrants into the surrounding streets.
El Caminito, a small walkway within La Boca, became culturally significant after inspiring the music for the famous tango "Caminito", composed by Juan de Dios Filiberto in 1926.
Today, El Caminito and the surrounding streets are lined with restaurants luring tourists in with tango dancers, street artists selling souvenirs, and buses waiting for cruise line tourists to return from their “cultural” excursion. To me, this is one of those places to go check out once and then never return to. The experience isn’t much more than wandering the colorful streets while keeping your purse tight. If you leave the main drag you’ll find this neighborhood still home to many immigrants.
El Viejo Almacen— From street performers, to broadway-like productions, there are a wide variety of tango shows offered in Buenos Aires. Realizing that these shows are geared toward tourists, I appreciated that El Viejo Almacen tried to make the show feel authentic to the dance’s roots. We ended up with last minute front-row reservations thanks to our hotel concierge. The precision and intimacy of the dance captivated my whole family. I’d definatley go back to a show here. The “VIP” tickets to the show included drinks during the show and a driver to pick us up from dinner and drop us off at our hotel. The experience was $95 per person.
Recoleta Cemetery — Famous for ornate coffins and crypts, Recoleta Cemetery is one of a kind. Many celebrated Argentinians were laid to rest here, including Eva Perón. You won’t have a hard time finding her tomb because it is usually surrounded by flocks of tourists snapping photos. It is easy to get a little lost among the many eerie walkways, so stay close to your friends/family. The cemetery is open daily from 8am to 6pm and admission is free.
Eat & Drink:
Pan et Vin — Put this on your list! This family owned Wine Bar and Sourdough Bakery in Palermo Soho is run by husband and wife. The shelves of wine in the shop showcase bottles from boutique and limited production Argentinian labels. Ohad, the baker of the duo, helped us pick out two bottles: one from the Patagonia region and one from the Salta region. Since we shared that we’d be spending time in Mendoza, he made sure we tasted wines from other regions as well. His wife, Eleonora, is the sommelier, but Ohad certainly knew a thing or two as well. I was a big fan when he whipped out a map to explain the different geographies of the regions. We nibbled on a cheese board as we sipped our smooth Malbec.
J.W. Bradley — Dim lighting, exposed brick and an industrial vibe— the space has a classic speakeasy ambiance. We stumbled across J.W. Bradley while looking for a nightcap on our first evening in Argentina. To enter the bar, patrons hop into a train car on the Orient Express for a history lesson. The bartenders were fiercely knowledgeable and even offered us some local tips on where to continue the evening. We ended up with a second night cap and snack at Van Koning per their recommendation.
Voulez bar - We landed at this Parisian inspired bistro right around the corner from our hotel for dinner after a long day of traveling. The crowd had a local vibe. The food was tasty and the portions were large.
Lo de Jesus- We were all incredibly satisfied by our al fresco dining experience at Lo de Jesus. This steakhouse in Palermo Soho was recommended to us by our hotel concierge in case we didn’t have luck getting a table at their highly recommended neighbor, La Cabrera. The two restaurants are about a block away from each other, which made it convenient when we we arrived during La Cabrera’s off hours. As a family we shared two steaks with a few sides and left for our tango show quite full. The steaks in Argentina do not compare to the steaks I am used to in the US— the meats presented are enormous.
Petit Green — I stopped for a green juice at this this local juicery and deli during some mid morning shopping. Great juice & an adorable spot!
b-Blue — This cute little lunch spot in Palermo Soho had swings as seats for their outdoor tables. It reminded me of a basic healthy lunch spot that you’d find in LA. In general, the waitstaff in Argentina was not very attentive, so b-Blue really set themselves apart by their service.
Here are a few places that were recommended by locals, but that we didn’t have a chance to try:
La Carniceria — This restaurant is known for elevating traditional Argentinean food. The menu is inspired by parrilla fare, but cooked in a different way with twists on the flavors. With about a dozen tables and a bar, space at La Carniceria is limited. I was told to definitely make a reservation.
La Cabrera— Just about everyone I talked to about Buenos Aires recommended that we have dinner at La Cabrera. However, the timing for us didn’t work out with their hours. La Cabrera closes from 4:30-6:30pm and then again from 8:00-8:30pm every day. If you plan to have a meal here make reservations in advance.
El Cuartito — If you have a hankering for pizza while visiting, I was told that this place has the best in Buenos Aires.
When it came to picking which Buenos Aires neighborhood to stay in I did my homework. I read reviews, went through neighborhood guides, and talked to people that had visited. Despite my due diligence, I still had a tough time making a decision. I was in charge of booking everything from travel, to accommodations, to activities for my family's Argentinean vacation. There just seemed to be an added layer of pressure since everyone was putting their faith in my decisions. Hotel location is an important factor for my family since we prefer to see most attractions by foot.
Palermo ended up being the perfect place for us. I am always a fan of Airbnb's neighborhood guides, but I also looked at other blogs, like this one that highlights the top 15 "coolest" neighborhoods . Palermo and Recoleta, which border each other, came recommended by friends that had visited as well. I usually stay in different parts of a city depending on if I am traveling with friends or family but this area is great for both.
I booked us rooms at Casasur Bellini based on the space and modernity I saw in the pictures. It was a great place to stay and had all that we needed. The pictures were not deceiving— There was plenty of extra space in the rooms. The location was amazing, the staff was super friendly, and they included breakfast. Another added bonus: they offer a free tour of Buenos Aires from 2-5pm on Saturdays. Turns out the tour hits a lot of the attractions that my family and I had already checked off our list. Since we took this tour on our last day in the city, we bailed after the first stop.
To get into Buenos Aires from EZE Airport:
Taxi Stands— Upon exiting the secure part of the airport you will see a number of taxi kiosks where you can prepay for your ride. A Taxi from EZE into the city ran us about USD$54 when the exchange rate was around 18:1. Paying in cash gets you a discounted price. It is encouraged to prepay as a tourist so you don’t have to worry about getting ripped off.
Taxi Line— There are taxis that line up outside the arrivals door, but I read that they tend to charge tourists a lot more. I’m not fluent in Spanish, so I decided not to take my chances and I prepaid at the kiosk.
Uber— Uber is available in Buenos Aires. The cars, in general, are small. Depending on how many people you’re traveling with, you might have to split up if you want to take an Uber from the airport.
We built in a bit of a layover in Buenos Aires before flying to Cordoba at the beginning of our trip. We arrived in Buenos Aires around 4:00 pm and had a flight out at 7:30 am the next morning. For convenience, we decided to stay at the Holiday Inn by the airport. We took an Uber into the city for dinner and it only cost USD $15. I wouldn’t call it a smooth ride, but the driver got us there. Compared to the USD $54 taxi ride, Uber was quite a bargain.
We attempted to Uber back to the airport hotel from the center of the city, but three different drivers rejected us when they figured out where we were headed. Personal side note: For Christmas my grandma gave us pesos, but it turned out they were Mexican Pesos and therefore useless in Argentina. Since we didn’t have any cash and taxis don’t accept credit cards, I ended up exchanging USD for Pesos with a guy manning a barred off convenient store to get us back. This is why I advise to have local currency on you before leaving the airport…
In the city:
Uber- Uber is very convenient and a cheap way to get around if language is a barrier. We took a mix of Ubers and local taxis during our visit.
During my research on Uber availability, I learned that the Argentinean government tried to block Uber from coming to Buenos Aires to protect the taxi drivers. However, in classic Uber fashion, they found ways around the laws. In an effort to box them out, the Argentinean government won’t allow banks to process Uber charges. This limits the accessibility of the app to mostly tourists and expats. Prepaid methods have become a popular way for porteños to gain access to cheaper fares offered through Uber.
Taxi— Taxi’s are metered. Very few take credit cards. Have cash if you plan to hail a cab.
Walk— This is my family’s preferred method of transportation!
Public Transportation— We didn't take the time to figure out the public transit systems in the short time we had, so I don’t have any personal advice. If you plan to, you can find more info here.
Leaving Buenos Aires:
Our hotel concierge arranged for a large taxi to pick us up and take us back to the airport. Unsurprisingly, EZE was a bit crazy on a Saturday. Arriving two hours before our flight was just enough time to make it to our gate. **I note this because I am one of those people that likes to spend as little time at the airport as possible— I rarely get to an airport two hours before a flight.
Before entering the terminal, you have to go through a security line and then a passport check line. Both took a while.
Additionally, security does an intense recheck on all bags before boarding the plane— try to pack as light as possible. During this recheck, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to take water I bought within the terminal onto the airplane. I found this very strange.
When I go back
Next time I am in Buenos Aires I plan to skip most of the touristy outings and simply wander around the city. I’d like to spend more time strolling along the shops in Palermo Soho and pay a visit to San Telmo Market. I’d definitely go back to Pan et Vin for a wine tasting and I’d like to have dinner at La Carniceria. I’ll also be sure to stop at some of the more local places featured on Pick up the Fork.