Earlier this year, when my friend asked me to join her on a trip to Argentina to visit her cousin who was on exchange in Rosario, I jumped at the opportunity. I had been wanting to visit Buenos Aires for awhile. I’d heard mixed reviews…it’s gritty and overwhelming…it’s beautiful, awesome, so much fun. I didn’t know what to expect, but I approached it with an eager but open mind. In the end, I found this city delightful, even in the midst of cool, often cold and rainy, weather of May, their winter. It is gritty, but it’s full of life, and history, and beauty, and cats, and crazy cab drivers, and delicious beef, and really cool graffiti art, and on and on. I really enjoyed my time there…maybe it was the company of my friend Terra and her cousin Ted, who both entertained me to no end…but I spent a day in the city alone…and it was still great.
In Buenos Aires, there are many barrios, or neighborhoods, that are great home bases for the traveler. We chose Palermo Soho with its relative vicinity to the city and its trendy and young vibe. This sub-barrio within Palermo in the northeastern portion of the city is littered with cafes and boutiques. (Note that this neighborhood is a bit pricey, but definitely a fun one. If you are staying in the city longer than a week, you may want to rent an apartment; it is usually cheaper.) While we wanted to do some sight-seeing in other parts of the city, we knew we wanted to stay close to where we were going to eat, shop and drink…and Palermo Soho it was. Luckily one of us (not me) was worried about something other than what we were going to eat (food is my obsession). Terra, one of my travel buddies, found us a clean and affordable room at BASoho, a cute little bed and breakfast with a great location, delicious coffee and pastries every morning, and the loveliest manager, who sat down with us at Time Zero and marked up a map with all of her favorite places to eat, drink and shop…super helpful. Rooms are priced from $40-$85, depending on number of beds and whether the bath is shared or private, and based on location, cleanliness and comfort, they are worth it.
During planning of this trip, Terra liked to joke that we were a great team…she was concerned about where we laid our heads (I was totally unconcerned), and I wanted to make sure we knew where to eat. To be fair, Argentina’s food scene is pretty meat-focused…and we had a vegetarian in our midst… So, I was a little more obsessed with ensuring a good food experience than usual. There are so many places to eat in Buenos Aires. I’m only going to tell you about some of the places where we ate, but there are loads of resources out there. I relied heavily on word of mouth and the Gringo in Buenos Aires.
First up, La Cabrera. This is not the first restaurant we visited, but it may have been my favorite. My mouth is watery just thinking about it. La Cabrera is a parrilla, a steakhouse. There are many parrillas in the city, and this one is not the cheapest. But, it came on recommendation from several contacts I have who have lived in BA or visited recently, and it was highly recommended in online sources, such as Afar.com and Gringo in Buenos Aires. This is one of the best known parrillas in the city, thus there are many tourists dining there at anytime and you need reservations. (They have an off-shoot nearby, La Cabrera Norte if you can’t get in.) But, we only had a few nights in the city and really only one to torment our vegetarian travel buddy in a steakhouse, so we went with the sure bet. And, it was to die for…
Buenos Aires has a whole scene of closed-door restaurants, or rather not-restaurants…kinda like supper clubs. Often times, they are located in the home of the chef, are open only a few days per week, and have space for a limited number of guests. The chef sets the menu as he pleases. But, what you get is an intimate setting with amazing food created by a chef who is not constrained by all the food preferences of his guests…quite liberating from an American’s perspective! We hit up Casa Felix, a well established closed-door restaurant in Chacaritas. Diego is an amazing chef who opens up his home to 15 diners, 3 nights per week to serve a 5 course pescatarian menu for 230 Arg pesos, an experience that is delightful, if I do say so myself.
Other places we hit up for some eats along the way, included:
- Mark’s Deli (El Salvador 4701 in Palermo), a delicious establishment, from the perspectives of both the food and the people, who are the epitome of Argentine beauty. This place is pricey, but the sandwiches are delicious and quite hearty. We grabbed take out and ate our sandwiches as 2 meals. You can get free wifi here as well.
- Sarkis (Thames 1101 in Villa Crespo, just outside of Palermo), a simple and budget-friendly restaurant serving very tasty Middle Eastern food and a great option for vegetarians. This place is large but fills up quick, so expect a short wait.
- Krishna (Malabia 1833 in Palermo), a hippy-dippy little establishment serving only vegetarian food. The place is quite inviting and the ambience is quite soothing…well except for the television running images of odd images of Hindu gods that, I think I can speak for all of us, we found kinda creepy. Either way, if you are looking for good veg-friendly food, come here. The Indian-inspired menu is quite good. But, note, no alcohol served.
- …and several random bakeries, pizza joints, and cafes along the way. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.
There are so many things to do and sights to see in Buenos Aires. We only had a few days, and we chose not to spend all of our time sight-seeing, so we missed a lot…but we still had a ton of fun!
Just a few hours after our planes landed, we had showered up, grabbed a bite at Marks’s, and headed out to the meeting spot for the Graffitimundo tour we’d signed up for in the hopes to not have to think or make a decision for the first several hours after arrival. Graffitimundo is an organization which is committed to raising awareness of rich heritage and dynamic culture of Buenos Aires street art scene by, among other projects, offering guided tours within different neighborhoods highlighting the historical and cultural context of the scene and the art itself. Our guide was passionate and captivating as she told us all about the street art scene, its importance to the culture here, the artists and the context of many of the pieces themselves. I’ll devote a whole post to this in the future, but just know that this ain’t no average graffiti.
We spent the afternoon of our second day with our local friend for rent, Giselle, a journalist and tango instructor from Brazil. She took us around La Boca and San Telmo neighborhoods, teaching us about the history and culture of each neighborhood. While I enjoyed our time with Giselle, I thought Caminita in La Boca was over-rated. It felt like a tourist trap, but we checked it off our list.
We missed market day (famous antique flea market on Sundays), but San Telmo was quite nice to walk around with its cobble-stoned streets and beautiful old faded buildings. This barrio is the oldest in the city, but it is not out-dated. It is a hotspot for tango, antiques, bohemians, and some truly delicious places to eat. It is a very interesting place to wander, doesn’t matter which day you visit.
Any visit to Buenos Aires should include a stop at Recoleta Cemetery, a truly impressive mausoleum-style cemetery containing over 4000 vaults, many of which are extremely elaborate. I enjoyed wandering around the walkways, peering into the vaults, and admiring the opulence. Make sure not to miss the tomb of Eva Peron. It’d be a shame to walk past it and not stop to take a peek.
If you’re up for a nice walk, you can stroll through the Jardin Botanico (Av. Santa Fe near the Zoo) and the Jardin Japones (Av. Figueroa Alcorta y Av. Casares) on the way to Recoleta from Palermo. Both are very nice. The Jardin Botanico contains thousands of plant species, several sculptures, reflective ponds, greenhouses, the mansion which a housed a park directors family long ago…and several cats. The Jardin Japones is not free, costing about 10 pesos. However, it is a lovely traditional Japanese garden with a lake, bridges and tea house.
Buenos Aires is a bustling city full of things to do and stuff to see. This post is by no means all-inclusive, missing, for instance, Puerto Madero, Avenida 9 de Julio, MALBA, El Ateneo, and so much more. Pick up any guidebook or refer to several available online resources, such as Gringo In Buenos Aires, Afar.com, Lonely Planet Travel Forum, etc. for more information about the possibilities. But, make sure to leave time just to wander around, do some window shopping, sit at a cafe and people watch…and, if you are a night owl, this city is for you with its renowned nightlife scene. The best memories tend to be those that you stumble across.