A city full of surprises
When I booked the first part of my travels, I opted to start in a traveller’s hotspot; the capital of Argentina – Buenos Aires. From what I’d seen and heard, BA was full of the unexpected, and quite hard to describe. With many barrios (neighbourhoods/areas), each neighbourhood offered something rather unique. From the birthplace of tango and eateries with smoking assados (huge BBQs), a nature reserve alongside towering skyscrapers and more incredible street art than you could ever get around to looking at, BA is definitely worth a visit. Behind an old battered door there could be an incredible modern bar and through a simple whitewashed archway, you could find a stunning floral courtyard and boutique shops. Turning down a side street could mean witnessing an impromptu performance of tango dancers or bumping into a street party.
Within each area we explored, the surprises kept on coming. I’d done my research on the city, but it’s not until you actually get here that you realise that you know very little of the reality here. I realised why people I had spoken to about the city had found it difficult to explain what it was like: Buenos Aires has to be lived. Luckily enough I got to visit several different areas, each with its own history and atmosphere.
My favourite part of the city is an area called Palermo. With it’s cobbled streets, huge array of incredible bars, restaurants, coffee shops and gorgeous boutiques, it had so much more to offer than I could fit into a few days there. Fairy lights are strewn across many of the outdoor areas of restaurants and the trees sprout pink and white blossoms.
Palermo is what I’d call the ‘hipster’ area of the city. In many places it has quite an upmarket feel and was full of younger locals, sightseeing tourists and backpackers. At night it was busy with revellers and music coming from the many bars along it’s streets. The streets we explored were full of beautiful houses painted in mostly pastel colours; shades of pink, blue and purple and many buildings were decorated with incredible street art. You could spend a day just wandering the streets of this area admiring the exquisite designs on the walls.
Another place that made a big impression was San Telmo, one of the oldest of the barrios. An antique hunter’s and artisan’s paradise, this barrio is expressed by some as a bit of a ‘dodgy’ area, but has a wonderful creative vibe to it. Like many market areas, you just have to be alert and keep valuables out of sight.
Home to the famous weekly street market, every Sunday the very long road of Defensa buzzes with hundreds and hundreds of stalls lining both sides, where local artisans, pop up stalls and antique dealers sell pretty much everything, including handmade bags and clothes, jewellery, notebooks, Native crafts, vintage glassware and fascinating knick knacks galore! Art galleries (many free entry) are dotted along the street, and there are even more undercover markets, antique shops and boutiques that are housed in the permanent buildings behind the stalls. While there are bigger restaurants and some quirky eateries, inside the actual San Telmo Marketplace there are some wonderful places to eat, little stalls and café’s run by young entrepreneurs where you can get different foods from around the world, including Middle Eastern, good ol’ American burgers and fish and chips. For a truly authentic taste of Buenos Aires, there’s also a very popular stall in the market which sells empanadas, made fresh in front of you by a local grandma. In San Telmo, Spanish guitar players filled the streets, their brown leathered faces singing local folk songs and the air smelt of delicious chimichurri spices, sizzling steak and fragrant incense. San Telmo really offers a unique bohemian experience.
Also, well worth the trip downtown, is a walking tour around the birthplace of Argentina’s favourite dance - the tango. The barrio of La Boca gave me a real understanding of not just the history of the area, but the story of European settlers in Buenos Aires. Awash with primary coloured, scrap metal covered buildings, the main street of El Caminito pulses with tango beats and tango dancers are happy to pose with tourists for a tip. The market along the main street offers different artisanal goodies and beautiful tango inspired sketches, watercolours and artworks are displayed along the street by the many talented locals.
The La Boca Junior Stadium tour and museum is available for a tour if you love football. However, if you’re not a football fan, the best way to take in La Boca is to find a spot at one of the many alfresco restaurants, sip an icy beverage in the sun and watch the tango dancers and guitar players fill the streets with passionate movement and song.
One of the most surprising areas I explored was the area of Puerto Madero. Modern, trendy and affluent, the tree lined areas along the river are dotted with posh cafés and high-end shops, luxury skyscrapers and a huge promenade. Next to the promenade? A wetland nature reserve. It seemed like such a contrast; a special reserve for the many bird species calling Buenos Aires home, but next to the steely grey of new high rises. It is a beautiful area for a stroll, or simply to relax on the wall of the promenades with some organic ice cream.
One of the things that struck me most was that I came to the city with expectations from what I’d researched, watched and heard. I left with quite a different view on this lively yet calm, luxurious yet simple, modern yet traditional place. Buenos Aires was truly a city of contrasts and surprises.