After an easy overnight flight we arrived in Buenos Aires early in the morning.
Our guide, Bernie di Negri, from wanderlust.com.ar, met us at the airport. She is knowledgeable and energetic, and her English is excellent. We first stopped at Café Brittanico, a traditional old café, where we got coffee, served with a little cookie and a small glass of water. That’s how they do it. We walked through Park Lezama, and then La Boca, with its colorful buildings and great street scene.
We read about pickpockets and other street crime, but were never bothered. The subway and buses were easy to use, cheap and reliable. On the other hand, Buenos Aires, lovely as it is, must be the dog poop capital of South America – no one picks up and there are dogs everywhere! So don’t worry too much about crime, but watch every step!
Our hotel, San Telmo Luxury Suites, is an 8 room hotel in a newly renovated building. Each room is two stories, with a living area and bathroom downstairs and the bed upstairs in a loft. The windows open into a central courtyard, so there is no street noise, and there is a beautiful roof deck with couches and a fountain.
San Telmo is a fun neighborhood, just now being revitalized. Every Sunday there is a huge street market filled with antiques, crafts, souvenirs, street food, and tango dancers. More than 10,000 people showed up when we were there. We bought some malbec at Vinotango, across from La Brigada, in San Telmo.
We visited all the usual sights on the first day: Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Recoleta cemetery (I was skeptical, but it really is an amazing place), and Avenida 9 Julio, in addition to La Boca and San Telmo. We walked back to San Telmo and that evening had dinner at Gran Parilla del Plata, right down the street from our hotel. We split bife de chorizo for two, had creamed spinach, flan, and a nice bottle of malbec for less than 200 pesos (either $50 or $35, depending on the exchange rate, but inexpensive either way). By the way, the exchange rate in BA is very flexible, ranging from 4-6 pesos to the dollar, and everyone appreciates being paid in US dollars, since the government limits access and the peso is very unstable. Bring lots of US cash, especially small bills, and you will get great deals in most stores and restaurants. ATMs and banks honor the official rate of about 4/dollar.
The next day Bernie took us to the gorgeous parks in Palermo, where a marathon was taking place. The parks were filled with people enjoying the weather and the spring flowers. We enjoyed walking through Palermo Soho and the botanic gardens.
That evening we went to the ‘Argentine Experience’ in Palermo. It gets great reviews on Trip Advisor, but sounded kind of touristy to me. We had a great time there. It is the brainchild of Leon, who finished law school in England and then moved to Guatemala to learn Spanish and become a tour guide. After several years of traveling throughout Central and South America he settled in Buenos Aires and began hosting strangers in his flat. Now they have moved to a brand new building, with a bar (not yet open) downstairs and a dining room that seats about 25 upstairs.
The guests were from the USA, Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand. The experience starts with a welcome drink. Then we made our own empanadas that we later devoured. Dinner was fantastic filet, or lomo, easily the best steak I have ever eaten anywhere. Then we made alfajores for dessert and learned the correct way to make and drink mate. Throughout, there was unlimited malbec, as well as running commentary on the meal, on Argentina, on Buenos Aires, and other topics that served as an excellent introduction for first time visitors to the city. A fun, educational, and delicious way to spend the night.
On our last full day we walked from San Telmo through Puerto Madero, a renovated docklands similar to London’s Canary Wharf. Next we walked on Calle Florida, a busy pedestrian shopping street. Then we continued down Avenida de Mayo to Parliament, then to the old water building (wildly ornate), and then past the medical school through Once to Abasto mall, a beautifully repurposed old market building that is now a large indoor mall.
We took the subway back to near Puerto Madero, because one of the people at Argentine Experience gave us a tip about where we could find the best street food in Buenos Aires. On the back side of Puerto Madero is an ecological preserve, and on the street next to the preserve is Costanera Sud, a long wide promenade. Lined up here are 20-30 food trucks without wheels, small parillas. At Parilla Mi Sueno we had Choripan (chorizo on sub roll with chimichurri and all sorts of garnishes). They had both the regular pork and beef sausages. We both agreed that if we had found this place on the first day we would not have had to choose any other restaurants; the best street food ever, and this is from someone who knows! No dinner that night for either of us.
Finally, the next day, we flew from Newberry Airport to Iguazu for the next part of our vacation.
So, Buenos Aires is a wonderful walkable city, with a little bit of faded glory, but still loaded with nice people, beautiful parks, great food, and varied neighborhoods. We would love to return.
For the rest of out trip check out the forums for Rio, Iguazu National Park, and Paraty.