Buenos Aires See And Do
Pedro de Mendoza
The open-air tchotchke market and boisterous tango zone that operates along the colorful, scimitar-shaped byway known as Caminito is the city's only outdoor museum. Lined with rickety dwellings topped with corrugated metal roofs and painted every color of the rainbow, Caminito is both a cheesy tourist trap and a can't-miss destination, as well as a poignant love letter to La Boca's—and B.A.'s—immigrant past. The name "Caminito" ("little walkway") was lifted from an old tango chestnut whose sad lyrics are enshrined here on a commemorative plaque.
Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 6 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 6 pm.
219 Hipólito Yrigoyen
Tel: 54 11 4344 3804
The Casa Rosada (Pink House)—taking up the entire east end of Plaza de Mayo—is Argentina's presidential palace, from whose storied balcony Juan and Evita Perón (and later a lip-synching Madonna) wooed the masses. Resembling a colossal wedding cake covered in strawberry icing, the Casa Rosada originally got its rosy glow from the curious Argentinean practice of adding ox blood to whitewash. A small museum displaying relics from Argentina's presidential past seems perennially 'closed for repairs', but at weekends uniformed grenadier guards conduct guided tours of the palace's echoing chambers and palm-shaded, colonial-style interior patios—show up at 50 Balcarce to get your name on the list.
Open Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 10 am to 6 pm.
Tel: 54 11 4803 1594
A who's who of Argentinean bold-faced names rests among Recoleta Cemetery's tombs and mausoleums, from the Alvears and the Dorregos to heavyweight boxer Luis Ángel Firpo. Foreigners come largely for Evita, whose remains returned to Buenos Aires in 1974 after a decades-long detour through Milan and Madrid and now lie in her family's simple crypt. Until recently, her late husband Juan Perón was buried across town at the less regal Chacarita Cemetery, a vast necropolis built during the city's 1871 yellow fever epidemic. Peronist party loyalists have since moved his remains to a grand mausoleum at El General's former home in the rural town of San Vicente.
Open daily 7 am to 5:45 pm.
Buenos Aires and its suburbs form one of the world's largest metropolitan regions and its throbbing heart—all commercial bustle and sensory overload—is the Centro. The area hinges on the Plaza de Mayo, home of the Casa Rosada, and it includes the teeming pedestrian mall of Calle Florida, the theater row along Avenida Corrientes (the Broadway of B.A.), the nearly 500-foot-wide Avenida 9 de Julio, the soaring (if somewhat pointless) Obelisco, and the magnificent Teatro Colón, one of the world's great opera houses. For a respite, duck into Café Tortoni on the rambla-like Avenida de Mayo for a quick cortado (espresso cut with milk).
Tel: 54 11 4361 3002
In 1985, local businessman Jorge Eckstein bought a semiabandoned San Telmo town house built in the 1830s by the wealthy Miguens family. While dredging accumulated silt and sludge from the basement, he discovered a network of tunnels dating from the 1580s, the years in which Spanish adventurer Juan de Garay founded Buenos Aires in the Río de la Plata marshland. After a detailed restoration, the labyrinth of ancient dwellings, cisterns, creeks, and courtyards now functions as a private archaeology museum and offbeat event space.—Colin Barraclough
Open Mondays through Fridays 11 am to 4 pm, Sundays 1 pm to 6 pm.
The pillars of rural Argentinean life are its estancias, ranches built by the owners of sprawling properties on the fabled pampa. Many were established by 19th-century European immigrants, who mimicked the idiosyncratic country houses of their fatherlands by decking them out in the style of French châteaux, English Tudor piles, or Italianate villas. Some still remain in the hands of their founding families, who offset high maintenance costs by accepting paying guests. Standards vary greatly, but a handful do get it right, providing an unparalleled view of gaucho culture, authentic country cuisine, and the chance to gallop across the pampa into the sunset.
The following properties lie within a three-hour drive of the capital:
Estancia El Rocío
San Miguel del Monte
Tel: 54 2271 420 488
Stables and polo attract a horse-loving crowd to El Rocío, an exclusive, pastel-washed ranchito with a level of service rarely found in Argentinean country homes. Nonriders can also enjoy its 400-acre parkland, swimming pool, and French-influenced gourmet cuisine.
El Ombú de Areco
San Antonio de Areco
Tel: 54 23 2649 2080
Gauchos have been hitching their mounts to this estancia's namesake—a giant ombú tree (Phytolacca dioica) that presides over the lush 750-acre grounds (including two swimming pools)—for over a century. El Ombú's main attraction is the chance to observe (or participate in) the workaday life of managing the estancia's stock of Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle.
Avenida Lisandro de la Torre at Avenida de los Corrales
Tel: 54 11 4342 9629
The gaucho spirit lives on at this Sunday fair in the outlying barrio of Mataderos, a 30-minute cab ride from downtown B.A. It's the ideal place to soak up some rodeo-style horse antics, chow down on choripan (grilled sausage on a bun, the Argentinean version of a hot dog), and wander the endless craft booths in search of a perfect maté gourd (the traditional vessel for drinking a highly caffeinated local herb tea) or that horse-hoof ashtray you've always dreamed of.
Open Sundays 11 am to 8 pm, March through December.
Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo
Tel: 54 11 4778 2800
Argentina has always been mad about thoroughbreds, and this palatial racetrack is an embodiment of that enduring ardor: Growing out of the original 1876 grandstand, the Hipódromo's opulent shell was designed by French architect Louis Faure-Dujarric and completed in 1908. The place can accommodate an impressive 100,000 fans of what the Argentines—in British fashion, since the sport was introduced here by Britons—call "turf." The top racing event is the annual Gran Premio Nacional each November.
3951 Santa Fe
Tel: 54 11 4831 4527
This welcoming green haven, built by the prolific French-Argentine landscape architect Carlos Thays in 1898, is an ideal place for a Sunday-afternoon ramble. With its meandering lanes, Romulus and Remus statue, assorted fountains, and greenhouse brought back from the 1900 Paris Exhibition, the Botanical Garden mixes charming Beaux Arts–built elements with 8,000 varieties of global flora (and a robust smattering of feral cats), ranging from the flowering angiospermae (magnolias, et al) to orchids to the park's conversation piece, an ultrarare Chinese Tree of Gold. The garden's recently restored brick mansion, in which Thays's family once lived, now houses an art gallery. Bilingual experts lead guided visits (Fridays 10:30 am, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays at 10:30 am and 3:30 pm) and, once a month, an atmospheric night tour (last Friday of each month, 9 pm).
Avenida Casares at Avenida Figueroa Alcorta
Tel: 54 11 4804 4922
Buenos Aires is one of the greenest of world metropolises, with avenidas, calles, and plazas generously planted with grand, locustlike tipas (the branches look like antlers), lavender-blossomed jacarandas, elephantine ombúes, and majestic London planes. The Parque Tres de Febrero, designed by Carlos Thays and nicknamed the "Palermo Woods," is a sylvan retreat whose most inviting corner is the Jardín Japonés, a whimsical preserve of Japanese flora, from black pines to ginkgos, set amid pagodas, ornamental bridges, and lakes brimming with well-fed golden koi. Be sure to take some green tea in the traditional teahouse overlooking the Zen garden.
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
The salty old harbor of La Boca—with its working-class swagger, old-school cantinas, and copious graffiti—is thought to be the barrio where 19th-century Genovese immigrants first danced the tango. Modern-day practitioners can be seen strutting their stuff along the rainbow-hued alleyway known as Caminito, La Boca's open-air museum, art gallery, and souvenir market (see above). It's a total tourist trap, but an irresistible one that even the locals profess a grudging affection for. La Boca is also the stomping ground of Boca Juniors, the beloved soccer powerhouse whose stadium, La Bombonera (805 Brandsen), makes up the center—spiritual as well as geographic—of the neighborhood.
3415 Figueroa Alcorta
Tel: 54 11 4808 6500
This sleek modernist slab on the edge of Palermo Chico—the choice address of B.A.'s television personalities and diplomats—was designed by a triumvirate of young Argentinean architects and opened to deserved fanfare in September 2001. It houses the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires/Colección Costantini, better known as MALBA, a museum and performance space devoted to Latin American art from the exalted likes of Fernando Botero, Miguel Covarrubias, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera. Homegrown faves are also represented here, including Clorindo Testa, the artist-turned-architect who created B.A.'s provocative Biblioteca Nacional (National Library).
Open Mondays noon to 8 pm, Wednesdays noon to 9 pm, Thursdays to Sundays noon to 8 pm.
Popularized by Argentina's gauchos, the hard-living cowboys of the fertile Pampas, yerba maté has become an Argentine obsession. The bitter infusion is derived from the leaves of the yerba plant, which grows widely in the steamy forests of northeastern Argentina. Aficionados—and all Argentines claim to be aficionados—place the dried yerba leaves in an ornamental gourd known as a maté, infuse them in hot (but not boiling) water, and suck the resulting brew through a metal straw, or bombilla. The surrounding ritual is complex and rife with debates about its idiosyncrasies, but maté consumption transcends barriers of class and race, providing the focus for daytime gatherings of family and friends. For an outsider, it's not easy to join the true circle of maté drinkers—it's usually best to enlist the help of friendly locals. Failing that, it is possible to order maté at the following venues:
La Provisión de Enciso
3909 Fernandez de Enciso
Tel: 54 11 4504 8283
Set back from a charming plaza in Devoto, a self-contained barrio in the western part of Buenos Aires, this neighborhood parrilla steakhouse offers a full maté service every afternoon (4 to 7:30 pm), along with all the necessary paraphernalia, including a tin kettle, gourd, metal straw, savory nibbles, and strong yerba leaves. Owner Juan Carlos Cremona is usually on hand to explain the ritual's unwritten rules to first-timers.
La Peña del Colorado
Tel: 54 11 4822 1038
This popular folk-music venue serves maté with chipá, or cassava bread rolls, in the afternoons (Mondays through Saturdays from 3 to 7 pm), with a second sitting when performances end around midnight.
Tel: 54 11 4804 0449
While purists would sneer at the maté listo (made from a travelers' kit of throwaway plastic), this landmark Recoleta café is nonetheless popular for its people-watching and the vast, 200-year-old gomero tree that overhangs its terrace.
Tel: 54 11 4807 0306
Great controversy still surrounds the life of Eva Duarte, who rose from humble beginnings to become a star actress and wife of the populist dictator Juan Perón. Argentines rarely celebrate her memory in public, but visitors can trace her life story at the Museo Evita, run by the same social-work foundation that Evita, as she is best known, herself established. The well-presented collection includes Eva's luxurious gowns displayed alongside photographs that depict her wearing them at state events, her first paycheck as a struggling actress, and official records from school, church, and state. An authentic curio is Eva's national ID card, numbered 00-000-001—the first issued to a woman in Argentina. Evita-label wine and copies of her autobiography, La Razón de mi Vida (My Mission in Life), are on sale in the souvenir shop.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 7 pm.
Tel: 54 11 4806 8306
Since 1937, this stunning neoclassical mansion, formerly the Palacio Errázuriz, has operated as a museum devoted to the decorative arts. (It was declared an official historic landmark in 1998.) Built in 1911 by French architect René Sergent for a Buenos Aires power couple (Josefina de Alvear and Matías Errázuriz Ortúzar), the house continues to wow visitors by providing a peek into just how good Argentina's filthy rich once had it. But there are also some 4,000 amazing objets to go along with the eye-popping architecture, including an arresting El Greco in the 54-by-64-foot Gran Hall. Check out the spiffy café, formerly the palace's gatehouse.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 2 to 7 pm.
Tel: 54 11 5288 9900
The terra-cotta-colored Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a former pump house in the city's waterworks system, opened its doors in 1933 and remains Argentina's number-one fine arts museum. With 32 galleries and 11,000 individual works, the institution features an impressive collection of Argentinean art to go along with paintings, drawings, and sculptures from such international big names as Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Vincent van Gogh, and Jackson Pollock.
Open Tuesdays through Fridays 12:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9:30 am to 8:30 pm.
Palermo is B.A.'s largest barrio, and, with its numerous sub-barrios and 350 acres of parkland, it feels like a city unto itself. There's the wonderful Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays with its frisky population of feral cats; the century-old Palermo polo grounds; and the palatial Hipódromo Argentino (4101 Libertador), a thoroughbred racecourse that makes Churchill Downs look like a shotgun shack. But the real action goes down in Palermo Viejo, the hipster hangout centered around Plazoleta Cortázar and subdivided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood, an area of tipa-lined streets, designer-soap emporiums, cocktail bars, and cutting-edge bistros like the Scandinavian-themed Ølsen. The outlying Las Cañitas is a throbbing nightlife zone popular with pub-crawling yuppies and out-past-curfew teens.
The grassy Plaza de Mayo is B.A.'s village green. Originally laid out in 1580, the plaza was the site of the important uprising against Spanish rule that blew up on May 25, 1810 (thus the name). These days, the Plaza de Mayo plays host to countless tourists, a healthy pigeon population, and, every Thursday afternoon at 3:30 pm, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the activist-mothers who have protested the desaparecidos ("disappeared") of Argentina's 1976–1983 Dirty War for 20 years. At the Plaza de Mayo's center, one finds the Pirámide de Mayo, an obelisk commemorating the May uprising, and the square is bordered by the impressive Banco de la Nación, the old colonial Cabildo (town hall) and the Casa Rosada.
The heart of San Telmo, formerly the playground of B.A.'s 19th-century elite, is this Spanish-style plaza, the site of several busy open-air cafés and the ever-popular Sunday afternoon Feria de San Pedro Telmo. The bustling bazaara great venue for street-level tango, where dancers throw down plywood boards over the plaza's cobblestoneshosts nearly 300 stalls stacked high with all order of antique Argentine bric-a-brac, from dolls and tango memorabilia to leather goods and gaucho-inspired curios.
Perched on a high bluff, the picturesque Plaza San Martín is one of B.A.'s most recognizable landmarks and a popular rendezvous point. Laid out by the indefatigable Carlos Thays, the park is planted with more than 300 trees, including a towering stand of tipas and what might be the city's most illustrious plant citizen: an absolutely Brobdingnagian gomero tree, complete with straining supports to keep the branches—some as thick as a car—aloft. Borges used to love to wander here, as do modern-day porteños, who thrill to the view of the Big Ben–like Torre de los Ingleses.
Campo Argentino de Polo
Avenue del Libertador at Dorrego
Tel: 54 11 4777 6444
Argentina is of course one of polo's global hot spots, and the action really heats up in November (BA's springtime), with the storied, century-old Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo (Argentinean Open). The stately Campo de Polo is set like a jewel in the heart of Palermo's expansive parklands, with a seating capacity of 45,000. It's a pleasant way to while away an afternoon, even if you could care less about chukkas or mallets.
It's still shocking to many porteños that Puerto Madero—once a run-down dock area—has now surpassed Recoleta as B.A.'s highest-rent district. It's a barrio that didn't even officially exist until 1994, when massive renewal transformed a jumble of derelict brick warehouses and deserted streets into the TriBeCa of South America. These days, the four diques (locks) that define the old port are home to Cabaña Las Lilas, the best steakhouse in Argentina; Santiago Calatrava's lyrelike suspension bridge, Puente de la Mujer; and Faena Hotel + Universe, the mind-bogglingly over-the-top hotel that design superstar Philippe Starck carved out of a 1902 industrial grain warehouse.
The tony enclave of Recoleta feels like the 16th arrondissement of Paris or Manhattan's Upper East Side. Its leafy streets are lined with ornate townhouses, Polo and Cartier outposts, the occasional embassy and, at its heart, the posh fortress of the Alvear Palace Hotel. Recoleta's most famous resident remains Evita Perón, who, oblivious to her daily cavalcade of visitors, rests in peace at the must-see Cementerio de la Recoleta, a 13-acre necropolis founded in 1822. Avenida del Libertador, a wide parkway, leads to B.A.'s own museum mile, featuring the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, a former Belle Époque palace.
1550 Tristán Archával Rodríguez
Accessible from calles Viamonte or Brasil, on the riverward side of Puerto Madero, the expansive Costanera Sur ecological reserve—built over a landfill—feels worlds away from the urban hubbub of Buenos Aires. A sprawling expanse of wetlands filled with foxtail pampas grass, the reserve is the kind of place where you're likely to encounter some of its 200 bird species and a handful of lizards sharing their habitat with joggers, bikers, and picnicking weekenders. The monthly "Walking Under the Full Moon" tours are a special treat.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 8 am to 6 pm (April through October), Tuesdays through Sundays 8 am to 7 pm (November through March).
Given the Río de la Plata's importance to Argentina's maritime trade, it's odd that Buenos Aires turns its back on the widest estuary in the world. (True, the Plata's shallow waters are chocolate brown, thanks to sediment scoured by its tributaries, and tricky tides add to the challenge of navigating its waters.) Aquatic activities concentrated in the Zona Norte are nonetheless increasingly popular, where enthusiasts strike out on sailboards, wakeboards, and surf skis. Motorboats and yachts can also be rented in the nearby town of Tigre for a cruise in the Paraná Delta, where 4,000 square miles of tiny bamboo-strewn islands are divided by hundreds of channels, canals, and tributaries. A handful of sailboat operators also rent fully crewed yachts from Puerto Madero in the city center.
Moored in Puerto Madero, Smile on Sea's 32-foot yachts are manned by experienced skippers and can be chartered for half-day sails on the Río de la Plata, providing a waterborne vista of the Buenos Aires skyline. On balmy days, consider leaving at dusk for an on-deck sundowner and night-time return to harbor. Longer outings include a full-day cruise to the Paraná Delta or an overnight crossing to Colonia del Sacramento, a former Portuguese colonial settlement on Uruguay's shoreline.
San Antonio de Areco
A popular weekend escape and a mere 70 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, the sleepy outpost of San Antonio de Areco is the place to get in touch with your inner gaucho. The town, which sprouted up in the 1720s along the main road to Peru, was once perched on the border between Spanish territory and uncharted native lands, and the frontier feeling survives. There are cobblestone streets, rustic one-story buildings, traditional parrillas (steakhouses), and even a museum devoted to gaucho history and culture (Museo Gauchesco Ricardo Güiraldes). Best of all, San Antonio de Areco (easily reachable by bus from B.A.) is surrounded by endless grassy plains—those famed pampas that have fed untold generations of blue-ribbon Argentine cattle. To get the most out of this cow town, check in at one of the many estancias (ranches) scattered around the surrounding country. These outback retreats were once (or may still be) the gracious country homes of Argentina's cattle barons and landed aristocracy. They range in architectural style from adobe fortresses to French château to Tudor mansions, and they meld the manorlike gentility of the great English country houses (à la Brideshead Revisited) with the cowboy spirit of, say, Ponderosa.
With its faded Italianate tenements (once the mansions of the Buenos Aires upper-crust) and cobbled calles, San Telmo is one of the most atmospheric of B.A.'s 48 barrios. Every Sunday, Plaza Dorrego hosts the Feria de San Pedro Telmo, a lively urban bazaar full of antique stalls and impromptu tango. (The neighborhood is known for its abundant antique dealers.) During the week, the plaza, with its outdoor cafés, becomes an ideal oasis for a coffee or an ice-cold Quilmes, the Budweiser of Argentina.
There's a slew of teams around Buenos Aires, one of the great soccer towns, but Club Atlético Boca Juniors, dating back to 1905, is the one that inspires the maddest devotion. After all, Boca launched Diego Maradona, the compact dynamo who won a couple of World Cups for Argentina before heading into a star-crossed retirement, complete with drug abuse and a near-overdose of empanadas. You can catch Boca Juniors—clad in iconic blue and yellow, a color combo seen all over B.A.—at the beloved stadium known as La Bombonera ("the bonbon box"; capacity 49,000). Be sure to duck into the adjoining, and highly amusing, Museo de la Pasión Boquense, devoted to all things Boca.
If the salty Boca Juniors represent B.A.'s proud working class, their archrivals, River Plate, whose fans are known as Los Millionarios, represent the other extreme. El Estadio Monumental, River's state-of-the-art home, lives up to its name: It's the largest soccer facility in Argentina (capacity 57,921); it's safe and provides an actual seat to each paying hincha (fan). Wherever you go in Buenos Aires—or in Argentina, for that matter—be prepared to answer the question of whom you support, River or Boca. (You can always answer "Independiente," the third team in the contentious pecking order of Argentine fútbol.)