Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, has held a favourable position on the South American continent for hundreds of years.It continues today as the city in which visitors generally arrive to begin their Argentina tour. As long ago as 1776 the Spanish decreed that it should be a capital city of the vice-royalty, acknowledging the importance of its position, geographically speaking. Since then it has been on a roller-coaster ride which has only settled down in the last few years and may not yet have come to a complete stop.
Having been a central arrival point for immigrants, both rich and poor, Buenos Aires combines many things – great wealth and great poverty, a rich variety of colonial architecture, as well as other styles, and both European and Latin American influences and ways of life. With all of these elements present in one city, you could well believe that Buenos Aires represents the best and the worst of Latin America, all crammed into a city with a population of over thirteen million people.
When it comes to sightseeing you may find yourself spoilt for choice, but in a city this old which has had so much money come and go through its various inhabitants, there is truly something for everyone. Whether you are into sports, dancing, art, architecture, theatre, food and drink, or just want to go shopping, you can find something to keep yourself amused in Buenos Aires at almost any hour of the day or night.
A citizen of Buenos Aires is known within Argentina as a porteño and is referred to as “an Italian who speaks Spanish, lives in a French house and thinks he is English”thereby demonstrating various European influences on the city and the country as a whole.
Central Buenos Aires
The centre of Buenos Aires, referred to as the microcentro, is where any architecture buff should go to have a look around. The style is often in keeping with 19th century Europe, particularly demonstrating French architectural styles, and you will be surprised in general at how unlike other Latin American countries Buenos Aires feels. The huge influx over the years of foreign immigrants and the money that the country’s natural resources has provided the wealthy meant that many could afford to emulate home and did so, preferring to remember where they came from, than where they had gone to.
History and architecture combine here to give you an intense feeling of Latin American history in the making. The Museo del Cabildo is an 18th century building and includes the only remains of the colonial arches that used to surround the Plaza de Mayo. The Catedral Metropolitana is home to the remains of José de San Martín, one of the famed liberators of Latin America. Any fan of Evita will want to see the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, where the lady herself used to speak to the crowds in the 1940s. There is also a museum attached to the palace on its southern side where you can take tours of the catacombs of a ruined colonial building which originally stood on the site. The Teatro Colon is one of the world´s greatest opera houses built in 1908 and a testament to the city´s former wealth with sumptuous decoration throughout.
Fancy some tango on your Argentina tour?
Of course, you cannot come to Buenos Aires and not experience the world-famous tango. Classes are easily found, but to see the dance itself you don’t have to wait until nighttime when the clubs open. Strolling around the streets of San Telmo, where the dance originated and the tango centre of the city, you will no doubt find various couples entertaining passing tourists with their skills in the dance. One theory concerning the tango is that it developed in the brothels of the city – since the sailors and the “ladies” didn’t necessarily speak the same language, the lady in question would dance what was on offer. Anyone who has ever seen a tango demonstration will admit that while this story may not necessarily be true, you can understand how it might be.
Something a little out of the ordinary in Buenos Aires, and something it has in common with Paris – a very famous cemetery. The Cementerio de la Recoleta houses generation after generation of the city’s most well-heeled inhabitants in an impressive collection of tombs and sarcophagi. You only have to follow everyone else in order to find Evita’s last resting-place.
This cosmopolitan city has something for every type of tourist, from free entertainment found while you walk the streets, to world-class cultural offerings in theatre, opera and music. As with any large city, you can also find a huge variety of food here, although be aware that the emphasis lies heavily on steak, fitting in with Argentina’s reputation for producing beef which is among the best on the planet. That said, it is entirely possible to find vegetarian food, you just have to look around for it. The internet is a good source of such information and you can easily find a few vegetarian or other options that way.
If you came to Buenos Aires with shopping in mind, don’t worry. As one of the richest cities in Latin America, Buenos Aires has everything from Armani to $1 street stalls. Old Palermo can offer you anything in the really up-market category, but if you want to get in touch with something a little more local, try the Feria de Mataderos. It will take you quite a while to get there as it is nowhere near the centre, but you can get a flavour of the country through the traditional dances and the gauchos, riding through the streets as though they were back on the pampas, herding cattle instead of people.
In addition to the many sites within the city itself, birdwatchers and those simply wanting a stroll will love the nature reserve by the old docks. A popular day trip out of town is to take the train from Retiro station to the pleasant town of Tigre on the Parana delta, from where you can take a boat trip through the tributaries where many porteños have second homes on the numerous islets.
Buenos Aires is a huge city and can offer something for everyone and every budget, due to its enormously varied influences and traditions. In order to do this city justice you should really aim to spend at least a couple of free days here and give yourself time to explore, or just wander around aimlessly and experience sights you will find nowhere else in the world.
The city is the gateway to Argentina with international flights arriving from all over the world and of course the country´s principal domestic flight hub. Argentina is a vast country so internal flights are necessary to get around. From Buenos Aires you can reach all the principal destinations such as the amazing Iguassu Falls, Mendoza and the wine country, Peninsular Valdes, Calafate in Patagonia and Ushuaia at the end of the earth in Tierra Del Fuego.