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Buenos Aires Spotlight

Argentina's cosmopolitan capital is sophisticated & sensual – and excellent value

By David Appell

August 15th, 2006

The most architecturally handsome capital in Latin America (and possibly the hemisphere) Buenos Aires is a brash, exciting, 10-million-person jumble of contradictions, its 50-some neighborhoods sprawling over nearly 80 square miles where Argentina's extensive pampas (grasslands) meet the Río de la Plata where it opens into the Atlantic. At once overwhelming and intimate, energetic and laid-back, beautiful and homely, Buenos Aires is a city in full, and a fantastic place to play tourist.

The city is a truly cosmopolitan destination, with a mix of architectural styles – from grandiose 19th-century Parisian knockoffs to 21-century minimalist spaces; a varied dining scene that ranges from steakhouses to sophisticated fusion; over 100 fascinating museums showcasing the expected and the unusual; great shopping – especially for some of the most creative leatherwear and shoes on the planet – and loads of culture, from top-drawer symphonies and classical performances to avant-garde productions. And let's not forget the most famous Buenos Aires invention of all – the tango – which has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late among local porteños (as Buenos Aires residents are known) and visitors.

If that weren't enough, almost everything the city has to offer can be had at an amazing price – you can get primo opera tickets for $10; a meal at the most upscale restaurants in town for $30 (the same price as a fine pair of locally made leather shoes); a room in an elegant boutique hotel for $80; or a one-bedroom apartment in trendy San Telmo for $40,000. Of course, one of the main reasons for said values is the lingering effects of Argentina's 2001 economic collapse. Families lost more than half their savings overnight, and not a few porteños left the country to seek greener pastures in Spain and the United States. While the experience has knocked the infamous porteño superiority complex down a peg or two, it hasn't done it in for good. And when you visit Buenos Aires for yourself, you'll immediately understand why the locals are so proud.

If you have three days, start with a city orientation tour and spend the rest of your time exploring downtown (Microcentro) and Recoleta. If you have five to seven days, make a point of visiting boho San Telmo, trendy Palermo, and tango-and-soccer-infused La Boca; you might also consider a day trip to explore the ranches and gaucho (cowboy) culture of the pampas, pop across the river to neighboring Uruguay, or take the train up to the natural charms of the Tigre delta area.

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