By: David Appell
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.
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.
There are 47 official neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, but only five main areas are of interest to most visitors: those closest to the Río de la Plata, from La Boca in the south up to Palermo in the north, with Plaza de Mayo, Microcento, and Recoleta in between.
Do get started with an orientation tour. Reliable companies that run bus tours include Buenos Aires Visión (www.buenosaires-vision.com.ar) and Travel Line (www.travelline.com.ar). Once you've gotten your bearings, hone in on specific interests with numerous walking tours; the city-run circuits (www.bue.gov.ar) dedicated to art, architecture, Evita Perón, tango legend Carlos Gardel, and more have the added advantage of being free. For shopping, check out Curiocity (www.curiocity.com.ar); for tango, try ABC Tango Tours (www.abctango.com); Tango With Judy (www.tangowithjudy.com); or Tanguera Tours (www.tangueratours.com). For a more general nightlife tour (including tango clubs among other nightspots), a good option is the Tour Nocturno (www.tour-nocturno.com.ar).
For additional information, the Argentina Government Tourist Office (212/603-0443; www.turismo.gov.ar) is reachable from the United States; the city tourism web site (www.bue.gov.ar) is also a good source of information. For the latest local news, refer to the English-language Buenos Aires Herald (www.buenosairesherald.com).
Plaza de Mayo, Puerto Madero & Microcentro
A good a place to start your tour of the city is in it's oldest square, Plaza de Mayo, which dates from the 1580s and is rife with Buenos Aires history. Try to time your visit for 3:30pm on Thursday to witness members of the famous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo; www.madres.org) – whose signature headscarves have been rendered in the square's cobblestones – marching and pontificating as they have since 1976, in protest against the rampant kidnappings and killings of so-called dissident citizens during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983; today the issue involves the unaccounted fate of the 500 or so children born to some of the victims.
Even if you don't visit the square on a Thursday, there is still plenty to see here, the most compelling attraction being, of course, the Casa Rosada (the pink house), where Juan and Evita Perón riled up the crowds from the front balcony (and where the current president works, but doesn't live); a small museum on the south side (Calle Hipólito Yrigoyen 219; Mon-Fri 10am-6m, Sun 2-6pm; free; www.museo.gov.ar) houses presidential exhibits through 1976 (plus a good dose of Evita material as well), but try to arrive at 11am or 4pm, when free tours are given of the mansion's public areas (call ahead to arrange a tour in English). On the opposite side is the pre-independence Cabildo, site of the city council from 1580 to 1821; today it houses several small history exhibits (Calle Bolívar 65; Tue–Fri 10.30-5pm, Sun 11:30-6pm; $1). Across the way, do duck inside the 1827 neoclassical Catedral Metropolitana (Calle Rivadavia, Mon–Fri 8am-7pm, Sat & Sun 9am-7.30pm, tours daily 11.30am and 4pm) to admire its elegant, understated interior and the 1880 tomb of General José de San Martín, the Argentine equivalent to George Washington.
Heading from Plaza de Mayo towards a canal off Río de la Plata, you'll come across a gentrified red-brick warehouse complex known as Puerto Madero (www.puertomadero.com) that's best known for its many superb restaurants (see Where to Eat), as well as the modern Hilton behind it (see Where to Stay). But there are a couple of interesting attractions here, too, like the Puente de la Mujer (bridge of womankind), a dramatic, sweeping suspension bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and inaugurated in 2001, and the Fragata Sarmiento (Dique 3; daily 9am–8pm; 2 pesos), an 1897 frigate once used to train Argentine naval cadets, but which now houses a nautical museum.
West of the Plaza de Mayo, and away from the water, is the mega, 16-lane Avenida 9 de Julio, whose centerpiece, Plaza de la República, is centered around the iconic 220-foot Obelisco, which was built in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city's founding. A couple of blocks to the north is the equally impressive Teatro Colón (Calle Cerrito 618; 1hr tours at 11am, 1pm & 3pm; 12 pesos; www.teatrocolon.org.ar), a sumptuous theater built in 1908; its acoustics are so superb that opera, symphonies, and ballet are performed without amplification of any kind.
North of the Plaza de Mayo and east of the Obelisco is the Microcentro, the city's bustling business and shopping area where commerce, not culture, is the main draw. Head down Avenida Corrientes – one of its main drags – and you're likely to feel like you're on New York's Broadway, what with all the theaters here. Window-shoppers should make a beeline for two pedestrian streets, the long Calle Florida and the shorter, intersecting Calle Lavalle (pronounced "la-vie-jay"), but keep in mind that, while prices at the many leather and shoe shops here are low by North American standards, you'll find even better deals outside of downtown (see Shopping). Even if you're not into shopping, it's worth stopping by Galerías Pacífico (Calle Florida 750; www.galeriaspacifico.com.ar) all the same; this elegantly modernized Gilded Age building dates from 1891. There is one museum of interest in this part of town, however, and that's the Museo Mitre (Calle San Martín 336; Mon-Fri 12-6pm; 1 peso; www.museomitre.gov.ar), set in the former home of the mid-19th-century president Bartolomé Mitre; while there's no collection of note, the handful of recreated rooms evoke a sense of the man's 1800s lifestyle.
Northwest of Microcento and the Plaza de Mayo lies Recoleta, Buenos Aires' most exclusive neighborhood. The leafy avenues here not only exemplify the city's moniker of Paris of South America, but also lead to the mausoleum that harbors its most famous citizen, Evita Perón.
For a one-stop Paris sampler, stroll Avenida Alvear, where chic boutiques share real-estate with palatial manses reminiscent of Hauptman's Paris and the ritzier parts of uptown Manhattan (indeed, this is one part of the city where prices and rents are more in line with those two cities than with Buenos Aires) and pop into the Alvear Palace Hotel at no. 1891 (see Where to Stay) to gawk at the soaring, gilded dining areas and lobby bar, where even Louis XIV would have felt right at home.
Three blocks down is the 13.5-acre Cementerio de la Recoleta (Calle Junín 1760; daily 8am–6pm; free; www.cementeriorecoleta.com.ar), a cemetery that dates from 1822 and ranks alongside Paris' Père Lachaise in terms of splendor and artistry. Over 6000 elaborate, above-ground tombs and mausoleums belonging to Argentina's illustrious and wealthy line the paved streets here, but the one you're most likely to recognize is that of María Eva Duarte (better known as Evita Perón). While her family's vault isn't the most remarkable of the lot, it still attracts throngs of tourists. On your way out, stop into Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a 1732 church with impressive cloisters.
Two fine museums round out the offerings here: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum; Avenida del Libertador 1473; Tue–Fri 12.30-7.30pm, Sat & Sun 9.30am–7.30pm; free; www.mnba.org.ar) puts the accent on Argentine artists like Eduardo Sívori and Xul Solar, but also showcases plenty of international names like Degas, Goya, Miró, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh. Nearby, the country's decorative arts museum, Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo (Decorative Arts Museum; Avenida del Libertador 1902; Jan–Feb Tues–Sat 2–7pm, Mar–Dec Tues–Sun 2–7pm; 8 pesos; www.mnad.org), is set in an extravagant 1917 mansion and includes works by Rodin, Lalique, and Saunier.
Recoleta gives way to a sprawling area known as Palermo (www.palermonline.com.ar), a neighborhood that's so vast, in fact, that its many subsections are tagged with qualifiers (Palermo Chico, Viejo, Hollywood, Soho, and so forth). This is where, among other attractions, you'll find the Japanese Garden (Avenida Figueroa Alcorta; daily 10am–6pm; 3 pesos; www.jardinjapones.com); the city planetarium (Avenida Sarmiento; Mon-Fri 9am–6pm, Sat & Sun 2–8pm; 4 pesos; www.planetario.gov.ar); the 18-hectare zoo (Avenida Las Heras; Tue–Sun 10am–6pm; 8 pesos); botanical garden (Avenida Las Heras; daily 8am–6pm; free); a museum of modern Argentine art, the Museo de Artes Plásticas Eduardo Sívori (Avenida de la Infanta Isabel 555; Tue–Fri noon–7pm, Sat & Sun 10am–7pm; 3 pesos, free Wed; www.museosivori.org.ar), and another dedicated to Latin America as a whole, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, which everybody calls simply MALBA (Figueroa Alcorta 3415; Thu–Mon noon–8pm, Wed noon–9pm; 10 pesos, free Wed; www.malba.org.ar). The recently opened Museo Evita (Calle Lafinur 2988; Tue–Sun 2–7.30pm; 5 pesos; www.evitaperon.org), established with the aide of Eva Perón's family and partisans, tries (not always successfully) to be evenhanded in its depictions of this towering figure of 20th-century Argentina.
Down south of Plaza de Mayo, be prepared for a change of pace in San Telmo, the city's "gaslight district" that's retained its narrow cobblestoned streets, photogenic colonial buildings, and relatively low rents, which means a certain boho vibe now mixes with the blue collars of generations past. It's the city's most charming neighborhood to stay in, as it's mostly quiet and laid-back, with good dining, antiquing, museums, tango joints, and small hotels (with no big chains yet).
Sundays find the neighborhood at its liveliest, as the streets around the venerable, tree-lined Plaza Dorrego (Avenida Defensa/Humberto Primo) are overtaken by antiques booths for the Feria de San Telmo (10am–5pm); don't worry, plenty of antique shops and markets are open throughout the week here, too (see Shopping). Other area draws include the impressive blue onion-domed Santísima Trinidad Russian Orthodox cathedral (Avenida Brasil 315; Sat 5–8.30pm, Sun 10am–12.30pm) and a trio of museums, namely: the Museo Histórico Nacional (National History Museum; Calle Defensa 1600; Tues–Sun Feb–Apr & Oct–Dec 11am–6pm, May–Sep 11am–5pm, closed Jan; free; www.cultura.gov.ar), colonial mansion housing a wealth of historical art and artifacts; the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (Avenida San Juan 350; Mon–Fri 1–8pm, Sun 11–8pm; 3 pesos, free Wed), a modern art museum set in a red-brick former tobacco factory; and, our personal favorite, the modest Museo Penitenciario (Humberto Primo 378; Tue-Fri 2–5pm, Sun noon–6pm; 1 peso), a former 18th-century women's penitentiary that depicts prison conditions in those days.
Rough around the edges but compelling all the same, La Boca is the last major part of town you shouldn't miss. Bordering San Telmo on the southeast side and named for its location at "the mouth" of a tributary called Riachuelo (a river which is unfortunately utterly unremarkable, having been used to dispose of industrial waste), the neighborhood's narrow, tree-lined streets still give a taste of the working-class neighborhood that descended from 19th- and early-20th century immigrants from Spain and Italy (especially Genoa).
Admittedly, things have been somewhat gussied up for tourists on and around La Boca's most famous street, the one-block-long El Caminito, the "little street" that owes its name to a famous tango and which is lined with colorful houses made of corrugated metal. While it can be a bit of a circus here – you're likely to have to dodge couples tangoing for cash and artisans hawking their wares – we always try and remember that El Caminito and La Boca are the real deal, regardless of how touristy they've become. If you have time to spare, also consider visiting the Museo de Bellas Artes de La Boca (Avenida Pedro de Mendoza 1835; Tue–Fri 10am–6pm, Sat & Sun 11am–6pm; 1 peso), for its collection of modern Argentine paintings, and the Museo de la Pasión Boquense (Calle Brandsen 805; daily 10am–6pm, 20 pesos including stadium tour; www.museoboquense.com), which chronicles the neighborhood and its much-adored resident soccer team, the Boca Juniors.
Argentina is chock-full of extraordinary outings beyond Buenos Aires. However, keep in mind that while there is much to see in the rest of the country, Argentina is vast, and many of its treasures require long bus rides or flights between them. But there are several nearby destinations that can easily be visited in a day – and make great overnights, too, should time permit.
Besides the tango, the gaucho (cowboy) is probably the most recognizable of Argentine icons, and the subject of the defining work of Argentine literature, Martín Fierro (1872). Set on the vast grasslands of cattle ranches that cover much of the province beyond Buenos Aires, you can get a good taste of the towns and their ranch culture in about an hour's drive from the capital. The handsome 19th-century city of La Plata (www.laplata.gov.ar), about 30 miles from Buenos Aires, is a worthy destination of its own accord but, if your time is limited, you should head directly to the much older town of San Antonio de Areco (www.arecoturismo.com.ar ), about 70 miles out, where dozens of estancias (ranches) are open to visitors. We particularly recommend the Estancia El Ombœ de Areco, an 1880 manse with nine rooms and a pool (www.estanciaelombu.com), and Estancia La Bamba, a 12-roomer dating back to 1830 (www.la-bamba.com.ar); day passes at both generally start at US$40 while overnights go for around US$110 per person. The full list of area ranches is available online at www.estanciasargentinas.com.
Tigre & Paraná Delta
Nature-lovers might consider an even closer jaunt, via the Tren de la Costa (www.trendelacosta.com.ar) train that whisks visitors and locals alike off to a popular porteño weekend getaway in the town of Tigre (www.tigre.gov.ar). The local market hosts a crafts fair, a couple of small museums focus on the Argentine navy and coast guard, and an amusement park (www.parquedelacosta.com) also makes for good distraction. The main reason to come, however, is the area's marshy river delta, where a boat cruise will take you to see a slew of pretty islands presided over by houses perched on stilts. An inexpensive water bus and charters abound; try Barba Charters (www.barbacharters.com.ar) or Catamarán Delta & Co. (+54 (11) 4731-8435; www.puntodelta.com.ar/deltaco/), and Buenos Aires Outdoors Ecotours Paraná (+54 (11) 4797-1143; www.buenosairesoutdoors.com); you can also stay overnight on one of the islands.
How many cities can you name whose premier getaways are in another country? Few Americans know anything about it, but the small and peaceful country of Uruguay (www.turismo.gub.uy) lies right across the Río de la Plata, and its capital, Montevideo (www.montevideoinvita.com.uy), has a similarly European feel to Buenos Aires, just on a smaller, friendlier scale. While the city itself is worth visiting, one of our favorite destinations in Uruguay is La Colonia (www.colonianet.com), a laid-back riverside town at the tip of a peninsula, with a 17th-century colonial core founded by the Portuguese (not the Spaniards) that ranks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An hour away from Buenos Aires by high-speed ferry (www.buquebus.com), you'll find exquisite little cobblestone lanes, plazas, and waterfront promenades; several notable museums and a climbable lighthouse; good restaurants (the Mercado del Puerto, at Santa Rita 40, has parrilla better than many joints in Buenos Aires); and a variety of lodgings – try the Posada del Virrey (www.posadadelvirrey.com.uy) or El Mirador (www.hotelelmirador.com) if you're keen to spend the night. For a beach escape, we also recommend one of South America's premier beach resort towns, Punta del Este (www.vivapunta.com), some 45 minutes by air and five hours by boat and bus from Buenos Aires. You'll be rewarded with great beaches and nightlife, plus a good dose of Latin-style glamor.
Buenos Aires has abundant hotel choices across the city and, no matter what level of accommodation you choose, you're bound to get better value here than you would in comparable hotels in the United States, Canada, or Europe. We've listed a cross-section of ten standout hotels below; you can also sample living like a local by renting a furnished apartment or arranging a homestay, both of which are doable via website; check Apartments BA (www.apartmentsba.com); Stay in Buenos Aires (www.stayinbuenosaires.com); LivinginBAires (www.livinginbaires.com); and Friendly Apartments (www.friendlyapartments.com).
For the utmost in luxury, you can't do better than Recoleta's 210-room grand-dame, Alvear Palace (Avenida Alvear 1891; www.alvearpalace.com), which remains the gold standard when it comes to old-style opulence, with soaring ceilings, columns and gilt, and impeccable, discreet service. Amenities are very much up-to-date; there's a good gym, an inviting indoor pool, and some of the best dining in town. A bit less pricey but certainly along the same history-rich lines (and in fact predating the Alvear by 23 years) is the elegant 320-room Marriott Plaza (Calle Florida 1005; www.marriott.com), which is more convenient to downtown sights and shopping; we especially love the heated outdoor pool that overlooks a handsome plaza. Also central and luxurious, but less traditional, is the 17-story InterContinental (Calle Moreno 809; www.buenos-aires.interconti.com), which opened in 1994 (and was completely renovated in 2005) – its 309 rooms boast a classy decor meant to evoke the Perón-era deco of the 1930s; it's a short stroll to Plaza de Mayo, San Telmo, and the Calle Florida shopping area. For something a tad more cutting-edge, both in terms of look and location, consider the glass-and-steel Hilton (Calle Machaca Güemes 351; www.hilton.com); this crown jewel of the gentrified Puerto Madero area has all the amenities you'd expect of the brand, plus access to dozens of great restaurants at its doorstep.
There are far more mid-range options in Buenos Aires, and some of the values are especially impressive. Starting again in Recoleta, near the famous cemetery, you can get big-luxury-hotel treatment at moderate rates at the Hotel Emperador (Avenida del Libertador 420; www.hotel-emperador.com.ar), which manages to be both simultaneously modern and imperial in flavor. If you want to stay closer to the Plaza de Mayo, book a room at the boutique 303-room NH City (Calle Bolívar 160; www.nh-hotels.com), a restored Art Deco landmark complete with outdoor heated pool and various other trimmings; if you can't get into this hotel, try the four other NH hotels found in central Buenos Aires.
On the budget end, you may be greatly impressed by what you can get for $100 or less per night. For instance, a narrow century-old Recoleta townhouse now houses the 36-room Art Hotel (Calle Ascuenaga 1268; www.arthotel.com.ar), an intimate jewel with great, fully-equipped rooms and its own on-site art gallery. Tango aficionados would do well to consider San Telmo's 15-room Mansión Dandi Royal (Calle Piedras 922/936; www.dandiroyal.com.ar), quite possibly the city's best budget lodging; occupying an atmospheric four-story, century-old mansion with period details accented by elegant murals depicting the tango and the olden days; guests here also have access to a rooftop pool and jacuzzi – and two tango salons where lessons are available daily. Happening Palermo Soho, where the city's cutting-edge dining and nightlife is centered, also offers a good homebase at Bo Bo (Calle Guatemala 4882; www.bobohotel.com), short for "bourgeois-bohemian"; this early 20th-century mansion has just seven individually decorated rooms and a hugely popular Argentine/Italian eatery downstairs. Finally, Buenos Aires also offers good-quality hostels; one of our favorites, Portal del Sur (Calle Hipólito Yrigoyen 855; www.portaldelsurba.com.ar), occupies a handsome four-story downtown building with fab touches like a soaring central atrium, elegant brick barrel-vaulted ceilings, Art-Deco wrought ironwork, and some of the best bargain-basement rooms we've seen.
Economic crisis or not, porteños still love to dine out, and the cuisine scene has burgeoned way beyond the classic steakhouse parrilladas (though these are certainly still the most prevalent eateries), to include world cuisines, vegetarian and organic options, and unique culinary twists on local dishes, known as nouvelle Argentine. The traditional beef fare is predictably wonderful, although the preparation is very straightforward and locals are also disconcertingly fond of unusual cow parts such as intestines, brains, udders, kidneys, and testicles (if you aren't, avoid menu words like mollejas, ubre, chinchulines, morcilla, and riñón). Vegetarians, meanwhile, can go to town on an abbondanza of pastas and pizzas; indeed, while the city's gastronomy is absolutely global in scope, no cuisine is more abundant in Buenos Aires than Italian, thanks to the historic wave of Italian immigration to Argentina. Note that you'll be hard-pressed to find fast-food chains like McDonald's here.
When choosing which neighborhood to dine out in, bear in mind that Microcento is dominated by particularly good-value eateries that cater to the lunch crowd, San Telmo offers modest but tasty dining spots, and Recoleta's restaurants are correspondingly upscale, as are many of the 50-plus eateries found in Puerto Madero. Still, if there's one neighborhood to devote your taste buds to, it's Palermo (especially so Palermo Viejo and Las Cañitas), Buenos Aires' dining center par excellence, where some 500 restaurants dish out creative, traditional, and ethnic plates – and a bit of everything in between.
Foodies used to breaking the bank on haute-cuisine fare will be delighted to discover that very few restaurants in Buenos Aires can be considered expensive by US standards (meaning entrées of $25 or more). Even the top-notch, award-winning La Bourgogne (Avenida Alvear 1891; +54 (11) 4808-2100; www.alvearpalace.com) at the ritzy Alvear Palace Hotel, where chef Jean Paul Bondoux serves delectable French/continental fare with Argentine ingredients in a modern setting, is a bona fide bargain with first-rate entrées hovering at about $10. Meanwhile, the parrilla (steakhouse) that virtually everyone points to as the best in town, Puerto Madero's Cabaña Las Lilas (Alicia Moreau de Justo 516; +54 (11) 4313-1336; www.laslilas.com.ar), serves up good-size rib eye for under $20; the decor is crisp and contemporary and the service and presentation are stellar.
For a great parrilla at moderate prices, check out San Telmo's La Brigada (Calle Estados Unidos 465; +54 (11) 4361-5557), a charming down-home joint crammed with old city photos, soccer memorabilia, and patronized by everyone from local cab drivers to politicos. To taste-test your way into the nouvelle Argentine/fusion craze, head straight to Fernando Trocca's Sucre (Calle Sucre 676; +54 (11) 4782-9082; www.sucrerestaurant.com.ar), in the Belgrano neighborhood; its dramatic industrial-chic design stacks up against any Manhattan or London have to offer and its menu embellishes Argentine staples with pan-Latin touches including mango, papaya, and jalapeño. Another affordable option, Cluny (Calle El Salvador 4618; +54 (11) 4831-7176; www.cluny.com.ar) is a stylish fusion eatery in Palermo Viejo with a Euro-mod vibe. If you're keen to mangiare tasty Italian fare in South America, Bella Italia (Calle República Árabe Siria 3285; +54 (11) 4802-4253), in Palermo, is a sure bet.
For the more budget-minded, plenty of good and inexpensive eateries can be found throughout the city, particularly in neighborhoods like Microcento, that cater to office workers. Here you'll find homegrown fast-food joints, parrilladas, and even Chinese buffets, or luck out with a menú ejecutivo – a prix-fixe exective lunch – for as little as US$3–$5. Locals swear by El Palacio de la Papa Frita (Calle Lavalle 735 & 954; Avenida Corrientes 1612; Calle Laprida 1339; www.elpalacio-papafrita.com.ar), an old-style meat-and-potatoes emporium with three downtown addresses; a top cut of beef will run you around 20 pesos, a three-course meal under 30, and the house specialty – puffy fries sprinkled with garlic and parsley – under 10. Also modest but cozy is downtown's Red (Calle Tucumán 693; +54 (11) 4394-2962) and the meat-loving San Telmo institution, El Desnivel (Calle Defensa 855; +54 (11) 4300-9081), which gets very crowded at lunch hour.
You won't be surprised to learn that Buenos Aires really heats up, rocking, rolling, and of course, tangoing with a passion, after dark. Most visitors will want to have a taste of tango, which is, after all, what's helped put Argentina – and particularly Buenos Aires culture – on the map.
There are dozens of venues of varying size, slickness, price, and degree of authenticity where you can catch a performance of the sultry dance or participate and take lessons. While popular, you might opt to overlook the numerous cheesy, overpriced tourist traps epitomized by Señor Tango, a high-tech, overblown mega-cross between a tango show, circus, and the musical Evita, complete with horses and audiences of 1000 or more. Instead, we recommend searching out something more true to the intimate, outlaw spirit of the sensual moves widely believed to have originated around the 1880s by male couples in brothels. These would be smaller, more authentic (and, by the way, less pricey) spots in San Telmo, like Bar Sur (Calle Estados Unidos 295; www.cctango.com.ar) and El Viejo Almacén (Avenida Independencia 300 and Balcarce; +54 (11) 4307-7388; www.elviejoalmacen.com.ar); also, near the Plaza de Mayo, check out the classic Café Tortoni (Avenida de Mayo 825; www.cafetortoni.com.ar), which dates from the mid-19th century. Note that the action generally doesn't heat up until 9–10.30pm.
Top lounges and nightspots without tango include a chic, rehabbed Recoleta manse called Milión (Calle Paraná 1048; +54 (11) 4815-9925); the hip Voodoo in Las Cañitas (Calle Báez 340, +54 (11) 4772-2453); and Palermo Hollywood's more underground Mundo Bizarro (Calle Guatemala 4802; +54 (11) 4773-1967). Jazz-seekers might seek out Thelonius Bar in Palermo (Calle Salguero 1884; +54 (11) 4829-1562) for some of the best live shows in town, but for homegrown folk/ethnic tunes, you should head up to the Abasto neighborhood to find La Peña del Abasto (Calle Anchorena 571; +54 (11) 5076-0148). There's now also a raft of world-class megaclubs complete with hot DJs and hot crowds; two standouts are Microcento's Bahrein (Calle Lavalle 345; www.bahreinba.com) and Costanera Norte's Pachá (Avenida Costanera Norte and La Pampa; www.pachabuenosaires.com). If you still have energy after all of that, one of the capital's hottest "after" parties grooves from 8am–2pm on Sundays at Fiction @ Caix (Avenida Rafael Obligado; www.caix-ba.com.ar), also in Costanera Norte.
Buenos Aires's gay scene has also been burgeoning in recent years, and a small gay neighborhood of sorts has sprung up in Barrio Norte (a subsection of Recoleta), on Avenida Santa Fe between Callao and Pueryrredón. Enjoy dinner and a drag show at Chueca (Calle Soler 3283; +54 (11)4963-3430); grab a drink and hang out at the new and trendy watering-hole Bulnes Class (Calle Bulnes 1250; www.bulnesclass.com.ar); and follow it up with dancing til dawn at the megaclub Amerika (Calle Gascón 104; www.ameri-k.com.ar) in Almagro.
As a world-class city, Buenos Aires has it all, and these days mostly at downright bargain prices. Your best bet for one-stop shopping is in Microcento, along the bustling pedestrian Calle Florida and the intersecting Calle Lavalle. Both are lined with all manner of restaurants and shops selling fancy clothes, shoes, luggage, handbags, jewelry, and leatherwear as much as half-off or more (depending on the type and quality of item) what you'd pay in the United States. One of the highlights of Calle Florida is Galerías Pacífico (www.galeriaspacifico.com.ar), a grandiose, historic building that's been converted into an elegant four-story mall complete with ceiling frescos (you can even take a guided tour to admire the architecture).
If there's one thing Buenos Aires is known for producing, it's leather, and you'll see quality workmanship and designs here that you simply don't find easily – or at all – in the United States. Prices are even better the further out you go in the Palermo neighborhood – and in the leather district (www.centrodelcuero.com.ar), where dozens of shops line a few blocks of Calle Murillo (in the 500s and 600s); we especially love the jackets, shoes, and handbags at Sentir Argentino (Murillo 677; +54 (11) 4854-0048; www.slmcueros.com.ar).
Recoleta, not surprisingly, given its well-heeled residents, is where to find the likes of Armani and Cartier, as well as local designers like Jessica Trosman, whose Trosman boutique (Patio Bullrich, Avenida del Libertador 750; www.trosman.com) has a second branch in Palermo Viejo (Calle Armenia 1998), where locals with more fashion sense than pesos shop, particularly along Avenida Santa Fe near Avenida Coronel Díaz and Avenida Córdoba between Palestina and Armenia. For menswear, check out Calle Gurruchaga.
For antiques, San Telmo is your best central bet; there are shops scattered throughout the neighborhood, but you might find some especially good deals at the historic covered Mercado San Telmo (calles Estados Unidos, Defensa, Carlos Calvo, and Bolivar).
One more product to look out for is the increasing number of fine local wines like Malbecs and Syrahs. One particularly well-stocked chain is Winery in Microcentro (Avenido Corriento 300; www.winery.com.ar), where prices for local vino run from 10 to 260 pesos. Another popular wine chain is Ligier (Avenida Santa Fe 800; www.ligier.com.ar).
The most important factor to consider when planning your trip is that the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are flipped – summer in North America is winter down below the equator, and vice-versa. Winter (mid-December through February) in the United States is summer in Argentina – and therefore, high season. That said, July is another peak period. You might also consider special events that affect availability on given weeks: two popular ones that tend to sell out hotel rooms are the Buenos Aires Tango Festival (www.festivaldetango.gov.ar) in February to early March and August's Tango World Championship (www.mundialdetango.gov.ar). For the best bang for your buck, visit in spring and fall for their mild temperateness and relative lack of crowds, although temperatures generally don't get extreme at any point in the year.
Mid-December to February & July to August
June & November
Best bang for your buck:
April to May & September to October
Airlines arriving into Buenos Aires' two-terminal international airport, Ezeiza (EZE; www.aa2000.com.ar), which is also known as Pistarini, include Aerolíneas Argentinas (www.aerolineas.com); Air Canada (www.aircanada.com); American (www.aa.com); Continental (www.continental.com); Delta (www.delta.com); LAN Chile (www.lan.com); United (www.united.com); and Varig (www.varig.com). Non-stop flights from the East Coast take 8.5 hours from Miami and 11 to 12 hours from New York; West Coast travelers coming from Los Angeles will have to factor in closer to 16 hours. Keep in mind that you'll need to keep US$18 on hand for the airport departure tax on your return flight.
Many United States tour operators provide escorted tours and air-and-hotel packages to Buenos Aires and other points in Argentina, ranging from budget to ultra luxe. They include Latin America specialists such as Four-Star Argentina (www.4starargentina.com); Ladatco (www.ladatco.com); Latour (www.latour.com); and Marnella Tours (www.marnellatours.com), as well as more general operators like Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com); Gate1Travel (www.gate1travel.com); Go-Today.com (www.go-today.com); Sunny Land Tours (www.sunnylandtours.com); and Travel Bound (www.travelbound.com).
Getting Into and Around Buenos Aires
From Ezeiza airport, the drive to the city center is 30 to 45 minutes in light traffic – and can top an hour at rush hour. You can grab a city bus (2 pesos); hop the quicker Manuel Tienda León shuttle (25 pesos one-way, 45 round-trip; www.tiendaleon.com.ar); or hire a taxi or remise (car with driver) from one of the booths as you come into the arrivals hall; we recommend Taxi Ezeiza (53 pesos; www.taxiezeiza.com).
Don't bother renting a car if you're staying in the heart of Buenos Aires. Trust us – it's not particularly cheap and the driving can be hair-raising and confusing thanks to the abundance of one-way streets. You're better off taking inexpensive taxis for transportation; stick to the ones with "radio" in their names and small illuminated signs on their roofs; two premium cab companies include Premium (011-54-11-5238-0000; www.taxipremium.com) and ISU (011-54-11-4635-2500). Also very useful, and even more economical for navigating various central and outlying areas is the subway system known as el subte, short for subterráneo (www.subte.com.ar); easier to decipher than the bus system, it operates 5am-10.30pm and costs under a peso per ride, and less with multiple-ride passes. The most traveled line, Line A, starts at Plaza de Mayo and maintains a historic feel – right down to original wooden subway cars.