If you ever wished that walls could talk, Buenos Aires can make it happen. With a vibrant and ubiquitous street arts scene that transforms public spaces into a collective canvas, graffiti and street art here go far beyond quickly scribbled "tags." You'll see a rich mix of styles and mediums – "bombs," stencils, "paste-ups," "pieces," murals, and more. (And you'll know what all those terms mean if you take one of the tours mentioned below.) The art serves as both a soapbox and a showcase for the city’s historical complexities, political and social pulse, and contemporary culture. Far from galleries and museums, Buenos Aires’s buzzing arts scene is perhaps best explored by simply strolling through its many barrios. I recently set out to sample the tours from a trio of unique street art-focused companies based in the Argentinian capital, each offering budget-friendly outings that are sure to have you looking at graffiti in a brand-new light.
The oldest street arts tour in the city, this non-profit organization – created in 2009 by two British expats – offers public tours three times weekly. The company also works to promote Argentinian graffiti artists via recent projects like their BA street art and activism documentary White Walls Say Nothing. Three-hour combined walking-and-minibus tours ($25) kick off in the city’s Colegiales neighborhood, and serve to demystify street art terms; point out collaborative works and stylistic methods; and demonstrate the importance of graffiti as both political propaganda and a method for personal expression. Tours highlight dozens of individual examples and let you visit a working street artist's studio. The tour winds down in a street art-themed bar and gallery, Post Street Bar, in the hip Palermo neighborhood. Graffitimundo also offers graffiti-oriented bike tours and a "Hidden Walls" tour to some of the city’s grittier neighborhoods.
BA Street Art Tours
The well-informed British and Brazilian founders and tour guides behind BA Street Art Tours – authors of Textura Dos: Buenos Aires Street Art – have also parlayed their passion for local street art into a non-profit agency. The afternoon outings, launched in 2011, are held three times weekly (allow 3 hours; $20), and kick off in the Colegiales neighborhood before quickly detouring, via a quick train ride, to the less touristed Villa Urquiza quarter. The city's street art scene is an ever-changing work in progress, and each tour is different. On ours, we caught celebrated artist Martin Ron in the midst of painting a mural on the side of a four-story-building, just across the street from another colossal street work by Italian street artist Blu. (Tip: Weekends are the best time for catching artists at work). Tours continue on from Villa Urquiza to a graffiti-fringed park in Colegiales, and end in Palermo, while touching on topics like street art legalities (in BA, it’s rarely considered vandalism) and the history of the movement. Tip: Groups of four or more can arrange an "aerosol workshop," run by a local street artist, and have a go at leaving their own mark on the city walls (from $40/person).
San Telmo Art & History Walk
Run weekday afternoons (and weekends by appointments) from the Plaza Dorrego, these 2.5- to 3-hour tours ($20), guided by an American expat, focus on the street art, architecture, and history of Buenos Aires’s old bohemian quarter, San Telmo. One particularly powerful stop visits the site of an old detention center and victims’ memorial, dating back to the country’s brutal dictatorship days, while across the street, the moving "Educacion o esclavitud" mural illustrates an evocative depiction of the same theme. From taking in traditional fileteado-style shop signs, to pointing out the distinct styles of the quarter’s major street art players, to stopping off for more traditional museum fare at the MAMBA modern art museum, this tour offers a fairly comprehensive look into the heart of San Telmo's local arts scene, peppered with plenty of historical and cultural anecdotes.
Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!