My first impression of Buenos Aires was of the prevalence of traffic lights. They seem to love them here and put traffic lights on top of traffic lights and even use them to help people around roundabouts which in my mind should make the roundabout redundant but maybe that’s just me. The backlog of traffic makes walking in the city annoying when having to thread your way through backed up cars blocking intersections or trying to guess when they might move to sneak through an intersection but the subway system is user friendly and if you can figure out the buses you’re a better person than me. I spent 2 weeks in this city and I must admit didn’t have very high expectations but was pleasantly surprised by finishing my time there with a reasonable impression of the place. I spent a week in Spanish school while here which helped fill my days but some things I did included:
MALBA – Museo de Arte Latino-Americano Buenos Aires
I went on a Wednesday as its half price and open late ($30 ARS/$3.40 US instead of $60 ARS/$6.80 US). Unfortunately they did not have any special exhibitions on display so there was only one floor open but still worth checking out especially when half price. I am not much of an art connoisseur so I am sure most of it was wasted on me but I appreciated a few pieces on display and even attended the 4pm tour which explained several pieces and the concept of different sections in the museum. Unfortunately it was in Spanish so I only understood a minimal amount but others seemed to get a lot out of it so the guide must have said lots of important things.
Jardin Japones (Japanese Gardens) –
If you’re looking for a slice of tranquillity and quiet in the city then this isn’t the place. I went on a Sunday afternoon and it was packed. It will cost you $50 ARS ($5.50 US) to get in and then the gardens are not actually that big. In my opinion the highlight of the park was the size of the Koy fish as some were massive and they were entertaining to watch especially when people fed them with bread or fish food pellets they had brought. I thought the Japanese Gardens in La Serena in Chile were better than these gardens so don’t waste your time.
El Cementario & Del Pilar Cloisters –
If you only do one thing in Buenos Aires then make sure it is visiting the cemetery in Recoleta. Seeing all the catacombs above ground and the architecture was pretty amazing and I spent a considerable amount of time just wandering and seeing how the different families honour their dead. This is also where Evita rests and you’ll be able to find it by following the tour groups and masses all squeezed into a narrow alley where her family has their lot.
I liked it so much I went back for the free English tour (11am on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s) which was great and gave you a lot of background and extra information which you would never get yourself though I would suggest fighting your way to the front and sticking close to the guide – we were a group of 50 or 60 and hearing can be difficult when stuck around the corner or at the back of the group.
The Iglesia del Pilar is the church right next door and the land the cemetery is on originally belonged to this church. The church itself is free entry and it’s worth going in for a look even if not religious but paying the $15 ARS ($1.70 US) to see inside the cloisters was nothing spectacular and I wouldn’t exactly recommend it but since it was so cheap I didn’t feel too ripped off.
Teatro Colon –
This is apparently one of the most acoustically correct buildings in the world and it was visually impressive as well. A new ballet was due to start while I was in town and I heard that they hand out free tickets to their final rehearsal if you line up early enough. I got to the theatre just after 9am on the day of the rehearsal and there were already 100 odd people in front of me waiting for tickets. At 10am when they started handing tickets out, the queue was down the block and around the corner but moved fairly quickly once they started. You don’t get a choice on seats and just get handed 2 tickets per person.
That night the show started at 8pm and we got there early to check out the inside of the building. I am not usually one for architecture but even I was impressed by this building. You can join a tour of this building for $180 ARS ($20 US) (http://www.teatrocolon.org.ar/en/guided-tours) which I am sure would give you all sorts of facts and figures and history of the place but a free show and a sticky beak was a great way to spend a Saturday night.
San Telmo –
Definitely check out the markets here on Sunday afternoons (12-5pm). I don’t even like shopping but even I was impressed and spent a few hours wandering Defensa Street and looking at all the different stalls. There are free tango shows and live music all along the markets and plenty of street vendors selling food and drink to keep the energy levels up. It feels like a long way but keep going to the end as it ends in a small square which is purely antiques and has quite a different vibe to it from the rest of the street. This is a great place for souvenirs as you get some local handicrafts and not the mass produced tacky gear you find in airports.
Other things to do –
In general there is so much to see and do in Buenos Aires that you could be here a month and still not see and do everything. The Cathedral where the current Pope used to preach is worth checking out as is the changing of the guards at San Martins final resting place inside the church. The free walking tours on offer are a great way to get an overview of the city and its history and having completed both of them I would highly recommend. I also managed a trip out to Tigre and once you get past the colour of the water it is a nice way to get out of the city and see something different.
I stayed at Reina Madre Hostel which was a great introduction to Buenos Aires. It is not well marked from street level and would be easy to miss if you were not paying attention. It also took a lot of screeching through a door buzzer for the guy to allow me in which initially really annoyed me but once I was inside I appreciated the security. The hostel is spread over several levels including a roof terrace and is open and airy in all areas.
The breakfast was basic with corn flakes and bread on offer but it was at least fresh. I paid $18US a night for a 4 bed dorm. The hostel wasn’t in the best location in terms of being particularly close to anything but it wasn’t far either and had good access to public transport with Santa Fe being only a few blocks away.
- Buy a SUBE card when you first arrive from any Lotteria that has the blue sign in the window. It costs $30.00 ARS to buy then just preload with money and you can use on any bus, train or subway in the city. If you don’t have one of these cards you will need to have plenty of coins to pay the driver.
- Don’t pay for a metered taxi between the Jorge Newbery and Ministro Pistarini (Ezezia) airports as this will be upwards of $500 ARS ($57.00 US). I unfortunately made this mistake when first passing through Buenos Aires on my way to Ushuaia. It was 5am in the morning with no airport transfer buses running so had to take a taxi to meet a connecting flight. Luckily there was no traffic or the price would have been even higher.
- If flying with Areolingeas Airlines and having to transfer between airports for connecting flights go to the service desk and show your ticket to receive a free bus transfer (when they are running).
- A cheaper way from the city to Ezezia International airport is Tienda Leon which will cost you $130 ARS ($15 US) no matter how much traffic you get stuck in.