Buenos Aires radiates a certain elegance that can only come from a capital city that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s often referred to as the Paris of the South, due to it’s architecture, wide avenues and outdoor cafes. While the picturesque architecture alone may affirm your decision to have flown a very long way to get here, there is a whole world of culture to explore in this sprawling city. Welcome to Buenos Aires.
Population: 15 million
Currency: Argentine Peso
Climate: Warm Temperate. Hot/humid summer (Dec-March) and fairly mild winter (June-Sept) with transitional seasons between.
Chances are you’ll be touching down in Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) which, confusingly, is also known as Ministro Pistarini International Airport. It’s the home of Aerolíneas Argentinas, the nation’s flag carrier, and handles 85% of the country’s international travellers. EZE is very far from the actual city of Buenos Aires, as most major airports tend to be. I recommend you use Uber for ease, and to avoid getting fleeced. At the very least use Uber when arriving and departing, if only to get your bags to the hotel conveniently. The ~22km trip will take about 45 minutes while only costing $15.
[I left the airport into the sea of traffic that is “Arrivals” and was approached by a taxi driver. After telling him that my Uber was already en-route, he informed me that Uber is illegal here. I waved off his attempt at stealing my business and turned away with a polite “no gracias!”. I then saw Domingo waving from the Fiat Siena. God-bless Uber. It is not illegal here!]
Accommodation in Buenos Aires
Given the large geographic size of Buenos Aires, there are many options for areas to stay. It really boils down to your personal preference. I would actually recommend splitting your visit up into at least two stays in different parts of the city. Explore each place while you stay there. The upscale neighbourhoods of Recoleta and Retiro (side-by-side) are a good base if you want to be centrally located. These barrios are home to the 5-star hotels, luxury-brand stores and chic-rooftop bars, but staying here can actually be very affordable.
On the Cheap
Hostels are the only way to go when travelling on a budget or for extended periods of time. Sure, you sacrifice a bit of privacy and most of the amenities of a hotel, but if you flew to the depths of South America you likely aren’t anticipating to spend much time in your room. Hostels such as Hostel Colonial, V&S Hostel Club and Caravan BA are just a short walk from many of Buenos Aires’ main attractions and run for as little as $23/night while offering free wifi and breakfast. Most offer both dorm-style and private rooms depending on how much you want to spend. Consider storing your belongings in a locker/safe when heading out.
Air BnB’s are potentially another way to go, with endless options ranging from dingy apartments in unsafe-feeling areas at $40/night on up to $300/night two-storey penthouses and private villas. Just keep in mind that Air BnB is pimping out these properties. What I mean by that is they’re taking up to 30% of what you’re paying. The hosts don’t even know this. You could be paying $100/night for a place worth $70/night and that might bother some people based on principle alone.
If you’re here for a special occasion or just plan on spending most of your time in the hotel, Buenos Aires has a sophisticated selection of luxurious hotels to suit your fancy. You can travel like a Bond-villain and stay at 5-star palaces like the Palacio Duhao Park Hyatt or, just two blocks away, the equally-palatial Alvear Palace Hotel, which is the city’s first luxury hotel. Both have on-site butlers to unpack your luggage and draw you a bath if your ego requires such catering. Both also have 3 on-site restaurants.
The affluence of these two hotels can’t be overstated. It’s evident the moment you enter the lobby and are surrounded by marble, chandeliers and glass-enclosed Cartier purses/watches.
The recently developed district of Puerto Madero is another for top-tier accommodation such as the Faena Art Hotel, which was once a warehouse, but now has an infinity pool with a golden crown in the middle of it, surrounded by royal-red loungers. Budget between $250-450/night for these spots.
Buenos Aires During the Day
Vague, yes I know, but in a city like this, you really should just explore on your feet for at least the first day. Get your bearings in the area you’re staying in. Just pick a general direction and walk as far as your feet will take you (of course stopping in here and there for cervezas and cocktails). Doing this will have you feeling the pulse of the city right away. If you’re staying in Recoleta as I suggested, then walk North East through a seemingly endless collection of parks and botanical gardens. Or, walk South towards Plaza de Mayo and Puerto Madero and take in the architecture and shopping. Getting tired and can’t go on? Uber back to your accommodation for next to nothing (under $5) and rest up for the evening ahead.
Another cool way to explore, though not unique to Buenos Aires, is to download the Lime app and get on one of the hundreds of scooters scattered throughout the city. Zip along at up to 20km/hr and save your energy. It’s more expensive than taking Uber, but you’ll actually be absorbing the atmosphere on your way to and from the sights you’ve picked to see for the day.
San Telmo Market
Scoot yourself to Plaza de Mayo, take a few photos of “the Pink House” and then look for Calle Defensa. Traffic stops on Sundays for tourists and locals alike to saunter down this cobblestone avenue in one of Buenos Aires’ oldest neighbourhoods.
Street vendors and artisans will be selling everything from vintage leather notebooks and original artwork to keychains and bottle openers. It’s the ideal place the get souvenirs to remember your trip by. One word of advice is to pick things up as you go. If you have the mindset of “let’s see it all and then decide what to buy” you will end up not buying anything. There’s just too much. The street is too long to procrastinate. Walk 5 blocks of the 10 checking out vendors on one side, then follow your nose into one of the smokey parillas serving up local beef. Enjoy lunch and a beverage, and head back while checking out the vendors you neglected.
Expect to see live tango dancing and music performances. Drop a few pesos in the hat and support the local artists, if you like what you see. The San Telmo market is crowded and it’s known that tourists attend in droves, so keep your wallet/cell phone in your front pocket and don’t bother bringing a backpack.
If the season schedule permits, head to the Cathedral of Polo in the Palermo neighbourhood for a once in a lifetime experience. This modern and comfortable stadium for the prestigious sport seats 30,000 and is the only way for a first-time viewer to revel in the horsepower and skill of the sport. The Argentine Open is the grandest of tournaments here and takes place in November/December.
It’s one of those sporting events where people go to be seen (think Monaco Grand Prix). Grandeur and money aside, Argentinians have an actual passion for this sport and that alone makes the atmosphere worth being a part of.
Buenos Aires at Night
There are few places in the world more passionate about football than Argentina, and Buenos Aires is home to 6 teams in the Primera Division (First Division). These means that as long as you’re in town between late July and early March, you’re sure to catch a game. The top two teams to see for quality football and an electric atmosphere are Boca Juniors and River Plate. They also happen to be rivals so make sure you wear the right colours.
Tickets are almost all held by season ticket holders and can be hard to come by, but through AirBnB you can find many options to go to a game. You’ll pay a bit more than face value, but you’ll be safer. A beer and dinner are included sometimes. If you want to see a game for cheap, choose tickets in the standing section.
The steak in Argentina is second to none and is a large draw for many tourists including those from Texas, where beef is king. You absolutely cannot visit Buenos Aires and not have a steak at least once (I recommend one every night). “Parilla” translates directly to “Steakhouse” but can refer to anything from a fine dining establishment to a street vendor and everything in between.
For fine dining, Don Julio in Palermo and Fervor in Recoleta are two parillas that I highly recommend. La Cabrera and Siga La Vaca were recently voted the #1 and #2 parillas in town, respectively, with Don Julio in the 3 spot. The prices are high relative to restaurants in this city, but are guaranteed to be much cheaper than any steakhouse in North America or Europe.
Street vendors are all over the city selling smoked meat. I wouldn’t know how to even start listing them. Take your chances – it’s probably going to be good.
Malbec wine is synonymous with Argentina and it just happens that red wine pairs perfectly with red meat (see above). To accompany your tender cut of sirloin, be sure to try some Malbec wine. I won’t pretend to be an expert on wine, so you’ll just have to judge for yourself. Wine can be found for as cheap as $1.50 USD in the supermarkets. Try some at home before heading out for the night and finding out you don’t like it at the table.
A traditional Argentinian style of music and dance, tango originated with the working class in the late 19th century. It’s influence in the country can’t be overstated. No trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without seeing a show. Tango shows typically start at 10pm, but if you opt for the hotel pickup and dinner packages then plan to get picked up around 8pm. Book Tango Porteño for a 1920s broadway-feel in a theatre setting, or El Viejo Almacén for a more intimate vibe with individual tables and service. Señor Tango, Rojo Tango, and Piazzolla Tango are other notables, but there are no shortage of options to choose from. You’ll also find tango dancing in the street in tourist-heavy areas throughout the day.
- Visit in November to see the city covered in purple Jacaranda trees
- Tips not required or expected
- The cash is dainty and you will have a lot. Use credit cards / Apple wallet
- Ubers are absurdly cheap. Always your safest bet
- Taxi drivers will tell you Uber is illegal here – it isn’t !
- Free tango lessons in San Telmo Market at 8pm
- Free public bike share program is an active way to see the city
- Order your steak “Jugoso” for medium rare
This short guide to Buenos Aires could never hope to be an all encompassing guide to such a spectacular city. A lot of the charm you will find here is not listed in any tour guide or brochure. You will come across places and vendors sporadically and frequently that will make your visit feel more rewarding. That is a large part of the beauty of Buenos Aires. With hope, though, after reading this, you’ll have a much better guide of the must-sees (and tastes) of this fantastic city.
If you have any recommendations or tips for Buenos Aires, leave them in the comments below. Be sure to check back with The Modern Aviator for more travel, aviation, and lifestyle-related articles!