I received a request from my friend Phillip in London, looking for advice, tips and recommendations on Buenos Aires, on behalf of his friend Christopher, who was travelling out to BA that very week. Naturally I obliged. Here are my thoughts for what they were worth
Tip One- contrary to popular misconception, Buenos Aires is not especially cheap.
Rather the opposite is true, until the next economic crash at least (not too far off now with the current administration and the general spending culture)
Inflation and other factors means you can spend a lot of money quickly.
Here below, are a few ideas below to get much more out of the city, more fun, art, life and experience, for less.
But first, as regards personal security, Buenos Aires is not too bad. just use some common sense…
So, don’t walk around La Boca or the darker, emptier bits of San Telmo alone at night.
Don’t walk around with a large camera visible,
or with a loud Tee-shirt logo that reads:
– “The Falkland Islands: as British as Finchely !”
While i was there somebody, a French tourist, was killed, for his camera. At the Falkland/Malvinas memorial, as it happened.
Despite that, Buenos Aires is a superb city, one of the great cities of the world, with mostly kind & brilliant people.
There is a certain amount of petty crime and graft, but serious incidents are rare and you can certainly avoid being a dumb statistic with the simple application of common sense.
Safer looking generally is safer, lots of people is better than empty streets. Don’t walk in the seedier areas alone at night, and for women especially, try and stay in pairs and groups if you are unsure of the area.
Having said all that, there are large areas of Buenos Aires that are similar in tone and feel to the most elegant,exclusive districts of Paris and Upper west side New York, dripping with lapdogs, fur coats and old money. You can afford to relax, day or night sometimes!
Food and Drink Tips.
I have to say I found the high reputation Argentine food, especially Argentine steaks enjoy, a little exaggerated.
(Maybe in Ireland we are spoilt with world class beef and seafood.) Yes sure, you can always buy quality at a price, here or anywhere, but in the general scheme, food in Argentina tends to be on the robust, plentiful and hearty side,
It’s fine, grand as we say in Ireland, but its still settler/rancher food rather than delicate and delicious. So here is a tip for If or when you tire of steak & chips…
find a Peruvian Restaurant. Try a dish called Cerviche
This is leaves and vegetables, mixed with fish, cooked in lemon and lime juice. It is delicious.
There is also good Japanese food to be had, although seek out local recommendations, because I did visit one complete dud also.
How to drink in Argentina.
Argentine beer is good, Quilmes, brewed locally, is famous.
As regards wine, at first I messed around a lot with Argentine reds (Mabec in general)
Quality varies, especially with price, but in general mid-price is fine, always supposing you enjoy you full-bodied reds.
Both beer and wine however are probably too heavy if you plan to indulge in the sweaty, active tango scene.
Try the following two tipples instead….
There is an Argentine champagne called “Chandon” 1/4 the price of Champagne and not bad at all.
so Drink Chandon, and lots of it. (my good man)
You could also try a drink called Ganzia Batido.
Pronounced – “Gan-ci-ya… Ba- ti-doh” (Practice that now or you will never remember! )
Try this nice tipple. It certainly worked for me.
Tips on Transport and economy. Use busses, not taxis !
This is almost my number one tip. Why?
Taxis in particular are getting expensive all the time (20% inflation last 3 years running)
Save yourself a fortune. Buses are brilliant, cheap, efficient, plentiful. They are great for people-watching. Amazingly, they also run all night.
Buses by the way are called Collectivos. Col-ek- Tee-voe (s)
Do not translate direct from english “I want to take a bus” – “Quiero Cogido a Collectivo” This means something quite different.
Remember that Buenos Aires is so huge. – on a par with London or New York – and quite possibly bigger than either,
There are alos a lot of people who don’t have a great deal of money and certainly not enough for a private car. These two factors means there are there are a gazzilion of buses.
So, in order to get your head around the buses, routes and numbers….
buy a little pocket- book called a Guia-8
That’s a “Guia-Ocho” in Spanish-speak. It’s very cheap, about €1.
You will save this much money, within about 3 minutes, of not getting into your first, unnecessary taxi.
Why buy book ? If you do not buy this book, you will constantly be asking people bus-advice, getting confused and getting conflicting information.
Like I say, there’re an outrageous amount of busses there,
So, why not just have a cheap, lightweight pocket-sized guide with you? You will save a fortune on taxis.
Taxis and security, Taxis, in my judgement, are strictly for emergencies, ultra-late nights or for neighborhoods you don’t know or feel comfortable in.
But in general, if you are just a big, general scardy cat who taxis everywhere, you are going to have very expensive holiday.
But now, here, is my Number 1, absolute top Tip, learnt the hard way…
Don’t mess around or delay- Definiitely Try and learn some tango !
Why ? Yes, you might feel like an edjit at first, or even all the time, but on the other hand you’ll still enjoy it.
In fact you’ll probably never look back
It’s elegant, beautiful, together-ful, friendly. Obviously, its a great way to experience the culture actively, and to meet people.
That enough reasons ?
This is such important advice that my next 2-3 tips are also about how to learn tango, and how to do it right !
Tip- Do some Tango classes,
you will not learn by osmosis. Classes are plentiful, reasonable and fun.
I will now explain how to find your most most suitable level, at the most local class to you.
There are two approaches to finding and choosing a class that’s right for you –
One is to use the local, smaller classes, running all over the city.
There are so many of these, literarily dozens each afternoon, evening and night, that there’s actually a directory published each month!
readily available from newsagents, kiosks and newsvendors.
Yes, Would you believe that you can… (tip) – even buy this (other) little book, called Guia de Tango
It lists the times/addresses, of all classes and milongas, (sometimes called “practicas” )
all over the city? Useful.
Or you can take the second approach, which I did after 3-4 weeks experimenting,
In the end I decided it was ultimately easier to go to the largest, and possibly (or even probably) the best school in the city
This is Centre Cultural, Jorge Luis Borges.
Classes there run all day from 11.30 am until last class finishes at 10.30 at night,
by which times its time to hit the milongas. Some of the classes focus on specific aspects, others are more general.
If you are a beginner like me you need to look at the schedule for P for (Principate” (beginner)
I found one of the teachers a bit nasty but others were all great.
I particularly liked the classes run by Eduigardo and Marcella, who are both generous, patient and excellent teachers
Once there, it’s also a smart move to buy a block of 5-6 or 10 classes,
You will be surprised how quickly you use them, and it’s cheaper that way.
As regards practice and general nightlife you definitely… another Top Tip- Go to La Catedral, on Tuesday nights.
Quite possibly the best fun you can have, even in this huge and amazing city.
It’s Very very popular & full Tuesdays, so if you are going in a group and want a table, (which is much better) then get there before 9/9.30 latest.
They have a class soon after, at 10pm, which is wildly popular. It’s very good fun, but it’s so packed that you don’t learn anything, except dodging tactics.
(that was dodging,by the way, not dogging,
-(thats another club entirely) .
La Catidral do, apparently, have another, earlier class at 8 o’clock, which is far less crowded and mental, but seeing how the place runs til 4 am that’s just too damn early.
So, the trick is not to go to La Cathederal for Tango classes, You need to learn your tango steps elsewhere. (see above)
Instead go to La Cathederal to dance and chat and practice listen to the music, and people watch, etc, etc…
The setting and atmosphere is wonderful. Go, and you’ll see what I mean.
The live band, often starts around 2am. But there’ plenty of dancing and music before hand get there from 9 onwards, and try and grab a table
As regards other milongas, (this is a place to dance tango obviously) …..
La Comferteria Ideal is lovely old antique of a place, once very grand.
Now a bit “touristy” and even the locals look like they have been embalmed, but the place still has its merits.
In general Milongas are very varied. The trick is to ask around, go to lots, and find some you like.
San Telmo is great week-round, not just for the Sunday street market.
Yes, yes, the Sunday street market is great, super in fact, but so is the entire San Telmo area, and more “real” and far less crowded week-round.
It’s one of the oldest, most historic and architecturally rich districts of the city. So wander at leisure, relax and enjoy.
In terms of evenings, San Telmo has a couple of nice bars,
Of the later, I particularly liked historic Bar Poesia. The great J.L Borges and other literary greats drank here.
Also try Bar Federal.
These are generally early-evening places, later, people tend to drift to the more obvious location of Placa Dorrego and around, the real heart of this scruffy but wonderful area.
Also in the surrounding area.
Tip 10- The best English-Language bookshop in Buenos Aires is “Walrus books”
is also in San Telmo,on calle Estados Unidos.
Easy to find, very nice place, great selections of reads.
San Telmo is just a bit too scruffy for some people. If you like a bit more style and glamour, and BA is a very cool and stylish city
the other areas I most liked going out in were Palermo Soho” and “Palermo Hollywood
Bars around “Palermo Soho” and “Palermo Hollywood”
Try Bar Unico in Palermo Hollywood,
if I remember right its on the intersection of c/Hondurus and c/FitzRoy.
Also ask in the same area for a bar called “Madeleine’s Party” – not bad at all,
If/when there, ask the smart Canadian owner what the best nights are for music/DJ/Best crowd.
I could go on but that’s more or less it, except, Go, reader, have a great & brilliant time.
Be safe, enjoy.
– Arran. “