3 Days in Buenos Aires: Culture, Nature & Food

We only had a total of three days in Buenos Aires as it was a stopping point for us on the way to Patagonia and Iguazu waterfalls with the Latvian tour company “Dabas tūres” on the Argentine spring tour, but we still had a wonderful time at the capital of Argentina!

Unfortunately, the very end of the Buenos Aires trip we had to cut short due to Aerolineas Argentinas strike, but since we had the group coordinator Ilze with us, she managed to pull some strings and get us a private bus that got us from El Calafate to Buenos Aires in 18h and we did not miss any further parts of the trip. So last day in Buenos Aires was just exploring 350 ha large Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur nature parks (with skyscrapers in the background!). You can see around 300 bird and 500 plant species here.

Other articles in Argentina series:

Patagonia – glaciers & wilderness

Valdes peninsula – whale watching & penguins

Ibera marshes – bird watching tour

Best time for a visit: Argentina is on the South hemisphere, so November-March is the best time for a visit! We visited early November and it was such a pleasant weather after cold European autumn!

Visa: many nationals don’t need a visa to Argentina, and we didn’t require one

Exchange rate: exchange money only when you are there (you can do that at the airport, but there will be a queue), as the exchange rate fluctuates greatly. There are limits how much money you can change at once, we exchanged 500 euros and it was not a problem. The bills you get will be very old. But most places accept cards, so take cash just in case.

Hotel: we stayed in Hotel Mundial It was a budget accommodation (rooms from 30 euros with breakfast). You get what you pay for, the main advantage of this relatively run down place is it’s location – very central.

First Impressions

As the airplane is landing, we see houses everywhere. No wonder, as the third of inhabitants of Argentina live here, and that is about 15 million people! We also see the Rio de la Plata – rivers Parana and Uruguay meeting and forming an enormous brownish mass of water as wide as 220 km in some places. Many of the buildings are the same brownish color, and quite a few are run down, but what what makes our souls sing is the surrounding green – it is spring here!

Soon we have landed, our passports have been checked, money exchanged and we are on our way. While it seems quite warm to us, many locals are quite conservatively dressed and carry umbrellas – that is the reality of spring. But be sure to carry sunscreen, as the sun is very sharp here.

Palacio Barolo

Our first stopping place is  Palacio Barolo, it used to be the tallest building in South America and was built as an office. Inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, the 22 stories are divided into three parts – hell, purgatory and heaven. We later come back here to take a proper tour! It is worth to go up to the very top for the beautiful views of the city and to learn more about the history (and peek inside some of the tiny offices!).

Lunch at the Beatles Museum

As we walk to our lunch place, we pass a few vegetable shops, ice cream parlor and take notice of the local people. Some sit on the benches in the park, surrounded by beautiful green grass, others are busy in their daily tasks. We stop at Beatles museum, as there is a nice yard and a cafe there, and enjoy a nice lunch. Empanadas with various stuffing and some steaks. You must eat meat while you are here!

A Latvian in Argentina

In the evening we meet up with our guide – Arts, a Latvian guy who lives here for many years and studies dance. As we are walking on the 9th July Avenue, one of the widest streets in the world (7 in each way with two extra lines on the sides), we see an enormous portrait of Eva Peron on the Ministry of Social Affairs. There is one on each side of the building, one where she smiles and another, more serious. Arts laughs and says that the more serious one that was for the bourgeoisie, he has once  heard a comment about “who is that angry lady eating a hamburger?”

Safety in Buenos Aires and Cafe Tortoni

We walk on the crowded streets to a famous cafe in Buenos Aires – Cafe Tortoni. When we ask Arts about safety on the streets, he says that much like in Europe. But we do notice many people carrying backups in the front. He says the only thing to worry about is pickpockets. Much safer here than in many other countries in South America, but it will be safer in Patagonia. Crisis has left its mark.

When we get to the cafe, there is a queue and we spend good thirty minutes waiting in line. Just looking at the street, the city feels much like Paris or Barcelona, similar architecture, language.

When we finally get it, I order a chocolate cake and lemonade. The cake is very, very sweet and the lemonade is very sour, but I am mostly impressed by suit wearing waiters and the one who serves our party of 8, does not write down anything, but also doesn’t mix up anything.

It is raining, when we leave the cafe, and the streets are empty. We take a walk in the center, and Arts shows us all the famous places –  a balcony where Eva gave a speech, a place of protests and so on. We do see a lot of homeless people in some areas of the city, but Arts ignores them and we just pass by.

Tango in Argentina

Our next stop is milonga – a local dance night in the neighborhood. Usually the choice of the dance is tango. We enter a building and there are two rooms with music blasting and dozens of people dancing. The outdoor hall is empty due to the rain. We feel a bit silly staring at all the people dancing, so try to look only at their feet and the magic movements they do!

After milonga we go to a pub across the street to have some more steak. I still remember that as the most delicious steak that I have ever eaten!

Hop on hop off in Buenos Aires

The next day is spent riding on hop on hop off bus. It is a good way to get a better feeling of the city, as it is so enormous! A lot of things to do for those interested in culture & art, and we have only skimmed the surface with this trip!

La Boca or Port Area

First we pass by the famous stadium – La Bombonera – named because of its shape that looks like a candy box. It is the home stadium of Boca Juniors, one of the best football clubs in Argentina. Argentina has a huge football fan base, and this club alone has 16 million fans! This stadium is also the place where Lenny Kravitz and Elton John have performed. We are not too interested in football so we get off at the next stop, at the colorful streets of La Boca, that means “the mouth”. Famed as a famous tourist attraction, we feel like it is a textbook example of a tourist trap. Tango performances (and then they ask for money), people approaching you trying to lure you in the restaurant, wax figures of the pope for pictures and many more people than we enjoy. We quickly move to a more quiet side street and it is a different picture – houses are much more run down, but the vibe is more authentic. Feels less safe as well.

The Beautiful Parks – Rose Garden

Our next stop is the Rose Garden. There are parrots in the palms and the air feels incredibly sweet, as so many roses are blooming – thousands of bushes, and dozens of varieties!

The park is relatively full, as it is the weekend. We buy some food at the food trucks – empanadas and fries, and have a pick nick under the trees, observing the red cardinal jumping nearby. Arts gets us some yerba mate tea and tells about his life here. Seems good to us!

We really enjoy our time at the park, as it is mostly only locals, not so crowded with tourists and there are even washrooms on site, and everyone observes the queue and there is even a woman helping you find a free washroom.

Recoleta Cemetery

Our last stop is the Recoleta cemetery. CNN once called it the most beautiful cemetery in the world, and many famous people have found their final resting place here. It is a little bit ironic that the hero of the working class, Eva Peron, also has found her place here among the mausoleums of the rich and aristocratic. But the place is absolutely mindblowing, you could easily spend half a day just looking at the elegant decors of the mausoleums. Those dating from 1890 to 1930 have materials from Paris and Milan, and the level of the work is incredible. There are lines to approach Eva Peron’s tomb, but actually there is more to see elsewhere.

While we wait for our next bus, we go inside a cute pink cafe La Panera Rosa, where everything is matching pink. First you pay for the ice cream and then you head to the stand to order it – strawberry, peach or multifruit, and all very tasty!

Tango Show and Another Steak Dinner

Our final activity for the evening is another dance performance, this time a show in a theater, which, surprisingly, is located in a shopping mall! It is a beautiful performance and yet very different from what we saw the night before. Here the show has a scenario, and the dance skills are so impressive that at times we are truly amazed! It seems our trip to Buenos Aires is all about dance, as on our way, on the street, we see a carnival performance – it is the tourism exhibit of the regions are there are beautiful dancers moving in such a gracious manner that all we can think about is – we must visit the carnival in Brazil someday!

Finally, after all the shows, we are very hungry and we head to the famous all you can eat steak place Siga La Vaca. You pay for the entrance and eat as much as you can! Picanha’s, sausages, smaller and bigger, fattier and less so meat, it is the absolute carnivore’s delight!

Leaving Buenos Aires

A few hours later we head to the local airport to head to Patagonia. Security control is very simple – no issues with liquids. The assortment of the stores is exactly the same as in Europe, yet boarding is more like in the USA, by boarding groups, so it is very organized. Soon we are up in the air, drinking some locally grown tea and eating alfajores, the local cookie and the most famous souvenir to take home!

Other articles in Argentina series:

Patagonia – glaciers & wilderness

Valdes peninsula – whale watching & penguins

Ibera marshes – bird watching tour

We are thankful to “Dabas Tūres” (www.dabastures.lv) for the support in making this article reality. Dabas tures offers internationally acclaimed birding tours in Latvia (lake Lubana, cranes and owls and many other bird tours), as well as numerous tours in other countries – spring in Argentina, Scottish landscapes, the castles of Northern Poland, all suitable for friends of nature. You don’t need to have any prior knowledge about birds, as the expert guides will teach you all about spotting the fauna and you will learn a lot!

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