The beautiful Argentine city of Buenos Aires, commonly dubbed the Paris of South America and the birth place of Tango was to be the final stop of my two year journey through the Latin Americas. Buenos Aires is widely famed for its neoclassical architecture, cafe culture, international vibe and strikingly European feel. This rich European influence fused with a splash of South American flavour makes this stunning city quite unlike any other on the face of the planet today. Buenos Aires is a must see and a more than suitable finale for my once in a lifetime journey. It was high time that I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. [Continued below]
The Final Furlong
I must admit that I was a little emotional when my flight first touched down in Buenos Aires as my arrival in Argentina symbolised that my two year long journey was sadly coming to a end. By this point in my journey I was short on time and low on funds but I was determined not to depart Latin America without visiting Argentina even if it was to be for a mere fleeting moment. Unfortunately the frightfully low balance of my bank account did not give me the freedom required to explore further afield of BA but I vow someday return to Argentina for a more thorough exploration of this beautiful country. I aim to return to document the country, culture and even to chase waves in the uncharted Patagonia region if circumstance allows. However, for the time being I chose to take my time and relax for my final seven days in the Latin Americas by exploring this beautifully charming South American city at my own pace.
Now I have to admit that prior to my arrival I held extremely high expectations for Buenos Aires. BA is a truly global city that I had heard so much about. I knew that there was far more to this famous city than steaks, wine and its European vibe. BA is the most visited city in South America, and the second-most visited city of Latin America. Inhabitants of Buenos Aires are commonly referred to as Porteños, "people from the port", which implies that many of the inhabitants are immigrants in some way or another. Buenos Aires is a truly multicultural city and in the last 150 years the city has been a major recipient of millions of immigrants from all over the world.
This modern city is best known for its preserved Spanish/European-style architecture and a extremely rich cultural life. So yeah, I knew that BA was very European but I was not actually prepared for how European it really was. The city of Buenos Aires itself would not be out of place in any country in Europe. One can easily observe the very strong German and Italian influences especially when it comes to the city layout, structure and style of the large and glamorous buildings. Many first-time visitors tend to associate Buenos Aires with tango, steak, and wine—that trifecta of local passions—but the Argentine capital’s French buildings, Italian food, and Spanish nightlife also tell the story of a city with one foot in Latin America and the other in Europe.
Tree-lined avenues, a thriving nightlife combined with great food and wine make the Argentinian capital one of the most exciting cities in the continent. Here I bid farewell to the chaos, disorganisation and rawness oh so common in many Latin American cities. To be honest this unpredictableness and vibrancy is strangely something I found myself missing during my time in BA. Personally I felt that Buenos Aires lacked some of that unique Latin American charm that I had experienced throughout my travels. While I was in Buenos Aires it actually felt more like I was in Europe than in South America. Grand perfectly groomed streets were flanked on all sides by flawlessly maintained and imposing European styled buildings, churches, squares and monuments...... very, very European. Buenos Aires itself is a very pleasant and picturesque city that is extremely pleasing on the eye to say the least. The city is also home to a thriving Cafe culture a direct homage to it's Italian influences. Yay! Finally somewhere to source a half decent milky coffee in Latin America. [Continued below]
One thing that did surprise and unfortunately disappoint me a little was in fact the coldness of the people I encountered in Buenos Aires. For myself personally one of the biggest influences of how much I enjoy my visit to the country is more often than not the friendliness and welcoming nature of the local people that live there.
Let me explain how the people of BA were to disappoint in this manner. I partly believe that quite possibly my expectations in this area were far too high. Every Argentine I had met outside of Argentina during my adventures had been absolutely amazing. The Argentine people I had encountered prior to my visit to BA were all very passionate, vibrant, happy and friendly people. I found them very similar in a fashion to many of the locals I had encountered many, many moons ago when exploring Italy. Subsequently I was somewhat excited and in fact held very high expectations in this area prior to my arrival in BA.
However, in stark contrast to what I had expected/experienced the majority of people I had encountered were somewhat cold, unwelcoming, standoffish and even unfortunately in some cases arrogant. To be honest I was extremely surprised and somewhat disappointed with this. However, I will give Argentina the benefit of the doubt and attribute this coldness towards big city syndrome which is common in large cities throughout the world were people seem to develop a degree of coldness about them. I am sure that when I do finally return to Argentina to explore the rest of the country that I will encounter more open and friendly people. Needless to say I still had a great time exploring this sophisticated city and it was an interesting contrast to my more typical Latin American adventures. [Continued below]
Colourful La Boca
The famous neighborhood of La Boca is an extremely popular destination for tourists visiting Argentina largely because of its colourful houses, famed pedestrian street of Caminito and its intriguing history. La Boca retains a strong European flavour, with many of its early settlers being from the Italian city of Genoa and other parts of Europe. The cross-cultural mix evident in La Boca is largely attributed to giving birth to tango in Argentina. This Barrio is where most new immigrants first established themselves when arriving in Buenos Aires not long after the Spanish first arrived on the shores of La Boca in 1536. La Boca actually derives its name from its location at (the mouth) of the Riochuelo/ Mantanza River. The Barrio was established around a large shipyard where the immigrants constructed houses made out of scrap metal which they painted with bright leftover marine paint. These bold colours brought some much needed vibrancy to the surrounding industrial eyesore.
La Boca itself went through many hard times and with the closing of General Roca railway train line in 1954 the situation in the area soon became very dire. Fortunately things were to improve as La Boca went through a massive revival driven largely by the efforts of famed local artist Quinquela Martín. This famous artist, the La Boca orphan inspired the locals to paint their houses to emulate the houses of the early immigrants while he arranged live theater on the now colourful streets. With El Caminito's new found popularity it was soon to be named an open air museum. [Continued below]
While the quirky colourful streets of La Boca are intriguing nowadays I cannot help but think that this characterful area has lost sight of itself. Perhaps La Boca has lost some of its original and authentic charm that made it so famous. I suppose you could call it death by tourism. Unfortunately this tourist trap is now bursting at the seams with tacky tourist stores and overbearing highly overpriced restaurants. Maybe this is just the nature of the beast that is tourism? Regardless I still feel that the area is still worth a quick visit anyway but I would recommend visiting early in the morning well before the cluttered restaurants open and tourist swarm the narrow streets. [Continued below]
La Boca is further famed among football fanatics the world over as being the home of world-renowned Boca Juniors. Even at one point Boca Juniors fielded the legendary Diego Maradona. Argentina's prodigal son actually played in the nearby Estadio Alberto J. Armando. Attending any football match at Estadio Alberto J. Armando would be a truly amazing experience in itself especially if you are fortunate enough to be there during the local derby match (Superclásico) where they host fierce arch rivals River Plate. The Superclásico is one of the most heated rivalries in Argentina if not the world and to witness this spectale in all it's glory would be a once in a lifetime experience for any true football fan. [Continued below]
Argentina is world renown for it's top quality beef and high class wine the world over almost to the point that it has become overly cliche. But who am I to argue? Beyond Asado (the Argentine barbecue), no other dish more genuinely matches their national identity. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do....or in this case when in Buenos Aires. Throughout my Latin American journeys (with the exception of Brasil and Colombia) it often became a challenge in itself to source a good quality cut of meat. So lets just say that during my time in Buenoes Aires I was more than willing to make up for it and make up for it I did. Being a big meat lover I was more than determined to take advantage of Argentinas world famed barbecue cuisine and I happily found myself consuming this famed Argentine dish on a daily basis.
While I found Argentina to not be even remotely cheap (especially when compared to the rest of Latin America) the steaks here were still relatively cheap in comparison to similair quality cuts back home in Australia and New Zealand so I was more than happy to make the most of it. In Argentina they have barbecues down to a fine art. The steaks here are extremely thick, extremely juicy, of extreme quality and the portions are extremely, extremely large. After sampling the amazing barbecues here one does not need to be a rocket scientist to garner how the steaks of Argentina quickly garned their world wide fame. If you are a meat lover than Argentina is definitely for you! What's not to love? Argentine cuisine is best described as a cultural blending of Mediterranean influences (especially Italian and Spanish) with a very small influence from the Indigenous people of the nation. The Argentine people have a reputation for their love of eating with social gatherings centered around sharing a meal, a very, very large meal. Invitations to a home cooked meal are widely viewed as a symbol of friendship, warmth, and integration so a word to the wise, never ever turn one of these generous offers down. [Continued below]
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Buenos Aires. While I feel that BA lacked some of the strong Latin charm and friendliness that I experienced in many other Latin American nations for me it was still more than worth the visit. I had a great time roaming the picture perfect streets and parks of this fantastic photogenic city. On one hand the Paris of Latin America was a refreshing change and contrast to the majority of cities I had visited in Latin America. While on the other hand perhaps BA was maybe just a tad to cold, organised and perfect for my liking to be ranked among my favourite cities in Latin America. However, if you are one who thrives on a strong cafe culture, fine dinning, expensive shopping, beautiful art, vibrant night life, a sophisticated culture and fine architecture then Buenos Aires is definitely right up your alley! With my short visit to Buenos Aires I feel like I have only just scratched the surface on what the intriguing nation of Argentina really has to offer. I look forward to returning one day in the not to distant future to explore this vibrant country in much ricer detail but for now Argentina, adiós!