Things to do in Buenos Aires
There are so many things to do in Buenos Aires that Blonde and Alternate Brunette spent our first afternoon there frantically taking a cab to a restaurant that closed in our faces, eating somewhere mediocre where the electricity went out, going to a shoe store where Blonde started to buy ill-fitting boots and discovered her wallet was missing, went back to the mediocre restaurant who went through their security tapes with us and then we returned to our hotel room to find Blonde’s wallet on the bed. This is what not to do in Buenos Aires on your first or any other day.
#1 -Do a free City Walk (or two) in Buenos Aires
Twice a day every day (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) there are free walks of the city. Blonde and Alternate Brunette did the “Walking through Recolleta” Tour. That one is at 10:30 each morning and meets near the Teatro Colon. Our guide was a third year university student with a lot of knowledge and excellent English.
She told us interesting history/gossip such as that the Teatro Colon took 20 years to finish because the first architect died after a year. The second was murdered by his wife’s lover (what a cliche) and it was finished by a Belgian architect rumored to be gay because of a young male helper he perhaps enjoyed chasing around the scaffolding. In any event the architect under sexual orientation suspicion did an excellent job of harmonizing the styles of the ill-fated prior architects and built an opera hall that is among the top 5 in the world for acoustics.
Our guide also gave us an interesting and possibly even accurate telling of the history of Argentina and its current political situation. She spoke about the issues with inflation, the debt default and why everyone wants American dollars and not pesos hence the casual “blue market” of currency trading. The main point of this was to have people tip her in U.S, dollars. Now that Argentina’s new President of less than a month has already devalued their currency those USDs are probably more popular than ever!
#2 – Go to a tango club in Buenos Aires
Two German women we met on a walking tour mentioned to us that they enjoyed going as observers to a tango club. (It’s hard to type “German” and “tango” in the same sentence.) When we were headed back to our hotel about 10:30 at night after a dinner Alternate Brunette suggested we go to the club the women had mentioned. We somehow (not easily) managed to convey this change of plans to our cab driver.
You pay to get in the clubs (don’t remember how much – maybe $10 or $15?) and then if you’re Argentine you dance and if you’re American tourists you gawk and sip wine. We were there early in the evening (for them) which is when the older dancers are on the floor and it isn’t very busy.
There’s a fascinating insider ritual of how a man stands and almost imperceptibly asks a woman across the room to dance. They never get confused about this and they all knew better than to ask us (although surely they yearned to do so). The bottom in the flowered dress above was the best female dancer when we got there. Her dancing skills made her very popular – can’t imagine anyone else even noticed the good bottom.
As the evening went on the crowd got younger and the floor more crowded. We left at 12:30 which was a pathetically early time to leave – even the older people hadn’t considered leaving yet. It was an interesting glance into the seriousness and skill that many Porteños bring to dancing the tango. (Porteños is the word used to refer to people from Buenos Aires. They like that it sounds more European than Latin. Whatever.)
#3 – Do a street art tour of Buenos Aires
We have a whole post about this which you can read here. The tours are run by a not-for-profit called Graffitimundo. We did the North City tour and found it to be fascinating. The cost was $25 USD and we made a reservation online the night before. The tour lasted for about 3 hours and several times we were transported in a small air-conditioned van so it wasn’t all walking as we had expected. It concluded at a very cool bar/art gallery/store in an area, Palermo, where it’s fun to stay and explore afterwards.
Do this even – or maybe especially – if you vaguely or strongly disapprove of street art (Blonde before she became enlightened). The history of it in Argentina and the way people used and use it politically is intriguing.
#4 – See a tango performance
Yes, yes, this is touristy. So what, you’re probably a tourist! And do this after going to a dance club – not the other way around or the local social dancers wouldn’t seem as skilled. We went here semi by accident. After learning that our cruise to Antarctica had been cancelled we walked into what we thought was a travel agency. It wasn’t; it was a guy selling tickets to all kinds of tango shows. We told him we wanted to see one that was as authentic as possible and not like a Vegas show (they definitely have that kind if you’re so inclined). He recommended Piazzolla and it was the perfect (for us) recommendation.
Blonde does not do the “B” word – buffet – and is highly skeptical of dinner shows but the food here was very good – one of the better meals we had in the city actually. It wasn’t cheap at $100+ per person but it was worth it to us. The show itself is about 80 minutes long and involves live musicians (dead ones perform poorly), singers and dancers. Splurge on this little treat and don’t go without first making a reservation.
#5 – Go to a night market
There are lots of small night markets in various sections of the city. We enjoyed one in the Palermo area and bought some handmade paper notebooks, bee goo, a necklace and a cup and spoon for brewing and drinking mate tea.
The markets have locally made goods for the most part and are an easy-to-navigate size – maybe 40 booths. Do remember though that when you’re at a market at night in a city you need to protect your purse or wallet.
#6 – Check out La Recoleta Cemetery
Alternate Brunette had read about the cemetery and we were fortunate that our free city walk terminated there. The cemetery has about 5,000 vaults where many of Argentina’s most prominent – famous and infamous – people are buried. One famous man is buried there as is his killer. Ah death – the common denominator! The vaults are made with materials imported from Milan and Paris (part of that whole wanting to be European thing we guess).
Eva Peron is buried here (after her body was sent all over the world for years) in the Duarte vault which was her family’s name. Various former Presidents of Argentina, literary figures, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize and an illegitimate granddaughter of Napoleon are buried here. Only Elvis is missing.
No new mausoleums can be built but if there’s still room in existing ones people can still be crammed in there. Presumably this wold be a majorly cool thing to do if you were a dead Porteño.
It would not be a cool thing to do if you were not dead, whether a not-dead Porteño or anyone else.