Buenos Aires

For travelers who just can’t decide – Buenos Aires really does have it all.

It’s sitting slap-bang between a distinctly Latin culture, with indigenous peoples, gauchos, and hot blooded ‘porteños‘ (local inhabitants of Buenos Aires), and a very obvious European influence. Having lived through a glamorous heyday which earned it the nickname ‘Paris of the South’, Buenos Aires is heavily influenced by immigrants from Italy and Spain who arrived mostly in the 1800s.

Nowadays, the city is getting hipper, hotter, and more expensive, relative to other South American destinations, by the minute. Neighborhoods which were previously run-down suburbs have been transformed into bubbling melting-pots filled with some of the world’s greatest designers, chefs, musicians and cinematographers. The country’s greatest cultural exports are still tango and football, but you’re just as likely now to find locals speaking English and Portuguese and attending hip-hop classes and bikram yoga.

The economy has recovered from the devastating 2001 crash like a phoenix from the flames. Corruption and inflation still exist, but both government and banking are more stable and the wars and dictatorships which marked the city’s history for so long seem well behind it. Neighborhoods like Palermo and San Telmo are the latest to flourish from investment and tourism, while the financial district of Puerto Madero is now home to towering glass offices of huge multi-national companies’ regional headquarters.

The city is not without it’s problems however, and overflowing ‘villas‘ or slums are never far away. The city, like the county itself, is full of contradictions (Argentina has a 97% literacy rate yet one in ten people live below the poverty line) and rich touristic neighborhoods have become magnets for petty crime. Neighborhoods like La Boca and Microcentro should be avoided at night, and yet Palermo is a fantastic place to dance until the early hours of the morning.

Buenos Aires will not disappoint when it comes to gourmet pleasures. The restaurants of Buenos Aires are a carnivore’s paradise, with affordable parillas or grill houses serving up the world’s best steak (ask any local) and chorizo (giant pork sausage). The drink of choice is Mate during the day and in the evenings Malbec red wine from Mendoza flows. Or check out one of the hip cocktail bars popping up around town.

Accommodation in Buenos Aires ranges from international hotel chains to boutique bed and breakfasts and cheap, cheerful hostels. If you’re arriving in Summer, try to find somewhere with air conditioning or a pool – there’s no beach nearby and the hot months are really scorching.

Buenos Aires’ museums, city plazas and parks will keep the visitor immersed in Porteno culture.

For shopping, there’s something for every budget. Young designers sell their creations in small warehouse spaces, established names have chic boutiques, and retro fashion and cheap basics can be found in flea markets every weekend. The large shopping malls and department stores will comfort any homesick westerner, though the place to be really is Avenida Florida – for great shopping and even better people-watching.

And remember, Buenos Aires, like New York, is not just a city – it’s also the name of the province that includes a peaceful river delta, estancias, polo ranches, small seaside towns and serene, flat pampas. If you can pull yourself away from the throbbing pulse of life in the city, get out and explore!

Practical info

Population: 3,050, 728 (city only. Greater Buenos Aires has about 12 million people)

Tel codes: +54 (Argentina) 11 (Buenos Aires) 15 (cellphones)

Altitude: 368 feet/ 112 meters

Temperature: Average July 11°C/53° F Average January 25° C/77° F (though it can climb to 90!)