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Travel in Buenos Aires: Navigating the City’s Barrios
Cross the street and everything changes. Buenos Aires, more than most cities of comparable size, gives you the feeling of a patchwork city – a city defined by its neighborhoods (barrios).
If you ask a porteño, one of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires, where he is from, he will not say Buenos Aires – he will give you the name of his neighborhood. And when you ask him which barrio is the best, any self-respecting porteño will tell you that his barrio is.
It’s best to take this advice lightly and sample a handful.
Among the barrios commonly visited by tourists and travelers are, in descending order of popularity:
1) Recoleta. Buenos Aires equivalent of New York’s Upper East Side or London’s Knightsbridge. Fancy, ornate and classy. A quick list of things to see and do includes the cemetery, the lobbies of five-star hotels (the most luxurious of which is the Alvear), and shopping on Avenida Santa Fe.
2) Palermo. Known for its parks as well as restaurants, bars and colorful shops. When Palermo is mentioned as the best place in Buenos Aires to go, it is probably Palermo Viejo and Palermo Hollywood (the two micro-barrios) that are being talked about. These are the coolest places in BA right now to join the city’s crazy nightlife, which doesn’t start to slow down until the sun comes up. (A proper night in Buenos Aires should end with breakfast.)
3) City center (Microcentro). This is where Buenos Aires suits go on a weekday. It is the center of the nation’s economy, a place of tall office buildings, narrow crowded streets and exhaust fumes. It’s almost completely uninteresting to tourists without business concerns (though you wouldn’t know it from the large numbers who flock there). However, towards San Telmo, in the older part of the city center, the places to see: Plaza de Mayo, Casada Rosada (“Pink House”, Buenos Aires’ equivalent of the White House) and Manzana de las Luces are worth a visit.
4) San Telmo. A barrio of cobbled streets, antique shops and colonial mansions. In early Buenos Aires, Spanish criollos and upper-crust criollos established themselves in the area and built grandiose buildings with interior terraces. When these wealthy citizens fled San Telmo and went to Recoleta to escape the cholera epidemic in the late 19th century, the mansions were left to squatters and San Telmo turned into the bohemian center of Buenos Aires. The interest of foreign and Argentine visitors has recently brought gentrification to the barrio. That means safety, once a sore point, has improved, but so have prices.
5) One place where it’s still best to watch your wallet is La Boca. In fact, it is really only recommended to visit the El Caminito tourist area, where the Argentine Federal Police have been stationed to watch your back. This little street with its brightly colored houses was visited almost to death. Still, no visit to Buenos Aires is complete without a visit to the legendary street of garish colors. On game days, La Boca’s soccer stadium is another major reason to visit the barrio.
However, when you come to Buenos Aires, do yourself a favor and try to break away from the established tourist routines, if only for a moment. A few recommendations from the less frequented barrios, where your fellow citizens and fellow travelers are less likely to tag along, include:
Las Cañitas in Belgrano. Lots of restaurants, restaurants and restaurants (a stone’s throw from Palermo).
Almagro. What Sant Telmo was, Almagro is still: Bohém. Check out the newspaper’s listings for tango concerts, independent theater and other events in the area. Meanwhile, the cafe Las Violetas, at the corner of Rivadavia Avenue and Medrano Street, is among the most beautiful restored historic cafes in the city.
Mataderos, an outlying neighborhood where the city’s butchers still make a living, is also a find, not so much for the barrio itself, but for the Sunday afternoon markets held in the barrio’s main square. This market is not to be confused with the markets in San Telmo or Recoleta. It’s bigger, better, with more authentic handmade goods – including leather and silver. In the spring and summer months, couches from the nearby countryside also perform a rodeo at the market.
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