Lay of the Land
“And the city, now, is like a map/ Of my humiliations and failures; From this door, I have seen the twilights/ And at this marble pillar I have waited in vain.”~Jorge Luis Borges
BA is a truly multidimensional, modern city, with rich cultural offerings; top-tier dining, shopping and hotel options; a captivating populace, plus things that carry more weight than ever these days: It’s one of the world’s few hot-spot destinations where the American dollar remains relatively strong and the residents—including an increasing number of expats from the U.S., U.K., France and Germany, along with neighboring South American countries—continue to provide a friendly, warm and welcoming environment for American travelers.
Much of the port city’s charm lies in its inadvertent juxtapositions. BA is characterized just as much by its 19th-century French aristocratic architecture prevalent in the Recoleta district as by the brightly painted façades in the working-class neighborhood and the artist colony La Boca, across town. On any given block, sophisticated, well-dressed, conservative Argentines of European (mostly German and Italian) descent mix with BA’s ubiquitous punky, artsy teenagers. And as you would expect, there are tango shows to be seen, as well as a tango scene, though the new generation of porteños (“people of the port,” as people of BA call themselves) tend to prefer DJ-spun electronica and techno music over Carlos Gardel. Politics here is particularly unpredictable: a machismo attitude prevails in Argentine culture, yet thanks to Evita’s role during the Perón regime, the country has long been comfortable with the idea of women in power. À la Bill and Hillary Clinton, former president Néstor Kirchner (who held power from 2003 until 2007) backed his wife in the country’s presidential race. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who ran as the candidate for the left-wing Front for Victory party (a faction of Perónism), won the election and succeeded him as President.
Don’t let a map dotted with the names of BA’s many neighborhoods (a.k.a. “barrios”) put you off; Buenos Aires, while spread out, is easy to navigate. Keep in mind that the turbid Rio de la Plata lies to the east, and the boundaries of most barrios are still indistinct. The fashionable district of Recoleta—home to the chicest designer boutiques and top hotels, and the landmark cemetery where the city’s most famous (including Eva “Evita” Perón) repose in ostentatious mausoleums—is centrally located, just west of Avenida del Libertador. To the northwest lies Palermo and its hip sub-districts, Palermo SoHo and Palermo Hollywood, which are delineated by railroad tracks (“Hollywood” lies north of the tracks, and earned its moniker from the number of radio and TV stations and film-production networks in the area; like its namesake, “SoHo” is lined with shops and cafés). Below Recoleta are Microcentro and, a bit southeast, the burgeoning Puerto Madero, with its strip of waterfront restaurants and hotels, like the Philippe Starck–designed Faena Hotel + Universe. Farther south are the bohemian streets of San Telmo and, below that, the colorful Italian-immigrant enclave of La Boca.
Because taxis are so easy to find and inexpensive, there’s no need to rent a car. Enter only those cabs marked with the words RADIO TAXI, which refers to the presence of a two-way radio that lets drivers take calls from a dispatcher. While stories of non-radio-taxi services robbing or kidnapping customers are rare, don’t chance it. Whenever I’ve wandered onto less crowded blocks of Palermo, I’ve found the staff at any bakery, shop or café happy to call me a radio taxi, which usually takes ten to fifteen minutes to arrive. Buenos Aires is more walkable than it seems: in comfortable shoes I’ve hiked from a hotel in Puerto Madero past Casa Rosada (the presidential palace whose name translates to “the Pink House”), up and down the bustling commercial, third-world Times Square–esque Calle Florida (where I’d recommend you keep close tabs on your handbag and hide any jewelry), then gone shopping in Recoleta. But we recommend that you do not wear any expensive jewelry when traveling in the city and carry only the cash and credit card that you need immediately. Muggings and pick pocketing is all too frequent an occurrence to take chances.
International flights land at Buenos Aires’s Ministro Pistarini International Airport (better known as “Ezeiza,” the city in which it’s located), twenty-one miles southwest of the city. Traffic can be heavy at times – think midtown Manhattan to JFK at rush hour – so allow plenty of time when departing the city for the trip home. When traveling within Argentina, many (but not all) of the domestic flights depart from Jorge Newbery Airport, which is located within the city. Be sure to double check details the night prior to any flight as departure airports can, and do, change frequently.
When To Go:
Buenos Aires is best visited during the Southern Hemisphere’s fall (April-June) and spring (September-October). The summer season (December-February) can be very crowded and hot, while July and August can be chilly and rainy.
Indagare Tip: Tales of tourist muggings are legendary, and smart travelers will do well to guard their purses and laptops with the same care they’d exhibit anywhere else. BA is not an unsafe city, by any means, but petty crime is more on the level of, say, Barcelona than New York City. Be street smart and avoid deserted areas and do not wear expensive jewelry or carry showy accessories.