Blame it on the two cuba libres I had on arrival but from the beginning of my solo travels in Argentina I had fallen in love with Buenos Aires. When I navigated my way from the airport (seemingly located in the boondocks of Buenos Aires) to Palermo, I applauded my small success. When I leaned on my out-of-practice Spanish to chat with my cabbie, I patted myself on the back. When I was sent on a wild goose chase to find an unmarked, black market currency exchange to swap dollars for Argentinian pesos–I was thrilled when I walked away with a great deal. Buenos Aires seems to be teeming with passion–you hear it playing from the guitarists on the street corners of San Telmo, you taste it in the care poured into homemade ice creams and choripans, you see it in the face of tango dancers, you feel it in the conversation shared over Malbec–the passion of the city is palpable, like an electric undercurrent. From basking in the colors of La Boca to swooning over tango at a milonga, if headed to Buenos Aires these are the must-have experiences to seek out.
1. Listen to Live Spanish Guitar
Whether roaming the streets of San Telmo or swaying to the sounds of guitar at a wine bar in Palermo, Spanish guitar casts a spell over all who listen to it. Some of the best Spanish guitar is heard on the streets of Buenos Aires where flamenco dancers and guitarists gather to entertain those passing by.
2. Tango the Night Away
As synonymous with Buenos Aires as meat, tango is the pulse of this South American metropolitan center. While there are tourist-centric tango experiences to be had, the best tango is found in local milongas where locals gather to dance the night away. For a tango experience, check out Club Gricel (La Rioja 1180, 54 11/4957 7157. As a tip, invitations to dance are always traditionally made by men with the simple gesture of a nod, while the denial of an invitation by a woman is usually done with the subtle aversion of her eyes.
3. Take a Local Food Tour
While there is something to be said about wandering the streets of a destination and finding hidden restaurants of your own, in a city like Buenos Aires that lacks street food and is saturated with tourist-facing eateries, a local’s insider knowledge can prove invaluable. While on assignment in Buenos Aires to cover the food scene, I had the pleasure of meeting with ex-pat David Carlisle of Parrilla Tour Buenos Aires. David’s parrilla tour took me to hole-in-the-wall restaurants and family owned joints that served up the freshest empanadas, most delicious choripan and homemade ice cream. I has such a wonderful time on David’s tour, that I even tracked down a parrilla we visited so I could enjoy that amazing choripan on my last day!
4, Fall in Love with Color in La Boca
La Boca was slapped together by Italian immigrants who used scraps from the shipyards to build the homes we see today. Using color to paint the scrap metal sheets–La Boca is iconic and often seen in images when one thinks of Buenos Aires. Today, La Boca is a must-visit tourist spot offering tango in the street, restaurants and of course colorful snapshots to be had.
5. Take a Day Trip to Uruguay
For less then $40, you can add another stamp to your passport and take the two hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay via Buquebus. Colonia is an old city nestled on the shores of Rio de la Plata and is a perfect, charming day trip to escape the rush of Buenos Aires and enjoy languid walks and seaside meals in Uruguay. Of course, although Colonia is a short ferry ride away, remember it is a different country so you may exchange currency at the Buquebus ferry terminal upon arrival; which is located just a short walk from Colonia’s old town center.
6. Head to the Sunday San Telmo Fair
Think you know about Sunday fairs? Think again. The San Telmo Sunday fair in Buenos Aires seems to extend in every direction–down alleyways and cobblestone pathways–all promising the discovery of some new Argentine delicacy, music, colorful crafts or impromptu street tango show. The fair takes place every Sunday from 10am to 4pm with Plaza Dorrego serving as the epicenter of the festivities. From antiques to delicate trinkets, the San Telmo fair is a great way to experience the city’s culture and hobnob with locals.
7. Explore the Cafe Scene of Palermo
While on assignment in Buenos Aires, I was tasked with finding the top cafes of Buenos Aires’ chic neighborhood of Palermo. From cafes nestled at the back of charming bookshops to those with an ocean themed motif, Buenos Aires turns the cafe experience into more than a rushed sip of espresso sandwiched in between meetings.
What are your must-try experiences in Buenos Aires? Share your comments, questions and feedback below and make sure to check out my story on solo traveling in Argentina: A Reflection of Solo Traveling in Argentina!