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  You are here: Home > Travel Stories > South America

Travel Story by Ian Reynolds

  The Best of BA in 3 Days
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Tango in San Telmo

Buenos Aires is known as the ‘Paris of South America’ and is filled with a rich Argentine culture. There is something for everyone and a short stay (3-day) itinerary is suggested that will help you get the very most out of your time here. Of course there is a lot more to see, but this itinerary will give you a good feel of the city, and help you decide which areas you want to explore further.

Tip: Most of this itinerary is based on extensive walking. If you are not interested in so much footwork, you may consider that you can reach many of these places by subway, taxis, buses and hired drivers (remises).


· Retiro
· English Tower
· Plaza San Martin
· Malvinas War Memorial
· Florida Street
· Avenida de Mayo
· Plaza de Mayo
· Cabildo
· Casa Rosada
· Museo de Casa de Gobierno
· La Catedral Metropolitana
· Banco de la Nacion
· Palacio Municipal
· Cafe Tortoni
· Avenida 9 de Julio
· The Obelisk
· National Congress Building
· Plaza del Congresso
· Tango Show


After a typical Argentine breakfast of coffee and medialunas (croissants), you are ready to head out into the big city. First stop: the Retiro Neighborhood of Downtown. Directly across from the Retiro train station in Plaza Fuerza Aerea, you will discover one of the most beautiful towers in the city: The English Tower. Dedicated in 1909 and recently refurbished, it is beautiful during both day and night. Directly across Avenida Libertador in the huge Plaza San Martin, sitting under the shade of trees and flowing Argentine flag is the Malvinas War Memorial. Similar to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., it is a wall with the names of the 655 Argentine men killed in the bloody battles to control the Malvinas Islands in1982.

A short stroll up the long hill in Plaza San Martin takes you to a large park filled with the unusual, locally typical Ombu tree and a massive statue honoring Jose de San Martin, liberator of Argentina (as well as Chile and Peru). The plaza is an oasis inside the city center of excessive traffic and crowded streets. Surrounding this plaza is also the monumental buildings of Palacio San Martin and the Military Palace.

Across from Plaza San Martin (on the southwest side) is the beginning of the pedestrian street named Florida. It is famous for its leather shops, souvenir stores, famous standards such as Tower Records and McDonalds and many small specialty bookstores (many of which carry English titles). Hop into any of these stores for souvenirs to take with you when you leave Buenos Aires. During your time here, you may want to drop in to one of the many cafe/ restaurants for a light lunch such as Tancat at Paraguay 655, Filo at San Martin 975, or Dada at San Martin 941-all just one block off Florida.


After lunch, a ten block walk along Florida will take you to Avenida de Mayo. This avenue, inaugurated in 1894, connects the Legislative and Executive branches of government. A quick glance to your right when you reach Avenida de Mayo will give you a view of the National Congress building eleven blocks away. Turn left and head towards Plaza de Mayo. On your right before reaching the plaza, you will see the old Cabildo. This is just a remnant of the original which was built in 1765 and used to surround the entire plaza. Straight ahead is the recently repainted Casa Rosada (finished in 1882) which is the executive branch of the government (the president does not actually live there, but has offices in the building). In the basement, you may visit free of charge the Museo de Casa de Gobierno parts of which date back to 1845 when the Customs office was located there.

The plaza is flanked by other important historical buildings as it was once the main trading and market square of the original port of Buenos Aires in the 17- and 1800's. Those buildings include La Catedral Metropolitana, built in 1827 on the site of a 16th Century adobe ranch temple, Banco de la Nacion , an impressive neoclassical structure designed by the well-known national architect Alejandro Bustillo and built in 1944, and finally the Palacio Municipal. This french-style building was finished in 1902. It sits across the street from the Cabildo and houses the offices of the government of Buenos Aires.
If you happen to visit Plaza de Mayo on a Thursday, you may have the chance to see the Mother's of Plaza de Mayo march in protest to their sons that went missing during the military regime of the late 70's/early 80's.


Backtracking along Avenida de Mayo will take you to the National Congress building. It is a twelve block walk from Plaza de Mayo and is an excellent way to see some exquisite historical French and Spanish architecture and one of the busiest streets in Buenos Aires. One place not to miss along the way: Cafe Tortoni (Avenida de Mayo 825). Established in 1880, it is a traditional cafe from centuries past. Stepping inside takes you back in time along with other famous visitors such as First Lady Hillary Clinton and local celebrities like Gabriela Sabatini and tango singer Carlos Gardel. Inside a glass case are momentos of their visits. Have a coffee and contemplate life as people have been doing there for over a century.

Before reaching the Congress on the walk along Avenida de Mayo, the avenue is intersected by Avenida 9 de Julio, known as the widest avenue in the world. Look to your right and you will see the towering symbol of Buenos Aires: the Obelisk. This Washington monument look-alike is 67 meters tall and was built in 1936 to commemorate the raising of the first flag and also the 400th anniversary of the Buenos Aires foundation.

Upon reaching the National Congress Building, you will notice that it too is a look-alike. It was modeled after the capital building in Washington, D.C. and construction was finished in 1906. In the Plaza del Congreso, the fountain/ monument honors two national congresses of 1810 and 1816. It is a great place to people watch and to see national demonstrations.


If this is your only day in Buenos Aires, then you really shouldn't leave without seeing a tango show. There are many places that serve dinner followed by a nice display of tango dancers to prove that, yes, it takes two to tango. In some places, you can even take a lesson and learn a few steps. Be sure to check out our section on tango to pick the place perfect for you.


· La Boca
· Caminito
· Benito Quinquela Martin
· Vuelta de Rocha
· Puente Nicolas Avellaneda
· Museo de Bellas Artes de La Boca
· Fundacion Proa
· Iglesia de San Juan Bautista
· Boca Juniors
· San Telmo
· Plaza Dorrego
· Basilica del Rosario
· Teatro Colon
· Puerto Madero


Ready to learn more about porteño (Buenos Aires native) culture? Then the first stop today will be a real learning experience for you! Being a port city, Buenos Aires was flooded with immigration in the mid 19th century. One dock area that received the brunt of Italian immigration after 1820 was the area of the city called La Boca. During this time, La Boca received thousands of immigrants specifically from Genoa, Italy. The cultural mix plus low income salaries from the marine workers and meat packing factory people produced a neighborhood rich in culture yet low in resources. Both of these factors are still highly visible today. Our first stop today in La Boca is Caminito.

Located at the corners of Del Valle Iberlucea and Magallanes is the very beginning of the diagonal street Caminito. Upon first glance you will see the old sheet iron houses taken directly from the interior of abandoned ships (an old custom of the genovese), the brightly painted buildings (in homage to locally loved painter, Benito Quinquela Martin), and the high sidewalks and elevated buildings due to flood waters that overtake the area frequently. If you look back over the Vuelta de Rocha port along Avenida Almirante Brown, you will see the Puente Nicolas Avellaneda. Built in 1940, this landmark bridge was the largest of its time in South America. It links the neighborhoods of Avellaneda and La Boca by crossing over the Riachuelo (the main waterway linking the ports). It is even possible to take an elevator to the top of the bridge to get an aerial view of the neighborhood. Vuelta de Rocha is also known as a ship graveyard as many ancient vessels still remain half-sunken in the pungent toxic waters.

Sundays are a special time in La Boca. The legacy of the famous painter Quinquela lives on in the form of an artist's street fair on Caminito. Here, original paintings, leather goods, mate paraphernalia, and silver items may be purchased. Because La Boca was the heart of tango in its heyday, tango dancers perform constantly for tourists along Caminito on Sundays.

If you are not in La Boca on a Sunday, have no fear. There is still plenty to see. If you are interested in art and would like to know more about the local painter Benito Quinquela Martin, you may visit his studio and workshop Museo de Bellas Artes de La Boca at Pedro de Mendoza 1835. There is over 800 works of his and other local painters, plus a grand view of the Riachuelo from its terrace. The entrance is free.

Another museum well recommended is Fundacion Proa on Pedro de Mendoza 1929. It is a small place but usually with high quality revolving art exhibits. It is $5 pesos to get in and has a cafe and terrace overlooking the area as well.

On Olivarria 486, less than four blocks from Caminito is the beautiful example of neoclassical architecture in the Iglesia de San Juan Buatista. This church was built in 1886 and is open to the public.

If you don't know why people in La Boca are wearing so much yellow and blue, then you definately aren't familiar with the local passion: the Boca Juniors Football Club. This is more than just a soccer team. For people from La Boca it is a way of life. To learn more about the club, you may visit the stadium at Brandsen and Del Valle Iberlucea, just three blocks away from Caminito. Built in 1940, it holds more than 50,000 screaming fans. (See Boca Juniors)


One of the oldest and most historical places inside the capital is San Telmo. Here, because of a 1970's decree preserving San Telmo as a historic zone, you can find many houses and buildings dating back before the turn of the 20th Century. If time permits, you may get to San Telmo from La Boca by taking a taxi (it is approximately 16 blocks from La Boca).

If you are lucky enough to be in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, you can experience the sights and sounds of the San Telmo Sunday Antiques Fair. Surrounding the Plaza Dorrego (on Defensa and Humberto 1) you will find booths of eccentric people selling every antique item imaginable. In the plaza you can usually find a live tango show as well as on some of the side streets. Almost all narrow, cobblestone streets leading to the plaza are filled with artists peddling their wares. Though San Telmo may not seem as exciting on the weekdays, it is a famous historical area and should not be missed. It was the site of the city founding by Pedro Mendoza in 1536. In 1806 it was the site of one of the most important battles against the British (which in turn ignited the Argentines to fight for independence from Spain). Relics of this battle and other important periods of Buenos Aires history are housed in the museum inside the Basilica del Rosario.

A stroll through San Telmo is a stroll through time. Take time to languish in its narrow streets filled with antique shops and cafes playing tango music. It is worth it! There are several very good cafes and restaurants to stop and have lunch in.


There are five top places in the world (acoustically speaking) to hear live performances and you just happen to be a short taxi ride (or long walk) away from one of them. The Teatro Colon sits on Toscanini and Cerrito (which runs parallel to Avenida 9 de Julio). Its massive grandeur outside will alert you to what awaits you inside: one of the most beautiful historical landmarks in Buenos Aires. Inaugurated in 1908, it holds 2,490 spectators. It is not unusual for the theater to be filled from corner to corner during performances. Tours of the inside run every hour on the hour from 11am until 3pm, so be sure to make it for before the last tour of the day! (See the Teatro Colón)


After all that walking, it is finally time to eat dinner! Most restaurants open no earlier than 8pm. In particular, we recommend for a one day stay the restaurant of your choice specifically in Puerto Madero. It is not just a fashionable part of town, it is a clean port area with beautiful sidewalks and restored dock buildings now housing some of the most lovely (and sometimes expensive) restaurants in town. It is a convenient place for travelers staying downtown as it is only a few minutes away by taxi. Arrive early and take a stroll along the port before settling in for a relaxing dinner. There's no better way to top off a walking tour of Buenos Aires than to sit and relax over a glass of Argentine wine and homemade pasta and look out over the water that brought the first immigrants to this new world.


· Recoleta Cemetery
· Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
· Centro Cultural Recoleta
· Plaza Francia
· Museo de Bellas Artes
· Lunch in Recoleta
· Botanical Gardens
· Buenos Aires Zoo
· Monserrat


By this your third day in Buenos Aires, you have learned much about the history and roots of the city. Today you will have the chance to visit one of Buenos Aires' most famous (albeit non-living) citizens, Eva Duarte Peron. "Evita's" final resting place is in the Recoleta Cemetery in the neighborhood also named after the Franciscan monastery that once dominated the landscape there.

Millions of people visit Eva Duarte Peron's tomb each year to leave flowers and prayers. She is surrounded by Buenos Aires' elite upper class forever. Taking a look around the cemetery (open 7am-6pm) you will see the names of famous generals and politicians that made Buenos Aires what it is today.

Beside the cemetery is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. This colonial church is considered a national historical landmark and was built in 1732. The monastery is still there as well, although it now houses the Centro Cultural Recoleta. There are free exhibits of local artists and lesser known artists from time to time as well.

Outside the cemetery is Plaza Francia, which on Sundays is home to the largest fair in Buenos Aires. Almost any typical handmade item representing Argentina can be found there as well as impromptu Brazilian drum shows and trapeze acts to name a few.

If you feel like lingering a while in this area, there are several good museums to visit such as the Centro Cultural Recoleta (already mentioned) and the Museo de Bellas Artes. At Libertador 1473, this museum boasts the largest art collection in the city. It is possible to enjoy all the famous paintings, wood carvings and sculptures for the low $1 entrance fee.


While in Recoleta, do take time to sit and have lunch at an outdoor cafe, or wander around the neighboring streets full of upscale shops like Armani, Versace, Donna Karan, etc. It is worth it even if you are just window shopping (as most Argentines do).


After spending some time in the crowded streets and restaurants, maybe your idea of relaxing is taking a little stroll inside the Botanical Gardens. You are in luck! Inside Buenos Aires' main botanical garden, located in Palermo about ten minutes north of Recoleta by taxi, there are over 7,000 kinds of plants, a museum, gardening school and two open air theaters! If you need more "action", maybe you should cross the street and visit the Buenos Aires Zoo. With some species typical to Argentina and South America set in a newly refurbished environment more conducive to the animal's real habitat, this zoo is worth visiting if you have some time to kill and are in Palermo.


One area of town with beautiful antique buildings in French, Spanish, and Italian architecture from the 19th Century is Monserrat. This neighborhood close to San Telmo beats to a different drum than nearby downtown. The restaurants serve homemade food (mostly Italian and Spanish) and is highly recommended for your short stay in Buenos Aires, if just for the atmosphere alone. Two restaurants to choose from: Campo dei Fiori at San Jose 491 and Prosciuto at Venezuela 1212.

NOTE - This three day itinerary may be changed to suit a shorter or longer stay in Buenos Aires and the pace at which you like to see things.

Click on photo to enlarge

El Caminito, La Boca  Recoleta Cemetery  Casa Rosada

Date Submitted: 27 Feb 2008

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