When you mention the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires, most people think of the seductive dance of Tango.
And rightfully so:
There are plenty of “supper clubs” doing the dinner and dance thing where you can watch professional dancers while having a 3-course dinner. Other places, are like clubs where amateurs can practice their dancing in a fun way, creating a large community of tango dancers.
On Florida Road, the main shopping street in the city centre, professional dancers give a street performance every day, and in St Telmo Square, there are often performances at night, or dancers practicing their skills to live music. And everyone is welcome.
There are plenty of dance schools that offer Tango classes to locals and foreigners alike..
A bit of history regarding the Tango:
The dance was influenced by the Candombe ceremonies of former slaves and originated in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay. It was a favourite of European immigrants, former slaves, working and lower class people. It became popular in Europe after wealthier Argentines travelled to Europe and performed the dance there. Different styles of the dance then evolved, and the dance was performed by the wealthier upper-class Argentines.
In the 1930’s the dance began to decline due to the overthrow of the Hipolito Yrigoyen government and the great depression. Under the government of Juan Peron, the dance became popular again.
In the 1950’s the then popular dance was banned again, and male-only dancers, as was the custom at the time, used to practice for 3 years before their debut in public. Practice was considered a public gathering that was banned under the military dictatorship at the time. Finally, in the 1980’s it became popular once again, due to a show in Paris, Tango Argentino, the Broadway musical Forever Tango and Tango Passion in Europe .
But besides Tango, what else does this city have to offer?
Honestly speaking, for us it is just another modern city. Especially the city centre has all the fancy stores that you can find in any other modern city. Nothing special about it.
At the port, there are also a few nice restaurants where you can eat and watch the water. It is also a financial hub with high-rise office buildings and a park where locals gather for picnics, birthday parties and Furry gatherings apparently.
If you venture outside the center to Montserrat and St Telmo though, things get more interesting:
Cobbled streets are lined with cute little shops, bars and café’s to relax with your croissant and espresso.
There is a market in an old building that have antique shops selling all kinds of wares, from old cameras and instruments 2nd-hand clothing to crockery and cutlery, vintage sign posts, and even vintage dolls and toys. You get the feeling that these sellers are real collectors, they have a passion for these wares. It is difficult to restraint yourself and not buy everything!
St Telmo square has a small market most days, and there is also a huge street market on Saturdays.
The neighbourhood has much more character than the city center, and is much more lively and relaxing.
Further away, is La Boca. Oh, you have to visit this neighbourhood.
Tucked behind the Boca Juniors Soccer Stadium, buildings close to the stadium is painted in the official team colours of blue and yellow. But, further away, there is a whole street with graffiti painted walls, more like murials, and houses and shops painted in bright colours. Signboards and shopfronts give the impression of a vintage carnival and many shops have huge puppets hanging outside to welcome you.
There is a few shops selling mostly soccer paraphernalia but also souvenirs of Buenos Aires, and tango-related products. It is only a few blocks, but it’s something you have to see for yourself.
We joined a free walking tour of the city one of the days. We love these tours as you get to hear the history of a place and see most of the important buildings. This tour however, was nothing like the impressive tour we joined in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The tour guide, was very proud and arrogant, but according to him, apparently all Argentinians, especially from Buenos Aires are. Huge generalisation. We left the tour less than half-way through.
But here is what we did find out about this capital port city:
Long story short, the Argentinians from Buenos Aires, a very rich city at the time, did not like the Spanish who took over, and wanted to get rid of them. They couldn’t do it alone, so they made an alliance with Europe, more specifically the French and the English. They managed to beat and get rid of the Spanish.
As a weird token of their appreciation and strong dislike of the Spanish, Buenos Aires as it stood, was completely flattened to the ground. They rebuilt the city in the image of Paris. From the building styles to the parks. They even imported the street lamps and sidewalk tiles from Paris (they had a lot of money). Buenos Aires as it stands today, is pretty much a replica of Paris. The oldest buildings are only about 120 years old at most, with no Spanish influence whatsoever.
And don’t forget: Buenos Aires has “the widest street in the world!” We actually had to clap when the tour guide announced this at the top of this lungs. Arrogance. No one was really impressed.
Most Argentinians are also of mixed European descent. Their food is highly inspired by Italy and France and as such you eat spaghetti, Croissants and drink espresso. They even changed some of the Spanish sounds not to sound too Spanish, and incorporated Italian words into their vocabulary.
Ok sure, this is a one sided view, but as you can see, there is nothing really to be proud of as an Argentinian in Buenos Aires. It is pretty much a second-rate copycat version of Paris.
So here is our suggestion:
Please do not be put off by this unoriginality. Visit this city, but don’t make it your only holiday destination. 4 or 5 days are enough unless you are taking tango lessons.
Incorporate the region of Mendoza in your trip, this is beautiful wine country, and/or Bariloche in the Andes Mountains at the start of the Argentinian Patagonia. It is famous for its architecture, chocolate, lakes, hiking and skiing in the mountains and the nearby El Calafate glacier.
Or better yet, take the 2 hour ferry and 1 hour bus ride to Montevideo in Uruguay for a day or two. Also a modern city, but a completely different vibe.