Today, I’m kicking off a series of blogs about my travels in South America way back in 2019. One of things I miss the most about the before times is the ease of global travel. If you’re like me and wishing you could hop a jet to an interesting city without a care in the world, please fasten your seatbelt, make sure your seat is in the full, upright position, and read on…
Traveling to South America is like meeting a long-lost cousin. So much is familiar and yet life circumstances have molded you into wildly different people. In the fall of 2019, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, my globetrotting partner and I embarked on our biggest adventure yet — a two week sojourn across the equator to Argentina and Chile.
You have to really want to go to South America to consider making the trek. The trip from Seattle is long and arduous, requiring us to change planes in Los Angeles and again in Santiago, spending nearly 24 hours in transit and covering a total distance of over 7,000 miles. Needless to say, a weekend jaunt is out of the question. When we decided to go, we hoarded our vacation days, packed our suitcases to bursting, and filled our itinerary to make sure we didn’t waste a moment of the experience.
Buenos Aires is massive, vibrant, and a little overwhelming. Picture New York mixed with Paris: stately old buildings and wide avenues in some areas, narrow streets, nightclubs, and street vendors in another. We gave ourselves three and a half days to explore BA and while we hit a lot of the highlights, we could’ve easily spent a week or more in this amazing city.
Sprawling along the wide mouth of the Rio de la Plata as it empties into the South Atlantic, Buenos Aires was founded five hundred years ago by Spanish conquistadors who named the settlement after the fair winds that blew in off the ocean. While the official language is still Spanish, this cosmopolitan city is a melting pot, home to people with roots all over the world, including the largest Jewish community in Latin America. As a result, Buenos Aires is beautifully diverse and enjoys world-class cuisine, art, architecture, and music.
Buenos Aires is built for exploration. Around every corner and down every side street you’re likely to find a charming cafe, a cozy bookstore, a stunning mural, or a piece of Argentine history waiting to be found. The city’s famous Recoleta Cemetery is a maze of mausoleums filled with artists, revolutionaries, and historic figures — including the famous Eva Perón — stashed in the middle of a district of glitzy shopping malls and expensive apartment buildings. Street performers dance the tango and rooftop lookouts offer a stunning view of the metropolis.
At the end of each day, we were exhausted from walking and from putting our incredibly broken Spanish to use navigating BA’s labyrinthine streets, even as the city woke up around us, ready to party until the sun came up.
We enjoyed wandering through the city’s famous bookstores, experiencing the incredible acoustics of Teatro Colón, and of course, eating and drinking our way from one incredible meal to another. Without a doubt, this is a city with an appetite for amazing food. To say we ate well is a understatement. We were blown away by the quality and variety of everything we tried, whether it was a crispy fried empanada, a glass or three of the country’s famous Malbec red wine, a succulent cut of steak fresh off the parilla, or the most perfect grilled artichoke that I have ever tasted, we ended each day in our hotel completely stuffed.
At the heart of Buenos Aires is its people. Porteños, or people of the port, are a warm and hospitable group, able to blend old and new. It is a hard-scrabble place built by immigrants and constantly evolving into something new. That ability to embrace change and to never stand still for too long, seems to be part of the core identity of Buenos Aires.
As our plane turned east and the city gave way to the endless grasslands and ranches of the Pampas, our suitcases packed with souvenirs and alfajores (Argentina’s signature dulce de leche filled cookie), I knew I would be back someday. Until then, there was still so much to see and do elsewhere on the continent.
Buenos Aires Travel Tips
Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Where to Stay: The twin neighborhoods of Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood are jam-packed with small, boutique hotels and a wealth of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops and are just a couple of subway stops from the city center. We stayed at the Hotel Duque. It was simple, but had all the essentials, plus they coordinated our airport pickup, which was a lifesaver.
Know the Language: While many people speak some English, it is essential that you learn some basic Spanish. The Argentine dialect is unique, so bring a phrasebook that’s specific to the region (for instance, the double L makes a “sh” sound instead of a “y” sound down here).
How to Get Around: You can experience most of BA on foot, but the city is massive, so take the Subte (subway) to an area you want to explore and then hoof it from there. The Subte doesn’t run late, so have a backup transportation plan if you find yourself far from your home base after 10 or 11 pm. We found that limiting ourselves to seeing one or two adjacent neighborhoods per day was doable.
Where to Go Dancing: Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango, so find somewhere to go dancing at least once. We enjoyed going to La Viruta because it was casual, an easy walk from our hotel, and offered lessons before the open dance session, but there are milongas scattered throughout the city.
What to Eat: Everything. Definitely fill up on steak at Don Julio (and arrive early to get a table), but know that Argentinian chefs can also do heavenly things with vegetables grilled on the parilla. Make time to hit up Chori to try BA’s quintessential sandwich, the choripan.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer, filmmaker, photographer, and explorer based out of Tacoma, WA. You can find his words in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. While you’re here, read more of his travel writing, sign up for his monthly newsletter, and follow him on Twitter.