I only spent one week in Argentina, mainly staying in Buenos Aires. Going through my Lonely Planet, preparing for the trip, I realized I could’ve spent a whole month trying to see everything. From Iguazu Falls, to exploring Patagonia and the end of the earth, there are lots of great experiences that I will have to revisit someday. However, one week was just enough time to experience the highlights of Buenos Aires, and visit a couple of other places! Buenos Aires is a whimsical city, and in some ways reminded me of my hometown, San Diego. The city is beautiful, combining a dynamic mix of European architecture with South American culture. One local explained to me that he loves Buenos Aires because, like New York, it is a romantic city. The city offers plenty of things to fill up a week’s visit. Here are my top ten:
- La Boca
La Boca may be a very cliché touristy neighborhood, but it is still worth a visit, and a stroll around the alleys lined with brightly covered houses. It makes for a great photo-op too. Apparently this neighborhood used to be populated with people who worked in the harbors. They would often have to repaint ships, and would then take home the extra paint to use on their houses.
- Visit one of the Many Markets or Crafts Fairs
The Sunday market in San Telmo is commonly said to be he best market, but I thought it was way too packed to be enjoyable. Additionally, no one was really selling anything that unique. I really enjoyed the market by the Recoleta Cemetery as well as the market in Plaza Serrano. Both feature handmade crafts and artwork. I bought this mug at the market near the Recoleta Cemetery.
- Take a Day Trip to Uruguay
Taking a day trip to Uruguay is surprisingly very easy. A short one hour ferry ride will get you to Colonia del Sacramento, a quaint old town that happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site. The Spanish and the Portuguese fought over this town back in the 1700s. Now it serves as a great little town for exploration when you need to get out of the city. Just wandering down the old cobble stone streets and climbing to the top of the lighthouse for some great views were definitely the highlights! I’ve never visited a more picturesque town. Colonia also happens to have a 7-kilometer beach, so after seeing the town for a couple of hours, the beach was a great place to spend the rest of the day. If I had more time I would have loved to visit Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and Punta del Est. To book a ferry to Uruguay, you can use BuqueBus, SeaCat, or Colonia Express. They all have different schedules and times, and some go directly to Montevideo (although much more expensive). You can book online, or if you find the website confusing (like I did), you can visit their offices which happen to all be right next to each other on Avenue Cordoba near Avenue 9 de Julio.
- Check out the Architecture
One of the greatest parts of Buenos Aires is admiring the beautiful French style buildings. Just wandering around the area near Plaza de Mayo is the best spot to spot some historic beautiful buildings.
Argentina may be ahead of New York in terms of time zones, but life in Buenos Aires runs behind by three hours. Wake up late, breakfast at noon, lunch late in the day, dinner around ten, and partying at 3am. Su-Young and I made the mistake of going to a club at 2am thinking things would be busy already, but it was totally dead until people started pouring in at 3am. The Palermo area is a really fun nightlife neighborhood. Bars and restaurants surround the Plaza Serrano, and people will casually be sitting outdoors drinking all night.
- Visit Cemeterio de la Recoleta
This is by far the coolest cemetery you will ever visit. It is an above ground cemetery, and it almost feels like you are walking around a very quite neighborhood, with tiny but elaborate stone houses. Each crypt looks more like a small chapel than what you would traditionally call a crypt, and interestingly, the doors to the crypts are glass so you can look right in at the coffins! There was usually a candle or two and a religious symbol in the tomb as well.
I am usually not that into red meat, but they have got some quality steaks down here – inexpensive too! Su-Young and I went out to steak dinner at Don Julio in Palermo and it was perfect. The waiter helped us picked out the best rib-eyes and a good Malbec pairing. The restaurant has a great atmosphere too. They have a grill where you can watch them cook the meat, and the walls are lined with wine bottles signed by visitors from all over the world. We even got to sign our own bottle at the end of the evening.
- Casa Rosada
I didn’t know a lot of Argentine history going into this trip, but when we wandered into Plaza de Mayo we were so fascinated with Casa Rosada that we sat down right there and read up on the history of Argentina and the Peróns in my Lonely Planet. If you visit Buenos Aires, visiting the Casa Rosada is a must see. This building is beautiful, historic, pink in color, and looks like it is right out of Spain. The interior is just as exquisite, with elaborate courtyards, and golden ballrooms. Argentine presidents and the first family, including the Peróns, once occupied this building. In fact this is where they famously spoke to a crowd of impassioned Argentines from a balcony, and the scene in which Madonna sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” takes place. The Casa Rosada is now a museum and is open to the public for free. You can start by freely wandering the entryways and courtyards, and then sign up for a free half-hour tour, where they show you some historic rooms. I highly recommend watching Evita before visiting the Casa Rosada, because it will add a little extra excitement.
- Overnight Wine Trip to Mendoza
If you have a whole week in Buenos Aires, then you have a little time to spare for a short trip. Su-Young and I opted for Mendoza over Iguazu Falls because of the difference in travel time. We were able to maximize our time in Mendoza by taking an overnight bus there and back, which is not nearly as bad as it sounds because the bus seats on Argentine bus lines are comparable to first class plane seats in terms of comfort. We only spent two days days in Mendoza, but it was so much fun! The number one thing to do in Mendoza, is do a wine tour of the Maipu vineyards. Su-Young and I jumped on a city bus headed to Maipu and after some confusion and communication errors, that lead us to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, Maipu, we were able to rent bikes from Mr. Hugo’s Bikes, and since Su-Young doesn’t know how to ride a bike, we had to take a tandem all day. It was pretty comical. We did a half day total biking between the vineyards. We were able to visit two vineyards and one olive oil farm, all three were quaint and offered great experiences. All of the vineyards in the area are smaller and tend to be family run, which really adds to the charm. We had to pay a small amount to tour each vineyard but we got a free wine tasting with it. Personally, the Malbecs were my favorites, but maybe I was influenced by the fact that Malbecs are Argentina’s signature wine. The vineyards themselves are really beautiful, and they looked even nicer against the blue-sky backdrop, thanks to the fact that we got some amazing weather. Also, I had never toured a winery, so it was pretty fun to learn about the whole process. Definitely don’t skip visiting an olive oil farm. I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but it was actually very interesting, not to mention yummy!
Finally, I have ranked tango as the number one thing to do in Buenos Aires. Going into the trip, I did not think that this would be my favorite thing, but it was simply so much fun! Su-Young and I enjoyed our first lesson so much that we went back another night to try to learn a couple more steps. We were lucky enough that our hostel was just around the corner from La Viruta Tango, which gives hour and a half lessons for just 60 pesos. At midnight, after class has ended, the floor turns into an open area where all can dance. One of the great parts about this place was also being able to watch the instructors, and the more advance dancers perform. I am not usually that interested in watching dancing shows, but there was something really fun about watching the Tango. Going to Tango lessons also gave us a chance to interact with locals (although only some spoke English), and other travelers that were there to learn as well. It was really the only experience in which Su-Young and I were really able to get close to Argentine culture, even if young Argentines think that Tango is “for old people.”