Buenos Aires is the kind of destination a traveler can visit and easily leave asking, “Why did I go there?” The streets are littered with graffiti, trash and dog excrement. Many of the conventional tourist sights are either cheesy or yawners. And recently, Argentina’s crumbling economy has spawned some pretty twisted trails of underground commerce.
You have to dig deep to find experiential gold in Buenos Aires. You have to let Global Gallop be The Boss of You. You have to release your death grip on Frommer’s and follow Global Gallop’s Buenos Aires Travel Guide:
Argentina’s Capital is not the place to stay in a predictable chain hotel, no matter how lux. Buenos Aires is a veritable candy store of small, independent, boutique hotels that will position you to tap into the soul of the city. A winning choice is the Home Hotel, in scruffy, but trendy, Palermo Hollywood. The staff is youthful, the vibe is funky, and the garden pool scene is just plain cool. Best of all, the Home Hotel supplies its guests with the ‘Home Book’, a little guide that is chock full of intel on where to eat, drink, shop and generally get off the tourist grid in Buenos Aires. Less savvy travelers will openly lust for a peek at your Home Book when they learn you are a guest of the Home Hotel.
Don’t confine your dining to parillas, the traditional Argentine steak restaurants. Really, beef is beef. You’ve done one parilla, you’ve done them all. Instead, explore the hidden world of Puertas Cerradas, or Closed Door Restaurants. Some of Buenos Aires’ most talented culinary wizards have created underground dens of gastronomic delight, hosted in their own private homes. Casa Felix, one of the pioneers of the Puertas Cerradas movement, features a five-course Pescatarian tasting menu in a laid back, but cosseted setting. Worried about the forced camaraderie of such an intimate dining venue? The pre-dinner cocktail party in the garden will help put you at ease.
The hottest drinking establishments in Buenos Aires are hard to find – literally. Ask your concierge for the password to Frank’s Bar, a lush, speakeasy-esque watering hole hidden behind a nondescript industrial door. Would you prefer a shave with your shots? Head to Salon Berlin, a bohemian bar tucked inside a functioning barbershop. You can leave with a new coiffure and a good buzz.
Now, read my lips: DO NOT GO TO A TANGO SHOW. The food is overpriced and marginally palatable. The dancing is canned. Instead, experience real tango, and genuine Porteño life, at a milonga. A milonga is a tango dance hall where locals gather to share a slower, less flashy version of the dance. Many milongas have group classes if you want to give it whirl. For a daily schedule of milonga venues, check out Hoy Milonga.
Many of Buenos Aires’ traditional tourist sights are overrated (Plaza de Mayo) and over-exploited (Caminito). One exception is the Recoleta Cemetery. Like the rest of the city, the Recoleta Cemetery is in a state of elegant decay. But in a cemetery, dilapidation only adds to the aura. Oh, and if you would like to permanently extend your stay in the Recoleta Cemetery, the crypt next to Evita Peron’s burial chamber is for sale.
Don’t forgo shopping in Buenos Aires, even if you don’t have room in your luggage to tote any treasures home. Shopping in Buenos Aires is a lark, whether or not any money changes hands. The city’s indie boutiques entice with creative presentation and unique offerings that are just plain entertaining to explore. The best shops are located on and around the ‘country’ named streets in Palermo Soho (Calles Honduras, Peru, El Salvador, and Armenia). For a peek at old world leather craftsmanship, stop by La Casa de las Botas, and drool over the handmade boots.
Avoid using your credit card. Argentina is awash with identity thieves (and very aggressive computer hackers). Many dining and drinking venues only accept cash, anyway. Bring a stash of cash, and leverage it. Cash discounts are common, and dollars and euros are in demand. That said, pickpockets in Buenos Aries are prolific and very clever. Keep your wallet in a secure pocket and be on guard at all times.
When you do convert your currency to pesos, don’t even think about doing it at a bank. There is a ‘gray’ market for currency exchange, and it will net you as much as 25% more pesos. Ask your hotel front desk to direct you to reputable ‘gray’ market currency exchanger. Dodge the individuals soliciting currency exchange on the streets, such as touristy Calle Florida. You may end up with counterfeit bills.