One often hears Buenos Aires referred to as “The Paris of South America,” but it's so much more than that. It's like Paris and Vienna, Rome and Barcelona, Havana and San Juan, Miami and Los Angeles, Rio and London... and yet, unlike any of them or any other city in the world. Buenos Aires stands alone, a sprawling metropolis of over 12 million souls, located well below the equator (closer to Antarctica, in fact) at the upper-east quadrant of Argentina.
Casa Rosada, where Eva Peron addressed the masses.
Anyone who has seen the stage or movie version of Evita
has some small idea of the colorful recent history of the city. Buenos Aires (which, roughly translated, means “fresh air,”) was founded originally in 1536, but the Spaniards sent to colonize the mouth of the Rio de la Plata were forced away by the native indigenous population. A second, more successful attempt was made in 1580, but it wasn't until the early 1800s that the city and then the country emancipated itself from the Spanish crown, becoming the Republic of Argentina.
One might think that planning by the French, buildings by the Spanish and statuary by the Italians would lend a schizophrenic air to this sprawling capital, but it doesn't. And the fact that the populace is a melting pot of European and South American cultures (fully half of Buenos Aires' citizenry are of Italian descent) makes the city more open and cosmopolitan, celebrating differences and welcoming of tourists from the world over.
“Portenos” - as Buenos Aires residents are called, in honor of the port city they call home- are a proud lot, as well they should be. More than anywhere else in this large country, Buenos Aires felt the effects of years of 2000+ percent inflation, and when the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001, the portenos took the opportunity to make lemonade out of the lemons they were dealt.
In the tourism sector alone, the plucky folk single-handedly rose above; displaced hotel and restaurant workers, facing unemployment, formed collectives to purchase and run their places of business. The devaluation of the Argentine peso made a visit to the city appealing, and tourism thrived.
Oddly enough, this very resourcefulness created a sort of double-edged sword. While most of the city's goods and services remain a tremendous bargain for visitors from Europe or North America (subway rides for 30-cents US, the train to Tigre for $1.50, a full steak meal at El Otero in Boca for under $5), as visitors flocked to the now very affordable city, the prices of hotel rooms and tourist-oriented restaurants have soared. Compared to other world-class cities -New York, Rome, London, Paris- a stay in Buenos Aires is still a bargain. The only problem is that once you visit, you'll want to return again and again.
A tango demonstration
on Calle Florida.
And ultimately, it isn't the architecture you'll be drawn back to, or the acres and acres of the city set aside for woods and parks, or the fabulous meals of tradionally-grilled meats, or the hearty Argentine wine. What will entice you is the Latin sizzle, the soul of the portenos, the genuine warmth and humor of the people you'll meet. It will be the automatic camaraderie you feel at a sidewalk cafe (even if you don't speak Spanish,) the thrill you get from watching a couple performing a tango on a San Telmo street corner, the smile of a child wearing a Boca Juniors
T-shirt. Maybe you'll be privileged to be offered a sip of yerba tea from a stranger's mate cup, a social tradition in Argentina. Maybe a shopkeeper will point you in the direction of a fabulous tavern. And maybe you'll be taught the tango in an after hours social club.
Whatever it is, you'll be hooked. We don't make many promises here, but this is one we feel confident in making. You'll love Buenos Aires.
BUENOS AIRES HOTELS
From our partner TravelNow
From our partner Cruise Port Lodging
From our partner Venere
This article, written by Jana Jones, originally appeared in Cruise Critic; used with permission.