Kathy Whitehead recommends Buenos Aires
If you haven’t been to Buenos Aires, then I suggest you add this awesome city to your destination “wish list”.
I spent five days in the city and from the first step I took, down a narrow lane, every sense came alive as I drank in the beauty. The historical buildings, the déjà vu of seeing old cars and the glory of the artwork that adorns the walls of countless churches, it was a visual overload.
The first nugget of wisdom my tour guide shared was that when walking “always look up”. And look up I did!
Squeezed between new high-rise buildings are the old colonial ones, adorned with intricate statues and gargoyles, many of which date back to the early 1800s.
Even the streets hold a charm of their own and as cobblestones and tarred lanes criss-cross downtown Buenos Aires, walking becomes a pleasure as the pavements are often elaborately tiled.
My favourite place
Buenos Aires beats to the rhythm of tango and a dancing show is a must for any visitor. Lessons can also be arranged for those feeling a little more adventurous. However, a daytime visit to the La Boca neighbourhood is a sight that should not be missed.
Lined with pavement cafés, this colourfully decorated area is a visual feast and its streets come alive with energetic renditions from tangoing couples when the weather permits.
Buenos Aires is a city destination in itself and contrary to popular belief, it is not on the ocean, but rather nestled along the banks of the Rio de la Plata, or River Plate as it is also known. If a break from the city is needed, I highly recommend a boat trip through the delta.
With hundreds of tributaries that wend their way around little islands, this is a world in itself.
A visit to Café Tortoni, however, is an absolute must. Tortoni was founded in 1858 and is the oldest coffee shop in Argentina. The father of tango, Carlos Gardel, spent a lot of time here, as did other artists, literary greats and politicians, including the likes of writer Jorge Borges and poet Alfonsina Storni. In their honour, Café Tortoni has life-sized statues of them in the restaurant.
Getting around is very easy and affordable. With a well-organised and regulated transport system, there are buses everywhere in Buenos Aires, as well as riverboats, more than 40,000 cabs and a subway.
A word of advice – always check your pesos as tourists are known to fall victim to counterfeit scams. It happened to me! When paying for a small souvenir, a stallholder informed me that my 50-pesos note was indeed fake. The loss wasn’t too great and, in fact, it meant I had a rather original souvenir to take back home. I was later told that you should check every note handed back for the watermark.
With virtually no English spoken in this country, communication can be a problem, but with sign language, maps, calculators and a little bit of patience, you quickly realise the initial language barrier can be overcome.
However, I would suggest a simple Spanish/English phrasebook as phrases such as “how much does that cost?” can be useful to know.
Boutiques and leather shops nestle side by side and on Fridays, the informal traders arrive and lay out their artwork, beadwork, hand-made shoes and stunning silver jewellery on mats to entice visitors to buy their goods.
Unlike many markets around the world, the informal traders in Buenos Aires will leave you in peace if you tell them: “I am just looking”. There is no quibbling, no hassle and no pestering.
Where to stay
The Sheraton Libertador Hotel is central and within walking distance of good restaurants, shopping, parks and other amenities. Staff members are friendly and rooms are comfortable.