Argentina is a big, beautiful country – eighth largest in the world and second largest in South America. During our recent visit we covered the country from north to south, enjoying its splendor, unique culture, attractions, and people. We began our odyssey in Buenos Areas, the country’s capital.
Argentinean wine really moves me: rich and powerful expressions of a vibrant land. Through the Asia Pacific Wine and Spirits Institute Argentina wine course I became certified as a specialist in that country’s wine. APWASI courses are unique in that they spend a great deal of time on the history and culture of countries, not just the grapes. Learning about the asado (grand barbecue), tango, the natural beauty, and the country’s tumultuous history piqued my sense of adventure.
Our trip covered Buenos Aires, Salta, Cafayate, Mendoza, and Patagonia’s El Calafate. We’ll share our experience in a series of posts.
Traveling To Argentina
We worked with KimKim, a travel outfit from Colorado that specializes in personalized trips for independent travelers. They prepared an itinerary based on our specifications, reserving lodgings, arranging transfers, and setting up most excursions. They also arranged our domestic flights in Argentina (it’s a big country).
Travel to Argentina requires a bit of endurance if you are coming from the US. We are located in North Carolina and so had to fly to JFK, then to Santiago, Chile, and then over to Buenos Aires. It was a course that took more than 20 hours and spread into the next day.
We stayed in the 474 Buenos Aires Hotel, on San Martin, just around the corner from Corrientes Avenue, which is the main street that leads to the Obelisco, the city’s trademark monument. You may have seen it during Argentina’s World Cup championship celebration.
We arrived at the hotel in the morning. When we finally stepped out to see the city on Sunday afternoon, we thought, this is pretty low-key. Not many people on the streets and many businesses closed. We decided to take a walk after dinner and found the city exploding with people and activity. Dinner time begins at 9 and the evening usually doesn’t hit full tilt until 10.
The next day I decided I needed some Argentinian pesos. I was warned against changing money at the airport due to the poor exchange rate. When we arrived, the official exchange rate was $1US to 155 pesos. However, there is a quirk. The illegal (but widely accepted and available) blue rate for exchange is almost twice as good. Using a referral, I went to a little shop with $100 US and left with wads of rubber-banded 1,000 peso notes at more than 300 to one exchange.
The economy is a bit tumultuous. Although the price of goods and dining is inexpensive, it is a moving target, with prices going up to keep up with the ever-changing inflation. That’s fine for the tourist, but for the Argentina resident with no change in wages and the same bills to pay, it is a mountain to climb. That’s why the US dollar is king and it’s good to keep some to spread around as necessary.
Must See Attractions In Buenos Aires
Here are four must see attractions to see in Buenos Aires:
Argentina Tango Show
The tango dance, full of drama, sensuality, and sweeping steps, is the rhythm of Buenos Aires and this country. It began in the tenements of La Boca on the riverfront in the 19th century and became respectable with the upper class in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s and 1950s, the people of Buenos Aires celebrated tango as the national music of the people.
Tango artists lent Evita Perón her support, but a military coup ousted Peróns in 1955 and forbade large tango dances. The dance fell out of favor, but saw a huge upswing in the 1990s. You can see and dance the tango at a milonga (dance hall). We chose to enjoy a tango show and dinner through Gala Tango. We were picked up and returned to our hotel, something very helpful on the second day in a new city.
The event featured a beautiful setting with a delicious gourmet meal. The meal dinner appetizers, a choice of main dish and dessert. To enhance the evening, there was an unlimited supply of drinks. In our case we savored the sparkling wine and moved to the famous Argentinian Malbec for the dinner.
The show features 19 performers on stage, including three tango couples, and a lead female and male singer and a small orchestra. The energy for the show was through the roof! There are no bad seats in the restaurant and the service was attentive. A highlight of the evening included Rodolfo Ruiz, who plays the traditional 10-stringed charango instrument. He is a virtuoso and played the instrument with the intensity of a Led Zeppelin guitar solo.
The finale included all performers on stage waving the Argentina flag while images of Evita Perón flashed on the screen. It was an electric moment. Price is about $165 per person. There are cheaper options, but why scrimp? Dinner starts at 8:00 PM with the show starting at 10 PM.
Obelisco de Buenos Aires
The Obelisk is the national symbol of Argentina and an icon of Buenos Aires. When Argentina won the World Cup in 2022 thousands flooded the Plaza de la República. In fact, the explosion of happiness jammed the area so much that the team bus couldn’t make it to the Obelisk and the team had to fly over in a helicopter.
The monument, erected in 1936, measures 221 feet tall. It is located on the spot where the Argentinian flag was raised for the first time in 1812. It is located at the intersection of avenues Corrientes and 9 de Julio.
An evening visit is suggested as it is beautifully lit and is central to an area alive with nightlife including restaurants, shops, and theaters.
La Boca District
La Boca is a colorful neighborhood near the Port of Buenos Aires. It began as a melting pot of cultures as immigrants arrived to work in the port. Many of the homes are made of multi-colored pieces of corrugated metal from shipping containers, giving the residences the look of a colorful patchwork quilt.
This area was important to the development of the tango, and tango dancers perform regularly outside a local restaurant. Residents have been known as hard-working, no nonsense people in contrast to richer residents to the north. The area is known for the Boca Juniors soccer team, one of the two largest teams in Argentina. The players reflect the fighting spirit of the barrio.
The pedestrian streets are bustling, although the actual area is just a few blocks long. There are shops, restaurants and dance clubs.
Cementerio de la Recoleta
Who would have every thought that a cemetery would make our list of top Buenos Aires attractions? Recoleta, however, is no ordinary gravesite. Located in a posh neighborhood, the cemetery features thousands of statues, crypts, mausoleums, sculptures, and little houses containing the earthy remains of notable people, presidents, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentinian Navy and military leaders.
During our visit the sky was overcast with rain drizzles – just perfect for this eerie and impressive place. Our guide led us down the lanes and it seemed like each crypt had its own story. Families pay to ensure the proper upkeep of crypts and sometimes have fresh flowers or other decorations weekly to keep the memory of loved ones alive. While we were touring we saw a workman tinkering with a chain mechanism used to lower new coffins into the lower reaches of a mausoleum.
Of particular interest was the crypt of the Duarte family, where Evita Peron is buried. Flowers and notes to Evita festooned the ironwork. This is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. Every sculpture tells a story and it is a site not to be missed.
Our adventure continues in our upcoming posts as we travel the country from north to south, tasting wine, enjoying the cuisine, and finding the unusual.