Buenos Aires: It Takes Two Days To Tango
In January, I flew to Buenos Aires for a cruise around legendary Cape Horn to Valparaiso, Chile. My schedule was to fly from the United States late one evening, arrive in Buenos Aires the next morning, do a quick city tour on the way to the ship, board and sail away. What a pity. I would breeze through one of the world's greatest cities and see almost nothing.
But that was not the way my experience in Buenos Aires turned out. I changed my flight to arrive in the Argentine capital two days before the cruise, and I'm glad I did. I found Buenos Aires easy to get around, inexpensive and offering lots to see. Whether you tack on a couple of extra days before or after your cruise, you won't regret making time to see one of the world's most vibrant cities.
Two Nights/Three Days
Though Buenos Aires is a large city, you can take in the major attractions in two nights/three days. Be sure to check your ship's schedule, as some overnight in Buenos Aires, so that you'll require only one night in a hotel.
During my short stay, I dined extravagantly on world-renowned Argentine beef, took in a tango show, hopped on a city tour and walked the city streets. If you have more time, you can also get out to an estancia (ranch), but if you decide to spend all of your time in the city, you will likely have opportunities to visit estancias on shore excursions during your cruise.
The first day you'll spend a good portion of the morning getting through passport control and customs and checked in to your hotel. If you're fortunate enough to get a good night's sleep on the flight to Buenos Aires, you'll arrive rested enough to begin sightseeing right away.
Getting From The Airport To Your Hotel
If your travel agent has not made transfer arrangements from the airport to the city center for you, head for the taxi dispatch stand inside the terminal, where you'll pay around 53 pesos (about $18 U.S. dollars are accepted) for the 22-mile trip to the city. There's also a shuttle that will transfer you for about $9 as well as buses that run on the half hour. Argentina's official tourism department operates kiosks at the airport, so ask for help and a city map. ATM machines for changing money are also inside the airport terminal.
Where To Stay
Buenos Aires has more than 450 hotels, including big chains such as Four Seasons, Intercontinental, Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Marriott and more. On the recommendation of someone familiar with the city, I stayed at a local chain, the Amerian Buenos Aires Park Hotel at 699 Reconquista for about $90 a night, including breakfast and the 21 obligatory percent room tax (www.amerian.com). The hotel was conveniently located, cool and clean.
As I walked through the city, I stopped in at hotels priced as low as $40 per night and as high as several hundred per night. The city's most expensive hotel is the Alvear Palace Hotel (www.alvearpalace.com), priced from $550 per night to $4,500 per night, and these rates do not include the room tax, but if you're due for a splurge, this is the hotel for you.
I also peeked in at the Etoile Hotel (www.etoile.com.ar), priced at $118 per night (breakfast and tax included) and located in the charming quarter known as La Recoleta, a neighborhood reminiscent of Paris with lively outdoor cafes, neoclassical mansions and world-class shopping.
Only a few steps away from the Etoile Hotel is the Recoleta Church and Cemetery, where Buenos Aires' most illustrious departed lay at rest in ornate mausoleums. Among the most visited is the tomb of Evita Peron, much loved by Argentines for championing the causes of the working class.
I never spent more than 9 pesos (about $3) to get anywhere in the city. I rode in a taxi for 20 minutes and spent only 9 pesos getting from my hotel near the trendy Puerto Madero docks (where reclaimed and restored warehouses feature some of the city's finest restaurants and shops) to colorful La Boca. One "porteo" - as the 3 million residents of this port city on the Rio de la Plata are known - told me he sold his car when he moved to Buenos Aires, because taxis were so inexpensive.
While I used taxis plenty, I also walked. I made strides along six blocks from my hotel to Plaza de Mayo, a square dominated by the Casa Rosada (Pink House) presidential palace. Nearby, I stepped into the cathedral, where San Martin's repatriated remains lie (Martin helped liberate Argentina from Spanish rule in 1812), and strolled down the grand Avenida de Mayo, opened in 1894 and designed after the avenues of Paris.
I hopped a taxi to the neighborhood of San Telmo, where I sipped coffee at Plaza Dorrego Bar while watching young people hang out and old men play dominoes on the small square. Sundays, the square becomes an outdoor antiques fair.
From La Boca, I took a taxi through the slums along the waterfront, past trendy Puerto Madero, along Avenida del Libertador and the Malvinas War Memorial (a symbol of Argentina's claim to the Falkland islands and its loss of the islands to Britain during a 10-week war in 1982), which was tauntingly constructed opposite the Tower of the English. The tower offers a free elevator to the top for panoramic city views.
I was told not to leave Argentina without trying carne asadas (grilled meats) at a local parrilla (steakhouse) and enjoying the sweets known as alfajores. I decided to eat my way through the city by sampling both.
For carne asadas, I stepped into Las Nazarenas, directly across from the Sheraton at 1132 Reconquista (www.lasnazarenas.com.ar).
I started with grilled Chorizo sausage, followed by grilled provolone cheese topped with oregano and olive oil drizzled over. For my entree, I ordered Bife de Lomo, a small filet mignon and a glass of Malbec (the famed Argentine wine) to wash it down.
The next afternoon while walking through the city, I stopped at Havanna for an alfajor, the popular Argentine sweet. I've heard alfajores described as a Moon Pie with dulce de leche (caramel) instead of marshmallow. That's a good description, although alfajores are typically smaller in circumference and thicker.
Two To Tango
That night I headed back to La Boca. My driver dropped me at La Bombonera, the stadium of one of the world's toughest soccer clubs: Boca Juniors. I wasn't here to catch a game, however. My destination was next door: La Boca Tango (www.bocatango.com.ar). Open for only six months when I arrived, the new complex features three venues that you move through during the evening.
First, there is an exhibit that presents what La Boca looked like during the early 1900s when Italian immigrants poured in to the city. I walked through recreated rooms where multiple families shared living quarters and one bathroom. Next, we sat down for dinner, similar to the one I had at Las Nazarenas, then followed that by returning to the exhibits, where actors portrayed what life was like for the immigrants. The show was lively and illuminating.
Afterward, we went inside a belle epoque replica of a Parisian theater for a 60-minute tango performance that was mesmerizing. Though it appeared a difficult dance, I talked to travelers who took tango lessons while in Buenos Aires.
Fortunately, the cruise terminal is near the city center and most cruises depart late in the evening, so you needn't be in a rush to depart Buenos Aires. You may want to return to the market at San Telmo if your cruise is departing on a Sunday. Otherwise, just enjoy your time in the city. You'll have plenty of time on the ship during your cruise.
If your cruise ends in Buenos Aires, your flight will likely depart for the United States late at night, giving you time to extract the final hours from a city that continues to surprise and delight all who make time for her. Ralph Grizzle, The Avid Cruiser.