By Irene Fogarty
Ah beautiful Buenos Aires! The energetic seductive port city that runs along the Rio de la Plata, that’s famous for tango, malbec and the world’s best meat. Not to mention all the famous “porteà±os” (the multinational people of Buenos Aires) including the infamous soccer star Diego Maradona, the beloved Eva Peron and the prolific writer, Jorge Luis Borges. A city with a rich cultural identity, where its European heritage is highly valued, as Italian and German names outnumber Spanish, and where the lifestyle and architecture is remarkably more European than any other in South America.
Even more endearing, porteà±os are intensely involved in the life and culture of their city, and they love to share the secrets of Buenos Aires. For a number of reasons, Buenos Aires offers a mysterious and dynamic experience. And so the more you know before you go, the better that experience can be. With that in mind, here are 10 things I put together after my recent trip that I think every visitor should know before going.
1. “Dos cervezas, por favor!” They speak Spanish in Buenos Aires. So if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still get by but you may encounter some difficulties with taxis, shopping, and menus. And while most people in tourism speak English, it’s advisable to buy a simple learner’s guide so you can greet people and order food with no problem. The people are mostly friendly and very conservative keeping old traditions alive. They are very gracious and mannerly. Be sure to remember to say “gracias” whenever necessary.
2. Street Smart. Visiting Buenos Aires is safe compared to most cities of 13 million people. The most common crime is petty theft including purse snatching and pick pocketing. So be aware of this. Fortunately, the murder rate is incredibly low, the kidnappings of the past have subsided, and thankfully there are plenty of police on the main streets to keep an eye on things.
3. The city that never sleeps. Finally, New York has met its match. With its “seize-the-night party” spirit, Buenos Aires is constantly active with restaurants open very late, and 24 hour nightclubs. So apart from the noise, you’ll never be bored or stuck for things to do or see here.
4. When it’s summer here it’s winter there. The weather is mild all year round with a few weeks in February that swelter, and a few weeks in August that get chilly. It can be hot and humid in the months of January through February, so be sure to bring light-colored clothes and good sunglasses.
5. While it’s nice to lose yourself on your travels, here’s a tip that will help you get your bearings for the rest of the city. Go to the Obelisco, it’s bang in the middle of the world’s widest avenue, 9 de Julio. Then travel east of here to Puerto Madero, the traditional gateway to the Rio de la Plata, that’s becoming BA’s hippest and most development-intensive barrio.
6. Politically speaking. After a tumultuous history of political turmoil, politics in Argentina are stable with President Kirchner in power for the last 3 years.
Argentines are very vocal about how they feel and there are peaceful protests around the government buildings several times a week. It’s hard not to notice their strong distaste for President Bush, (surprise, surprise), but in general, BAers are very open-minded and enjoy meeting all tourists.
7. Money, money, money. The good news is that $1 US dollar is worth 3 pesos. Considering the price of dining out, shopping etc., is less expensive, so your trip
will not break the bank. Just remember, since credit cards are not accepted in many places, bring cash and exchange it at the airport. There are ATM’s (with instructions in English) everywhere but they have a $300 limit. You can exchange money in the city, go to the financial district and look for signs that say “cambio” and bring your passport and an address of where you are staying. Another thing, it seems like there’s a shortage of smaller bills! Only restaurants, grocery stores, and banks will break a 100 peso bill. So always carry change with you!
8. Getting around. The taxis and remises (mini cabs) are really cheap right now. Let your hotel recommend radio taxi companies. Avoid hailing cabs on the street, particularly if you’re traveling alone at night. The Subte (subway) is fast and easy to us. And if you’re for a shaky but enjoyable trek on the cobbled back streets, go for the zillions of colectivos (the colorful public buses). Of course, walking is the best way to see the city so make sure you carry a map.
9. Buen Appetito! You hear it all the time. Parillas, steak, meat, meat and more meat. However since upcoming young chefs and diners started wanting more, there’s lots of mouth-watering restaurants serving up spicy Asian fusions, sushi, cross-border LatAm inventions, and French non-trad cuisine. And of course, modern Argentinian food like Patagonian lamb to empanadas. There’s something here for every appetite and palate. Even if you do happen to be a vegetarian!
10. Too much baggage? Don’t over pack. You may be taxed heavily at the airport. Plus it gives you the opportunity to shop til you drop. Everything from leather goods to trendy threads, the value is surprisingly good here. On your departure, be sure to drop into the duty free to grab a bottle of malbec or some of the delicious white wines from Mendoza. Salud!
Keep an eye out for Buenos Aires: Part II. I’ll give you a list of the best hotels, restos, attractions in BA. Divino!