Buenos Aires has earned a reputation as the Paris of South America.
After my recent experience in the vibrant, modern and glamorous capital of Argentina, I can see why. The city contains six main neighborhoods of greatest interest to tourists, and they happen to conveniently lie in a concentrated area of this sprawling metropolis. They are the MicroCenter, Recoleta, Puerto Madero, San Telmo, La Boca and Palermo, but it is the Recoleta neighborhood that seems to have had the greatest influence on the city’s comparison to Paris. Its tree-lined avenues adorned with mansions, palaces, cafés and fashionable boutiques boast a distinctly European feel. On my husband’s and my 5-day visit to Buenos Aires, we spent a good day and a half of our time in this aristocratic and exclusive neighborhood, and I highly recommend that other travelers do so as well.
Where to stay:
You do not need to stay in Recoleta to experience the area – my husband and I did not stay there – but when I return to Buenos Aires, I plan to lodge in this gorgeous neighborhood. Although more reasonably priced options are available, I recommend the Buenos Aires Park Hyatt. The hotel is perfectly located on the main avenue in Recoleta and, being a former French-style palace, has an incredibly unique and luxurious feel to it. It is also a fairly close walking distance to MALBA (the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires). One benefit of staying here, aside from the location and sheer beauty of it, is the potential to accumulate Hyatt Rewards Points or use previously accumulated Hyatt Points for your stay in Buenos Aires.
• WALKING TOUR - My husband and I are not big on tours, but we tried BA Free Tour after reading about it on Trip Advisor and figured that, with it being free except for a discretionary tip at the end of the tour, we had nothing to lose. The tour company has several tour itineraries (please note that all require walking for the duration of the tour), and one is called Aristocratic Buenos Aires. I highly recommend this tour, as it gives you a nice overview of the neighborhoods of Recoleta and Retiro and the detailed history on many of the palaces, mansions and buildings you will see. Our guide was quite knowledgeable, entertaining and also very helpful in recommending restaurants, shops, etc.
• RECOLETA CEMETERY – Most travelers will plan a visit to this famous cemetery if only to see the grave of the famous Argentine, Evita (Eva Peron). However, the cemetery itself is worthy enough to make your travel itinerary. The entrance to the cemetery – with its dramatic Greek columns – is your first clue that this is no ordinary burial place. Spanning an area the size of four city blocks, the graves in this cemetery are above-ground in mausoleums – each one grander than its predecessor. It feels as though one has arrived in the City of the Dead. The wealthiest and most powerful families of Argentina’s capital city are laid to rest here, and it is as if they wanted to show – even in death – just how much money they possessed. It really is quite extraordinary and photos do not do it justice. Free English-guided tours are available on certain days of the week, and I recommend taking one to enable maximum appreciation for this site.
• OUR LADY of PILAR CHURCH – This church, around which the Recoleta Cemetery was built, is designed in the Spanish mission style. The interior is, like many European cathedrals, quite ornate and beautiful and definitely worth walking through.
• LA BIELA – A café dating back to 1850, this European-style eatery is adjacent to Recoleta cemetery and the Our Lady of Pilar Church. Situated under a giant gum tree, the outdoor terrace is a fantastic place to have a casual lunch or snack while you take in the view. It is true that the establishment is a tourist destination, however, a great deal of the upscale locals, artists and even politicians also frequent it. While the food is not extraordinary, it is certainly tasty. (Be aware that food prices are slightly more expensive outside than inside.) Simply relaxing with your travel companion while sipping a liter-sized Stella Artois (huge!) at one of La Biela’s outdoor tables is sure to be a memorable experience of your time in Recoleta.
• Taxi Safety: If you are not staying in Recoleta, you can easily arrive there from one of the other main traveler districts via taxi or subway (called the subte). If you choose a taxi, which my husband and I did often, we found it best to hail one from a respected hotel when at all possible. If you hail one on your own, be sure it is a “radio-taxi” (radio-dispatched taxis) and not an ordinary taxi. You are much less likely to be scammed by a radio-taxi, although it is always best to have some idea how long it will take you to get to your destination and to confirm with the driver the approximate cost of the ride. Also, if you are paying with larger bills and require change, be sure to speak the denomination of the bill to the driver as you hand it to them, so that they understand that you know how much money you are giving them. One supposedly common scam, which actually happened to my husband while en route to the Buenos Aires Marathon start early one morning of our trip, is for the driver to accept your large bill but then say that you only gave him a small bill and demand more money.
• Argentina Entry Fees: Currently, US citizens are required to have a valid passport but NOT required to have a tourist visa. However, when passing through customs at the major airports in Argentina, US Citizens are required to pay a “reciprocity fee” of $140USD. Some major guidebooks written as late as 2009 do not mention this fee, so it is always best to check the US State Department’s website on international travel for the most up-to-date visa requirements and entry fees.
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