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December 14, 2017
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The best of Buenos Aires

Six quintessential experiences for $50 or less

It’s no secret that Buenos Aires is cheap. For over five years now, Argentina’s capital has been the urban destination for savvy travellers wanting high quality without the high prices. Remember, this is a place where you can bed down in five-star luxury for under $125 a night and dine at top-rated eateries for under $30 (since you can grab a cross-town cab for $4, tip included, you can even afford to enjoy each course in a different resto).

But these days there is more to the “ideal vacation” equation than budget-friendly hotels and restaurants. Experiences rule — and luckily Buenos Aires delivers in that department, too. So we’ve rounded up half a dozen of the best, all priced at $50 or less.


1Two to Tango

Buenos Aires is synonymous with the tango, and it is virtually impossible to miss seeing the city’s signature dance. Born in brothels during the late 19th century, the tango is still performed in parks, on street corners and just about anywhere else Porteños (as the locals are dubbed) gather.

If you happen to have two left feet, the best way to experience it is by catching a show at a tangueria, or supper club, where seasoned pros execute an A to Z of moves. Slickly packaged, such performances are aimed squarely at tourists and priced accordingly.

For instance, one of the best, La Ventana (www.la-ventana.com.ar), charges $49 per person. That’s a good value considering it includes wine, a multi-course menu and a full evening of entertainment. Yet it is steep by Argentinean standards.

For a less expensive, more authentic, alternative consider visiting a neighbourhood milonga. These dance halls dot the city (www.bue.gov.ar has listings) and admission costs under $5. Arrive early enough and you can often take a tango lesson for about the same price. Just bear in mind that “early” is a relative term. Milongas tend to kick off around 11pm and last until dawn.

Not prepared to sacrifice a day of sightseeing for a night of dancing? Confiteria Ideal ( www.confiteriaideal.com ) offers an atmospheric exception to the rule. At 3pm, on most days, you can take to the floor upstairs in its vintage marble-and-mirrored ballroom.


2Have a Ball

Tango isn’t the only activity that makes folks kick up their heels around here. Buenos Aires is also famous for fútbol, and the premiere place to see it is La Boca. This rough and tumble working-class barrio is on the tourist radar because it contains the city’s most popular photo ops: the crazy, colourful houses of Caminito. But natives invariably bypass them and continue on a few blocks to Estadio Alberto J. Armando.

Affectionately nicknamed La Bombonera (“The Chocolate Box”), it is the home pitch for the legendary Boca Juniors soccer club. The caveat is that tickets for matches go fast, and the fans who buy them are known to be particularly boisterous.

So unless you think of soccer as an extreme sport, it might be prudent to get your football fix by watching the team’s archrivals, River Plate, play across town at the tamer El Monumental stadium. Simply purchase fixed seats for $5 to $10 and arrange your own transportation, or opt for a package. Argentinean tour operator Tangol (tel: 011-54-11-4312-7276; www.tangol.com) has one for $48 that covers tickets, hotel transfers and the services of a bilingual guide who will happily fill you in on the finer points of the game.

In case nothing is scheduled during your stay, Tangol also has a $38 bundle that includes tours of both stadiums as well as the Museo de la Pasión Boquense (Museum of La Boca Passion) which has soccer-related exhibits, many of them devoted to one-time La Boca player, and international sports icon, Diego Maradona.


3Don’t Cry For Her

Fútbol lovers may beg to differ, yet, for most of us, Eva Duarte de Perón remains Argentina’s most famous citizen. Fifty-six years after her premature death, scores of packaged tours are devoted to her. Do-it-yourselfers, though, can easily tread in the former First Lady’s footsteps thanks to an online itinerary developed by the city’s tourist board.

It starts at the Retiro Railway Station, where the small-town girl made her big-city debut in 1935, and ends at the Museo Evita (www.evitaperon.org), which retells her Cinderella-like story through personal artifacts ranging from fancy ball gowns to a silver funeral mask. Run by relatives, the museum deals in hagiography as much as history. But it does help establish context, so visitors unfamiliar with the tale may want to do the prescribed route in reverse.

In either case, you’ll encounter key sites such as Casa Rosada and Recoleta Cemetery. The former is the pink Presidential Palace; it was from the building’s north balcony that Evita (like her film stand-in Madonna) famously addressed faithful fans.

The maze-like Recoleta Cemetery is suitably
regal as her final resting place: in fact, dozens of
its ornate mausoleums are designated as National Historic Monuments. However, admission to it — and every other site on the itinerary, save for the museum, which charges a $3 entry fee — is free.


4Water Ways

Evita’s old stomping ground is frequently referred to as the “Paris of South America” because its broad Hausmannian boulevards and Belle Époque buildings recall the French capital. But if you need proof that you are, indeed, in a whole different hemisphere, look no further than the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve (tel: 011-54-11-4313-4275; www.bue.gov.ar). This ribbon of reclaimed wetland borders Río de la Plata.

You’ll find foxtail pampas grass, groves of flowering ceibo trees, iguanas, muskrat-like coypus and 200-plus species of exotic birds. The reserve is easy to access from the revitalized Puerto Madera neighbourhood; since admission is free, traversing its 350 hectares on foot won’t cost you a single centavo. The city offers guided tours during the day and night, including bird watching.

Of course, those who would rather spend a little money, and rest their tired feet, can drop $1 on a return train ticket to Tigre (www.tigre.gov.ar) instead. This riverfront community, 32 kilometres north of Buenos Aires, is popular with urbanites.

Tigre is hardly undeveloped (Parque de la Costa, the continent’s largest amusement park, is located here). However, due to the surrounding delta’s countless island-studded channels it is still possible to feel far away from it all — particularly if you explore via kayak. You can rent a sit-in model for two hours from Nautical Escapes (www.nauticalescapes.com) for a meager $15 or take a five to six hour guided trip that combines kayaking with trekking and swimming for $40.


5Take a Field Day

A second doable daytrip focuses on another Argentinean obsession: food. You can get a taste of Pampas ranch life — and, more importantly, a taste of that fabled Argentinean beef — by arranging a día de campo (a day in the fields) at Estancia Santa Susana (www.esantasusana.com.ar).

The 1200-hectare property, 78 kilometres northeast of the city, is paradise for carnivores. It advertises activities like horseback riding, which can be a bit like cattle calls (that’s to be expected as Santa Susana is popular with bus groups). But it is hard to beat the asado buffet. Thick slabs of flank steak, chorizo, blood sausage and short ribs are all grilled over a mammoth outdoor BBQ pit; visitors are then served with a plentiful supply of plonk at communal tables.

Is it kitschy? Yes. Is it impressive anyway? Absolutely! Especially when the action moves outdoors for a display of horsemanship that culminates in carreras de sortijas, featuring gauchos who ride at full gallop as they attempt to spear a tiny ring suspended from a string. The full-day “Gaucho Party” excursion, complete with bus transport to and from Buenos Aires, costs only $50 when booked through Tangol.


6Time for Good Buys

Okay, time for some last-minute souvenir shopping. Since this is arguably South America’s most sophisticated metropolis, it’s not surprising that there are loads of places to stock up on high-end goods: the Euro-chic shops of Galerías Pacífico and the trendy boutiques of the burgeoning Palermo Viejo quarter are only the most obvious examples.

Yet there is no need for bargain hunters to leave Buenos Aires empty handed if they suss out the ferías that set up in neighbourhoods citywide every weekend. The top choice for crafty souls runs Saturdays and Sundays in Recoleta, right outside the cemetery. Appropriately, the deals are to die for.

Equally good buys can be found Sundays in the heart of colonial San Telmo, where handcrafted items are supplemented by a hefty selection of antiques and collectibles. Many affluent Porteños were forced to clean out their attics shortly after the economic crash of 2001. As a result, the true treasures are likely long gone.

Nevertheless, some 10,000 people cram in weekly to peruse 250-plus stalls around Plaza Dorrego that hawk everything from religious icons and oil paintings to retro housewares, vintage silver… even the family jewels. Think of it as a sunnier version of London’s Portobello Road. The sound, like the city as a whole, is unforgettable.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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