Buenos Aires Travel Guide
An ideal city to explore on foot.
When To Go
Buenos Aires has a subtropical climate; the best season is autumn (late March, April, May). The summer (Christmas through early March) is often humid, with daytime temperatures averaging in the high seventies. During these months, many natives, known here as porteños ("port dwellers"), leave for the seaside, and some businesses close for a few weeks.
American, United, and Aerolíneas Argentinas, the national airline, fly nonstop from New York and Miami. Flights are overnight; travel time from New York is 10 hours and 30 minutes, from Miami eight hours and 45 minutes. Arrange through your hotel to be picked up at Ezeiza International Airport. Or go to the taxi desk in the arrivals hall, where you can pay with a credit card for a cab into the city center (about $40).
Buenos Aires is one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Americans have an easy time of it in Buenos Aires since currently there is parity between the Argentine peso and the U.S. dollar. Furthermore, U.S. banknotes are legal tender, and the symbol for the peso is even a dollar sign.
Taxis in Buenos Aires are easily hailed: Look for the lighted libre sign in the window. A typical cab ride within the city center might cost three to six dollars. Cabs have a meter over the windshield. Round out the fare but don't tip, except for some special reason. Note that traffic is ferocious, and many taxi drivers are overly aggressive, so pick your cabs with care. Radio-taxi outfits are numerous: One is Pídalo (956-1200).
An alternative is to rent a car with driver—from, for example, Maxicar ($19 per hour, plus tip. Calle Posadas 1590, behind the Alvear Palace Hotel; tel/fax: 806-6235 or 807-1002). A sensible escape from the heavy surface traffic is offered by the subway, called the Subte. Buy $0.50 tokens at the station.
Orientation and Game Plan
Buenos Aires, a flat port city of some 11 million people, is situated on the west bank of the tawny-colored Río de la Plata, or River Plate. It's an easy city to negotiate because its layout consists of a series of interlocking grids (most blocks being roughly square) traversed by broad boulevards. Furthermore, although the metropolitan area is divided into 46 distinct barrios, the areas of principal interest (downtown, Recoleta, Palermo Chico, San Telmo, and La Boca) are more or less contiguous and easily navigated: Except in rush-hour traffic, no two points within these barrios should be more than a 30-minute cab ride apart.
The main street-level artery is the enormously wide Avenida 9 de Julio, which runs north-south and is punctuated at its center by the Obelisco, an obelisk constructed to celebrate the city's 400th anniversary in 1936. Downtown—government and commercial buildings, the main shopping streets, and some major hotels—stretches from the river, east of Avenida 9 de Julio, to Avenida Callao, on its west.
At its northern end, Avenida 9 de Julio swerves to the left and connects with Avenida del Libertador, which leads to the turn-of-the-century district of Recoleta, a Paris-like quarter of expensive apartments, good hotels, and smart shopping where the Museum of Fine Arts, Recoleta Cemetery, and many other monuments are situated. Beyond Recoleta lies Palermo—a middle-class neighborhood that contains the National Polo Fields, a handsome racetrack, and Los Parques de Palermo, Buenos Aires' version of Central Park.
San Telmo, which is home to many antique shops, art galleries, and tanguerías, and La Boca, a working-class Italian barrio of brightly colored houses and lively cantinas, are south of downtown.
Buenos Aires is an ideal city to explore on foot—though crossing the heavily trafficked expanse of Avenida 9 de Julio can be nerve-racking. Allow a day for each barrio, another day to visit the historic suburb of San Isidro or take the riverside train to the beautiful vacation town of Tigre.
The following Fine Hotels & Resorts appear in this area:
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
Alvear Palace Hotel
The Marriott Plaza Hotel
The Park Hyatt Buenos Aires Open since April 1992, this first venture of Hyatt International in Argentina is indisputably the city's most modern, efficient, and luxurious hotel. It's conveniently located at one end of Calle Posadas—a fashionable shopping street in the exclusive Recoleta district. Though a new building, it has a traditional ambiance, with marble everywhere in true Latin style. The staff here is astonishingly helpful—they remember all your little preferences; this is one of the few places in Buenos Aires to offer true five-star service.
The 165 rooms and suites are unusually spacious, with lavishly marble-clad and, in the suites, Jacuzzi-equipped bathrooms; but try to book accommodations at the rear of the hotel, from the eighth to the 12th floors, where traffic noise is muted. From here you can enjoy a stunning view of the Jockey Club, Carlos Pellegrini Square, the French and Brazilian Embassies, and the hotel's own historic annex, La Mansión.
La Mansión is a vast Belle Epoque palace that was built at the turn of the century for a wealthy Argentine family. Carefully remodeled, it holds several manorial banquet rooms and six dramatic suites (the airy reception rooms and huge bedchambers have retained their original rococo decor), each of which is managed by a full-time butler. (Madonna stayed in the 2,700- square-foot Mozart Suite during the filming of Evita.) La Mansión is linked to the Park Hyatt's main tower (The Park) by a narrow garden, which has both a swimming pool and a glass dome; beneath the dome is a large café, from which you can look up at the annex's flamboyant mansards. La Mansíon: $445-$3,200; The Park: $425-$990. Calle Posadas 1086/88; 326-1234; fax 326-3736.
Alvear Palace Hotel Built in 1932 in the heart of Recoleta, this is Buenos Aires' quintessential grand hotel in the European (which, around here, means the French) manner. With sumptuous interiors in the Louis XVI and Empire styles, the hotel boasts at least one architectural triumph: an oval-contoured, 11-story-high, white-marble spiral staircase. In 1994 the Alvear Palace was totally refurbished, and several rooms or suites are redecorated every year on a rotating basis: The result is a collection of unique interiors.
One of the great pleasures at the hotel is the buffet-style breakfast which is served in L'Orangerie—an airy, flower-bedecked conservatory-restaurant that also offers an elegant afternoon tea. There are 10 other grand public salons or meeting places: The one most regularly patronized by the capital's elite is the Roof Garden, a palatial superstructure of some 14,400 square feet. It has an extravagant pergola-covered terrace.
The Alvear Palace has 200 rooms, including 120 luxury suites, all individually furnished; the larger ones contain original works of early-20th-century art. The hotel is surrounded by busy streets, so naturally the upper floors are quieter. Corner suites, such as the Governor Suite, enjoy great natural light as well as the best views. $300-$3,000. Avenida Alvear 1891; 808-2100 or 804-7777; fax 804-0034.
The Marriott Plaza Hotel The Plaza was built in 1909, and everyone who was anyone in modern Argentine history has passed through it. Four years ago, when the Marriott chain took over the historic but antiquated Plaza, on the Plaza San Martín, there was every reason to expect that it would turn into yet another high-class but rather standardized hotel. The mixed news is that it has retained much (though not all) of its charm, but has never really gotten its act together. This is a hotel with some very beautiful features—an outdoor swimming pool overlooking the spectacular, massively crowned ombu tree on the plaza; a brasserie decorated with cute-as-a-button 1933 murals; a classic restaurant—yet it is also a hotel where your voice-mail breaks down, your bidet leaks, and the stopper won't come out of your bathtub. But if you like to make new friends at three in the morning, this is the place: A fantastically attentive and charming staff, fully aware of the problems, will send someone rushing to your succor at any time of the day or night.
The rooms have been rather fussily redecorated, though the 38 suites are more handsome and the semi-oval ones at the front have wonderful views over the voluminous verdure of that ombu tree. On the eighth floor, there's a pleasant and useful executive lounge, open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays. (For more about the first-rate restaurant, The Plaza Grill, see Restaurants.) The wood-paneled sublevel bar is a beautiful period piece right out of a Carmen Miranda movie. All in all, there is something sort of dreamy, almost Hollywoodesque, about this hotel. One feels it's for Bohemians, playboys, heiresses, adventurers, or for those who like to shop—Calle Florida, a pedestrian street lined with stores, begins at the hotel's doorstep. $300-$900. Calle Florida 1005; 318-3000; fax 318-3008.
The Plaza Grill One of the landmark restaurants of Buenos Aires, this is a vaulted room in the Spanish-manorial style, with a huge hearth, Delft-blue-tiled walls, and a decorative parilla, or grill. An added, Edwardian feature is a pair of Bangalore-style punkahs that can still swing noisily back and forth. The restaurant's impeccable service and large wine list make The Plaza Grill a generally reliable choice for luxury dining. This is the place for choice cuts of beef or, in winter, the famous puchero, a three-meat stew that is to Argentina what cassoulet is to Toulouse or paella to Valencia. Try it with a light-red Martins (a very reputable local grower) or an oaky Chardonnay. South Atlantic fish, such as black bass, is done to perfection here. On a recent visit seafood appetizers and fillet of hake were superb, but the bife de chorizo, an Argentine beefsteak much-prized for flavor, had, according to one porteño judge, "slipped a bit." $100. Calle Florida 1005; 318-3000 ext. 874.
Cabana Las Lilas This place is one of many restaurants in Puerto Madero—a spiffy, newly redeveloped stretch of quayside real estate. The long, vaguely ranch-like but really rather chic dining room looks out over a disused maritime watercourse. Las Lilas derives its cachet from the simple fact that it is managed by, and gets all its beef from, one of the best cattle ranches in Argentina. The unpretentious but also unsurpassed food consists of fabulously tasty steaks, grilled evenly through in the Argentine manner. (If you want your meat served super-rare, French-style, ask for it "blue.") Basically, Las Lilas does what any corner parilla does, but this is top-of-the-line. $80. Calle Alicia Moreau de Justo 516; 313-1336.
Katrine Not far from Las Lilas, also in Puerto Madero, Norwegian chef Katrine Röed is doing something completely different—serving "Mediterranean cuisine," which is almost universally praised for its delicate touch by Buenos Aires gourmets. Recommended dishes include a delectable endive salad with smoked salmon and a sea bass in a shrimp ragout. This place also looks out on the water and seats a good 120 guests, but it is all done up in champagne tones. The wine list is short but features some good, and not too expensive, selections. $120. Calle Alicia Moreau de Justo 138; 315-6221.
Dolli Popular chef Dolli Irigoyen recently moved her restaurant to this chic three-story townhouse beside the Plaza Uruguay. She offers Argentine interpretations of the classics, and is particularly strong on fish (delicate Pacific salmon and couscous) and meat (tenderloin in a characterful wine-and-shallot sauce, with rosemary potatoes and a delicious little eggplant Parmesan). For starters, Gruyère and mushroom flan or octopus salad are both excellent. The wine list, which runs from $17 to $260, favors Trapiche, Chandon, and Champagne. A dressy crowd fills this glossy, glamorous marble-accented mansion from 9 p.m. to at least 2 a.m., so reserve well in advance; it is also a popular spot for large parties. The most romantic tables here are on the top floor, overlooking the gardens of the Plaza Uruguay. $120. Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3004; 806-3366.
El Vasco Frances (Le Basque Français) One of the gastronomic joys of Buenos Aires is that it holds as if in aspic some of the finest cookery of its constituent ethnic groups, especially the Spanish, Italians, and Basques. The Centro Vasco Francés, the social center of the city's French-Basque community, built ca. 1890, used to have one of the niftiest Beaux Arts facades in the capital; it's ruined now, but the high-ceilinged interior, with its skylit staircase, gigantic Provençal chandeliers, and lofty French windows, takes you back half a century or more. The untouristed dining room is a wonderful, airy place to have lunch, along with hundreds of porteños, mostly businessmen in their shirtsleeves talking soccer or government corruption. Susana Uriona has been managing El Vasco Francés as a concession for 10 years. She serves a rich assortment of Argentine, French-Basque, Spanish-Basque, and Spanish dishes, based mostly on fish or seafood, and recommends the Basque platos típicos, like fish soup, calamaretes (baby squid), sea bass in green sauce, fresh eel, bacalao, and peppers stuffed with fish. To go with seafood she might suggest a Castel Chandon or a Luigi Bosca Chardonnay, but her real preference is for reds like a soft Comte de Valmont or a Trapiche Medalla. In no way fancy, this is old-fashioned cuisine bourgeoise at its most soul-satisfying. $60. Upstairs in El Centro Vasco Francés, Calle Moreno 1370; 382-0244.
Sabot A smallish, pleasant room on a nondescript block, Sabot must be one of the world's best Italian trattorias. It's a favorite of Dereck Foster, the astute Anglo-Argentine who for decades has been writing food and wine criticism for the Buenos Aires Herald. "Put yourself in Franco's hands," says Foster, and he's right. Owner-chef Franco Gonano, the son of Italian immigrants from the region of Friuli, was brought up in the beautiful province of Córdoba, half a day's drive from Buenos Aires, and like an old-style Friulano restaurateur he's scoured the countryside (often on horseback) for its culinary potentialities, turning up, among other things, a wonderful wild mushroom from the Córdoba heaths. Dishes vary daily—although superb homemade salami is a speciality of the house, as is cabrito al horno (roast baby goat), fabulous stuffed pasta, and, in winter, puchero. Gonano is a charmer with a devoted clientele. In this clubby, insiders' spot, local shopkeepers call out greetings to industrial tycoons. Sabot's wine list is strong on Argentine selections for under $20; again—unless you're an expert—put yourself in Franco's hands. Saturday, dinner only; closed Sunday. $60. Calle 25 de Mayo 756; 313-6587.
Buenos Aires has a highly developed café society, but the espresso and cappuccino that are served in this South American capital are dilute by Italian—or even American—standards. If you want stronger coffee, ask for a café muy concentrado or muy corto.
CláSica Y Moderna An atmospheric, much-favored bookstore-café—its character changes intriguingly, depending on the time of day—where you can get coffee or a meal while browsing through a Borges masterpiece or an art magazine. 7 a.m.-3 a.m. Avenida Callao 892; 812-8707.
Gran Cafe Tortoni The dark, dreamy atmosphere of this cavernous place—the city's oldest and most famous literary café—carries you back decades in the history of Buenos Aires. Founded in 1858, it may seem the original "sad café," but it offers a varying program of evening entertainment that has included tango and jazz. Call for details about what's up currently. Avenida de Mayo 825; 342-4328.
Cipriani Dolci Just inside the Libertador entrance to the Patio Bullrich shopping center, and not clearly visible from the street, this trendy café-restaurant is much-patronized by upscale shoppers who are seeking a light lunch. About $30. Avenida del Libertador 750; 811-4955.
La Biela The quintessential Recoleta sidewalk café for people-watching and a fine place for tea, it looks across a park to the walls of the Recoleta Cemetery. Cash only. Avenida Quintana 600; 804-0449.
Cafe De La Paix Across the street from La Biela, and perhaps a tad snootier. Young men of uncertain métier carrying portfolios, their carefully groomed female companions with sunglasses perched on coiffures. Avenida Quintana 595; 804-6820.
La Rambla A quiet, patrician-mannered sidewalk café near the Alvear Palace Hotel, with old, rich woodwork; huge mirrors; and an indoor loggia. La Rambla is much-praised in the neighborhood for its lomito (beef) sandwiches. Cash only. Calle Posadas 1602; 804-6958.
Bár Baro This café has a dark, intimate atmosphere and boasts lots of exposed period woodwork. The clientele here tends to be artsy but grown-up. Cash only. Calle Tres Sargentos 415; 311-6856.
The Plaza De Mayo Five blocks to the east of the Avenida 9 de Julio, this is the main square and historic and governmental heart of Buenos Aires, with the requisite classic facades, clocks, domes, and statues. On one side is the Casa Rosada, or Pink House, the rose-colored presidential palace from whose balconies Eva Perón addressed her adoring public. On the other side is the Edificio Libertador, headquarters of the Argentine military command. Here, too, is the Cabildo (colonial town hall), which now has a museum. At the corner of Alsina and Defensa is the Farmacia de la Estrella, a magnificent, perfectly preserved turn-of-the-century pharmacy.
Teatro Colón On the Avenida 9 de Julio, near the Obelisco, is the enormous Teatro Colón, one of the world's grandest opera houses. Built in the era of Puccini, between 1890 and 1908, it occupies an entire city block. The foyer, with its Italian marble and stained-glass dome, is marvelously pompous; the multitiered horseshoe interior glimmers with an almost un- believable quantity of brass encrustation. A fascinating tour of Teatro Colón, including a circuit of its workshops, is offered Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-noon. Orchestra tickets for operatic productions at the Colón run approximately $100; for ballets, about $50. Main theater entrance is on Libertad. Box office/tours: Calle Cerrito 618; 382-6632.
Recoleta Centered around the public gardens of the Plaza Intendente Alvear and the Plaza Francia, this barrio is the Knightsbridge of Buenos Aires, mingling chic shopping on tree-lined boulevards with museums, expensive hotels, and palatial residences. Well worth seeing are the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Pilar, a chaste colonial basilica completed in 1732 (Calle Junín 1904), and the nearby Centro Cultural Recoleta, which has special exhibitions (Calle Junín 1930; 804-3904; 803-9744). Several of the city's chief museums are situated in Recoleta (see Museums). At the head of the Avenida Quintana are two well-known sidewalk cafés, La Biela and the Café de la Paix (see Cafés), where you can sit and watch the beautiful people. But the star attraction here is unquestionably the Italian-style cemetery, the Cementerio de la Recoleta, with its labyrinthine avenues of ornate family tombs. This is a veritable city of the dead. Ask an attendant to direct you to the rather modest Duarte family tomb, which holds the mortal remains of Eva Duarte Perón, known to the world as Evita. The mausoleum's grille is always badged with flowers by her admirers. A plaque bears the famous injunction "No me llores . . ." ("Don't cry for me . . ."). Open 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Calle Junín, beside the Iglesia Pilar.
Palermo A residential barrio northwest of Recoleta, its chief glory is the vast Parques de Palermo, a Central Park-like system of contiguous parklands, recreational fields, urban woodlands, botanical gardens, and paddleboat lakes—there's also a zoo and a municipal golf course. Adjoining all this are the Campo Argentino de Polo and the Hipódromo Argentino—the national polo fields and the lovely Argentine racetrack. At the southern tip of the barrio is the tiny, enchanted quarter of Palermo Chico, the city's most exclusive residential enclave. Thanks to its winding streets and sequestered plazas, this collection of exquisite little palaces and imaginative hôtels particuliers—many of them now embassies—is not grand or forbidding but warm and charming. On the other hand, the nearby Biblioteca Nacional really might be called quite forbidding. Designed in 1962 by the Italian-born architect-painter Clorindo Testa, who for many decades was a courtly presence in the city's cultural life, the stark concrete monolith was not completed until 1992. The library is bitterly resented by many residents, but it deserves a serious look. National Library, Avenida del Libertador 1600; 806-6155.
San Telmo About a quarter of a mile south of the Plaza de Mayo, this is one of Buenos Aires' most atmospheric old quarters. Shortly before 10 a.m. every Sunday morning a flea market opens here on the picturesque little Plaza Dorrego. Offering prices are not low, but haggling is part of the drill. Many of the city's most interesting antiques shops are in the neighborhood, especially along the Avenida de la Defensa—the Portobello Road of Buenos Aires—but quality varies, so shop around. By the Plaza Dorrego you may also see street performers or hear a guitar concert, very possibly of professional quality. If you need refreshment, there is the Plaza Dorrego Bar at the corner of the Calle Humberto I and La Defensa. Many tango clubs are also situated here (see Dance Fever).
La Boca The southernmost barrio that any visitor is likely to explore, La Boca is a tourist trap. And like many tourist traps, it's a must. About a third of Buenos Aires' inhabitants have Italian last names, and La Boca is the most distinctively Italian of all the capital's districts. With its sludgy Riachuelo watercourse, its gantry cranes, and its rusting hulls and brooding warehouses, La Boca epitomizes the picturesque-harbor side of the Argentine capital. Here and there the Bombonera Stadium, which is home to the Boca Juniors fútbol (soccer) team, heaves into view, but most visual interest is supplied by the brilliantly colorful painted houses around Caminito, a short pedestrian lane. If you get hungry, try La Barbería a café-restaurant run by an amiable bunch of Genoese porteños (many of the locals here have Genoese grandparents). The pastas are rather un-Italian but scrumptious nonetheless: They run about $10. (Cash only; Calle Pedro de Mendoza 1959). Or you might try the curiously named, and even more curiously decorated, El Samovar de Rasputín, a pizzeria favored by Luciano Pavarotti, just around the corner on Calle del Valle Iberlucea.
Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes, the National Fine Arts Museum, is perhaps the premier institution of its type in Latin America. The collections are particularly strong in three areas: old masters, especially the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch School; the French 19th century, including large Rodin carved pieces; and, naturally, Argentine painting, from the handsome academic realism of the last century to contemporary works of art. Tuesday-Friday 12:30-7:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Avenida del Libertador 1473; 803-4062.
Museo Nacional De Arte Oriental Y Decorativo, the National Museum of Oriental and Decorative Art, is housed in a very imposing Louis XVI-style mansion containing two quite different collections. Downstairs is a large and important collection of decorative arts, furniture, and paintings; upstairs is a collection of Asian and Islamic art. The house belonged to the Chilean diplomat Matías Errázuriz and his wife, Josefina. Its interior merits a visit in its own right. Daily 2-7 p.m. Avenida del Libertador 1902; 801-8248.
Museo Xul Solar No one should leave Buenos Aires without seeing this jewel-like little museum. Designed by Pablo Beitia and finished in the spring of 1993, it does not figure in guidebooks. The paintings of Xul Solar (1887-1963), a friend of Jorge Luis Borges, are sometimes inspired, mostly just fey; but the building, pierced by a well of daylight and articulated by means of many slightly irregular planes, is simply pure magic. Monday-Friday 2-8 p.m. Calle Laprida 1212; 824-3302.
Museo De Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernández Blanco This attractive and interesting small museum, which was constructed around 1921 in a neo-colonial manner, has an excellent collection of early Latin-American art of all sorts, and delightful grounds. Closed January. Tuesday-Sunday 2-7 p.m.; closed Monday. Calle Suipacha 1422; 327-0272.
The large 21 percent VAT and the artificial pegging of the peso to the U.S. dollar mean that there are few bargains here. Most merchandise appears steeply overpriced, though theoretically the VAT on new domestic products will be restored to you—upon production of a certified merchant's receipt—by the tax authorities at the airport. In practice, however, this can take more haggling than is worthwhile.
Patio Bullrich Complete with picturesque traces of its earlier avatar as a livestock-auction house, this multilevel shopping center in fashionable Recoleta is well worth exploring. Upstairs, for example, Carteras Italianas—despite its name—sells attractive locally made leather handbags. Apart from a wide variety of upscale shops, there are restaurants, coffee bars, and movie theaters. (Note: Foreign movies in Argentina aren't dubbed but subtitled, so you can see the latest American releases in English.) Avenida del Libertador 750; 815-3501/0405.
Casa López This source of quality Argentine-designed-and-made leatherwear used to have a branch on Madison Avenue in New York. The sympathetic Jorge di Rocco can assist you in choosing from the stylish range of bags, belts, and other accessories. You can get a classically simple, blue leather handbag for under $300; a calfskin briefcase for $159; and women's gloves in carpincho (capybara leather) for $89-$119. Calle Marcelo T. de Alvear 640 and 658, Plaza San Martín; 311-3044.
Pallarols Established in Barcelona in 1750, this dynasty of master silversmiths is now in its seventh generation of supplying well-heeled Argentines with fabulous silverware. Juan Carlos Pallarols and his two sons work out of a second-floor atelier in a mansion on San Telmo's historic Plaza Dorrego, creating a wide assortment of sterling objects ranging from elegantly simple pot-and-cup sets for hot chocolate to enormously complicated chalices for liturgical use. Whatever the piece, the level of workmanship here can be described as nothing short of extraordinary (Pallarols recently opened a boutique in New York at 46 East 65th Street; 212-452-2866). Calle Defensa 1039; 361-7360.
Chiche Farrace Designer Chiche Farrace runs a leather workshop producing her own clothing, some of it really attractive, especially the jackets. Farrace has several shops, most notably the one in the Galerías Pacifico (San Martín 760, Local 332A; 319-5365). But better prices on some of her goods can sometimes be found at the factory, Fábrica Chiche Farrace, Avenida de Mayo 963, 2nd floor, Apartment 8. Call first: 345-2776/0872.
Eguiguren This shop, run by the family of the same name, is Buenos Aires' premier retail source of Argentine and Latin American colonial and 19th-century art and antiques. It's the sort of place where you can find a gilded wooden Madonna and Child from an 18th-century Jesuit mission, or a Jesuit horatorio de viaje, a traveling altar, in black jacaranda. Prices are high, but not in comparison with those asked for similar objects in the United States. Cash only. Calle Ayacucho 2038; 806-7546; fax 806-7554.
Guido Scion of a family of Genoese shoemakers, Pablo Bagnasco can still be seen working in his cobbler's apron in the back of this charming equestrian shop. His apprentice Pablito will show you all the classic paraphernalia of gaucho life: matés and bombillas (ornate silver straws) for drinking the national herb decoction, yerba maté; ornate silver buttons, buckles, and fastenings; ceremonial knives with scabbards of finely woven leather; horn carvings; riding crops and boots. A big silver double-buckle with your engraved initials runs about $150; a pair of riding boots will cost $350 and up if made to order. Calle Montevideo 1613; 812-3939.
Arandú This small gaucho-style leather business, which operates three stores elsewhere in Argentina, caters almost exclusively to the local trade. Arandú welcomes commissions for objects in leather or silver, such as heavy buckles with initials, saddles, and riding boots, which range in price from $270 to $350. The shop also offers its own line of leather office articles, such as attaché cases, portfolios, agendas, and personal organizers, as well as silver bracelets, cuff links, and tie bars. Calle Paraguay 1259; 816-6191/3689; fax 816-1371.
Yocasta A specialist in very old Argentine and Peruvian silver, some of it colonial. Because silversmiths of that period lacked engraving and electroplating technology they developed attractively idiosyncratic hammering and chasing methods. Goblets, basins, silvered calabashes, stirrups, saddles with silver mounts—the gaucho culture poured all its spare money into boastful precious metal. Prices, especially for smith-signed pieces, can be high, but much of this material is rare. The store has been run for more than two decades by the expansive Nito Bevillaqua, a walking reference-book on his field. Cash only. Calle Paraguay 630, Galería del Sol, Local 87; 313-6045; fax 802-2094.
Plata Nativa Around the corner from Yocasta, in the Galería del Sol, partners Marta Campana, Negra Luna, and Leo Alche manage this small shop with two crammed floors. Plata nativa means "native silver," but they really specialize in a wide range of native crafts—mostly old if not necessarily antique—from Argentina and Peru, especially Cuzco. As it happens, the owners have excellent taste. Objects for sale (many made by Indians) include household altars, silver pins, devotional figurines, exceptionally fine textiles, and retablos, or ex-voto paintings on tin. The prices here are mostly in the $500-$5,000 range, a bit cheaper than what you'd pay in New York or Santa Fe. Calle Florida 860, Galería del Sol, Local 41; 312-1398.
Arte Etnico Argentino You may want to linger in this deeply aesthetic showroom-patio-workshop space, where the adventurous Ricardo Paz Bullrich and his associate Juan Martín y Herrera have installed a business devoted to the "ethnic" (that is, largely mestizo) arts and crafts of northwestern Argentina. You'll see superb wool, vicuña, and llama flat-weaves—including some of museum quality—as well as rustic furniture in exotic woods. Cash only. Calle El Salvador 4656; 832-0516.
Francesca Romana This young Italian jewelry designer lives in Brazil and works with the vast range of Brazilian semiprecious stones. For women who can carry off such things, these are large, handsome, sometimes dramatic pieces, in agate, tourmaline, topaz, onyx, and even freshwater pearls. Romana's mountings are gold-plated. A bracelet of Indian inspiration, with several different stones, costs $120. Francesca Romana is represented in Buenos Aires by María Robirosa de Elizalde. Cash only. By appointment only. Call well in advance: tel/fax 802-7865.
Art Petrus Another source of jewelry and objets made from semiprecious stones, including lapis lazuli and malachite, this time from the Argentine provinces. The shop specializes in rhodochrosite, the so-called Inca Rose, which is a vivid pink color somewhat similar to coral. Calle Florida 943; 313-7091; fax 313-2505.
J.C. Naón & Cía, Hotel De Ventas This auction house, located in a lovely townhouse in Recoleta, organizes estate sales of very beautiful things—antique furniture, glassware, porcelain, paintings, silver, objets d'art—about once a month. The firm advertises only to subscribers, so you have to contact its offices in advance to find out about upcoming sales. Calle Guido 1785; tel/fax 811-1685; 813-4943; 812-6129.
Bullrich, Gaona & Wernicke Arturo Bullrich runs this auction house much as Naón & Cía run theirs. You should inquire well in advance about their sales schedule. Calle Maipú 932; 311-4539.
Ruth Benzacar The eponymous gallery-owner, a diminutive grande dame, has really gone to bat for her artists over the past few decades—and that's not an easy task in Argentina. At this gallery you can view, among other things, the work of Daniel García, Luis F. Benedit—a rather big figure in Argentine art—and the paintings of the well-known architect Clorindo Testa. Cash only. Calle Florida 1000, sublevel, at the Plaza San Martín; 312-1113.
Zurbarán Specializing in Argentine art, this gallery, under director Ignacio Gutiérrez Zaldívar, has amassed an indiscriminate bag of work. But the early-20th-century pictures of Florencio Molina Campos deserve a long look: Behind the apparent vulgarity lurks a subtle—even visionary— sensibility that has influenced contemporary Argentine artists. Cash only. Calle Cerrito 1522; 815-1556; fax 815-3644.
Galeria Rubbers Antonio Seguí is among the internationally known talents represented by director Natalio Jorge Povarché. Cash only. Calle Suipacha 1175; 393-6010; fax 393-6682.
Der Brücke This remodeled vault under a disused railway bridge is an impressive piece of commercial design. Gallery-owner Diana Lowenstein is currently campaigning to make some of Argentina's best artists—including the painter Eduardo Hoffmann and the sculptor Hernán Dompé—better-known abroad. Cash only. Paseo de la Infanta, Arco 10, Avenida del Libertador 3883; tel/fax 775-2175/9820.
San Isidro This riverside suburb a short cab ride north of the city is old and very patrician. Walking around its leafy streets, you'll get tantalizing glimpses of exuberant gardens and cool, tiled patios through wrought-iron gates. There are attractive cafés and restaurants—Pizza Cero, with its courtyard dining being particularly recommendable (Avenida del Libertador 15800; 743-0618). Nearby are two glamorous facilities that are run by the Jockey Club: The superb San Isidro Race Track (743-4010) and the San Isidro Golf Club (766-6625), which is ostensibly private but where either of the travel agents listed below under Estancia Visits can arrange access for you during the week.
Tigre Further north than San Isidro, about 40 minutes on the commuter train that runs from Retiro Station in the city, is the enchanting vacation town of Tigre. Located on the delta at the juncture of the River Plate and the Paraná River, this beguiling spot offers a riverside promenade, Paseo Victorica, along which there are rowing, boating, and yachting clubs, many little restaurants and picnic spots, and various forms of ferry and watercraft available for cruising the innumerable islands of the delta or even crossing over to Uruguay.
Estancia Visits Something you may want to do while in Buenos Aires is visit or stay on an estancia, one of the traditional aristocratic ranches where the famous Argentine beef is raised. There are many choices, depending on how much time you have or just how far you want to travel, but here are two reliable agents who cannot only arrange such visits, but provide any information you may need or assistance you may want in the way of guides, translators, and itinerary planning for both the city and the country: Maita Barrenechea (Maiten, Avenida Córdoba 657, 3rd floor; 314-3390; fax 314-3290) and Patricia Acuña (Business and Entertainment Center, Calle Marcelo T. de Alvear 445, 3rd floor; 312-7104; fax 312-3789).
Argentina is one of the few countries where polo has a mass following. About six to eight teams, sponsored by the likes of Asprey and Marlboro, compete in November and December to make it into the Argentine Open Championship at the Campo Argentino de Polo in Palermo, the Wimbledon of the pony set.
If you want to learn how to play polo, or to brush up your game, then undoubtedly Argentina is the best place to do so—and La Martina Polo Ranch, an Arcadian estancia about one hour's drive outside Buenos Aires, is the best polo school in Argentina. The 350-acre estate is home to the Cambiaso family, four of whose members—Adolfo Sr., Adolfo Jr., and his two half brothers, Marcial and Salvador Socas—are prize-winning players. (The strikingly handsome 22-year-old Adolfo Jr., a 10-goal player, is treated like a film star in his homeland.) There are several residences spread around the parklike property—some relatively modest, some quite grand—which can be rented, but most people attending the polo clinic are accommodated in one of the nine simple but pleasant double rooms in two guest houses. (The estancia is lovely enough to visit even if you have no intention of playing polo; other activities offered include riding, tennis, paddle tennis, and swimming.) Despite the snapshots of Prince Charles and other grandees in the living room, the form here is unsnobbish and seriously athletic—La Martina claims it can teach even a nonrider to play the game in 10 days, but don't think it's not hard work. The cost of accommodation, plus all-day polo clinic—which comprises as much instruction in riding and stick-and-ball as anyone can take, with all equipment but helmet, gloves, and boots provided—is $300 per day; accommodation alone is $160. La Martina Polo Ranch has a retail shop in downtown Buenos Aires that sells excellent riding gear, leather accessories, and fine apparel; you can make reservations for the ranch there (Calle Paraguay 661; 315-0861; fax 311-5963). Or make your arrangements through one of the agents listed above under Estancia Visits.
The Argentine tango is an elastic, four-beat dance step that is probably of African origin. About 1890 it caught on with the criminal classes of the Buenos Aires suburbs, where it became popular in brothels and later in dance halls. The music was typically played by a combo featuring guitars and, soon after, the bandoneón, an accordionlike instrument with a hoarse, wistful tone and an aptness for bending notes and chords. The tango became more widely known thanks largely to the talents of Carlos Gardel, who before his early death in 1935 popularized it as a form of cabaret song. (Photos of the debonair Gardel in his dashing felt hat are pinned up everywhere in Buenos Aires.) After decades of neglect, the tango has been revived in recent years, most successfully by the late Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, who imaginatively stretched its basic forms.
Contemporary Buenos Aires is full of tango clubs that offer everything from Rockette-style extravaganzas to mossy recordings played over elderly sound systems. Most of these clubs are fun in one way or another—it all depends on what you want. Here is a guide to some of them, but do recheck for times and prices because they change occasionally, especially over the summer or around holidays.
These places, which offer professionally choreographed shows and dinner, are patronized mostly by foreigners, but they are also respected by natives. (Unless otherwise noted, tango shows are performed once a night and begin sometime between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Call in advance to check starting time.)
Señor Tango A gigantic show in a Luna Park atmosphere, corny and sorely overpriced but stunningly well-danced and accompanied by a solid dinner. $200 for two, including show, dinner, wine, and Champagne. Cash only. Calle Vieytes and Calle Osvaldo Cruz (in Barracas, near La Boca; ask your concierge for directions on how to get there); 303-0231/2/3.
El Viejo Almacén For a similar, less flagrantly commercial spectacle that is cheaper, very well performed, and in San Telmo—which is easier to reach. Avenida Independencia and Calle Balcarce 799; 307-6689/6919.
Casa Blanca This is a society nightclub where porteños (Buenos Aires inhabitants) might bring their foreign friends or business contacts (President Menem has entertained foreign heads of state here). The show is very high-quality. Calle Balcarce 668; 331-4621.
Michelangelo Reputedly once a smugglers' den, this is an atmospheric club with an exceedingly high standard of performance. Calle Balcarce 433; 328-2646.
Bar Sur This San Telmo spot enjoys the particular esteem of local tango critics. Calle Estados Unidos 299; 362-6086.
Commercial tango shows are generally a mixed bag, in which genuine talent consorts with commercial vulgarization. If you want pure quality, as opposed to spectacle, go for name artists rather than clubs. Horácio Salgan and his group are steeped in the traditions of tango improvisation. Soledad Villemil's light-hearted revue "Glorias Porteñas," originally produced at La Trastienda (Balcarse 460; tel. 342-7650), promises to be around in one form or another for years.
El Club del Vino For something different, here's a wine bar with fairly good food and a tango program. It's become especially fashionable with the natives in recent years. Calle J. A. Cabrera 4737; 833-0050.
Café Homero An elegant establishment that has longstanding cachet with the natives, but note that it's in Palermo. Calle J.A. Cabrera 4946; 777-4059.
Neighborhood Dance Clubs
Many Buenos Aires cafés and clubs, most of them properly dingy, offer specific tango hours each week; here, to recorded music, you can try out your own skills or watch the gallant slow clockwork of a generally middle-aged porteño crowd. (Remember to dress smartly and to observe the slightly weird solemnity intrinsic to the tango.) These neighborhood dance clubs generally take cash only.
Club Almagro Tango on Tuesday and Friday-Sunday from 11 p.m. On Sunday a largely (but not exclusively) older crowd tangos and rumbas to scratchy sound in a social-club atmosphere. Lessons daily from 8 p.m. Cash only. Avenida Medrano 522; 774-7454.
Club Belgrano Mondays and Fridays from 9:30 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 p.m. Cash only. Calle Cochabamba 444; 361-9050.
Confitería Ideal The tango goes on upstairs, above the big ghostly café. Best on Fridays 1-8 p.m. Lessons Tuesday-Thursday noon-3 p.m. Avenida Suipacha 384; 362-0521; 683-3070.
La Cumparsita For the adventurous, this is a tiny, grungy, rather beguiling club where, late on weekend nights, Alfredo Belusi and other overly miked vocalists offer hour after hour of authentically rendered tango canciones. (Since this is an intimate space, don't go in groups of more than four.) Cash only. Calle Chile 302; 361-6880; 302-3387.
On certain Saturday nights the city of Buenos Aires sponsors Tango y Baile nights on the Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. Open free of charge to anyone with itchy feet.
These are offered by The Park Hyatt Buenos Aires (which also has a small but good tango show in its café, Le Dôme, every evening at 10; and by the Club Belgrano and Confitería Ideal (see above). For the truly tango-enfevered, there is the Academia Nacional del Tango, Avenida de Mayo 833 (next to the Gran Café Tortoni); 345-6968. The Universidad de Buenos Aires also offers classes. Avenida 25 de Mayo 217; 311-9898.
Narrative Tour on Evita—Lady Madonna
María Eva Duarte de Perón (1919-52), known as Evita, gets more glamorous every year, thanks largely to Andrew Lloyd Weber. In real life she was not so beautiful, a quasi-fascist autocrat well-versed in the arts of extortion and state terror. As travel agent Maita Barrenechea puts it, "Evita would brook no criticism of her husband [Colonel Juan Perón, who was elected president of Argentina in 1946]. Newspapers were closed, careers destroyed, and opponents jailed on trumped-up charges. She could be extremely vindicative, never forgetting an insult even if it were years old." Yet Evita championed the descamisados, the shirtless ones, becoming a symbol of hope for the poor. Her remains were sent to Europe for burial after Perón was overthrown in 1955; but on his death in 1974 Evita was reinterred in the Duarte family mausoleum in Recoleta Cemetery. Barrenechea, who speaks English, can organize a narrative tour of Evita's trajectory through Buenos Aires, from her beginnings as a common prostitute to her final resting place as a bona fide legend. Contact Maita Barrenechea c/o Maiten, Avenida Córdoba 657, 3rd floor; 314-3390; fax 314-3290.
About This Guide
Prices In U.S. dollars. Unless otherwise noted, the establishments listed accept the American Express Card.
Hotel Prices Hotel prices are for double occupancy but do not include the stiff 21 percent value-added tax, known here as the IVA. Service is included, but leave a five percent courtesy tip, going up to 15 or 20 percent for special assistance.
Restaurant Prices Restaurant prices are for two (lunch and dinner menus are usually the same) and do not include beverages. The standard tip is 10 percent.
Telephone Numbers The country code for Argentina is 54; the city code for Buenos Aires is 1.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS)
For assistance, call 800-443-7672. From abroad, call 602-492-5000 collect.
Hotel/resort is member of Platinum Card Fine Hotels & Resorts. Must be booked through PTS to obtain benefit.
Disclaimer: The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in May 1998, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.