To say that Buenos Aires (BA) has been through a lot in recent years, is the understatement of the century. The ‘Paris of the South’ has survived a series of corrupt governments, coup d’etats, dictatorships, military rule and more – yet managed to maintain its joie de vivre.
And for good reason as there are so many things to enjoy in Argentina’s charismatic capital from its stately European facade to the superfluous steak, tango, infectious football games and the proud, passionate Portenos (BA residents) themselves.
Or as American writer, Truman Capote, once termed it: “Brazil was beastly but Buenos Aires the best. Not Tiffany’s, but almost”.
Cruise port location
Located in the barrio of Retiro, right in the heart of the city, Buenos Aires cruise port (known locally as Puerto Nuevo, meaning New Port) is a part of the Argentine principal maritime port.
Cruise ship lines that call at Buenos Aires cruise port include Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Carnival, Celebrity Cruises and MSC Cruises. The cruising season is from January to December.
Can I walk to any places of interest?
Not really. We’d recommend taking a (metered) taxi unless you really, really love walking.
BA has a public transport system that Londoners would kill for: it’s easy to navigate, reliable and ridiculously cheap to boot. Taxis are also good value and a great way to cut across the city at night. Most taxi drivers are honest souls but there are a few chancers who will try to pull the old bank note switcheroo, whereby the perfect 50 peso note you pay your taxi driver is somehow swapped right before your eyes and handed back to you with a mysterious rip in it. The driver then sadly shakes his head and says that he can’t accept this damaged note before demanding another.
What to see and do
What can I do in four hours or less?
Adventures abound all over BA but Plaza de Mayo, in downtown, is as good a place to start as any. On the east side of this excitable square (protests and demonstrations are as much a daily event as dinner), lies La Casa Rosada whose pretty pink facade illustrates what happens when pigs blood is mixed with white paint…
The Presidential palace (tour the building for free on a Saturday or Sunday upon presentation of your passport) is home to the balcony where Argentina’s most famous son, footballing god Diego Maradona, greeted crowds from the balcony after winning the 1986 World Cup for Argentina. The pink palace is also where Evita – the country’s beloved First Lady – used to address her legion of fans often called the ‘descamisados’ (shirtless ones) owing to their impoverished status.
The life of the charismatic, if controversial, second wife of Juan Domingo Perón was cut short (Evita died of cancer in 1952, aged 33), but her presence continues to be felt – as the 100ft tall iron portrait of Evita, which looks down on the 14 lane Avenue 9 de Julio, bears testimony to.
In need of a pick me up before you continue sightseeing? Order a Cafe Cortado (essentially a shot of espresso, with an equal amount of steamed milk) and medialuna (small croissant) at a historic Cafe Tortoni with its wooden walls, crystal chandeliers and elegant stained glass windows.
Refuelled? It’s time to check out BA’s number one tourist attraction, Recoleta Cemetery (Junin 1760; 8am-6pm), where generations of Argentina’s great and good, including Evita, were buried. Don’t worry about missing Evita’s mausoleum – simply follow the crowds and you can’t fail to find the former First Lady’s final resting place. Free tours are offered in English at 11am every Tuesday and Thursday.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
Seek out San Telmo, a barrio beloved by bohemians and artists alike that’s famous for its narrow cobbled streets and crumbling villas. If you’re in town on a Sunday, swing by the Feria de San Telmo (from 10am) – an unmissable market selling some of BA’s best arts, crafts and souvenirs including bombilla, the metal straw used to drink Argentina’s beloved Mate (a bitter herb drink) that’s punctuated by colourful street performances and vendors peddling empanadas (super South American pies) for peanuts.
Close by lies the working class barrio of La Boca, home to the colourful corrugated metal buildings (the ones that you see on the cover of every guidebook) and the legendary La Bombonera stadium. This is where Boca Juniors –Argentina’s favourite football club – play in their famous la azul y oro (blue and gold) strip. Getting your hands on tickets can be a torturous and expensive task so you may have to settle for seeing the stadium and pitch during a visit to the Museo de la Pasión Boquense, the first thematic football museum in South America.
One essential is to experience a milonga (traditional tango dance night). BA is the capital of tango – the sexy yet melancholy strut that has seduced the world. A few milongas to try include include Confiteria Ideal (the grand dame of BA’s tango scene), La Cathedral (Baires’ coolest tango club) and La Glorieta – a free outdoor milonga that takes place every Saturday and Sunday evening at the Barrancas de Belgrano bandstand.
But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t squeeze in all of the above. There’s always next time, because a single trip to Baires (as the city is affectionately known) will never be enough. Visit once and you’ll find yourself, as I did, returning again and again and again…
Eat and drink
Arrive with an appetite as BA boasts a fantastic food scene. Argentina’s legendary steakhouses need no introduction but you’ll also, thanks to Italian immigration in the past, find first class pizza and pasta that can be washed down with copious amounts of Malbec.
Vegetarians aren’t neglected either: dedicated veggie restaurants have popped up all over the city, particularly in affluent Palermo (take a bow Bio and Artemisia).
Regardless of whether or not you eschew meat, be prepared to dine late. Dinner is rarely eaten before 10pm at the earliest – while boliches (night clubs) and milongas (tango clubs) don’t open much before midnight.
For dinner with a difference, make a reservation at a puerta cerrada – aka a closed-door restaurant. This underground dining concept has swept the city and basically sees talented chefs serve private dinners in their own homes. One caveat: don’t forget to bring cash (it’s a cash only world in Argentina).
Don’t leave Buenos Aires without…
Picking up a pair of tango shoes (BA is the capital of tango) on Suipacha. Other good value souvenirs include alfajores (cookie sandwiches filled with divine dulche de leche, a milky, caramel sauce) or a football shirt (River Plate, Racing Club, Independiente, Pope Francis’ club San Lorenzo and the notorious Boca Juniors are all a big deal).
Need to know
British Airways and Norwegian Airlines both fly directly from London to BA with flights arriving in around 14 hours.
BA has long been considered one of the safest cities in South America but high inflation (inherited by current Argentine president, Mauricio Macri from his predecessor, Cristina Kirchner) means many Portenos are struggling to pay for basics like food, sparking a rise in petty crime.
Be aware of pickpockets particularly at busy markets, on crowded buses, at Retiro bus station and in the scruffy neighbourhood of La Boca (google ‘daylight robbery in La Boca’). And don’t flash your iPhone (eye wateringly expensive to purchase in Argentina due to import restrictions) and other tech anywhere.
Best time to go
The most beautiful time to visit BA is in October and November (spring) when the jacaranda trees are in full bloom. February to May (autumn), when the weather is balmy but not blistering, is also a good bet.
BA doesn’t sleep: shops and museums are open most days of the week.
A Sube card (BA’s answer to London’s Oyster) costs AR$25 (50p) and can be loaded with credit that can be used on the underground and buses. Around £4.30 will purchase 20 journeys.