I ended my trip with four days to enjoy Argentina’s capital. Since I was staying a few days, I booked a flat in La Recoleta – a different area, more upmarket than where I stayed before.
Although the flat had a kitchen, I found a very good local restaurant with huge, juicy fillet steak. Eating out was not much more expensive than cooking my own food.
Buenos Aires does not have that many classic tourist sights – I covered the ones recommended in my guidebook in my first two days. My favourite was La Recoleta cemetery, where the great and good (or just rich) of the country are buried. It sits behind a tall wall in one of BA’s richest areas, a strange city of death within a city. The many ornate graves make for endless photo opportunities and gave it an eery atmosphere. They have recently introduced an entrance fee here, and as a result it was pleasantly quiet with few other visitors.
Buenos Aires also has some good museums, like the Museo de Bellas Artes, which has both Argentine and foreign paintings; some of the former reminded me of my epic journey around the country.
I also liked the Museo Benito Quinquela Martin in a neighbourhood (or “barrio” in Argentine) called La Boca. Martin specialised in painting the lives of the poor people working in the docks of that area and remains a local hero to this day.
Nowadays, la Boca remains one of BA’s poorest suburbs, although the waterfront has a pretty street called la Caminito, which has brightly coloured houses. It is very striking, but extremely touristy as well. La Boca is also famous for housing the stadium of the Boca Juniors football club, where Maradona played.
Another popular area for tourists is San Telmo, BA’s oldest barrio. I went there on Sunday for the famous market, whose stalls spread out for almost a mile to the centre of the city. The ones on the edge of the market sold cheap rubbish aimed at tourists, and I began to think it would be better to visit on a different day when it would be easier to see some of the beautiful older buildings. However, when I reached the heart of San Telmo – the Plaza Dorrego, my opinion changed. The stalls here sold some interesting antiques, and despite the tourist crowds, the square had a wonderful “old-world” atmosphere. I stopped for a while for coffee.
Finally, I visited BA’s heart – the Plaza de Mayo, where you can find the Casa Rosada (the presidential palace), the main cathedral, and the “cabildo” or former town hall. This is where Argentines gather to celebrate football victories or demonstrate against the government (both of which they do very often and very energetically).
One more place recommended by my guidebook was a nature reserve on the banks of the Rio de la Plata. However, after the spectacular sights I had seen whilst touring the country, it was a disappointment – with more Portenos (residents of central Buenos Aires) noisily enjoying the weekend sun than animal or bird life. A more successful trip was my visit to Tigre, a small town on the river about 40km northwest of BA. I travelled by boat, and for the first part of the trip got to understand just how big a city BA is.
After an hour’s sailing the boat entered the Rio de la Plata delta and the high-rise buildings finally ended, giving way to jungle. The delta (the third largest in the world) is a tangle of smaller rivers making green islands where many BA residents have second homes. It was a very interesting contrast to Buenos Aires.
Most houses are built on stilts, since the area floods often, and there are no roads – people get around by boat. On the remote islands, the houses are very basic, but in the popular areas they looked luxurious.