Buenos Aires Introduction
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Deep in the southern hemisphere, in a place that mournfully sees itself as isolated from the rest of the western world, is a gorgeous old city built up along the banks of the chocolate colored Rio de la Plata. This place is known as Buenos Aires, and a stroll down one of its many stately avenidas is filled with as much charm and wonder as in any European city. Grand old buildings flank the boulevards, vast parks and ornate political houses, which took shape under the guidance of municipal chief Torcuato during the 1880s, now rest against the rush of modernity. Shopping here is second to none, and the nightlife is everything the most hardcore hedonist could hope for. But life in Buenos Aires was not (and is not) always as splendid as it appears in its dazzling design. The city endured brutal uprisings, uncovered numerous scandalous officials and saw political power shift hands often during the 20th century. Indeed, this town’s even recent history is one fraught with coups and corruption, depressions and deficits – and not of least importance – an ability to shrug its shoulders, and move forward. Just recently, ushering in the new millennium, the country defaulted on a $150 billion foreign debt in 2001, sparking the sharp devaluation of its currency and resulting widespread unemployment and poverty. Today, as foreigners rush to this Paris-like paradise with their currency three times as valuable as back home – and the city responds to this strong new sector of the economy with trendy clubs, fine restaurants, and designer apparel and furnishings – you might not even notice the city’s recent calamity. And although it seems a bit unkind to “take advantage” of such hardship, exchanging a few of your foreign bills for some of the city’s fantastic goods and services is actually mutually beneficial. And don’t worry about any obstacles on entering the country; free 90-day tourist visas are given to any resident of the U.S and Canada, as well as members of the European Community.
Getting Around the City
Unless you are arriving by bus or from Uruguay, your first step on Argentine soil will probably be at Ezeiza airport, which is about 32 km from the city center. As with many South American cities, taxi and remise (minicab) drivers are likely to approach you the moment you set foot out of the gate, quoting fares to the city. It is perhaps safer to ignore them and buy a fare from the booth outside the airport on the sidewalk facing the street. It should cost around AR $30 and may be a few more for the toll that must be paid on the way into the city. Dollars will most likely be accepted, but as always, don’t expect a good exchange value from the driver (it should be nearly 3 pesos to the dollar). It is best to just draw money from the ATM inside the airport if you haven’t already brought Argentine pesos. Depending on non-rush hour and rush hour traffic your trip downtown will take between 30 minutes to 1 hour. If you don’t mind a slightly longer ride, buses downtown are also available for less than a buck. But during the nighttime hours – and especially for you less savvy newcomers – taxis are a better idea.
Cabs will serve you quite well in BA as inexpensive and failsafe means for arriving at your destination. Most fares are under AR $10, but keep in mind, change in this city seems non-existent and larger notes like the 20 or the 50 will cause undue irritation to drivers and newsstand operators alike. I didn’t experience much fare-gouging by taxis, but it is always a good idea to ask a local how much cab fare should run before getting into one. And don’t underestimate the importance of being confident with the address of where you’re heading to make it seem like you’ve been there before. The buses are also quite efficient for getting around if you have a little more time to familiarize yourself with the different neighborhoods in town. They are color coordinated by routes and can be deciphered very easily with a little effort. If you really want to be smart and look like a true porteño (Buenos Aires resident), go to one of the magazine stands and pick up a Guia T, which is a comprehensive guide to bus routes inside the city. In order to ride the bus, though, you will need exact change of 75 or 85 cents; no bills are accepted and most likely the driver will have roared you and the bus away by the time you realize you don’t have any monedas (so plan ahead and don’t make some poor local foot the bill for you – they will).
The Subte, BA’s subway system, is a speedy alternative for areas close-in to the downtown. Many free city maps have the Subte lines on them, as they are often the easiest ways for foreigners to know exactly where they are and where they are going in a new city. But again, don’t be afraid of the buses. They are so frequent that they are often the fastest way from A to B. When in the desired neighborhood, however, your feet are the nicest way to explore this city. Palermo, Recoleta, and Avenida de Mayo all offer vast green areas of scenic interest. So if you can bear a little noise – the buses are extremely loud and seem to run on jet fuel – you may get some of the nicest images of the city from the ground. That being said, great local experiences are always to be had on public transit. Try all of them. Cycling can be fun too, but only as a recreational activity in the parks – busy streets can be downright suicidal if you are unfamiliar.
Recently returned a few short months ago from his year-long adventure in South America, the author of this guide is currently living in San Diego, California, where he is saving up to begin his next writing/traveling adventure. During his year in Latin America, he volunteered in Ecuador, visited 10 South American countries, and spent three blissful months in the city of Buenos Aires. While in town he tutored English to university students and attempted to live in the city’s cafés and bars. In this way he was able to pass a season, make some great Argentine acquaintances, and learn much about the urban culture of his soon-to-be favorite city on the planet. He is presently working on a collection of essays from his Latin American travels, which he is extremely excited to have the time to do. An intimate secret: at night he dreams about finding a way to earn a decent wage in the Argentine city he’d rather be in than anywhere else. For now he’ll just have to put his dollars together back home and write from memory.