Buenos Aires is known as the Paris of South America. Spanish is the official language, but the immigrants of many nations have left their mark on this sprawling metropolis. The Argentine capital is a city with vast open spaces that never sleeps.
History unfolds on the streets of its distinctive districts, each with its own personality, attractions, and quirks. To do Buenos Aires justice, call in the expertise of our local guides who will customize a private tour that will suit your interests and time constraints.
Plaza de Mayo
The Plaza de Mayo has played a central role in the city’s history since the second Spanish attempt at settlement in 1580. An agreement was reached between the local inhabitants and Jesuit preachers on this very spot. It again rose to prominence during the May Revolution of 1810, when Argentina started on its journey to independence. The Pyramid on the plaza marks the first anniversary of the revolution.
In 1884, the historic square doubled in size when the Plaza de la Victoria and Plaza del Fuerte were merged. The Antigua Recova, the original arcade built by the Jesuits, was demolished in order to make this possible. However, the plaza is still lined with several noteworthy buildings.
The President’s Office was built in the 19th century and is known as the Casa Rosada. It was painted pink as a conciliatory gesture to the two competing political parties of the time, whose official colours were red and white. It was from the balcony of the Casa Rosada that Juan Peron and his much loved wife, affectionately known as Evita, addressed the crowds on the plaza. The palatial mansion houses a museum dedicated to the country’s former presidents.
The Metropolitan Cathedral looks more like a Greek temple than a Roman Catholic church. The neoclassic façade has 12 columns representing the twelve apostles. These support a pediment that contains a frieze depicting the biblical account of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers. Before he became Pope Francis, this is where Jorge Mario Bergoglio held mass for 20 years.
During the military run “Dirty War” against their own people, the plaza was the meeting place of the Abuelas or Madres de Plaza de Mayo. These brave grandmothers marched every Thursday to raise awareness of their missing children and grandchildren.
Puerto Madero Waterfront
Buenos Aires was founded on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, the world’s widest river. The mouth of the river has been variously described as an estuary, a bay, and a gulf. It was shallow and muddy which caused problems with the unloading of goods, and there were no docks so barges and even horse drawn carriages were used to ferry goods from ship to shore.
For most of the 20th century, Puerto Madero was a white elephant, becoming increasingly derelict. In the 1990s it became the focus of a massive urban renewal project and the area was revitalised. The 170 hectare space is now a trendy waterfront development with wide boulevards and an international appeal. A city that once turned its back on the river now embraces it.
High rise apartment and office blocks also house cultural centers, cinemas, and art galleries. Upmarket hotels, bars, and restaurants cater for the tourist trade and are lively well into the night. As you wander around, note that all the streets and the iconic bridge, the Puerte de la Mujer, are named after women.
La Boca – El Caminito
La Boca means ‘mouth of the river’ in Spanish. The district lies not far from the Plaza de la Mayo and Puerto Madero, but is worlds apart in terms of character. This area was populated by unskilled immigrants who arrived in the city from Europe and other parts of South America in the hopes of finding employment.
The residents are soccer fanatics and the district is home to the La Bombonera Stadium. Match nights with local club Boca Juniors are abuzz with fans in their yellow and blue regalia. This was the stomping ground of Diego Maradona, one of two players acknowledged by FIFA as the most iconic players of the 20th century.
El Caminito is a multicoloured street museum that runs through the district. The ‘Little Path’ follows the route taken by a rail line that was built in a dry river bed. When the trains stopped running, the tenements that lined the route were abandoned. In the 1950s, Benito Quinquela Martin began using the buildings as his canvas. He was soon joined by other renowned Argentinian artists.
The enclave has become a vibrant tourist attraction with pedestrian walkways, street cafés, and open air tango for entertainment. This is the place to buy the works of emerging artists and craftspeople. Cash is king and tourists are advised not to wander off the ‘Little Path’. Our private guides are well versed with the area and will steer you to the best and safest highlights and hotspots.
San Telmo – Covered Market
San Telmo, say it quickly and it sounds like St Elmo. This is the oldest district in Buenos Aires and its first industrial area, serving as the multicultural home of immigrant artisans. Kilns, warehouses, and even windmills were built among the existing mansions as the area expanded. It was a relatively poor district and once lost several residents to a devastating yellow fever plague. In time, the area became a slum as the mansions filled with families.
Today, San Telmo has been revitalised. It is dotted with colonial era buildings, cobblestone streets, and courtyards that open up to reveal cosy restaurants and boutique stores. A bohemian atmosphere has been created by the contemporary artists and musicians who are drawn to the area.
Mercado de San Telmo, a covered market built at the end of the 19th century remains the center point of economic life in the area. The steel columns and beams of this national historic monument were forged at the height of the city’s industrial age. Here you will find fresh fish, meat, and greens amidst the curio shops and coffee bars.
The market is open daily but really buzzes on weekends. It is only a stone’s throw away from the venue of the Sunday Antiques Fair and the district’s popular tango dance halls.
Palermo – Wide Open Spaces
The largest district in Buenos Aires is divided into many smaller ‘Palermos’, each with a different flavour. For example, Palermo Hollywood is so called because it was home to many of the city’s media personalities, while Palermo Soho is the center of art, fashion, and design.
The trendy eateries and art museums of the area are interspersed with wide open spaces. If you feel the need to fill your lungs with fresh air you are spoilt for choice between the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, and the Rose Garden - which is surrounded by a lake and is home to some 18,000 plants.
Not to be missed is the emblematic Floralis Generica in the nearby district of Recoleta. A 23 meter high statue representative of all the earth’s flowers is set in its own reflective pool within a four acre park. The petals open each day at 8 am and close again at midnight.
Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan city that has always welcomed newcomers. It is a melting pot of colorful cultures and a living chronicle of South American history. This gem of Argentina is also a bustling modern city where visitors experience friendliness and hospitality. Let our experts guide you to the fun parts of the city by taking you on a relaxing all-encompassing private tour of the hot spots.