Buenos Aires, one of the largest cities in Latin America, has earned a reputation as an urban playground with tango salons, a pulsating nightlife, superb shopping, world-class cuisine and distinctive neighborhoods. The Argentinian capital has unmistakable European influence; you’ll see it in the city’s architecture and locals’ style.
Buenos Aires is the backbone of the entire nation’s economy. Its port handles 11 million metric tons of cargo annually. It’s the center of the country’s financial industry; Argentina’s stock exchange and central bank are headquartered in the city. Food processing, automobile assembly and tourism also are important industries.
Getting to and from the airport
Ministro Pistarini International Airport, also known as Ezeiza airport, is 22 kilometers outside the city. When you exit customs, you’ll likely be approached by drivers offering car service. The safest option is to say no and arrange a ride on a Taxi Ezeiza (“white taxi”). Book a Taxi Ezeiza at the well-marked booth in the center of the terminal. A trip downtown takes about 40 minutes and costs about 120 Argentine pesos (US$8.50 using the exchange rate US$1 = ARS$14.13).
Public buses are inexpensive but crowded and unreliable. But if you are willing to put up with the hassles, Bus 394 will take you to Monte Grande railway station and Bus 86 will take you to downtown Buenos Aires. The fare is ARS$4 (US$0.28).
Getting around Buenos Aires
The Buenos Aires subway system, or Subte, is relatively easy to navigate and the most affordable way to get around. Six lines run through the city from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. A one-way fare is ARS$1.10 ($US0.08). You can purchase tickets from vending machines or staffed ticket windows in each station. Visit the Subte website for maps and scheduling information.
Taxis are easy to find on the streets of Buenos Aires. But only get in radio-taxis which can be identified by the plastic light boxes on their roofs. These licensed vehicles are safer and more reliable. The word Libre, which means free, will flash on the windshield if the taxi is available. You can also have your hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you ahead of time. Taxis are metered with a base fee of ARS$5.80 (US$0.41) and increase by ARS$0.58 (US$0.04) for every 200 meters or one minute.
Walking is also an option if you stay near the city center, where many businesses and tourist attractions are clustered. Downtown’s grid layout makes it difficult to get lost.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for luxury and upscale hotel options, try Sofitel Buenos Aires (841 Arroyo; Ph: +54 11 4131 0000), Melia Buenos Aires (Reconquista 945; Ph: +54 11 4891 3800), NH Collection Buenos Aires Jousten (Avenida Corrientes 280; Ph: +54 11 4321 6750), Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel Convention Center (San Martin 1225; Ph: +54 11 4318 9000), and Intercontinental Buenos Aires (Moreno 809; Ph: +54 11 4340 7100). Midscale and economy options include Novotel Buenos Aires (Avenida Corriertes 1334; Ph: +54 11 4370 9500) and Tryp Buenos Aires (San Martin 474; Ph: +54 11 5222 9600).
Things to see and do
You may be wary of wandering a cemetery, but the Cementerio de la Recoleta is one of the city’s most visited sites. Many of Argentina’s biggest heroes, villains and icons are entombed in the cemetery’s 14 acres, lined with impressive statues, marble mausoleums and elaborate tombs. Take a free tour in English at 11 a.m. Tuesday or Thursday and in Spanish at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday to Friday.
The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) is the premier modern art gallery in Argentina. It features major works by famed Latin American artists, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Antonio Berni. MALBA’s permanent collection occupies only a small portion of the building. Most space is dedicated to touring exhibitions and new acquisitions, so there’s always something new to discover. It’s open noon to 8 p.m. Thursday to Monday and stays open until 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Admission is ARS$90 (US$6.37).
The Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur is the perfect place to unwind—and it’s close to the central business district. Several picturesque trails lead to riverside vistas. The ecological reserve is home to river turtles, iguanas and over 300 bird species. You can register in advance for a tour in English or rent bikes outside the park entrances for a small fee. It’s open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April to October and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from November to March, closed on Mondays. Admission is free.
Plan to spend a blissful evening at world-class opera hall, Teatro Colon. Patrons rave about the superb acoustics, and the seven-story structure looks better than ever since its renovation was complete in 2005. Buy tickets to ballet, classical music and opera performances at the box office or through the Spanish-only website. If seats are sold out, or beyond your price range, you can purchase standing-room tickets on the day of the performance for 10 pesos. Backstage tours are offered daily every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They cost ARS$200 (US$14.16).
Where to eat
You have no excuse to eat poorly in Buenos Aires. You’ll find the expected hearty Argentinian-style steak, but also diverse cuisine with influences from around the globe. Case in point: The city is home to Osaka, an excellent Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant. Ceviche and sushi are the shining stars on the menu. Presentation, service and high-quality ingredients are all of the utmost priority. Find it at Soler 5608, Palermo, Buenos Aires; Ph: +54 11 4775 6964.
I Latina serves authentic Latin American fare with a hint of Caribbean flavor. Highlights include braised pork in sugar cane reduction, prawns with spicy caramelized pineapple, and—for dessert—Ecuadorian cacao truffle with sea salt and olive oil. A five-course tasting menu is available on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with a wine pairing option. It’s at Murillo 725, Cdad. Autónoma de Buenos Aires; Ph: +54 11 4857 9095.
For a refined dining experience, plan a meal at La Bourgogne. At this elegant French restaurant, you’ll be greeted with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine and an assortment of pastries. The roasted Patagonian lamb filet and the spider crab with pistachio vinaigrette are notable favorites. Just when you think it’s all over, you’ll be presented with a breakfast treat to enjoy the next morning. Find it at Alvear Palace Hotel, Avenida Alvear 1891; Ph: +54 11 4808 2100.
If you’re searching for a parrilla (steakhouse), you’ll face an overwhelming number of options, but Don Julio is consistently considered one of the best. The beef is grass-fed and sourced locally. It’s aged at least 21 days to achieve maturity and ideal flavor. The rib-eye and rump steaks come highly recommended. Find it at Guatemala 4699, Palermo Viejo; Ph: +54 11 4832 6058.