10 Cultural Experiences To Have In Buenos Aires, Argentina

graffiti Traveling to Buenos Aires in Argentina? Add these experiences to your itinerary for a better view of local culture.

Graffiti Walks

Walking around Buenos Aires, it will immediately become clear the city has close ties with the arts, specifically graffiti. While many associate street art with vandalism, the works adorning the streets in Buenos Aires are created by talented and thought-provoking artists, many who are trying to send messages about politics and government. Porteños, or the people of B.A., are very passionate about politics, and you can often see protesting happening on Avenida de Mayo and in Plaza de Mayo. The city’s graffiti is a symbol of these amorous locals. You can either wander around on your own or opt for a Graffitimundo Graffiti & Street Art Tour.Visit An Estancia

An estancia is a large rural estate, similar to an American ranch. These stationary ranching ventures feature workers on horseback, or gauchos, and crop farming due to the area’s healthy soil. Travelers can visit estancias right outside Buenos Aires in the Pampas region and take part in activities such as eating typical Argentinian food like empanadas and asado, sipping local wines, drinking mate, horseback riding, riding in colonial carriages, watching traditional folk dancing and taking part in events like ring races and troops rides. You’ll get to learn about the gaucho lifestyle, and experience an important agricultural region in the country.

tango Do The Tango, Or At Least Watch

Argentina is thought to be the birthplace of tango, which is a big part of the culture. In Buenos Aires, you’ll catch free impromptu acts on the streets as well as on Sundays at the weekly San Telmo Market and Recoleta Fair. Other ways to experience complimentary tango include going to Museo Casa Carlos Gardel, which regularly features free tango shows and lessons and at many of the city’s cultural centers on Sundays. If you have money to spend and want a lavish experience, many venues offer dinner, wine and a show and/or classes, such as La Ventana, Rojo Tango and Complejo Tango. Another option is to go to a milonga, a place where tango is danced. For instance, La Glorieta offers free entrance to their open-air milonga on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. Even when these venues are not free, they are usually inexpensive and allow you to watch some of the city’s best tango dancers.

Go To A Peña

While most people know Argentina for its rich tango culture, a lesser-known facet is peñas folklóricas. These rustic dance halls feature wine, food, singing, dancing and traditional guitar music. Originating in the 1950s, they started when people from rural communities moved to Buenos Aires and began to long for the traditions and laid-back atmosphere of the country. You can expect live performances, impromptu jam sessions and improvisational dancing. While typically located in Salta, peñas are also located in Buenos Aires. Some venues to check out include La Peña del Colorado, Los Cumpas and Los Cardones, which also offers folk dancing classes on Fridays from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

coffee buenos aires Have A Coffee In Argentina’s Oldest Cafe

In Buenos Aires, cafes and coffee play a large role in the culture. It’s not simply a place to grab a quick cup and go, but to leisurely sit with friends and chat. It’s also a venue for people to enjoy a breakfast of cafe con leche y medialunas, or coffee with milk and croissants, while reading the morning paper. The cafe culture in Buenos Aires is so strong, 53 of the oldest have been declared part of the cultural and historical heritage of the city. To experience history and culture, head to Cafe Tortoni. Located on Avenida de Mayo, it is the oldest cafe in Argentina. Opened in 1858, the lighting, furniture and interior design have remained the same, and you’ll see paintings, artwork and newspaper clippings that make the cafe seem like a museum. They open at 5 p.m. when locals typically have a snack, as dinner isn’t until around 11 p.m. and sometimes after midnight.

To order like a local, remember a few tips. First of all, if you want a small espresso shot make a “c” shape with your hands (shown above). No talking is necessary, although if you’d like you can say “cafe” while doing the gesture. If you’d like a larger beverage with 3/4 coffee and 1/2 milk say “jarito.” If you say “lagrima” to your server, you’ll get the opposite, 3/4 milk and 1/4 coffee. To order a large cup of 1/2 milk and 1/2 coffee, say “cafe con leche.”

See A Protest

Like I said before, Buenos Aires’ locals are passionate about politics. In fact, don’t be surprised to see three or four protests a day in the city. Most occur on Avenida de Mayo, a road connecting the city’s political buildings of National Congrass and Casa Rosada, as well as Plaza de Mayo, located right in front of Casa Rosada. At Casa Rosada, you’ll notice a makeshift fence separating the building from the plaza. While technically a temporary fence put up only during protests, city officials got tired of constantly having to put it up and take it down and just left it there. In 2011, angry locals protested so hard, then-President Fernando de la Rúa resigned from office and exited the building via rooftop helicopter.

At 3 p.m. on Thursdays in Plaza de Mayo, you’ll see the silent protesting of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, or Mother’s of Plaza de Mayo, circling the square’s May Pyramid monument. During the 1970s, Argentina went through a period of military dictatorship, leading to over 30,000 people going missing, ending up in torture camps and being killed. These women have been asking for answers as to where their children are ever since. While Argentina now enjoys a democracy, knowing the story of these women will make you truly appreciate your freedom and rights.

malbec Have A Glass Of Malbec

While Malbec production has declined in France, it is prominent in Argentina. Although the vine cuttings were originally brought over from France in the mid-19th century, the wine differs from its European relative as the grapes in Argentina have tinier berries that grow in smaller, tighter clusters. Expect fruit flavors like currants, plums, cherries and raspberries, as well as notes of spice, vanilla and sometime tobacco. Although Mendoza, San Juan and La Rioja are the most prominent wine-producing regions in the country, vineyards have sprouted up in the southern part of the Buenos Aires province since the 21st century. You can also visit a local wine bar for a taste of locally-produced Malbec, like Finca, a modest wine bar focusing on rare Argentine wines from boutique wineries, Terroir, a hip venue with an exclusive wine list from top estates and La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar, which features an affordable tasting menu and extensive wine list with all bottles available by the glass.

Browse The Markets

Wandering through the markets and fairs of Buenos Aires, you’ll find everything from leather goods and antiques to yerba mate dispensers and gaucho wear. If you visit the San Telmo Market on Sunday, you’ll find millions of antiques, as the neighborhood is a hub for these items. You’ll also find artisanal goods, typical foods and tango performances. On Saturdays and Sundays you’ll find an artisanal fair in Plaza Francia near Recoleta Cemetery, with over 100 stalls of traditional pottery, leather products, traditional foods and street performers. In the Palermo Soho area, you’ll find numerous markets, like the one at Plaza Serrano, which has a hippie vibe and is great for finding unusual clothing items and alternative jewelry. You can also stop by Plaza Armenia for handmade goods, keepsakes and clothing.

mate Drink Mate With New Friends

You’ll often notice locals walking around Buenos Aires carrying hollow gourds filled with yerba mate, or mate. In Argentina, mate holds the special meaning of sharing, and people often get together to hangout and pass around the infusion of proteins, caffeine, herbs and hot water. It’s often passed around in a circle, with the “ceba el mate,” or the person who prepared it, being the first one to take a taste. When someone says “thanks” after sipping it means they don’t want anymore, which is why you shouldn’t thank everyone who hands you the drink. While you can easily have a drink of this by yourself, mate is best shared with new or old friends.

Check Out Street Performers And Live Music

The pulse of Buenos Aires beats through its upbeat song and dance. Explore the fairs and markets or ride the subway or train and you’ll be almost guaranteed a free show. Additionally, Museo Casa Carlos Gardel hosts live performances on Wednesdays, as does the Palace Notel on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. For a daily dose of performance culture, head to the Street Museum Caminito in La Boca any day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for outdoor art, singers, dancers and one-of-a-kind acts.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey, prayitno, Jessie on a Journey, Ed Yourdon, Jorgealfonso]

Stressed Out? Try A Walk In A Cemetery

cemeteryCemeteries get a bad rap in the United States. The only time of year we really pay attention to them is Halloween, and then, it’s to equate them with fear or evil. I suppose Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day give cemeteries a little love, but those holidays are more about who’s in the actual graves, and not about the places themselves.

Unlike many of the world’s cultures, which celebrate or dignify death, we avoid it. So it’s no wonder that most Americans find cemeteries creepy. That said, I’ve met a number of people like myself who enjoy exploring cemeteries when they travel. Some enjoy the religious, spiritual, historical, or cultural aspects, others like visiting the gravesites of famous people. Many find wandering through graveyards peaceful and relaxing, a place for quiet contemplation.

The latter is the primary reason I enjoy visiting cemeteries, although I also use them as a way to find out more about the city, village or country I’m visiting. I look at the names on headstones, trying to discern the immigrant origins of the residents, or imagine what circumstances led to the death of, say, so many townsfolk in a given year. I also like looking at surnames, especially in 19th century American cemeteries, because they’re often (forgive me) amusing.

%Gallery-165496%cemetery Boulder, Colorado’s, Columbia Cemetery was established in 1870. It’s filled with pioneers, Union soldiers, miners, even an infamous 19th century “lady of the evening,” and a recently identified Jane Doe from a 1954 murder case. There are also lots of great surnames: Goodnow; Sex; Belcher; Hussie; Slauter, and Liverhaste.

Built on 10.5 acres near Chautauqua Park, and overlooked by the famous Flatirons, the cemetery is a favorite spot for locals to run, walk their dogs (how many other cemeteries have dog waste bags at their gates?), or go for a quiet stroll. I live right up the street, and visit at least once a week, using it as an interesting detour on my walks downtown.

My favorite cemetery of all time is Telluride’s Lone Tree, which I’ve written about previously. Located toward the end of a box canyon with waterfall, it’s not only beautiful, but historically fascinating. The Telluride Historical Museum occasionally offers tours of Lone Tree, but you can just as easily visit yourself.

While I find many small-town graveyards interesting and a good place for a mental time-out, some big-city cemeteries are bona fide tourist attractions, yet remain peaceful oases. I highly recommend Paris’ Pere Lachaise, for its elaborate tombs and grave markers, many of which belong to the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, and yes, Jim Morrison.
la recoleta
At La Recoleta Cemetery (Cemetario de la Recoleta) in Buenos Aries, you can visit the tomb of Evita Perón, as well as those of many of Argentina’s most famous political and literary figures. It’s worth a visit regardless, for the architecture of the mausoleums, which range from Baroque, Art Noveau and Art Deco to Neo-Gothic.

[Photo credits: fall cemetery, Flickr user JamieSanford; Chiloe, Laurel Miller; La Recoleta, Flickr user pablo/T]

10 Colorful Cities From Around The World

Manarola When many people think of cities, they picture concrete, skyscrapers, road work and steel. The truth is, however, there are many cities around the world with a more vibrant and colorful atmosphere. In fact, some of these places are so creative and beautiful, they are a work of art in themselves.

Deep blue structures reside next to loud pink and sunflower yellow houses, as hot orange and rich spring purple buildings sit across the street. Being able to see this fusion of colors in one place is reason enough to visit each of these unique cities.

For a more visual idea of colorful cities around the world, check out the gallery. Have a favorite colorful destination of your own? Tell us in the comments.

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[Images via Big Stock]

La Convención: A Festival Of ‘New Circus’ In Buenos Aires

In the urban landscape of Buenos Aires, Argentina, fauna is fantastically diverse. I love watching the human wildlife. My favorite species is the callejero, or street circus performer. In parks around the city, they set up their slack lines. They hang their long, silk telas from trees to practice aerial dance. Juggling pins fly. The callejeros spend hours in the parks, simply teaching and learning circus arts.

Each year, callejeros from Buenos Aires and all over Latin America convene outside the city. The event is called La Convención Argentina de Circo, Payasos y Espectaculos Callejeros (Argentinian Convention of Circus, Clowns and Street Performer Shows), or La Convención for short. It’s a grand affair that gains a bigger crowd each year. The November 2011 Convención attracted around 900 participants.

The event was founded in 1996, when the circo nuevo (new circus) phenomenon began to grow in Argentina, mirroring movements and conventions that were going on in Europe’s bohemias.

“La Convención was created to satisfy the need for space. We wanted a space for meeting, learning, exchange and union – by artists and for artists,” comments El Payaso Chacovachi, one of the founding clowns. That first year, 250 people and one small circus tent started something special.

Now, fifteen years later, this has become one of the greatest street-level shows on earth (or at least in the southern hemisphere). La Convención has always been a five-day marathon of workshops, contests, parades and performances. On day one, the big tents go up – two real circus tents.

Flocks of circus artists arrive with their own tents, costumes and juggling pins. A small village springs up in the grassy sports field complex that the organizers have reserved. Dining options: a food tent with lovingly prepared vegetarian fare, or public grills for DIY barbeque. There’s time to decide – dinner doesn’t start until 10 p.m. at the earliest.

Ambling through the tent village, I feel lucky. My Porteño friends with callejero tendencies had tipped me off about the gathering. Word of mouth is the only kind of publicity for this deliberately non-commercial event. I stand out a bit as a foreigner with no circus attire, but nobody minds. I gravitate toward the hula-hoopers and the swapping of skills begins.

According to the printed program, a schedule of organized events is set for each day. “Jueves, 1600hrs: Charla, debate y mesa redonda (Thursday, 4 p.m.: discussion, debate and round table).” This is in jest. The first three days pass in a dreamscape of loose workshops by day and drum circles by night. Artists savor this time as a chance to learn, teach and grow their talents.

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Every imaginable skill from the school of new circus is represented – the juggling of anything from pins to discs and cigar boxes, contact juggling, unicycling, staff spinning, diabolos, poi, hoops, aerial dancing, trapeze and improvised, new forms of object manipulation, balance and strength. Art meets play. Spontaneity reigns.

The last two days – a Saturday and Sunday – are the culmination of La Convención. Saturday is the grand parade. Everybody unpacks their best and finest circus attire. They achieve a “new circus” look by mixing classic elements like wigs and noses with contemporary design. Red, black and white stripes are everywhere. Tutus ruffle. Leotards and leggings are worn tight. I watch two clowns paint each other’s faces, matching each other.

The nuevo circo clowns pile into buses, cheering and playing whatever instruments they can find – tiny charango guitars, kazoos, melodicas and accordions – in an exodus toward the city of Monte Grande. They take to the streets.

Hours of parades degenerate into a massive street party. A foam machine covers everyone with a layer of white. Paper plates of shaving cream appear out of nowhere, suddenly widespread. Pie in the face! Soaked and soapy, I join the chaos.

Back at the circus grounds that night, all the face paint and foam has been washed off. Another party erupts in the Big Tent. A brassy ska band keeps everyone dancing into the small hours of the morning.

A final big day is ahead. The best of the professional performances have been saved for Sunday. The grand finale: shows by the most prestigious circus schools and companies in Argentina, like Compañia Colectivo Xibalba and Escuela Le Lido.

On the bus ride back to Buenos Aires, I read the event booklet cover to cover. I find this:

Founder’s Manifesto [translated]

Clowns, circus people, and street performer artists are a special stock within the world of professional artists, and I call professional anyone who lives by their profession.

Because of their particular characteristics, as half artist and half foraging go-getter, and since they clearly mix their lives with their art, they are associated with freedom within the collective imagination.

Their freedom is physical (they generally work traveling), economic (the money they earn is directly associated with their ability and effort), and psychic (they don’t have to be the best, they’re happy just being). This freedom allows them to take the reigns of their own lives. So, they happily wander the world without borders, full of limitations, creativity and courage, actualizing themselves as artists and as people.

La Convención is designed to celebrate these lives, and also to learn, to familiarize, to inform ourselves, to enjoy. Most importantly, we come to celebrate once a year for six days, creating our own utopian world full of free and sovereign ideals.”

~ El Payaso Chacovachi

Official festival website: http://convencionargentina.com/
Photos from last year’s Convención on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ConcursoFotograficoConvencion
La Convención 2012: November 23 – 28

Hollywood In Cambodia: Buenos Aires’ Only Bar and Urban Art Gallery In One

hollywood in cambodia Buenos Aires in Argentina has one of the most vibrant art scenes in all the world. Walking down the streets of the city, you’ll see colorful, political and passionate works of graffiti art on every corner. If you’re looking for a truly unique way to experience the art scene in Buenos Aires, one option is to visit the city’s only bar and urban art gallery in one, Hollywood in Cambodia.

Hollywood in Cambodia opened in 2006, when the owners of Post Street Bar decided to do something different with the space. They approached a number of stencil artists and asked them to help paint the interior of the bar. While the artists and owners got along well, the artists wanted compensation, as the bar was a commercial space. Because the owners didn’t have the money, they came up with a different plan. They offered the artists three rooms at the back of the bar, rent free, to use however they pleased. From there, the artists covered every inch of the bar and terrace with intricate stencil art. One room became a permanent gallery and shop, and the two others were transformed into temporary exhibition spaces. This is what visitors can experience today.The gallery is run by six artists: Stencil Land, Malatesta, GG & NN from bs.as.stncl, Fede Minuchin and Tester from rundontwalk. They run the gallery together, opening it from Tuesday to Sunday, from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. About 8 to 10 exhibitions are run each year, with works being showcased from a range of urban artists and art collectives.

graffitiWhile an art gallery being housed in a bar is, in itself, rare in Buenos Aires, there are other factors that make the space truly unique. First of all, it’s the only gallery in the city to focus solely on urban art. And, unlike other galleries, they are free from commercial pressures.

“They don’t have rent or bills to pay, so they can do whatever they want with the space,” explains Jonny Robson of graffitimundo, a main supporter of the venue. “They can take risks and showcase unconventional art, without worrying if it’s going to sell or not.”

What’s really interesting when you walk into the space is how hard it is to tell where the gallery starts and where the bar stops. All of the bar space – the outside walls, terrace and even the toilets – have been covered in art. This is because the artists use the bar as an extension of the gallery space, running workshops and video screenings. Understandably, the bar ends up being a popular place to hangout for the artists and their friends. In fact, exhibition opening nights showcasing cutting edge art often end up becoming wild parties.

“It’s a very special place, and very unique for Buenos Aires,” says Robson. “To be honest, I’m not sure if there’s anywhere quite like it anywhere else in the world.”

[photos via graffitimundo]