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