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Beyond the Sea: Port Mini-Breaks
Families | Couples | Seniors
Buenos Aires: Couples

Why You Need to Spend Three Days Here

Picture the most romantic city on earth, and then add tango music drifting from all of its corners. Picture a place where couples hold hands while walking along pedestrian shopping streets, bike through pastoral woods, or sip espresso at an outdoor table in one of the city's many cafes. Picture a languid boat ride in a lake surrounded by rose gardens, nightlife filled with go-all-night clubs and tango lessons. Add to that some of the most amazing dining the world has to offer, and you are close to describing Buenos Aires.

Whether you live an active lifestyle or just like to sit back and take it all in, Buenos Aires can accommodate your preferences. The city is full of life and vigor, offering ample opportunities to get involved; it also has the best theater scene in Latin America, some of the best shopping in the world, fabulous museums and -- above all -- it's reasonably prices.

Fabulous Freebies:

Walking, walking, walking (free guided tours offered by the Office of the Undersecretary of Tourism, 11/4114-5791); a stroll in the Botanical Garden; the blessed air-conditioning of the Gallerias Pacifico shopping mall; and the National Museum of Fine Art.

Home Away From Home:

Chic and Funky: Hotel Faena and Universe -- Anyone familiar with the collaboration of Phillipe Starck and Ian Schraeger will recognize the design elements in this Starck-designed uber-hip hotel located in the emerging Puerto Madera area of Buenos Aires. White leather furniture with red accents and a minimalist ambience sets the tone. It isn't for everyone, but it does have a neat little pool with a pool bar in a private garden. Picture the Leo di Caprio and Kate Moss crowd.

Chic and Elegant: BoBo Hotel -- If you're lucky enough to snag one of the seven rooms in this award-winning hotel, you're in for a real treat. Located in the Palermo section of the city, each room is individually decorated and has its own personality. Even the Web site's booking is unique; you have to request which of the seven rooms you want and wait to see if it's available. The wait is worth it. Perfect for earthy, private types -- maybe Susan Sarandon, George Clooney or Meryl Streep.

Elegant and Pricey: Alvear Palace Hotel -- This classic hotel, located at the edge of Recoleta park and cemetery, adjacent to the Museum of Fine Arts, and surrounded by the toniest shopping district in the city, provides one of those hushed-voice atmospheres found only in hotels of this type. If Hotel Faena is Kate Moss and BoBo is Meryl Streep, this one is Tony Bennet and Sophia Loren.

Chic and Cheap: Art Hotel -- Also located in the Recoleta district, this small (36 guest rooms) hotel was created out of a century-old townhouse. The ground floor features a rotating array of original art in a gallery setting. Many of the rooms, some quite small, have little terraces or balconies.

Day One:

Drop your bags at your hotel and get out and walk. No matter where you are, there's something to see, some reason to shake off your overnight flight or (too early) disembarkation. A good place to start is Plaza San Martin, in the city's center. As you wander through the park you'll find the Malvinas War Memorial, Malvinas being what the Argentines call the Falkland Islands. (Argentinean forces invaded the islands in 1982. The battle lasted 74 days; British sovereignty was restored.) The memorial was built, with purposeful irony, facing the British gift to Buenos Aires, Torre de los Ingleses, a Big Ben replica with a free elevator you can take for a panoramic view over the city.

Cut up Calle Santa Fe heading west (away from the river), cross Avenida 9 de Julio, that gigantic street you see in all the photos of Buenos Aires, until you get to Libertad. Cafe Libertad serves fabulous empanadas, flaky pastry stuffed with ground meat or ham and cheese or just cheese or ground meat with hard boiled egg ... you're sure to find something to love here. You can sit in the cafe and munch or take them with you.

Now you have a choice: Head back to your hotel to rest up or grab a cab over to La Boca for more walking. You're going to have a late night; supper in Argentina doesn't even start until 9 p.m. The street scene in La Boca (a charming area of brightly colored houses created from ships hulls and paint by the Italian immigrant dock workers at the end of the 19th century) doesn't stop during the traditional hours of siesta. You can watch tango on the street, walk along the river, have a coffee and admire the local artisan's wares.

Tonight have dinner at one of the city's famed "asadors," or grill, La Estancia. You can see the various meats teepeed around a coal fire in the window at the front. Unless your Spanish is excellent, make sure to ask for the menu in English ... if you don't, there's no telling what you might order. And make sure to have a bottle of Argentine wine with your meal; the most expensive is about $30; most are much, much less expensive.

If you have any energy left at all, cab over to Opera Bay in Puerto Madero, the hottest club in Buenos Aires. It used to be called El Divino, but the building is so reminiscent of Sydney's opera house, the name was recently changed. You can party until the wee hours here (heck, happy hour ENDS at 1:30 a.m.).

Day Two:

You're off to see the Palermo woods today. Dress light and take sunscreen. You can grab a cab or take the green line Subte to Plaza Italia or Palermo. Walk through the Rose Garden and Garden of Poets. In the middle of this bucolic environment is a lake on which you can rent rowboats and paddle boats, and at the edge are vendors from which you can rent bicycles for the day. A white arched bridge is the scene of many a wedding photograph in Buenos Aires, a gorgeous backdrop for any romantic occasion.

Make sure, as you travel through Palermo, that you see the big metal flower at the park of the United Nations. It's photo sensitive, opening during the day and closing up at night; it's a stunning piece of sculpture. Your cab driver will be pleased to point it out to you.

When you're tired and hungry, grab a cab to La Recoleta district; have a sandwich or other light lunch at La Biela, outdoors under a gigantic, ancient Indian rubber tree. The famous restaurant, located on a corner overlooking La Recoleta cemetery and church, evokes a thoroughly European feel. If it's a weekend day, the artisan market is alive and thriving and you'll want to do some serious souvenir shopping. If it isn't, you can at least window shop along the streets with the expensive stores.

Note: Portenos are serious about their siesta, which takes place roughly between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., so the shops are likely to be closed during those hours. Use that time to wander through the elaborate crypts of La Recoleta cemetery; you can tell which belongs to Eva Peron by the inevitable crowd surrounding it.

Tonight is tango night; you can't be in this city and miss a tango and dinner show. Arrange with your hotel concierge to get you tickets to one of the San Telmo district's lavish clubs, hopefully Senor Tango, made popular by former Argentine president Carlos Menem and his Miss Universe wife. You may also want to check out La Ventana. An elaborate dinner and tango show there will cost about $80 per person; a drinks-only show is $30. If you can't get into Senor Tango, try for Michelangelo, equally fun. From there (unless it's a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday), you can head over to the Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso, a San Telmo social club open until dawn, where you can see more tango and learn the moves yourself.

Day Three:

Your hotel will hold your luggage after check-out, so get a cab over to Cafe Tortoni, one of Buenos Aires' most venerable coffee houses (over 100 years old, still with the Belle Epoque architecture and design), for a cafe con leche and media lunas (croissants).

From there, you'll walk to Plaza Mayo where you'll gawk at the government buildings and picture Evita Peron singing to the throngs below from the balcony of Casa Rosada (pink house). You can get a sense of how the architects of Buenos Aires planned the city to resemble Paris by walking along Avenida de Mayo. When you get to the Subte station at Piedras, take one of the oldest subway cars in existence (made of wood!); transfer at Avenida de Mayo to Lavalle. Walk a few blocks south to Corrientes, turn left; you'll be walking along the "Broadway" of Buenos Aires. At the corner of Florida and Corrientes, step into the Burger King. Really! The modern facade belies the fact that the restaurant was built in an ornate early 1900's mansion. Look up at the stained glass skylights and sweeping staircases, and picture the debutantes coming down for the dance.

Turn left again at Calle Florida; you can spend your remaining time in the city moseying along this pedestrian shopping street and enjoying the street theater. Pop into the Gallerias Pacifico for the air conditioning and more conventional shopping.

----by San Diego-based Jana Jones, who is the creator and editor of lodging Web site Sleeping-Around.com, as well as one of Cruise Critic's stalwart ship reviewers.
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