Beyond the Sea: Port Mini-Breaks
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Buenos Aires: Seniors
Why You Need to Spend Three Days Here
Once you step foot into this charming cosmopolitan city, you'll know immediately what all the fuss is about. Like Paris, New York or Prague, it's a city made for walking ... and when those old bones start creaking, taxis and other means of private transportation are cheap and plentiful.
Buenos Aires is a cultural wonderland, with elaborate theater, opera, art galleries, museums and parks. It's a city at once vibrant and kind, with genuinely friendly residents, budget-friendly shopping and dining, and world-class hotels and boutiques.
Explore the historic architecture (buildings by the Spanish, sculpture by the Italians) and the little parks throughout the metropolitan area. Learn about yerba mate and perhaps share some of the bitter brew with a new-found friend. Take a horse-drawn carriage around the Palermo woods or stroll the shops in La Recoleta, learn the tango in San Telmo or shop for antiques along Calle Defensa.
Celebrate one of the most incredible cities on earth.
Tango shows on street corners, cultural tours sponsored by the minister of tourism, a bird's eye view of the city from the top of the Torre de los Ingleses, the National Museum of Fine Art, the International Tango Festival in February, the colorful houses and people of La Boca, the murals and glass dome of the Gallerias Pacifico.
Home Away from Home
Convenient and Comfortable: Claridge Hotel -- A favorite of Cruise Critic's South America travelers, the location and ambience of this hotel cannot be beat. Friendly English-speaking staff cater to your every desire; walk out the door and you are in the heart of the thriving cultural and shopping district of the city. The hotel has 157 rooms and suites, with an English manor-house feel. This hotel's pricing falls into the "moderate" range; with online specials you can save quite a bit.
Quiet Elegance: Kempinski Park Plaza -- Just a little above the mid-range mark, this small boutique hotel sits in the Recoleta district, steps away from Avenida Alvear and its exclusive Fifth Avenue-style shopping. There are just 56 individually decorated rooms and suites with amenities usually found at more expensive hotels.
Upscale Pampering: Sofitel Buenos Aires -- Located in what used to be the city's tallest skyscraper when it opened in 1929, this 20-story Art Deco gem has been transformed into an incredible five-star hotel. Just two blocks from Plaza San Martin and the Retiro train station, the location close to Buenos Aires' Centro District is ideal as a starting point for exploration, and as an ending point for relaxation.
Budget-Friendly: Hotel Bisonte Palace -- A block below Avenida 9 Julio (purportedly the widest street in the world) and a few blocks away from Calle Florida, this well-located hotel is clean, comfortable and offers great value. The rooms are large, with big windows and great air conditioning, the staff friendly and accommodating, and the buffet breakfast ample.
Start the day easy; you'll have plenty of time for active exploration after a good night's sleep. Grab a cab over to the Palermo district. Have the driver drop you off anywhere you see a row of Mateos, horse-drawn wagons that will give you a pleasing little trip around the parks and woods. Get out at Rosedal, the award-winning Garden of Roses where you can wander among 1,200 species and take a peddle-boat around the lake. Have someone take your photo on the white bridge, one of the most photographed spots in Buenos Aires.
Then have a cab take you over to El Preferido, a deli that features prominently in the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian literary favorite son. It hasn't changed much in the century it's been open, and neither have the prices (or waiters). This is porteno lunching at its finest, with a sandwich and beer costing under $5.
This is also a good time to meander through the cemetery at La Recoleta. You'll know, from the crowds, when you have found the crypt of Eva Peron, and you can gawk all you'd like at its ornate architecture (and at the myriad gifts that are left for her by still-mourning constituents). At this point you're just a few blocks from the stunning Alvear Palace -- the city's finest hotel -- where you'll enjoy an elegant, Old World tea at 5 p.m.
Don't worry about not being hungry for supper. Portenos don't dine until at least 9 p.m., so you can wander out of your hotel (or stay in, especially if you're at the Sofitel) and grab a pizza or a couple of empanadas, or wander down to Lavalle St. for some souffled fries and a steak at El Palacio de la Papa Frita and enjoy some people-watching along the way.
If you like opera, check with your concierge or hotel front desk to see what's on at Teatro Colon, world famous for its acoustics and production values. If you can get tickets, you'll be privileged to enjoy the largest, most ornate opera house in South America.
Go out bright and early, grab a newspaper in Spanish or English, and sit down at Cafe Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo for some cafe con leche and media lunas (croissants). This wonderful coffee house is the site of much social activity in Buenos Aires. It has the look of a Belle Epoque cafe on one of Paris' finest streets and is a terrific way to start your day.
From there, either get a cab or walk to San Telmo. You're going to visit El Zanjon, an underground tunnel of apartment buildings and homes from the 1700's, once flooded by a tributary of the Rio de la Plata but since excavated and restored. From there you may want to go to Defensa to window shop in the antique stores ... and if it's a weekend day, to wander among the booths at the antiques flea market.
When your legs have just about had it, grab a cab to La Boca, the village at the edge of the river, originally populated by Italian immigrant dock workers. Don't miss lunch in one of Buenos Aires' most historic eateries, El Obrero. Huge steaks, Italian food, salads and wine are on the menu; the restaurant's owners will check to make sure you're eating well. A full meal will run about $5. (It's best to go for lunch since it isn't the safest neighborhood after dark, but during the day it's fine.) You might find Robert Duvall having his lunch here too, you never know.
After eating, wander around La Boca for awhile, visit the artists, watch the street theater and al fresco tango. Make note of the houses, made from corrugated metal scraps gleaned from old ships and painted with ship's paint acquired in the same fashion.
Then hop in a cab back to your hotel and rest up; tonight you have TANGO.
Known as the "dance of seduction and despair," it is the national pride of Argentina. Indeed, the king of tango, Carlos Gardel, who died in 1935, is celebrated as an important hero in Buenos Aires; his tomb in Recoleta is second only to Evita Peron's in term of visitors.
You can pick up a "tango map" from your hotel or a tourist information booth and choose a milonga (dance hall) if you want to learn the dance, but enjoying a dinner show might be the best way to start. One of the most famous is El Viejo Almacen, located in two buildings across the street from each other. Dinner is served before the show in the restaurant in one building, and the show is across the street in the theater. This venue is more for purists; there is little of the flash and "Hollywood" stylings found in Michelangelo or Mr. Tango, for example. If you're inspired when the show ends, and you have the energy to keep going, your tango map will let you see where dancing continues well into the wee hours.
Get up early and go for a nice walk in the Reserva Ecologica, not far from the center of the city. Here you can see indigenous flora and fauna, many bird species, lagoons and estuaries from the region.
On your way back to the hotel to pack up, walk along Calle Florida. The window shopping and people watching are great -- especially if you stop at a street-side cafe for coffee. Architecture buffs will want to go into the Gallerias Pacifico mall; originally the headquarters of the Buenos Aires Pacific Railway, it was built to replicate Milan's Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele. Pay close attention to the glass dome and the murals created by local artists.
Once packed, your hotel will be happy to hold your bags for you. This is the perfect time to hire a driver to take you around to the places that you didn't get to see. Both Melissa Baldwin, Cruise Critic's senior editor, and I used Alberto Mantel, a charming gentleman with a fairly new Fiat, great English skills and a most reasonable price of about $15 U.S. per hour. You can contact him before your trip and if he isn't available, your hotel can recommend someone for you. It's a bit of a splurge (there's a two-hour minimum) but not much of one considering what you get for the money ... personalized service and a glimpse into the Buenos Aires not readily available to every tourist. He'll drop you at the ship or airport, too, which of course means leaving this most perfect of city vacations, leaving you wanting more.
--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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