Buenos Aires (Photo:javarman/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Gary Noakes
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is often referred to as "The Paris of South America," but it's so much more than that. The city features characteristics of great global cities like Paris, Vienna, Rome, Barcelona, Havana, San Juan, Miami and others. But Buenos Aires stands alone, a sprawling metropolis of more than 12 million people, located well below the equator (closer to Antarctica, in fact) in the upper-eastern quadrant of Argentina.

About Buenos Aires


Pro

A cosmopolitan city with attractions like tango shows, an elaborate cemetery and leather goods to buy

Con

It's hard to see everything in just one day; look for itineraries with overnights

Bottom Line

History and culture buffs, foodies, shoppers and active types will all find much to do here


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Anyone who has seen the stage or movie version of "Evita" has witnessed the colorful history of the city. Buenos Aires (which, roughly translated, means "fresh air") was founded originally in 1536, but the Spaniards sent to colonize the mouth of the Rio de la Plata were forced away by the indigenous population. A second, more successful attempt was made in 1580, and it wasn't until the early 1800s that the city and then the country emancipated itself from the Spanish crown, becoming the Republic of Argentina.

You might think that planning by the French, buildings by the Spanish and statuary by the Italians would lend a schizophrenic air to this sprawling capital. But the fact that the populace is a melting pot of European and South American cultures (half of Buenos Aires' citizens are of Italian descent) makes the city more open and cosmopolitan, celebrating differences and welcoming tourists from around the world.

"Portenos" -- as the city's residents are called, in honor of the port city they call home -- are a proud lot. More than anywhere else in the country, Buenos Aires felt the effects of years of more than 2,000 percent inflation, and when the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001, the portenos worked to make lemonade out of lemons. Displaced hotel and restaurant workers, facing unemployment, formed collectives to purchase and run their places of business. The devaluation of the Argentine peso made a visit to the city appealing, and tourism thrived.

Most of the city's goods and services remain a tremendous bargain for visitors from Europe or North America. (Subway rides total 70 cents, and a steak main course costs around $10). Hoteliers have gotten wise to this attractiveness, and accommodation prices have increased. However, the opening of more properties, particularly of the boutique variety, means there is plenty of competition, and good rates can be found.

Compared to stays in other world-class cities, a trip to Buenos Aires is a bargain, and once you visit, you'll likely want to return.

The city features numerous draws: architecture, acres and acres of woods and parks, fabulous meals of traditional grilled meats and hearty Argentine wines. Visitors also enjoy the Latin sizzle, the soul of the portenos and the genuine warmth and humor of the people. Bask in the camaraderie you feel at a cafe (even if you don't speak Spanish), the thrill you get from watching a couple performing a tango on a San Telmo street corner, the smile of a child wearing a Boca Juniors T-shirt. Maybe you'll be privileged to be offered a sip of yerba tea from a stranger's mate (pronounced mah-tay) cup, a social tradition in Argentina. Perhaps a shopkeeper will point you in the direction of a fabulous tavern. And maybe you'll dance the tango in an after-hours social club.

Where You're Docked

You arrive on the vast River Plate estuary, with Uruguay on the opposite side. The pier is about a half mile from the city center. Cabs are reasonably priced and the best way to get there, but make sure the meter is switched on. You can walk to the Puerto Madero docklands area or Plaza San Martin, both of which are about a mile away.

Good to Know

A tottering economy means Buenos Aires has more than its share of pickpockets and bag-snatchers. Avoid wearing jewelry or expensive watches, and don't drape your bag over the back of a chair when dining outdoors, as thieves can be very sneaky.

If you take reasonable care, the main tourist sections are quite safe. Older neighborhoods, such as La Boca and San Telmo, while fine by day, are best avoided on your own at night.

And don't forget: Buenos Aires contains a permanent memorial to the soldiers who died in the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) during the war with Britain in 1982. If you are British, it is still a touchy subject and one that is best not broached with Argentines.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The peso is Argentina's currency. Check www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for current exchange rates. Bank hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but ATM machines are plentiful. Credit cards are widely accepted.

Language

The official language is Spanish, but English is widely understood in hotels and shops.

Shopping

Argentina is known for its leather goods. Look for wallets, shoes, belts, jackets and coats. Silver items and woolen sweaters are also good buys. Hollowed gourds and other handcrafted cups used for drinking mate, a favorite local herbal beverage, make unique souvenirs.

Try clothing styles influenced by the cowboys or gauchos. Good shops for indigenous tribal arts and crafts include Pueblo Indio in San Telmo and Arte Etnico Argentino in Palermo Viejo, which specializes in home decor.

Argentine wines are a must-have, particularly those made with its famous Malbec grape variety from the Mendoza region.


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