Exploring Buenos Aires on a budget

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Buenos Aires: capital city of Argentina, the birthplace of tango and “like the dance itself, is captivating, seductive and bustling with excited energy” or so says TripAdvisor! Buenos Aires is a huge city with a population of 13 million. The city is divided into several districts which are quite distinct from each other and therefore makes navigating the city fairly easy.

Buenos Aires was the final destination of our 14 night South American cruise and we had booked to stay there for three nights. We are now coming towards the end of our year of global travels and throughout the year  when we’ve had the opportunity for a fantastic ‘once in a lifetime’ experience such as snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef or trekking to Machu Picchu we’ve been happy to ‘blow the budget’ if necessary in order to do it.

But Buenos Aires is now our sixth South American capital city (after Bogota, Lima, Santiago, Montevideo and La Paz (which is technically shared with Sucre)) so rather than paying for more tours or excursions we decided to focus on the ‘free’ things to do. We discovered early on that you don’t have to see everything or do everything or have a long list of tourist things to tick off in order to get a good experience of a destination.

We were staying in an area of the city called San Telmo which is central and within walking distance of several attractions. Rather than spending $20 or so each on a city sightseeing tour, we spent our time exploring the city on foot…

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Plaza de Mayo
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Plaza de Mayo

We were within 10 minutes walk of the Plaza de Mayo so this was our first destination! Plaza de Mayo is located at the end of Avenue de Mayo which is lined with cafes and shops and also attractive trees which still had some of the purple blossom, similar to the gorgeous blossom we saw in Mendoza.

Plaza de Mayo in English means ‘May Square’ and throughout its history has been the scene of a number of political demonstrations. Thankfully things were calm for our visit and we had a pleasant stroll through the square and on towards the next building, the Government House (below).

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The Government House

The Government House is also called The Pink House (its Spanish name is Casa Rosada). We walked to the entrance but while a number of tourists were going inside we didn’t visit  as this required some kind of online pre-registration. This is the office of the President of Argentina which is why its location on the Plaza de Mayo has been the scene of demonstrations. Free tours which last an hour are available at weekends and had we been more organised this would have probably been well worth doing!

The Buenos Aires Obelisk (above) is a large structure dominating the Plaza de la Republica. The obelisk was constructed in 1936 and is considered a national historic monument and icon. The above two pictures show two sides of the obelisk. The picture to the right has a hedge with the letters BA (also the top picture of this post) although this isn’t clearly defined as it seems to need a trim! Although to be fair, a number of gardeners were working on the surrounding gardens so we guess they will get to the BA hedge soon.

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Plaza de la Republica

With its large neon boards, busy traffic and central location the Plaza de la Republica reminded us of London’s Piccadilly Circus! This is a large square and is the inter-section of three of the most major roads in the city.

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Eva Peron image

From the Plaza de la Republica you can see a giant image of Eva Perón, also known as ‘Evita’. Eva Perón was the second wife of Argentinian President Juan Perón but tragically died of cancer in 1952 when only 33 years old. Eva Perón was previously an actress who, during her time as the First Lady achieved significant social successes for women and the working classes.

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Teatro Colon

The website of the Teatro Colón (Colón Theatre) proudly states this to be one of the world’s most important opera houses. The English name means ‘Theatre Columbus’ and the tours offered are the number one Buenos Aires attraction of TripAdviser. We enquired about a tour but tours were not running on the day we visited (a Monday). Again, we didn’t do our homework…

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Palace of Justice

Near to the Teatro Colón is the Supreme Court of Argentina which is located in the Palace of Justice, the large and grand building above.

Each of the above sights are located within a short walking distance of each other in the city centre. The area is buzzing with tourists, locals, business people and a large number of shops and cafes.

The next section below focuses on Puerto Madero, the modern development of the old port of Buenos Aires…

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Puente de la Mujer

Puente de la Muger, or ‘Woman’s Bridge’ is a rotating footbridge which rotates by 90 degrees to let tall ships or boats through. The 170 meter bridge was implemented in 2001 and was given its name because several Puerto Madero streets have women’s names. We crossed the bridge on a Sunday and spent a couple of hours in the area, but didn’t see the bridge rotate.

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Ship Museum Frigate Sarmiento

The above ship is actually a museum, called the ‘Buque Museo Frigate Sarmiento‘. The frigate dates back to 1897 and between 1889 and 1938 carried out 37 trips around the world. The ship came out of service in 1961 and now makes an attractive feature in Puerto Madero.

As mentioned Puerto Madero is a re-developed area of the docklands of Buenos Aires and contains a large number of local and international branded eateries including TGI Friday, Starbucks… and the big yellow M…

We continued walking through Puerto Madero and came across a nature reserve…

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Above is a pond… not grass…

After walking through the busy streets of a major city it was a welcome change of scenery and pace to discover the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve. This is a protected area of ponds, woods and grasslands. It contains several kilometres of foot paths and cycle tracks and as such is a popular place for joggers, walkers and cyclists.

We walked for two or three km around the nature reserve enjoying the tranquility and looking at the wildlife. The area was well maintained with several information boards and look out points with benches.

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Cute family of ducks making their way through the pond

The weather was hot and sunny but as we were unprepared with no snacks or water with us we soon became thirsty and had to head back to the city… this was unfortunate as we were enjoying our walk and both felt the nature reserve was a real bonus for the city. And again shows that a lack of planning and organisation doesn’t always pay when travelling…

There are several shopping malls and above, looking festive is the Galerias Pacifico. This mall contains designer shops such as Chanel and Christian Dior. The mall is situated in an ornate building which was formerly a museum. It has been restored and decorated with intricate murals on the ceiling. In 1987 the remains of a torture chamber were discovered and in 1989 it became a national historic monument.

Next to the Galerias Pacifico is the pedestrianised Florida Street which for some reason is described by Wikipedia as ‘elegant’. Our impression was of a busy, touristy, average kind of shopping street where you have to keep your belongings clutched tightly about your person and avoid locals selling you cheap socks while their accomplice helps his or herself to your wallet… OK so maybe as we were tired, heads down and rushing through at the end of our second full day in the city we didn’t experience it to its full potential. And a quick read of the Wikipedia link does show that Florida Street has a great deal of history so we don’t want to be too judgemental…

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San Telmo street markets

Finally a quick mention of the San Telmo district where our hotel was located. San Telmo is the oldest district of Buenos Aires and home to the original dock workers and brick workers of the 17th century. With its cobbled streets and quaint cafes, street markets and restaurants we had a pleasant stroll through on a Sunday afternoon. We found this an ideal central area in which to stay which enabled us to explore all of the attractions discussed in this post by foot.

Budget summary

Other than food costs we didn’t actually spend anything! We were able to walk everywhere and didn’t even need a bus or metro train. Fortunately our hotel rate included breakfast and after two weeks of indulgence on the cruise it was good to cut down a bit. We were able to combine a late lunch with an early dinner meaning we had just one meal out each day.

Unfortunately we made some poor meal choices throughout our stay…

  • Day 1: a mediocre pizza and drink each but with a bill of nearly £30.
  • Day 2: Buenos Aires Via Via but after three excellent and healthy Via Via experiences in Yogyakarta, Copan and Valparaiso we were disappointed in the greasy sloppy food served here.
  • Day 3: eager almost to the point of desperation to find something healthy we found a vegetarian cafe but were served up a cold vege burger each with a dull and tasteless side salad…

Our experience of eating out in Buenos Aires was not good but apparently there are some fabulous world class restaurants so don’t be put off by our experiences!

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