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Posted 19 Feb, 2017 | 26 Comments
Posted in: Argentina, Our Story, Travel Blogs

From the northern coast of Colombia to the most southern country on the continent, we boarded our flight in Cartagena bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina, which would be our temporary home for the next month.

Renowned for its mouth-watering steaks, robust wines and sultry tango dancing, we were very much looking forward to stepping foot in our second South American country.

travel to buenos aires tango
We couldn’t wait to see tango shows all over the city!

It all sounded perfect and we had high hopes for our time in the famous Latin American capital, but, unfortunately, we were slightly let down.

I can hear the responses already:

“Are you crazy?”

“How could you not like one of Latin America’s most vibrant cities?”

“You must’ve missed it then.”

You know when you arrive somewhere and you instantly know you’re going to love it, and you just “click” with the place? This has happened to us numerous times and we almost always love everywhere we visit. But, we’re all about first impressions and Buenos Aires just didn’t have the vibe or the feeling of other big cities we’ve been to.

It could have been because we weren’t ready for an apartment yet and still wanted to travel more of Colombia. Or perhaps it was due to the fact that the location of our apartment was much further away from the main sites and neighbourhoods than we thought it would be. Or, maybe it’s because I had to spend 2 weeks visiting doctors due to my back pain.

Did our experience in Buenos Aires suffer due to our personal feelings, or is the city simply not all that appealing? We personally had a love / hate (dislike) relationship with the city during our 1 month stay, and numerous things about BA surprised us as well. Let’s break it down.

The Love

Our Apartment

Groggy from the overnight flight with layovers, we met with Carla, the owner of our Airbnb. This was the first time we had ever used Airbnb and we had our fingers crossed in hopes that it would be a good experience. Thankfully the host was very sweet and the apartment we rented was just as it was described on the online booking site.

living in buenos aires apartment
The living room of our apartment in Buenos Aires – just as it looked online.

Our little apartment was located in the Villa Crespo neighbourhood, about a 20 minute walk from Palermo. Fitted with a solid wi-fi connection, a very comfortable king-sized bed, couch and chairs and a flat screen TV, this apartment would be our digital nomad base for the following 30 days.

The accommodation had a well equipped kitchen, an oven (yes!) and a breakfast bar. Just moments away from the apartment was a fitness center, a large grocery store, a couple of restaurants / cafes and a bus stop.

living in buenos aires rent an apartment
The living room / dining room / kitchen area of our apartment in Buenos Aires

About a 20 – 30 minute walk through leafy streets, brought us to the trendy Palermo neighbourhood which offered our favourite wine bar, an amazing burger joint, some shopping and lots of (relatively expensive) restaurants.

A 30 minute walk in the other direction brought us to a beautiful park, Parque Centenario. We enjoyed lazing around some afternoons watching the locals sip on their mate while chatting with their friends.

We definitely loved our little apartment.

living in buenos aires villa crespo parque centenario
This is the beautiful Parque Centenario, about a 30 minute walk from our apartment

Recoleta Cemetery

To the east of Villa Crespo is the neighbourhood of Recoleta, which is one of the more upscale places in Buenos Aires. Home to the famous, incredibly ornate cemetery, this is a must-see for anyone visiting Argentina’s capital.

There are 4691 mausoleums lining the “streets” of this cemetery, in a wide variety of architectural styles – neo-Gothic, art deco, baroque and more. Most of the tombs are in excellent condition, but some of them are really unkept with broken glass, cobwebs and garbage inside.

living in buenos aires recoleta cemetery
Strolling through the “streets” of the Recoleta Cemetery was a highlight of our time in Buenos Aires

I’ve never seen a cemetery like this before. So many of the tombs looked like mini churches, or court houses! It was a very impressive site.

The People of Buenos Aires

We found the Porteños (people from BA) to be very friendly and welcoming – especially for a big city. We had heard that people in Buenos Aires can be a bit “hoity-toity” and think of themselves as being the best, but as tourists, we didn’t get that feeling whatsoever.

The people were well-mannered, polite, considerate and generous. More often than not, we saw locals giving money to street performers and to homeless people as well. Plus, the men almost always gave up their seats on the bus to women, and held open the doors of restaurants and shops – chivalry isn’t dead!

San Telmo Sunday Market

South of Recoleta is the interesting San Telmo neighbourhood, which is one of the oldest barrios in Buenos Aires. This is where we were actually able to watch some tango dancing – something we thought would be seen much more frequently. There aren’t as many high rise buildings here, and the neighbourhood is simply more interesting than others.

The Sunday market starts at Plaza de Mayo and lines the street of Defensa all the way to Plaza Dorrego and beyond. The market is bustling with both locals and tourists each Sunday. Anything you can imagine is sold here and we loved spending a Sunday wandering through the streets.

living in buenos aires san telmo market
This adorable couple was doing some tango on the streets to live music during the San Telmo market

The Hate (or, Dislike)

As you can see, there was a lot that we loved about Buenos Aires, but every city has its flaws. Some of the things that we disliked about Buneos Aires weren’t actually the city’s fault, it’s just that we personally didn’t jive with it for these reasons:

Dog Shit

OK, so maybe this one is the actual fault of the city!

There was dog poop all over the sidewalks, all over the city. And it wasn’t because there are strays all over BA, actually it was quite the opposite. We didn’t see any strays, just well taken care of, owned dogs. The dogs would do their business, and the owners wouldn’t pick it up. So gross.

It’s hard to enjoy walking around looking up at architecture and trees when you have to dodge countless piles of doggy do-do on every sidewalk.

living in buenos aires dog poop
Pretty gross, right?

Eating Late

We really struggled to get on the eating schedule of Buenos Aires. The people of Argentina, and especially in the city of Buenos Aires like to eat dinner at 10:30 – 11:30 at night. And it’s not just that the people like to eat late, but the restaurants don’t open up until around 9:30pm, and are basically empty until about 10:30pm.

Even kids are eating at that time!

Because of this, we ended up eating many meals at home.

Once we even ordered-in some sushi through an app that is popular in Buenos Aires. We waited for 1.5 hours and the food didn’t show up. So, we messaged our AirBnB host and asked her if food normally takes this long to be delivered in BA. She laughed and said that obviously the sushi place isn’t open yet, it’s only 8:30! But, that our order would be first when they opened. It arrived just after 10:00 pm.

living in buenos aires eating late
Our AirBnB hosts kindly invited us out for dinner at 10:00pm. We didn’t get home until 1:30am…from dinner!

The Size

We quickly learned just how sprawling and grand the city of BA is. Many of the streets are extremely wide and traffic filled, while numerous parks, plazas and roundabouts are enormous.

In fact, one day we were on a road with 12 lanes…12! And it wasn’t like we were outside of the city either, we were just on our way to the port to take us to Uruguay.

Because of the sheer size of Buenos Aires, it wasn’t so easy for us to just “pop over” to another neighbourhood to grab some dinner, and we definitely couldn’t walk to San Telmo, Recoleta, La Boca or Centro. Going anywhere was a bit of a task.

Needless to say, we got a lot of use out of our public transportation card.

living in buenos aires subway line
The Subway line in Buenos Aires

Difficult Spanish is Spoken

We don’t speak Spanish. But, we had just been in Colombia for 6 weeks and could usually understand what people were saying. We were able to order food, get around on transportation and have some basic conversations.

The Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires is unlike any Spanish we’ve ever heard. They speak with an Italian tone and a double “L” in a word is a “sh” sound, rather than a “y” sound (ie: for chicken it’s not poy-o, it’s po-sho). They also speak incredibly fast and use a lot of slang!

We struggled a lot to understand when people were speaking to us, and no one understood what we were saying. This wasn’t great for our confidence.

Not Very Charming

To our surprise, we didn’t find Buenos Aires to be all that charming. We had expected there would be numerous lively streets lined with cafes and bars. We thought we’d find street performers doing tango. We envisioned small plazas great for people watching.

Instead, there were a few cafes here and there, tango only on Sunday at the San Telmo market (or if we wanted to start our night at 3:00am, we could go to a milonga), and huge plazas with not a lot going on.

For us, Buenos Aires just didn’t have the charm we were hoping it would.

living in buenos aires
Beautiful trees helped make up for the otherwise lack of charm

Things That Surprised Us

It’s Not Like the Postcards

You know those photos of Buenos Aires and its colourful buildings? Well, yes, there is the area with colourful buildings, but it’s only in La Boca neighbourhood, and it’s only on one very small street. The rest of the neighbourhood is “too dangerous” for tourists to go walking around.

The other photos we had seen were of beautiful European buildings towering over the streets. And again, yes, there are some really gorgeous buildings, but they’re really only around the Centro and Recoleta area and are few and far between.

living in buenos aires plaza mayo
The beautiful Plaza Mayo in Centro definitely had some pretty buildings, but not many other areas did

This really surprised us as we thought there would be more areas like we had seen on the pictures before we arrived. It turned out that photographers had cleverly selected the nice buildings to photograph, which really doesn’t properly illustrate the city as a whole.

The Low Costs

Buenos Aires wasn’t as expensive as everyone had said. Our apartment wasn’t the cheapest ($1,200 USD / month) but we were able to have meals at a restaurant for under $10. Groceries were very affordable, transport was $0.50 / journey and bottles of really good wine could be had for less than $15 – and I mean really good, Gran Reserva bottles.

For a big city, and one with a reputation of being expensive, we actually found it to be quite affordable.

living in buenos aires cost of restaurant
A steak dinner with appetizer and wine could be had for $15 (for both of us)

No One Around For The Holidays

We were really looking forward to spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve in such a famous city! But, when the days came, there was no one around. Apparently, everyone flees the city during the holidays with their families and heads to the beach.

We hit the streets on New Year’s Eve because there had to be tourists around, right? We left the house at 11:30pm and the streets were dead. It was so eerie. We made our way to the Serrano Plaza in Palermo and found lots of tourists sitting at the restaurants looking extremely bored. In fact, at the bar we were at, Nick and I were the only ones to do the countdown to the new year.

living in buenos aires new years eve
Happy New Year!! We were the only ones to countdown to midnight…but oh well

This was not the celebration we were looking for whatsoever.

But, the saving grace was when a group of Candombe dancers and drummers from Uruguay started playing on the street and we ended up dancing for a couple of hours. The photo below paints a pretty fun picture of New Years in Buenos Aires, and for the hour that the drummers were there, it was fun… but for the rest of the time, it was dead.

living in buenos aires new year's eve
Thankfully these dancers and musicians came out on New Year’s Eve!!

The Italian Influence is Prominent

During 1857 to 1940 there was a massive influx of Italians immigrating to Argentina, and in particular, Buenos Aires.

According to Wikipedia, 25 million or 62.5% of Argentina’s population have at least one Italian immigrant ancestor. Because of this Italian influence, many people speak Italian, the Spanish spoken has a similar Italian tone to it, hand gestures are used when speaking, eating ice cream is a national pastime, and there is pizza and pasta served everywhere.

We love Italy, so this was a bonus for us and could’ve fallen under the “love” category in this post 😉

living in buenos aires ice cream
Ice cream!!

Will We Return to Buenos Aires?

The answer is yes. We will return to give it another chance, but we would stay in the San Telmo area, as it’s more manageable in size and is more charming. In fact, we will be returning to BA in April, as we will be flying to Istanbul for a conference.

In the end, hindsight is always 20/20 and even though Buenos Aires isn’t one of our favourite cities to date, there were still some positive aspects and we definitely had some good times. We would never go back for Christmas and New Year’s, but the city has a lot to offer so we’re excited to give it another shot.

What about you? Have you been to Buenos Aires? What did you think of it? 

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Living in Buenos Aires: Our Surprising Love / Hate Relationship with Argentina's Capital

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Written by

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and together with her best friend, travel partner and love of her life, Nick, she’s been travelling the world since 2008…experiencing some of the least visited corners of our planet. She loves meeting new people and learning about the unique cultures of our world. Her advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider and Forbes.

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26 thoughts on “Living in Buenos Aires: Our Surprising Love / Hate Relationship with Argentina’s Capital

  1. Your description of Buenos Aires is spot on with my experience, specifically the dog poop and the late meals! However, we loved the city because it was so big and there were so many different districts and parks to explore. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more next time once you know what to expect going in!

  2. Oh I’d love to go to BA, although I don’t really know what to expect – so I guess it’s a blank slate for me! Good, honest opinions though 🙂

    For me, the places which I just didn’t “get” were London and Hong Kong. I’m sure I’m missing something that everyone else must see!

  3. I agree with many of your observations. We spent two weeks there, and it really took a while to warm to the city. For us I think it was a matter of managing expectations. Everyone had told us it was the most “European city in South America.” Fair enough–but this meant we arrived expecting a European city, which it definitely is not–it’s a South American city with a European flavor. (Much like Montreal is a North American city with a European flavor.) Once we realized this distinction, we came to appreciate the city more, for the things that were uniquely “BA.”

    We did LOVE the gelato . . .and the dulce de leche . . . and the multiple varieties of dulce de leche gelato . . . which would be reason enough to return!

  4. I have lived in Buenos Aires for almost 7 years (I’m from Venezuela) Don’t say is not charming
    You are right about poop, dinner and Christmas. Imagine think in North Pole with 40 degrees, obviously beach/pool are priorities

    Tango is more for tourists, it is not like dancing salsa. Because Argentina is very big, people from other regions are interested in other dances

    Obviously you want to have a tourist experience. I don’t like San Telmo. For example, I preferred Palermo and Las Cañitas. Villa Crespo is not far jaja

    It is a shame you cannot enjoy theater. For me, one of the most exciting things. Better to come in other season ( march-July or September-November

    Other places to visit are a bunch of museums and Chinatown. Tigre that it is like an hour from the city

    Librería El Ateno , los Bosques de Palermo

  5. Yep, I spent a lot less time there (only 4 days) but I felt the same way about pretty much everything you did – the spanish is hard to understand in Argentina, the city isn’t as pretty as I thought it would be, and it felt disjointed. I loved San Telmo and the market, the colourful part of La Boca, Recoleta cemetery and some parts of Palermo but overall I didn’t love my time there. I would of course also give it another chance though

  6. As a geography geek, I just have to say that Chile is the southern most country in SA. Hehe 🙂

  7. Ah, yes, BA can be quite polarising. We lived there for 1 1/2 years and can agree with many of the things you’ve said. The dog shit is disgusting (although I am proud to say that I survived all that time without stepping in a turd – winning!) and getting used to dinner times takes some time. We were always shocked to see toddlers out eating at 11pm! NYE is strange – we expected the same thing, to have a city like BA heaving with people on NYE, it was so bizarre to see bars and clubs closed and no one around. But overall we loved the city, especially in summer. We did find it charming so I don’t agree with you there, and there’s always something to do. But sometimes you just don’t click with a city straight away, and that’s totally fine 🙂

  8. Great read. I did the opposite of what you did, I flew into Montevideo, Uruguay spent a few days there then took the bus down to Colonia and ferry over to BA. Spent a few days in BA then back to Montevideo for my return flight back home. Monetvideo is much smaller than BA and I found that I really liked that, whereas in BA I stayed in the downtown core and kinda felt like a small fish in a big pond.

    Also felt like I got more value for money in Uruguay. I toured a winery which included lunch for about USD $70, did a 2 hr city tour on the double decker bus ( who doesn’t like a double decker?) Also did a day trip to one of the other town famous for whale watching and walked the beautiful promenade along the waterfront in Montevideo which was really nice. One the other hand, the wine tasting I did in BA was USD $65 and was just a tasting, no winery tour , no full meal. Also did river boat tour on the Tiger river which was not nice at all, there was really nothing along that river, there must be nicer places for an activity like that to take place.

    While affordable, Argentina to me seemed over priced for what you actually got compared to Uruguay. One thing they both had in common was cheap hotels. I travelled in September and got a really nice hotel, in the middle of BA close to the pink house, with concierge and fancy pillows on the bed for USD $34/night, unbelievable. I also did a free walking tour in BA which was nice but like you, BA wasn’t as charming as I expected. They did have the best milkshakes though, I still dream about those.

    Back to Uruguay, loved it! People were also more accommodating in Uruguay. On tours they translated everything in English for me (like literally for me, I was the only English speaker on almost all the tours I did). Uruguay had some of the same challenges as BA, less dog poop though. I was also surprised by the lack of diversity. I’m from the Caribbean so given new world history, I thought I might have seen more mixed race people but think I saw only 2 other black/mixed race people in 6 days in Montevideo) so that was interesting to note. Overall though, really enjoyed my time in Uruguay. It’s great trips like these that encourage single girls like myself to keep traveling!

  9. Isn’t it funny how everyone has a city or a country that they just didn’t “jive” with, while everyone else seemed to?! TBH, we love London and HK …lol.

  10. That’s exactly how we felt. Disjointed is a great way to put it Katie! We have another 2 days in BA in April. It’ll be interesting to see how we feel

  11. Thanks for the comment Rebecca Well done on not stepping in any dog poop in 1.5 years! lol. I guess we just thought it would be “prettier”, but you’re right, there is always something going on (just not during the holidays 😉 )

    Cheers!

  12. Wow, thanks for the thoughtful comment Alana! I’m glad to hear you had a great time in Uruguay as well. Montevideo was pretty cool! I’m also glad to hear that I’m not the only one who didn’t find BA all that charming.

    Happy travels to you!

  13. My husband and I did travel a great deal in the past; we preferred smaller and often rural places and yes staying in one place for a while. The Arran Islands and Northern Spain were great trips.

    Paris , London and Athens were the large cities we travelled to and spent time in for a week or so. I always found doing one’s homework vital to the enjoyment of the trip. Reading blogs like yours are certainly high on my list to be informed.

    We had a special trip planned for Toronto a few years back in March because that was when my teaching break was.We should have checked out the weather. It turned out to be absolutely freezing cold and windy. This was not great weather for getting out and around to Art Galleries and museums which was the main purpose of our trip; late spring, summer or fall would have been a better time. We had splurged on a great hotel in downtown TO and had some upgrades for the club room with breakfast and pre dinner snacks and drinks. Thank goodness our stay was very pleasant because of that and the theater shows we took in. We did not see many Art shows which was the main purpose of our trip.

  14. Totally agree…but our experience differed a lot from actually being based in San Telmo which was really charming with reasonable restaurant. We did find the restaurant opened late so always broke the afternoon craving with cheese ..and wine 🙂 We started our South American journey in Uruguay and did have a real hard time with the Argentinian Spanish when we crossed over lol

  15. Yes! San Telmo would have been a better place to be based. We went back again recently and were in the Recoleta / Retiro area and enjoyed it much more

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