We didn’t expect to enjoy Buenos Aires as much as we did.
Arriving, we had every notion that it would be the most expensive place to visit in Argentina, slightly overrated, overly busy and no different to any other capital city across South America.
Too be honest, at this point we were a little “over” Argentina, and cities in general, but we couldn’t come all this way south without seeing the cosmopolitan hotspot and highly recommended destination, one that has received rave reviews from anyone who has visited.
Oversold slightly, one thing we knew was that we wanted to spot some tango, sip on mate along the coast and indulge on alfajores.
Successful with our mate-sipping-alfajores-munching-tango-times, what we also discovered was that one, Buenos Aires can be enjoyed on a budget and two, it has an unholy amount of quirky attractions and unusual charms.
So with a light pocket on the mind, here is how we made the most of our five days in Argentina’s capital, and loved every second of it.
Transport In Buenos Aires:
We took the zero cost method of travelling from Cordoba into Buenos Aires by thumbing a lift and travelling the entire 800km plus journey for free.
If this is of interest (Argentina and Chile have a huge hitchhiking culture) feel free to read our guide on the best way to successfully do the same – here.
We have had many messages on our social media channels from solo female travellers who want to hitchhike but have major concerns (I would be the same if travelling on my own!).
To them we say this, although we know plenty of women who have hitchhiked on their own without any quibble, we would suggest asking around your hostel or on the ‘South America Backpacking’ Facebook groups for someone heading in the same direction and willing to thumb a lift too. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting to hitchhike on your own, although a normal method of transport and an easy way to travel (we travelled from Santiago in Chile across Argentina towards the Brazil border solely by hitchhiking), please think of your safety first, ALWAYS go with your gut and never feel obliged or under pressure to take the lift.
Alternatively to travel in or out of Buenos Aires, check for cheap flights. Our favourite sites being Kiwi.com, Jetcost.ie and BudgetAir.co.uk. Busses, although quite luxurious, are certainly not cheap. With these high travel costs, we suggest you book busses in person and in advance (if you arrive into the bus terminal, enquire about departing and book while there) or take an internal flight.
In terms of transport in and around the city, to use any of Buenos Aires’ public transport you will need a SUBE card. However, if you only plan a short stay and are less willing to buy yet another compulsory travel card (this has been this case across all major cities in both Chile and Argentina which was a huge money-waster for us) an easy way out of this is to offer someone taking the same bus or metro to tag you on and chuck them the cash. Just make sure to have the correct change!
The good news is all local busses throughout Buenos Aires never cost more than 6.50 pesos (€0.26) and the metro 7.50 pesos (€0.30) one way.
Accommodation in Buenos Aires:
As usual, being a big player in the tourist world, you have every type of accomodation available from cheap hostels to guesthouses, apartment rentals and top dollar hotels.
As you might have read in our top tips for budgeting in Argentina, we relied lot on Airbnb as for two people, renting a private double room was cheaper than two beds in a dorm room.
In this case, we were extremely happy with our Airbnb host Maria Lídia whose fun house (there is so much stuff, it literally felt like one) was not only full of our favourite, pets (one dog and at least 4 cats) but location-wise it was genuinely ideal.
Close to both the metro and bus services, within walking distance to the San Telmo district, every supermarket, market and store on its doorstep and at only €14 per night for a private double room with bathroom.
The WiFi was great, there is a kitchen, rooftop and free laundry service, once you’re OK with being surrounded by furry friends, this really is a fantastic and cheap room to rent.
Sound good? We have included a link here.
Free And Quirky Things To Do in Buenos Aires:
Tierra Santa aka Jesus Land:
If quirky is what you came for well then we have to start with Tierra Santa or as we nicknamed it Jesus Land aka Christneyland.
This is a religious theme park, a life size replica of Bethlehem and probably the one place in the world you can find more than one mechanical Jesus. Or better yet, an 18mt (59ft) mechanical Jesus.
With the staff in character and costume, go say hello to Noah and his ark, grab a front row seat to the reenacted Last Supper, find a spot for the half-hourly resurrection, ride any of the manger animals on the merry-go-round, have a peep at Joseph’s carpentry workshop, enjoy a live Arabian dancing show and get lost in the biblical world.
Now, we are in no way religious but being Irish Catholic we know a bible story or two. We will admit that when we heard this place existed we went because we are nosey and had to see it for ourselves.
No way did we expect to be so entertained. We had such a laugh and our predicted “hour or so” turned into at least 3 hours there. And while I learned a little something (more ridiculous) about the religion I supposedly believe in, poor Luke was being poked and probed as he is the ultimate Jesus lookalike (he actually looks more like Jesus than Jesus himself).
The park opens from 4pm until 10pm, 6pm being a good time to visit since you will have best of both worlds in terms of enjoying the park in the sun, at dusk and then seeing it lit up at night.
It costs 170 pesos (€7) per person which may seem steep (and it is!) but the way we saw it was ‘where else can you visit a religious theme park?’. No regrets here, folks!
When you arrive, take note of any of the mechanical (more like comical!) shows and note that the live music and dancing kicks off at 8.45pm.
Altogether now… “in the name of the Father, the so-…”
Feria de Matederos:
If hanging with the big JC isn’t enough, go and watch some guachos aka Argentinian cowboys strut their stuff and horse around at this buzzing , unique and traditional weekend market.
From March to December, this market is usually held on Sundays during the day. We were in during peak season, February, you can only visit the guachos on Saturday nights from 6pm-midnight. Don’t worry, it is extremely safe to take the bus during these hours.
Take the #126 from Avenida Bolivia, directly outside the Mercado San Telmo. There is no official bus stop, so be sure to flag it down on the corner. Bus journey is 1 hour and cost 6.50pesos.
Free Tango Show (sorta!):
OK, so it’s not a show just for tourists where your bum is seated and your food is on the way. No, instead it’s so much more. It’s a beautiful evening where strangers meet, hand in hand, cheek to cheek and fall into the world of rhythm.
The dancers aren’t being paid, there is no big spectacle, they may not even be the utmost professional dancers but take the time to witness the true art, passion and love for one of the most beautiful dances I have ever witnessed.
Gaze at the couples; men and women, men and men, women and women glide across the plaza. Under the dimly lit lampposts, their legs wrap around each other, their steps hard to comprehend, their movements so swift, so fast and so intense that tears came to my eyes. If you want to physically see music in an extremely sexy way, without at all being sexual, tango is certainly it.
And while you may prefer a seated dinner and dance show, if your stop in Buenos Aires lands on a weekend, do make time to visit the Plaza Dorrego only a block from Mercado de San Telmo.
The “show” starts at 8pm until 11.30pm, buy a beer, bring some mate and find a seat. If you can at all dance, take the invite and join their world. Where although there are many spectators, with phones and cameras, none of them exist, none of us exist.
It’s their world, go join it.
La Boca and Caminitos:
One of the poorer neighbourhoods in the capital, La Boca is not only home to the port where immigration began but, as rumour has it, also the birthplace of tango apparently.
The mural, graffiti and colour-drenched corners are worth a cheerful walk through, making this a fun and historical walk as well as an instagrammers dream.
The rainbow walls and brightly painted tin roofs remain in remembrance of the area’s heritage. A heritage that causes some sadness yet respected and celebrated in a fun, and now cheerful, way.
We discovered that, originally, immigrants and workers lived in extreme poverty which resulted in their homes being made from scrap metal, usually found at the port.
The metal used was dull and ugly, and so they decided to add a splash of colour which in turn became identification.
We decided to enjoy a nice 30 minute stroll from our hostel, but we did see there were busses from San Telmo market.
If you read online, you might have seen some discouraging words about walking through the area and only sticking to the few colourful streets. Although we would never encourage anyone to walk around such an area, we did enjoy a stroll keeping an eye not to flash anything of value. We stopped for some pizza slices, chatted with locals, went window shopping and passed by the famous Boca Juniors stadium.
This is another worthy freebie!
Museo Memoria (ESMA) Memory Space and Human Rights:
Free entry and open until 5pm, the ESMA navy building that was once a training school for the navy and during the Dirty War became one of the 500 torture camps across Argentina. Learn the history of the dictatorship when the military took control from the government and any suspected activists were abducted, tortured and killed.
Learn about the 2,818 days, 500 torture chambers, over 400 children and 10,000 political prisoners.
A visual, engaging and intense way to learn about Argentina’s history we are adamant on learning about the history of the locations we visit and would urge every travelling Ted to do this same. This day out is etched into our minds and you won’t regret investing your time.
Take the metro Line C to Retiro station and swap the subway for the overhead train to Rivadavia station. The museum can be seen as you exit the station however the main entrance is locked so you will need to walk the perimeter until you reach the open gate, and follow the path to the museum entrance.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookshop:
Known as one of the most beautiful bookshops across the globe, we are chuffed to say we can now vouch for this.
A stunning scene of bookshelves crawling and spreading high into the old theatre, the dramatic interior is still intact with the audiences boxes used as the perfect reading seats and the stage transformed into a cafe.
This is perfect for any rainy day or to visit after the Museo Memoria as it is open until 10pm weekdays and midnight at weekends.
Take the metro ‘Line D’ to Callao station. Exit, cross and walk three blocks along the park until you reach Avenida Santa Fe, it’ll be on the left hand side.
Less text, more pictures…
Ride The La Brugeoise Car:
Up until 2013, jumping on Line A of Buenos Aires’ Subte Metro meant taking a ride back in time while boarding an old 1913 wooden carriage, fully fitted with wooden panels and benches, a conductor and age old advertisements. It certainly makes for an authentic and different experience.
Since the withdrawal of services in 2013, nowadays you will have to roll on down to the Polovorín workshop in the Caballito neighbourhood to see the antique. Visit during the hours of 4pm-7.30pm on any Saturday, Sunday or public holiday and enjoy a free ride and an evening of entertainment on one of these old ‘rolling rock’ trains.
Now used as street trams (what they were originally built for before being placed underground) expect live music and a quirky jaunt around the neighbourhood. Choo-Choo-Choose to go at the cost of nada! This is a wonderful freebie.
A city full of such quirk, charm and fun it is hard not to fall for Buenos Aires.
Energetic with dance, laughs with Jesus and jaw dropping history lessons, we hope you enjoy some of our favourite things to do and allow Buenos Aires to completely woo the hell outta ya.