I was lucky enough to visit Buenos Aires in 2005 and there are many great memories to look back on. Here is my experience.
Great things about the city
The city of Buenos Aires is old, elegant, big and entertaining. The biggest feature for me was that the city literally doesn’t sleep! I still talk about how I was able to eat a steak in a restaurant at 2:30am and how I bought a soccer shirt from a shop at 1:30 in the morning!
The people in Buenos Aires are very friendly to tourists and also helpful. They treat foreigners with a lot of respect and you always feel welcome. This came as a surprise to me as I was warned to receive a hostile reception for being Chilean. This myth was debunked early on in my trip!
The food is great! Their specialty is steak, more specifically char-grilled bbq steak. In nearly every street, you can stop by a steak house and order a fabulous steak for an inexpensive price.
I can’t mention the steak without talking about their wines too. Argentinian wines are splendid. There’s no need to research or ask for a specific region, just going on the recommendations from the waiter is enough to have a wonderful experience.
What to do there
Buenos Aires offers everything for everyone. You can go to their museums and theatres, enjoy their sport or experience their vibrant night life. The highlights for me where to visit the Boca neighbourhood, which still offers an insight into the Italian migration that ocurred over 100 years ago. The other highlight was to visit Puerto Madero and to walk up and down the famous streets: La Valle and La Florida. I didn’t get a chance to visit the afluent suburbs of Nuñez and Palermo, but I got a chance to visit Recoleta and walk through the cemetery where Evita Peron’s tomb is.
Currency and travelling with money
I travelled with a credit card and two bank cards (that were linked to international networks). That was all I needed. If you have US dollars, you can exchange money over there at a good rate. There are many places to exchange in the city centre, most banks offer the service also. I find it much easier to travel with a bank card and withdraw sums from ATMs.
How to communicate
Fortunately, Argentinians have embraced tourism well. In the city most retail vendors speak English and often speak Italian too. Having an English speaking background isn’t a problem. You will find that there are many English and Irish tourists at all times (some Australians too).
There are two experiences that stand out in Buenos Aires. The first one occurred one day when I was looking for a particular authentic soccer jersey from a few seasons back that was no longer on sale. A store owner from gallery in a main street didn’t have what I was looking for but he tried to help me as much as he could. He went to another store (obviously his competitor) and asked him if he had it, without success he went to another store and asked they rang around to find someone who had what I was looking for. In the end I found the jersey on my own but I was impressed with the effort of the men nonetheless.
The other lasting experience was my first night there. I was walking through the streets searching for a restaurant. As soon as I saw the elegant exterior and interior of the “Al Carbon” steak house, I knew it was the place. One of the best dining experiences I’ve had. The restaurant was very quiet that night, possibly only three other tables where booked – everyone was still recovering from the economic crisis even in 2005. The steak was served, beautifully medium done. Great salad, wine and desert. I thought this would cost me big but at 80 Argentine pesos, the meal for two cost about $40 AUD.
The only hiccup
While we were there, the country’s airline workers were on strike. This delayed our departure from Buenos Aires for a few days – 6 to be precise. Aerolineas Argentinas promised to reimburse our hotel stay for the duration of the strike – 6 days – as long as we provide receipts from the hotel. So the day we were supposed to fly out, they tell us that our flight will now occur in 6 days time. We would have to find accommodation during those days and on the day we fly out to go passed the branch office and get our money back.
To cut a long story short, the airline told us that there was a flight available 2 days prior to our departure date and that it was my responsibility to know this and book the quickest flight out. They had my contact details but never bothered to notify me that I could’ve left earlier – I definitely would have. So I didn’t get reimbursed for the whole stay, they didn’t keep their end of the agreement. This is why I tell people to not fly with Aerolineas Argentinas, the old state of their planes should be enough to discourage any passenger.
During the rest of the day, I came into contact with many other Argentines at shopping malls and taxi drivers who all APOLOGISED for the way the airline company had treated us. It was so comforting and at the same time shameful that innocent citizens had to apologise for a company with a clear lack of principles and ethics. It quickly made us remember that the airline’s attitude in no-way reflected the characteristics of the average Argentine.
Visit Argentina. It’s a great place. It has culture, an interesting history and is a unique place in South America. The service you get there is excellent and no matter what time the plane lands, there is more than enough places open for business. It’s very cheap, so soccer jerseys and leather jackets are high on most people’s shopping lists.
I will post more about Argentina in the future. There is the soccer match I went to and the city of Mendoza to write about still.