It’s our dream coming true… we get to go to Buenos Aires. We’ve always said when we move from Washington, DC we’ll travel for a few months before settling somewhere else. We actually did it. We went on an extended vacation to Argentina in early October and stayed through mid-December, and then traveled around Central America through January. We were excited to experience the culture and the people, the Argentine cuisine, and see the sights. Our first stop was going to be Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. We were blessed with the opportunity to be in Argentina for months. This is how we spent our time in Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires here we come
We booked our flights into Buenos Aires and loosely planned our itinerary. We ultimately planned for our first week at a hostel there. Being Argentina’s largest city, it was definitely a place we wanted to explore. Known for its European architecture and vibrant culture, we learned it is sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America. The Porteños, the “people of the port” in the Buenos Aires region, were very friendly and encouraged us as we used our steadily-improving Spanish vocabulary. What’s a typical Argentine breakfast? Will we love Argentina parrilla? What will we see and do?
Colectivo 86: Insight into Buenos Aires Culture
After our long flight, we got pesos from a bank, and found our way to the bus stop for Colectivo 86, the bus to Hostel Arrabal, all in just 30 minutes. Pretty impressive, I think. The hostel’s website told us the 50 cent USD bus ride (per person) would be 40 minutes. We read elsewhere it could take 2 hours. It took 2 hours and 15 minutes. We must have hopped on just as rush hour began — there were kids busing to school and adults commuting to work. In our sleep-deprived state, we were eager to find our accommodations and a bed, but the long bus ride wasn’t all bad.
We saw parts of Buenos Aires we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, like the shanty town barrios where houses were haphazardly constructed of cinder block and cement. And it gave us insight into the culture — how people interact, protocol on public transportation, and a chance to reacquaint ourselves with the language. But like the bus drivers in our ex-hometown of Washington, DC, Argentine drivers are aggressive. Our driver didn’t completely stop at intersections, started driving away as people were still climbing on, and kept the doors open until he accelerated to full speed. We had near-collisions at least a dozen times. I sat by the window, and had it been open, I could have easily reached out and touched the people in the bus next to us. Fortunately, I was too exhausted to be afraid. At any rate, the US $0.50 bus ride plus free cultural insight beats the alternative, a US $25 cab ride. Plus, public transportation is easier on the environment. I would definitely do it again.
Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve: A respite from the city
We made our way to explore Puerto Madero, a lively port lined with interesting restaurants and some shops. We had lunch, enjoyed the view and the people-watching, but only stayed about two hours. From there, we made our way to the Reserva Ecológica de Buenos Aires, also known as Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur. Being green travelers, we always look for ways to walk, explore, and appreciate our surroundings. There could be no better place than an ecological reserve. There are three different trails which are well-groomed (though not paved) where people run, bike, and roller blade.
The Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve is home to over 250 species of birds including flamingos at certain times of year. While we didn’t see anything particularly exotic while we visited, lyrical chirping provided the soundtrack for our trek. The reserve provided fantastic views looking back at the city and overall was an excellent getaway after a sightseeing filled week.
Another great perk: the food stands aligning the park. Parrillas and Parrillónes with names like Que Parrilla, La Parrilla, El Parrillón, Su Parrillón, Mi Parrillón, and Scooby Parrillón provide cheap eats of choripan and lomitos.
For less than $4 U.S. we had sausage and steak sandwiches which are best eaten with chimichanga sauce. Not only are they cheap but there is almost no waste since they serve the meat-juice-dripping sandwiches with a single napkin. In Buenos Aires, I had the best steak ever, maybe of my entire life. Along the southern edge at Ave Bordega, there is a market where you can buy everything from Barbie doll clothes to antiques and shoes. We decided to stick with cotton candy.
We visited the Jardín Japonés in the Palermo neighborhood. It was a beautiful day. We walked around, ate lunch at the restaurant on-site, and saw lots of koi fish. We would definitely recommend visiting it.
We even saw this lovely parakeet there. We learned it was a monk parakeet.
Tierra Santa Theme Park in Buenos Aires
I am not sure if I should recommend this place or not. I would highly suggest considering the pictures below so you know what kind of experience to anticipate. Some might be offended; others will find it kitschy and fun. There are a lot of different scenes with detailed statues. Keep in mind the price, the cost to get there if you are taking a taxi, etc., and how much time you will be in Buenos Aires. It is considered a “theme park,” though there aren’t any rides. His gigantic head was the first glimpse I caught. Then, out of the plastic mountain, came His outstretched arms and 60 foot tall body. Once Jesus was about halfway out BAM! the Hallelujah Chorus blasted from the surrounding speakers. Had I not experienced and seen this place with my own eyes, I would not have believed it existed.
After buying tickets, we were ushered into a skit portraying the birth of Christ. Only it wasn’t a skit so much a light show with robotic biblical characters, performed to music. It was the perfect introduction to a day that would only get more bizarre.
After the light-show-skit ended, we were released into Tierra Santa, free to roam about the life of Jesus, as portrayed by life-size statues. First stop: Adam and Eve. From there we “saw” Moses.
Then He turned water to wine and multiplied loaves of bread. I guess the food was so realistic-looking that people were tempted to touch it, so the theme park authorities added a “don’t touch” sign to ward off offenders.
We took a break at this point to watch (real) women dance in “period” costume as some men played the drums.
We bought a snack from a food vendor, also in costume and also a real person. Then we witnessed the Resurrection — the clincher of any trip to Tierra Santa. Technical difficulties prevented me from capturing the resurrection of a 60 foot tall Jesus on camera, but dozens of YouTube users have me covered. Overall, Tierra Santa in Buenos Aires, Argentina was a bizarre experience. There were elderly people and families there who were obviously having religious experiences. Then there were teenagers giggling as they posed with the statues. I’m still not quite sure what to make of this supposed “Holy Land,” but it was worth the trip for me. Where else can you pose with a life-size statues from biblical times, dine on falafel, watch a dance show, and see a gigantic Jesus rise out of a mountain to the soundtrack of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus?
Out and about ~ Buenos Aires Dog Walkers
Sometimes I wonder what in Buenos Aires I missed by spending so much time looking at the ground — trying to avoid loose tiles, potholes, and lots and lots of doggie doo-doo. I know that picking up after your dog isn’t the norm in many international cities, but I’m still astounded by the sheer amount of dog poop in Buenos Aires. Luckily, there are plenty of cute dogs and puppies and seeing them makes up for having to watch my step. In the residential neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, and specifically in the better off areas like Recoleta, people hire dog walkers to let their beloved animals out during the day. These dog walkers don’t walk 1 or 2 or even 4 little dogs, I’ve seen one dog walker that probably had about 12-15 large dogs with him.
Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires
We strolled through Cementerio de la Recoleta (Recoleta Cemetery) where thousands of famous — including Evita Perón — and not-so-famous Argentineans are buried. The cemetery is massive, and the tombs are beautiful. Some of the tombs are well cared for while others are falling apart. There’s a striking life and death contrast about the place.
Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina: Seeing Evita in Her Homeland
On the bus into Buenos Aires from the airport, I spotted a billboard announcing Eva: el gran musical argentino. I loved Evita and decided we must see this musical. We headed to Teatro Lola Membrives in Buenos Aires for a performance. Although the play we bought tickets for had a slightly different title, I was secretly hoping to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita in Spanish. After the curtain rose, though, it quickly became apparent that this was indeed a different musical. I pushed aside the tinge of disappointment as I struggled to understand Eva Perón’s life story as told in operatic Spanish. Having seen Evita the movie and the play years ago definitely helped, but it still wasn’t easy to follow the plot.
Here’s what I understood: Eva leaves small town Junín for Buenos Aires because she wants to become an actress. An agent laughs in her face and kicks her out, but she gets a small part later, then is on a radio show, and eventually gets her own show. At some point Eva meets Juan Perón, who later gets arrested, and Eva demands of the guard that he be released. She leads protests to the affect. (Apparently historians say this never happened, but it makes for a better story so playwrights keep it in.)
Perón is released, and he and Eva get married. He’s president, and she’s running for an office (vice president, my later research revealed). Eva gives money to the poor, chats it up with commoners, and scoffs in the faces of traditional women who tell her she can’t hold an office because she’s a woman and too young. Eva is very busy, always meeting with people, and gets tired. She becomes sick, gives a dramatic speech from the balcony (apparently dropping out of the running for VP, though I missed that during the play), and dies shortly thereafter.
It was quite an experience seeing a musical about Evita in Argentina. I imagine it would be like watching a play about John F. Kennedy in the US. Some members of the audience remembered when Evita was alive, and most revered her. It was an excellent musical, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I followed most of it, I think, though I’m sure I missed some important details. It definitely put my Spanish to the test. And from what I remember of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s story, this version is pretty similar.
After the play, we decided to do some Google and Wikipedia research to see if we missed anything major. We learned that after Eva died, Juan Perón was overthrown as president and Eva’s body was hidden away by the government for the next 16 years. For a decade and half, no one knew what happened to the body of the beloved Eva Perón. The government forbade anyone to even mention the Peróns’ names. It wasn’t until 1971 the government revealed her body was hidden in a Milan crypt under a pseudonym. Now returned to Argentina, Eva rests in a crypt we visited in Recoleta Cemetery (see above). The government is afraid someone will try to steal her body so the tomb is booby trapped. A dramatic end to a dramatic life.
San Telmo Market: Rain or Shine
It was a cold, rainy morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon and the crowds rushed to the trendy San Telmo Market in Buenos Aires. Here you can buy everything from antique keys and original paintings to hand-knit scarves and glass necklaces. Some vendors were out in the morning, but many more came to enjoy the sun — and the tourists it brought with it. Check out the difference.
San Telmo on a rainy morning – less people
San Telmo on a sunny afternoon
Quick trip to Uruguay
The weather wasn’t great, but we only had two more days in Buenos Aires, and we wanted to see Uruguay before we left. So we hopped on a Buquebus ferry near Puerto Madero in BA for the one hour journey to Colonia, a small town on the Rio de la Plata in Uruguay.
There’s not a lot to do in Colonia but enjoy the view and wander the cobbled streets, so that’s just what we did. It’s a nice day trip from Buenos Aires and I imagine it’s amazing on a sunny day. It was a bit chilly, but the rain held out until an hour before we left so we managed to snap a few photos. Here are some of our favorites.
The rest of our trip in Argentina
We had an amazing time in Buenos Aires hanging out in the restaurants and walking whenever we could to get a real sense of the culture and people. After our week here, we visited the middle part of the country, including the Lakes Region of Patagonia. Then we visited the Atlantic Coast, including visiting Peninsula Valdes. We were fortunate to see Perito Moreno Glacier as well as Iguazu Falls. We also volunteered while we were in Argentina. It was difficult to plan online and was a lot easier once we arrived. We spent time volunteering at Chacra Millalen, an organic dairy farm. It was an amazing experience. We also spent time in Guatemala, including a history and nature-oriented trip to Tikal National Park. This was the trip of a lifetime. If we ever go again, we would visit some of our favorite spots and look for new things to experience.
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