The Buenos Aires Obelisk

August 24, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

A porteño emblem par excellence

The Obelisk monument on Av 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires

It was once decorated as a pencil (2006), and twice as a Christmas tree (1973 and 2010).  It has served as a target for vandals, prompting its public closure and an imposing fence to be placed around it in 1987.  During the sinister sequestration period of the 1970s, it served as a masthead to hoist terrifying propaganda intended to silence the government’s critics.

In 2005, it was covered in a giant pink condom for World Aids Day.  In 2015, it temporarily “lost” its tip thanks to a grand illusion by the hand of a local artist, making it possible for the first time ever for Argentines to access its towering peak.

A few days after its construction was complete in 1936, an earthquake shook its foundation but couldn’t topple it.  A few years later, in 1939, the Argentine government voted 23-3 to demolish it, but they couldn’t topple it either (thanks, Mayor Goyeneche).   

For the city’s bicentennial celebrations in May 2010, more than 3 million cheering porteños rallied around it as their central symbol of both the city and the nation.  Just a few days before, famed fútbol coach of Argentina’s national team and it’s favorite ex-star player, Diego Maradona, threatened to run around it buck naked if his team should win the World Cup.

So, what is “it”, you ask?

None other than the “silver sword” of porteño pride: el Obelisco de Buenos Aires.

Residing at the intersection of the city’s two most important avenues, Av. 9 de Julio and Av. Corrientes, the Obelisk has been steeped in controversy and intrigue since before it was even erected. For starters, it has been popularly (and wrongly) blamed for the destruction of the historic St. Nicholas Church, which once stood on the same site and first hoisted the baby blue and white Argentine flag over its altars (the 1931 widening of Avenida Corrientes was the actual culprit).

Inscriptions on the side of 'El Obelisco' in Buenos Aires

Early onlookers questioned the appropriateness of the construction, pointing out that its shape had “nothing to do with” the city and what it stood for. It predictably became a target for local feminist groups that didn’t like the perceived machismo attitudes it embodies. And, if the ladies were correct about the message it was intended to send, it was an embarrassment anyway thanks to being less than half as tall as its 555-feet tall North American cousin, the Washington Monument (El Obelisco is just 221.5 feet tall, or 67.5 meters).

Besides that, it wasn’t even made out of “local materials”- the Olsen white stone which comprised its outer cladding was from the province of Córdoba. When that tiling started falling off, it was declared a danger to passersby and termed an “intruder” by an opportunistic Congress that grasped for any reason to level it to the ground and start afresh.

An Argentine monument that Buenos Aires learned to accept

But here we are over 80 years later, and it still occupies its prime real estate on the corner of the Broadway of BA and the Widest Avenue in the World. Love it or hate it, one thing is clear: it’s impossible to ignore it. After all, it has been the site of enough impassioned protests and soccer celebrations to cement its place in the Port City dweller’s hearts forever. More than likeability, the obelisk has familiarity going for it, having served as the centerpiece to many key events in the modern history of Buenos Aires.

In fact, the best way to understand the significance of the structure is perhaps through these stories: the rallies, the raucousness, and (at times) the riots that the monument has borne witness to. If choosing the Obelisk to host an event is synonymous with having an important cultural message to send, let’s see what we can glean about the Argentine people from just the happenings there from the past year (at the time of writing, August 2017)…

Buenos Aires hedge art in front of the Obelisk monument

12 August 2016: Tango Festival and World Cup Kickoff Celebration

What better event to start with for representing Buenos Aires than one related to tango?  Known worldwide as the Festival y Mundial de Tango and locally as simply El Mundial, this important tango competition takes place during the month of August each year in Buenos Aires. Over 400 couples compete each year in national and international preliminaries for a chance to represent their country in the finals at Luna Park at the end of the month in one of two categories: Tango Pista (salon tango), or Tango Escenario (Stage Tango).  In the run-up to that final event, classes, exhibitions, and concerts are offered all for free in an effort to preserve and expand the cultural heritage of the tango.  

In 2016, the festival theme was bringing the tango “back to the barrios” (neighborhoods), and the events were hosted over 42 different venues in the city to include as many enthusiasts as possible (they almost reached a full offering of 48 venues… the official number of barrios in the city, but a valiant effort all the same).  The kickoff celebration at the Obelisco was actually a press conference, but featured some of the musicians and dancers representing Buenos Aires.

Watch last year’s champions Cristian Palomo and Melisa Sacchi in the salon category, and Hugo Mastrolorenzo and Agustina Vignau in the stage category.  This year (2017), the festival takes place from the 10th to the 23rd of August.

9 October 2016: The First Annual National Asado Championships

A close second in cultural importance to tango in Argentina (and some would argue for its place in the top spot) is their asado tradition of grilling up the tastiest cuts of meat in the world.  Last October, the city crystallized their efforts to communicate their gastronomic superiority in the carne category by holding a meat mega-festival, with the Obelisk serving as ground zero.  Judges were brought in from some of the best parrillas in the city: Don Julio, La Cabrera, La Carnicería, El Mirasol, Cabaña Las Lilas, Siga la Vaca, Nuestro Secreto and La Cabaña.  

The festival’s champion asadores hailed from Mendoza, a Western province of Argentina, and proudly declared after their win that the “secret is patience” in this “ceremony” of Argentine culture.  The event coincided with Argentine Cultural Diversity Day, and featured several booths showing off the cuisines and dances of nearby nations – fitting for a country that celebrates their strong immigrant population.

19 October 2016: The National Women’s Strike

Taking a somber turn in our roster of notable gatherings is the mass march that took place last October to protest the brutal femicide of 16 year old Lucía Pérez in Mar Del Plata, a coastal resort town in the province of Buenos Aires.  As part of the Ni Una Menos movement (“not one less”, meaning no more women killed from gender violence), the strike took place on “Miércoles Negro,” or “Black Wednesday,” and made headlines all over the world.  

Thousands of women stopped all activities for an hour and marched from the Obelisk to Plaza de Mayo, where organizers recited speeches about the persistent machista (male-dominated) attitudes that exist here and threaten the women of Argentina, not only in the form of violence but also cultural suppression (over 10% of women are unemployed, with a gender pay gap of 30-40% and 20% of salaried women being employed as low-paid domestic workers).  It is a sad reality, but misogyny and gender-related violence continues to be one of the greatest challenges this country faces.

14-18 November 2016: Artisanal Ice Cream Week

With over 6000 artisanal ice cream shops sprinkled over the city, it is clear that meat is not the only defining delicacy on the porteño menu.  Each year in late November, the city bows to its Italian immigrant traditions and turns the Obelisk into a giant gelato stand, with flavors being made fresh and all the proceeds benefiting local children’s hospitals.  In 2016, its 32nd year, the festival drew a crowd of over 4000, with the favorite flavors being (in order): dulce de leche, chocolate, and strawberry (frutilla).  

Far from enjoying their creamy treat from a waffle cone, the preferred delivery method in Buenos Aires is in that styrofoam container known simply as un cuarto – a quarter kilogram of the sweet stuff, because *real* artisanal ice cream is always sold by weight, never volume.  Our advice: don’t get into an argument with an Argentine about who sells the best ice cream in the city, because they all have a personal favorite… and they’re all right!

A quarter kilo of dulce de leche & chocolate ice cream

29 November 2016: A Tribute To The Chapecoense Football Team

Football is serious business in Argentina.  90% of the populace here claims allegiance to a club, and a woman cheering against her boyfriend’s team is automatic grounds for a breakup.  When the national team wins the entire city stops to celebrate, and Diego Maradona (their coach and ex-star player) is still every bit as much of a god as he was in the early 80’s.  But on the tragic night of November 29th, 2016, Argentina showed that their true allegiance is to the sport itself rather than any national rivalry.  That was the night that 71 people perished on a Medellín, Colombia mountainside from a chartered flight carrying the players and staff of the rising star team from Chapecoense, Brazil.  

The scrappy underdogs had beaten incredible odds to make it to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, but their lives were lost at the hands of a careless pilot who failed to make a refuel stop.  Football fans the world over went into mourning, and Argentina lit up the Obelisk in bright green – the team’s jersey color – in solidarity.  It was a moment that no porteño will soon forget.

7 February 2017: The ‘Tetazo’ Topless March

What started as 3 women being threatened with arrest (*link NSFW) for bathing topless on a popular beach on the outskirts of the city on January 28th turned into a massive protest (*link NSFW) in the Plaza de la Republica – the small park surrounding the Obelisk – a little over a week later.  That incident renewed a longstanding national debate about the inequalities that still exist between men and women in Argentine society, where women’s scantily-clad bodies are routinely used to sell products in advertising alongside being portrayed as lewd for acts such as breastfeeding.  

It was hard to ignore that the protesters had a valid point when a large number of men showed up merely to ogle the bared-chests, with some climbing flagpoles to get a better look and one man exposing his genitals, sparking outrage among the crowd. While legislators continue to debate the legality of topless sunbathing for women, one thing is clear: machismo, at least for now, is here to stay in Buenos Aires.

25 March 2017: Earth Hour Shuts Down The Obelisk

Buenos Aires has come a long way in the last year in their environmental conservation efforts. Instituting a ban on plastic bags in grocery stores at the beginning of 2017, installing dedicated bus lines to cut air and noise pollution, conducting a city-wide trash collection overhaul, and replacing streetlights with energy efficient LED bulbs are just a few of the improvements the city has undergone.  Though they still have a long way to go, it is clear from the notable lack of protests at the hands of a people that aren’t afraid to take to the streets that the majority of Argentines consider themselves in favor of measures that protect the environment.  

Since 2015, the city has been participating in Earth Hour: a yearly event taking place in over 170 countries that flicks the switch on the lights that power major monuments around the world.  This year saw not just the Obelisco, but also the Monumento a San Martín, the Monumento a los Españoles, and the Floralis Genérica go dark for an hour.  Now if they could only innovate a new, biodegradable material to replace that standard styrofoam ice cream container.

El Obelisco de Buenos Aires

Tango, grilled meats, fútbol, and women’s rights: just a few of the defining cultural facets of Argentina’s modern times.  Clearly, if you want to get a bird’s eye view of the social landscape, a very good place to start is the steps of that sky-scraping symbol of porteño pride – El Obelisco.

View of the Obelisk seen from Av Diagonal Norte

Your personal Buenos Aires Photo Tour

September 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Richard Photographer

One Day in Buenos Aires

June 10, 2008 by · 28 Comments 

Imagine it is your last day ever in Buenos Aires, and you have just 24 hours to see and do all of the things you love in Buenos Aires for the very last time. Makes you think, no?

My Perfect Day in Buenos Aires

This thought inspired the following blog post, an itinerary for which I would definitely need all 24 hours of the day to pack everything in. I hope at least some of my fellow bloggers in Buenos Aires will read this and be able to weigh in with their own post about their perfect day in BA.

Please read on for mine…

Perfect Morning in Buenos Aires

  • Facade of Cafe TortoniMy perfect day in Buenos Aires would have to start with breakfast at Cafe Tortoni (Avenida de Mayo 829, City Center), which is the cafe in a city of cafes. It is also the oldest, having 1st opened in 1858, and one of the most beautiful, with lovely wooden panelling, bevelled mirrors, Argentine artwork, a stained-glass skylight and colorful tiffany lamps. What would I have for breakfast? My sweet tooth dictates chocolate con churros, an old Spanish favorite; a thick, sweet hot chocolate drink with long, thin, sugary donut sticks for dunking.
  • Exiting Cafe Tortoni, I would walk a few blocks down Avenida de Mayo (towards the Pink House), admiring the beautiful turn of the century art-nouveau facades and balconies along the way.
  • Upon reaching the sign for Peru station on the Buenos Aires subte (subway) A Line, I would descend the staircase to go almost 100 years back in time. Line A became the first subway / underground in not just Latin America, but the whole of the southern hemisphere, when the 1st train ran here in 1913. Peru station has been beautifully preserved to look like it did back then, with period hand-painted adverts on the colorfully tiled walls, and the original kiosks and ticket offices. What’s more, the whole line was built by my fellow Brits, so it runs on the left hand-side, making me feel at home!

Inside the wooden carriage on Subte Linea A

  • A hop on the subway train, and I’m off down to station Saenz Pena. Most of the trains are the original wooden carriages, with subdued lamp lighting on the inside which really makes you feel you have gone back in time. I usually travel in the first carriage, where a front window lets you watch as you snake your way through the underground tunnels; hold on tight for the bumpy, but fun, ride.
  • I get off at Saenz Pena to enter the amazing Palacio Barolo building. I take a quick tour of the interior (available for a reasonable price from Monday to Thursday between 2pm and 7pm, ask at their front desk), which takes you up to the very top of the tower of what was once the tallest building in Latin America when it was opened in 1923. This gives you some of the best views available of the whole city and out across the river, including an excellent bird’s-eye view of Congress and back down Av de Mayo to the Pink House. The Palacio Barolo building itself is one of the most interesting structures in Buenos Aires, both architecturally and symbolically speaking. Here is my slightly blurry photo of the daytime view to Congress from the Barolo tower:

View of Congress from the roof of the Palacio Barolo

  • Then it’s back down into old Line A of the underground and a ride up to the Castro Barros station in Almagro, although I always call that area Caballito (it’s basically on the border between the two, and Caballito is the better known barrio).

A Cake-o-holic’s Lunch in Buenos Aires

  • On a corner very close to the Castro Barros station is Cafe Las Violetas (Avenida Rivadavia 3899, Almagro). As previously confessed, I am a cake-o-holic. The picture in that link is of me stuffing myself with a huge plate full sandwiches and sweet, sweeeeeet cakes at Las Violetas. I can’t think of a better way for me to have lunch on my perfect day in Buenos Aires. Las Violetas also happens to be one of the other more beautiful cafes in the city, with even more stunning stained glass than Tortoni. But it’s their cakes that really do it for me! Here’s a photo of Las Violetas to keep you going:

Stained glass in Cafe Las Violetas

  • Now I waddle to catch a taxi on Rivadavia, and head over to Plaza Francia in Recoleta, to walk off, ooh, around 1% of the calories from lunch in its grassy sloping hills.

An Argentine Afternoon

  • Plaza Francia leads into Recoleta cemetery, which just so happens to be my favorite place for a stroll in Buenos Aires. Now that might sound a little bit morbid, but it’s nothing like that at all. It has some amazing architecture, ranging from Egyptian Art Deco to over the top French sculptures, and (literally) contains some of the most interesting Argentine figures from the last few centuries, with many stories to be told. And it’s not all about Evita…personally, I prefer the many resident cats. You’ll see when you visit!

Art Deco Egyptian Style Tomb in Recoleta Cemetery. Plus a cat!

  • After I’m finished seeing dead people, there is nothing better to do than sit and have afternoon coffee in La Biela, possibly the most upmarket cafe in Buenos Aires, and a Recoleta landmark. It’s my perfect day, so it is sunny, and I’ll sit outside under the shade of the massive ancient gomero tree.
  • Then I walk a few blocks through upper-class Recoleta, until the corner of Santa Fe and Callao, where the Un Altra Volta ice cream parlor is found. I have my usual, a quarter kilo of dulce de leche and chocolate amargo gelato, in the quiet of their nice outdoor patio.
  • Next up, it’s the expat’s favorite mode of transport, the 152 bus along Marcelo T de Alvear, to Plaza Italia in Palermo. From here, its a pleasant walk through the green parks of Palermo, until El Rosedal / the Rose Gardens.
  • After admiring the blooms in the last light of the day, I patter around in a ‘pedal boat’ on the Rosedal’s lake, as the sun goes down…

Exceptional Evening of Eating & Drinking

  • After sunset at the lake, it’s a brisk walk back to Plaza Italia to take the subway to Plaza San Martin (first Line D, changing to Line C at 9 de Julio).
  • Here I would definitely partake in a pre-dinner gin and tonic, in the lovely, expensive, Art Deco style bar downstairs in the Marriott Plaza Hotel (Florida 1005, facing Plaza San Martin), and then almost certainly some kind of silly fruity trago (cocktail) at the small, colorful, arty Dada bar (San Martin 941, Retiro) a couple of blocks away.
  • Now we’re well lubricated, it’s a short stumble down the block to the El Establo parilla restaurant (corner of San Martin & Paraguay), one of my favorite places for a succulent Lomo steak, papas fritas, and an ensalada mixta (a simple classic; tomato, lettuce & onion, with oil and vinegar) even though the waiters will undoubtedly advise that this is too much for me – but, I’m English, so I will not let that phase me. Of course, it’s all washed down with a nice glass of Malbec red wine, and maybe finishing up with panqueques con dulce de leche (there’s my sweet tooth again), if I am not feeling too stuffed by then.

Night-time to morning: No time for sleep in BA!

  • After all that indulgence, some exercise is definitely in order. A nice stroll down the slope to Puerto Madero, seguing into a night-time walk along the lit-up docks, and past the beautiful Puente de la Mujer, is the perfect after dinner activity in Buenos Aires.

Puerto Madero Lit Up by Night

  • But don’t stop there! Continue along the docks to the Faena Hotel + Universe (Martha Salotti 445, Dique 2, Puerto Madero) and don’t be shy…walk in confidently, non-guests of the hotel are still extremely welcome here. There is no better place in Buenos Aires to have a couple of mega-expensive cocktails than in their breathtaking cocktail bar – the design is simply out of this world (or universe). And the staff treat you like royalty (there is even the odd gold throne to sit on!) – all of this actually makes the expensive drinks worthwhile! (for more about this, see my post on the top 5 expensive Hotels in Buenos Aires, and how to enjoy them on a budget)
  • It may be well into the middle of the night by now, but in Buenos Aires that means most people are probably still getting ready to go out! And so, I hail a taxi to take me all the way back to stylish Palermo Hollywood, to enter Niceto Club (Niceto vega 5510, Palermo Hollywood) – there’s no line to wait in, because I’m probably still a little early by BA standards (it’s difficult for a Brit to ever fully adjust to this!) – and it’s time to dance through to the morning, porteno style, among a crowd that are far trendier and better looking than I’ll ever be. Still, maybe something will rub off!
  • As the sun comes back up, it’s time to exit the club and go for breakfast! Coffee and medialunas in any small, neighborhood cafe will do at this point, before I finally fall into bed, with my apartment windows shuttered, to sleep through the rest of the daylight hours…

Your Perfect Day in Buenos Aires?

I’m very interested to hear about other people’s perfect days in Buenos Aires. Let us know, either on a blog of your own, or by posting your perfect day in the comments below. Thanks!

Calle Lanin, Barracas

November 29, 2007 by · 10 Comments 

A more colorful Caminito, without the hordes of tourists

Calle Lanin in Barracas, Buenos Aires

Calle Lanin is a beautiful little street in the barrio of Barracas, in the south of Buenos Aires. If you are going to La Boca to see the colorful and historical Caminito Street, then you might also consider taking the time to explore some of the neighboring barrio of Barracas, where you will find the quieter, shady, yet extremely colorful Lanin. (Don’t try this at night, it’s not really a safe place for tourists to be after dark). The murals there, created in the year 2000 by local artist Marino Santa Maria (who actually lives on this street), are definitely worth the trip to take a look.

Being such a colorful street, the best way to give you an idea of what Lanin street is like is with some photos…

Photos of Calle Lanin

House on Lanin Street, Buenos Aires

Project Calle Lanin

Street murals on Calle Lanin, Barracas

Colorful Calle Lanin

Hope you enjoyed the photos.

You can also check out this post on Calle Lanin by Argentina’s Travel Guide for some more info on this sightseeing attraction in Buenos Aires.

Location of Calle Lanin

Lanin 1 – 200, between Brandsen and Suarez, Barracas

Buenos Aires Zoo

November 22, 2007 by · 10 Comments 

It’s all happening at the zoo…

Elephants at Buenos Aires Zoo

The Buenos Aires Zoo is spectacularly charming for anyone with an afternoon to spare. Located in the heart of Palermo off the Plaza Italia subway stop, the zoo spans the distance between Avenidas Las Heras and Libertador. Home to over 350 species and known for some of its exotic breeding, the zoo is the perfect place for families, a romantic date or an afternoon alone.

On sunny weekends this attraction is packed full of children, which isn’t always entirely different from the weekdays, when many school field trips attend. Nevertheless, the best time to visit the zoo is on a sunny weekday afternoon, when you can lounge in front of the white tiger enclosure or elephant house with few others peering over your shoulder.
Feeding time at the Buenos Aires Zoo

Buenos Aires Zoo details

The zoo’s entrance is located on the corner of Avenida Las Heras and Avenida Sarmiento. Cost varies depending on what you want to see and how much you want to spend. General Admission (Entrada General) gives you access to most of the zoo. However, there are several exhibits requiring the more advanced pass (Pasaporte), which gives you access to exhibits such as the Aquarium, Reptiles and Rainforest, as well as the ‘Dragon House’ and a boat ride on the lagoon.

The General pass shouldn’t be overlooked however, as the majority of the zoo is indeed found within the General layout. Meanwhile, the Aquarium has penguins with both fresh and saltwater fish (including piranhas) in large tanks and the reptile area is eerily captivating (especially for the boys). However, if after purchasing the general pass and you find yourself thinking that the Rainforest exhibit looks too good to pass up, a few pesos extra at the entrance to each additional exhibit will grant you entry.

Nice views in the Buenos Aires Zoo, Palermo

Don’t feed the animals (or do!)

OK, so you have your pass… now, where do you begin? Upon admittance you’ll see a large entrance where you can purchase disposable cameras, snacks and also rent lockers. They also have professional photographers if you want to capture the moment without any blurs or overexposures, which is ideal considering the entrance is next to a picturesque lagoon where flamingos lounge on the far side of the fountains. (Look closely and you’ll also see snapping turtles!)

The entrance area is also an excellent chance to buy some animal food (Comidas Animales) – throughout your journey you’re welcome to feed elephants, alpacas, monkeys, camels, deer, zebras and other feed friendly animals. The food bags are affordable, as are the larger bins. While you’ll find yourself wondering how it’s possible that all of these different animals eat the same food (maybe save yourself some cash and try it out on the kids… just kidding!), it’s a wonderful way to interact and gain the attention of the more commonly aloof critters. Some of the animals will even play up to the food, with elephants raising their trunks and monkeys motioning for you to throw more.

Some of the enclosures are so close to the animals themselves that sneaking in some petting (while you’re feeding the camel, for instance) isn’t difficult. Naturally, it’s important to be socially conscious of the safety of the animals and yourself, so be mindful when you’re petting the zebra. If the kids are complaining that you’ve run out of food, then there are stations located throughout the Zoo where more can be purchased.

Also, if the Comidas Animales didn’t go over so well as the kids’ snack, then there are stands where popsicles and other treats can be found. However, like most zoos, these are extremely overpriced… so, if you go over to the sides of the zoo (by the fence) you will often find street vendors that will sell you a larger variety at half the price, right through the gaps in the fence! In Buenos Aires, where there’s a will, there’s a way .

A Camel has the hump at Buenos Aires Zoo

You are HERE

The layout of the zoo is simple so you don’t have to worry about missing anything. Posted maps along the way indicate your position, but by following the main path you’ll surely see it all. If you’ve taken this zoo-pert’s advice and headed RIGHT upon entry, your first stop will be the polar bears with their large swimming pool and the Aquarium, should you choose to view it.

The elephant house is enormous and the elephants seem to spend most of their time near the perimeters in hopes of catching some snacks purchased by zoo goers. Again the intimacy of the Buenos Aires zoo is spectacular and it’s breathtaking to see these amazing animals up so close.

The zoo is also known for its success in breeding white tigers and these, along with the other large cats (pumas, cheetahs, jaguars and lions) are all in well built enclosures where they’re easy to spot. Each enclosure lists the animal with some basic information for those wishing to educate themselves on the wildlife. Information such as where you can find them in the wild, the types of food they eat (interestingly enough, none mention the Comidas Animales!) and other key characteristics about each inhabitant is listed.

If the white tigers aren’t impressing the kids and they’re getting rambunctious, not to worry. The middle of the zoo houses a playground fully equipped with swings and slides for them to exert all that extra energy. The zoo also has two carousels located at the back and far left. The one in the rear is always running and is nearby a rest area with food. It’s a great halfway point and the perfect load off.

Zoo and more

The region dedicated to Africa is located on the left side of the zoo which again bodes spectacularly intimate views of anything you’d hope to see. This gives way to a petting zoo where at the end of your journey (you’re actually allowed to here!) to pet a family of goats, donkeys and Shetland ponies.

If you haven’t had your fill by this time, take another loop. Or, if you have, you’re back at the lagoon and ready for home… Once you’re home and realize that house cat of yours isn’t exactly living up to those white tiger cubs, visit the zoo website to see what other activities and adventures the zoo has to offer. This includes information on birthdays, guided tours and other specialized events: www.zoobuenosaires.com.ar (one such specialized event at the moment is night time zoo opening, as reported on here in Buenos Aires Weekly).

Giraffe at Buenos Aires Zoo

Location of Buenos Aires Zoo

Corner of Avenida Las Heras and Avenida Sarmiento, Palermo

Website: http://www.zoobuenosaires.com.ar/

Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

October 7, 2007 by · 8 Comments 

A quiet nature reserve just steps from the city

Viewpoint in the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

The hustle and bustle of the City Center are lost in the cooling mood of the only ecological reserve in the city, the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur. A stone’s throw away from the trendy, modern neighborhood of Puerto Madero and you find yourself walking along the park’s boardwalk littered with nuzzling couples, parillas (steakhouses), and more pigeons than you can throw a stick at.

The Costanera Sur’s walkway borders the front of the reserve and from there you can see the greater landscape that opens up into the park. The boardwalk itself is entertaining, with beautiful architecture and sculptures, casual eateries and dozens of pickup games of futbol. Your initial examination of the swampy marshland is only an introduction to the many more birds and interesting views that await you upon entering.

Patio area in the Costanera Sur nature reserve

Buenos Aires grows its own ecological reserve

The city of Buenos Aires has seen its fair share of change over the years, and the history of the reserve is part of this constant transformation. During the city’s modernization in the mid-20th century, remnants of demolished buildings and construction debris were discarded into the Rio de la Plata. Gradually the debris, mixed with sand from the river began to create the marshy foundation for what is now the reserve. Soon, the plants began to grow, and not long after the birds followed. The ecological park is the result of this interesting history, and a great location for observing that fascinating border where city and country convene.

So although you may see more than a few empty bottles and wrappers that have been thrown all over the small concrete divider at the start of the boardwalk, just remember that debris and waste is the reason you’re there in the first place! And don’t worry, once inside, the heart of the park is much cleaner and well kept.

Nature consuming the city at the Costanera Sur?
[Photo Credit: jmpznz, under this CC licence]

Rent a bike to help explore the nature reserve

The park has two entrances. The main entrance is located on the southern side of the boardwalk and is an excellent place to rent a bicycle for the afternoon. This isn’t a bad way to go if you want to maximize your time bouncing around from view to view.

The entire walk around the reserve will take you more than an hour and that’s without stopping to peer through the reeds and to try and identify birds. The reserve offers several viewpoint stops that allow you a moment to pull out your binoculars and scan over the marshes that navigate through the wetlands. If you forget to bring your own, a few monedas (coins) will allow you a peek through the public binoculars that are placed along decks that skirt out over the marshlands.

Spectacular views with interesting backdrops

The views in the reserve are spectacularly endless. From the parks entrance a quick look back gives you a different view of the boardwalk with the city stretching up behind it. Wandering through the dirt laid paths are benches that offer a brief rest while you take in the quiet escape you’ve earned from your walk.

Perhaps most breathtaking are the views on the eastern side of the park. The Rio de la Plata borders this edge of the reserve and boats can be seen sailing in the distance. The air here is cooler and cleaner than in the busy city and the grassy areas for sitting are a great place to settle down for a relaxing view…

Costanera Sur View in Buenos Aires

This side of the reserve not only boasts amazing views of the river, but one of the best of the city. As you’ve chosen an afternoon away from the crazy downtown streets, it’s more than rewarding to see the city settled in the distance among a foreground of reeds and cattails.

Hide away from busy Buenos Aires down by the river

If you’ve entered the park from the south your walk continues past more scenes of the city and river. The river offers a true boardwalk where with some innovation and a keen eye you can find the entrance from inside the reserve and walk out along the river. On a hot day, or if you’re looking for a truer sense of solitude, this is one of the best hiding places in the city.

A closer look at the passing barges and water below will bring you even further away from the demanding pace of downtown. The northern side of the park offers many other surprises for those with a sharp eye. If you’re riding your rented bicycle too fast you may miss the small veterinary clinic and adoption center at the northern entrance of the park. Designed to offer veterinary assistance to the many birds that inhabit the reserve, you can see hawks and larger birds of prey that may usually be flying too high overhead for such a close examination. The small building also houses some wayward dogs that are now up for adoption; probably a better bet if you’re a Buenos Aires inhabitant rather than a traveler.

The Rio de la Plata as viewed from the Costanera Sur

The end of a relaxing day at the Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires

From here, you’ve almost completed your circle. Your choices of return are to take the northern exit and walk back using the footpath, stopping for any number of snacks along the way (sure to be meat). Or, heading back from inside the park instead gives you a chance to prolong your afternoon oasis and take in more of the reserve.

When you do in fact decide to head on out of the nature reserve, Puerto Madero and the water diques (canals) are your transition home. You’ve probably found yourself hours later and the countless restaurants and bars located here are a perfect way to end your afternoon, or begin your evening. Whether you’re a Buenos Aires native or first time visitor, the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur is an ideal way to escape from the city without the headache of organizing day trips or the burden of their cost. Whether you’re a country mouse stuck in the city, or simply looking for an afternoon off, put this attraction near the top of your list.

Location of Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

Av. Tristán A Rodríguez 1550, near Padre M Migone, Puerto Madero

Caminito

December 13, 2006 by · 28 Comments 

Touristic Hotspot in La Boca

Great picture of a taxi near Caminito

NOTE – if you would like to book a private guided walking tour in Buenos Aires that includes a visit to Caminito and the surrounding area of La Boca, please click on the following link for information on our San Telmo & La Boca Tour.

Quite possibly the biggest mainstream tourist hotspot in Buenos Aires, the colorful Caminito street in the otherwise run down barrio of La Boca has an unfortunate reputation of being commercial, touristy, tacky, tango-ey rubbish by locals and travel guides alike.

However, although it is trendy to say such things, this small road and the immediate area around it do in fact have both an interesting history and the opportunity for taking some great photos, even if you have to push past several American and Japanese tourists to get the experience.

But give Caminito a chance! You might just like it…

What does Caminito mean anyway?

The most famous corner in Caminito

Camino literally means ‘way’ or ‘walkway’ in English, and the -ito or -ita ending tagged onto Spanish nouns means little or small. And so Caminito is often translated as either ‘little walkway’, ‘little road’, ‘little path’, or ‘little street’.

All of these are correct. It is little. At less than 100 meters long, it was never going to win any awards for size, but then Buenos Aires claims to already has those in the bag – Avenida 9 de Julio for world’s widest street and Avenida Rivadavia for world’s longest. However, Caminito certainly makes up for its shortness with its amazing colors, and probably has won some kind of award before for greatest concentration of Japanese tourists per square meter.

But there is more to this small street and tourist attraction than first meets the eye.

Caminito street and the ‘colorful’ history of La Boca

Around 6 million foreign immigrants poured into Argentina between the years 1880 and 1930, in which time Buenos Aires quickly turned from small town to heaving city. About 50% of these people were Italian, and many of those were from the port town of Genoa, Italy. Genoa was a port, La Boca was a port… things seemed familiar, and so the Italian immigrants did not move far from the immediate area where they first stepped onto Argentine soil, the port of La Boca (which means ‘the mouth’, as in the mouth of the Riachuelo river).

Shopping galeria that used to be tenement housing, La Boca

What has all this got to do with colorful Caminito, you ask? Well, the majority of these Italian immigrants in La Boca worked in the port, just as they had done in Genoa. The Genoese proudly brought their unique identity to La Boca, and one of their old traditions was to paint the outside of their homes with the leftover paint from the shipyard – as nothing else was available or could be afforded.

Conventillo Housing

However, they took things one step further in La Boca, and actually built the houses almost completely from materials found or discarded in the shipyard. This was because of the huge population explosion due to the immigration at the turn of the 20th century – there just was not enough homes for all of the people in Buenos Aires.

The answer to this problem was conventillo (tenement / shared) housing. Conventillos were long houses with small rooms that opened out onto a central outdoor common patio. Whereas in somewhere like San Telmo, for example, conventillos were generally old converted mansions large houses, in La Boca they had to be more inventive. Here the conventillos were hastily constructed from scrap corrugated metal and wood from old ships, and to spruce them up a little, the façades, doors and windows were then decorated in the famous bright color combinations with the leftover paint from the port, that tradition brought from Genoa.

Colorful shopping in Caminito, La Boca

Caminito is not strictly ‘authentic’, but ‘representative’

The main accusation that Caminito’s detractors throw about is that it is not authentic – in its current form, the street does not date back to the turn of the 20th century when the real conventillos were first built and lived in.

Instead, the history of Caminito is basically as follows:

  • Early 1800s onwards: a small stream flowing into the Riachuelo river ran along the same route where Caminito street is now found
  • Later that century, this area of the stream became known as Puntin, the Genoese diminutive term for bridge, because a small bridge allowed people to cross the stream here
  • When the stream dried up, the General Roca railway to the provinces that ran past here (you can see the disused tracks at the end of Caminito, along Garibaldi street) a deviation from the track followed the dried-up riverbed, and was where train repairs were carried out
  • In 1954 the train line went out of action, and the area where Caminito now is became a landfill and a bit of an eyesore
  • But soon after, probably the most famous Argentine artist of all time came to the rescue…

Benito Quinquela Martin, The Architect of Caminito

By the late 1950s, La Boca had drastically changed from the turn of the 20th century – most of the colorful, ragtag conventillo housing that had been spread throughout most of the barrio had been pulled down, being replaced by dull houses and blocks of flats. But this was the very essence of La Boca being destroyed, its history, and not everybody was going to sit back and watch that happen.

Benito Quinquela Martin, an abandoned orphan who was adopted by a Genoese immigrant couple in La Boca, was the man to take action. He had become the most significant painter in Argentina, with his dramatic paintings of the port of La Boca, and achieved worldwide recognition. But as La Boca was his inspiration, and had provided him with family, friends and shelter after having been orphaned at an early age, he felt he owed the barrio something in return.

Conventillo Housing in Caminito, La Boca

And so in 1959, Quinquela Martin and his artist friends created the street of Caminito, as a means of recreating the way old La Boca used to look – a reminder of where everyone had come from, not just in La Boca, but Buenos Aires, and Argentina, because this barrio and its port had been the gateway for many immigrants into this city and country (up until Puerto Madero & then Puerto Nuevo were built as replacements in the early 1900s), who then went on to make Buenos Aires and Argentina what they are today.

Palm Tree near Caminito, La Boca

The World’s First Outdoor Pedestrian Museum

What Quinquela Martin did was to rescue bits and pieces of the original immigrant conventillos that were being torn down and replaced, and used them to create a concentrated conventillo community around this small street, in what is essentially an uninhabited open-air art and history exhibit, and officially the world’s first outdoor pedestrian museum.

And so Caminito is really a boiled-down representation of the old immigrant La Boca, and therefore, recreated by a master artist raised just around the corner, and so Caminito is actually a lot more authentic than most people will tell you.
It is still an exhibit, and so nobody actually lives in the Conventillos along Caminito. You will see washing lines strung between walls in the stereotypical Italian way, but they are just for show, and all part of Quinquela Martin’s intended work of art, which should be respected for acting as a reminder of this barrio and city’s immigrant roots.

Tango on Caminito street

Tango dancers in Caminito, La BocaYou will probably notice a lot of Tango around when you visit Caminito, in the form of street performers, tango dancers and musicians, tango music drifting through the air from bars and restaurants, and tango souvenirs sold by the dozen in most of the shops, some of them situated inside the actual conventillos. Of course this may all seem a little tacky. And of course, it is! However, there is a reason why the Tango is associated with Caminito and La Boca.

Tango music was born in Buenos Aires in around 1870. However, it is still open to debate exactly where in Buenos Aires the tango originated from. Many say the arrabal (the suburbs / frontier between the city and the fields of the pampa) has the strongest claim. However, La Boca’s claim is up there with it, and also back in those days the arrabal would have started just south of La Boca, and so there was probably some crossover.

It is agreed that tango music first came out of the environment of immigrant-packed conventillo houses, where many different cultures and their respective types of music mixed in such close proximity, and from the melting pot of styles from around the world, tango music arose. It was on the outdoor patios in the center of the conventillos, where immigrants socialised together and played their musical instruments to each other after a hard day’s work, that this most probably occurred.

And so, as Caminito is representative of the old immigrant La Boca, it is also a representation of the genesis of Tango music that occurred at the same time here in history. And in keeping with the Italian tradition of the neighborhood, tango is full of passion, style, arrogance, showmanship, and feelings of nostalgia and longing (possibly for the Italian homeland). And of course, the lyrics are usually infused with lunfardo, the porteno slang dialect of Spanish corrupted with the Italian language and accent.

Caminito, more than just a ‘small walkway’

There is a little more to the naming of Caminito than it being a literal description of the small street. It also has a tango influence behind it.

The name Caminito was in fact first famous for a very popular 1926 Tango, by a famous La Boca musician and resident, Juan de Dios Filiberto. As the conventillos of La Boca were perhaps the true home of Tango, and the Caminito street was to be a representation of this, artist Benito Quinquela Martin felt it highly appropriate to name the street after a tango, and even better, one by a famous local resident. The name of the tango just so happened to also literally describe this very small street perfectly.

Filete sign of Caminito

Another reason for the naming was that musician Filiberto had just fallen seriously ill at the time, and his good friend Quinquela Martin thought this homage to him would be the best way to try and cheer him up. These days, there is also a street in La Boca very close to Caminito that is named directly after Juan de Dios Filiberto, and of course, the lyrics to his tango song are also famously written on a plaque up on the first wall you see as you approach Caminito (although Filiberto only wrote the music, it was the Mendozan poet Gabino Coria Penaloza who added the words).

Weekend Feria in La Boca

In and Around Caminito

If you come to Caminito at the weekend, you will also be able to do a little souvenir shopping the Feria de la Ribera arts and crafts market, which starts at the front of Caminito and goes around in front of the Riachuelo river. Here you will find handmade crochet scarves and shawls (see picture), traditional mate gourds and bombillas (the metal straws used for drinking mate), jewellery and lots of other interesting craft pieces, all at reasonable prices, especially if you are coming to Buenos Aires from the United States or Europe.

And if you work up a hunger after traipsing around Caminito and the feria, stop in at an authentic Italian Pizzeria nearby in La Boca – Banchero Pizzeria. The restaurant also happens to have been a favorite of Benito Quinquela Martin, the architect of Caminito, so it is a fitting end to the outing – and delicious too.

For more information about La Boca, including a little something about the famous Boca Juniors stadium and football team, the Argentina Travel blog adds some nice details about the neighborhood of La Boca.

Interested in seeing some great tango? Then please click the following link to book a Tango Show in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Location of Caminito street

Don Pedro de Mendoza, corner of Del Valle Iberlucea, La Boca

The Buenos Aires Japanese Gardens

December 12, 2006 by · 8 Comments 

Escape to the Jardin Japones

Japanese Gardens, Palermo, Buenos Aires

Tucked away in the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Parks), you will find the peaceful Japanese Gardens, an oasis of calm and serenity in the middle of the crazy, busy, noisy city of Buenos Aires. The gardens are also recommendable as a nice place for couples to go when in Buenos Aires, or to take a date on if you are lucky enough to charm an Argentine while in town.

To be fair, you can just about hear the drone of cars on the main avenues in the background, which spoils your zen a little, but not completely. Also watch out for the occasional school trip of noisy children, or young family, partly because the abundant koi carp and ducks are happy to be fed by visitors, which kids usually seem to enjoy.

Koi Carp in the Japanese Gardens, Palermo

Beautifully Maintained Gardens

Me and a zen stone in the Jardin JaponesThe park itself is wonderfully kept and very pretty all year round, as the different plants, trees and bushes show their lovely colors at varying points in the calendar. Apart from the koi carp and ducks in the cutely landscaped ponds, there are other easy on the eye features such as sculpted shrubberies, ornate arched red bridges, pattering mini rock waterfalls and zen-like stone and sculpture formations (see right).

Apparently the horticulture on show includes black pine trees, gingko, sakura, and of course, the ubiquitous bonsai trees, that will impress all budding gardeners and karate kids alike.

In case you are wondering ‘why exactly are there Japanese gardens in Buenos Aires?‘, well, they were given as a ‘thank you’ to Argentina, by Japanese immigrants living in Buenos Aires, when they constructed this lovely five acre park in 1967.

Japanese Tea Room & Restaurant

Attached to the gardens, in a pagoda style building, a Japanese tea room and restaurant combo is found (closed on Tuesdays). During the day this offers a range of oriental brews, green teas and cakes, and then during the evening it transforms into a restaurant with authentic Japanese food, specializing in sushi. (If sushi is what you crave, look on Saltshaker for reviews of the best sushi spots all over BA).

Additionally, there are sometimes exhibitions and shows of Japanese culture held inside the same building – try calling ahead to find out if anything like this is happening, on 4804 9141.

Getting There & Getting In

The Jardin Japones is open from 10am to 6pm daily, year round, and costs a small fee to get in. To get there you can take a number of buses, including the 10, 37, 67, 102 or 130.

Failing that, try a taxi, or take a pleasant walk to get there – either through the rest of the Palermo Parks that run along Avenida Sarmiento, before turning onto Avenida Berro, or if you are starting from the Palermo Chico area (where the Malba art museum is located), you could walk along Avenida Figueroa Alcorta, turning onto Avenida Casares to reach the Japanese Gardens. Well worth a sightseeing visit, however you arrive there.

Location of Japanese Gardens / Jardin Japones

Corner of Av. Casares & Av. Berro, Palermo

Plaza Dorrego

November 7, 2006 by · 22 Comments 

Buenos Aires “Must Do”

San Telmo Outdoor Market

Spending a Sunday in and around Plaza Dorrego is one of the few things that ranks as a ‘must do’ sightseeing attraction for visitors to Buenos Aires. On the seventh day of the week, when the rest of the city is resting, the city closes much of neighboring Defensa street to traffic, and this part of San Telmo explodes into a mass of around 8,000 people, locals and tourists alike. They come to peruse antiques and knick knacks, watch the outdoor tango dancing and other performers, sit for a coffee or beer outside a classic old cafe, or just aimlessly wander around the interesting chaos. This, more or less, is the Plaza Dorrego Sunday market, also known as the Feria de San Telmo.

Some San Telmo History

The Dorrego Bar in San Telmo

Plaza Dorrego is one of the oldest public spaces in the city, dating back to the 18th century, when it was an area reserved for the wagons that brought in produce to Buenos Aires from all over the country. Just before the turn of the 19th century it was turned into a public square. The coffee shops and bars surrounding the Plaza only sprung up in the 1930s, when it became an area for wine, song and dance, as it remains today. Bar Plaza Dorrego is the most famous of these establishments, with its lovely old wooden fixtures and counter, although the former has been etched with graffiti over the years – but then many would say this adds to its charm.

Plaza Dorrego Sunday Market / Feria de San Telmo

Tango Dancers in Plaza Dorrego, San TelmoThe market started in 1970, and it is still going strong with more than 270 stands offering antiques, phonographs, period clothes, jewelery, old books, crafts items and other knickknacks. It is open on Sundays from around 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. While this fair is going on, Argentine tango and folklore singers and dancers, and other performers, put on outdoor shows throughout the day.

If you have no more than a casual interest in tango, then Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday is an excellent time and place to enjoy an introductory sampling of the dance, if you don’t want to go full-out and pay for a proper Tango dinner-show in Buenos Aires. Also, in the late afternoon and early evening, after the stalls begin to pack up, free impromptu outdoor Tango lessons are often given in Plaza Dorrego, which can be quite good fun if you are not ashamed of making a fool of yourself in public.

If you don’t want to get that involved, it is nice just to sit at one of the bars that surround the Plaza and take in the action from there, while partaking of your favorite liquid refreshment.

Antiques Fair

Initially the outdoor market was antiques only. These days, to cater for visitors, all kinds of other knick knacks and local crafts are available in addition to the more expensive antiques. But despite this small change in the outdoor market away from tradition, this area of San Telmo still remains very much the antiques quarter of Buenos Aires.

Odds and ends in Plaza Dorrego Market Stall

San Telmo Indoor Market

Keeping up the antiques theme, nearby to Plaza Dorrego, surrounded by the streets Bolívar, Carlos Calvo, Defensa, and Estados Unidos, is the San Telmo Indoor Market, a massive iron structure built back in 1897, which fills the whole block. Back then it was a produce market, but when the outdoor fair started in 1970, it soon shifted to antiques, and these days it is just as interesting to wander around as the outdoor version. It is also quite poignant to see a few of the food produce stalls holding on to their past trade, side-by-side with the antiques. Some of the smells are not what you would usually expect when looking at such valuable old pieces.

San Telmo market

[Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/denise_mayumi/3216605354/sizes/m/in/photostream/ CC BY 2.0 ]

Defensa Street

The nearby street of Defensa is also full of antique shops, most of which contain items far out of many tourists’ price range. However, they still make for a nice spot of window shopping, looking through the Argentine and European period pictures, 18th and 19th century furniture, jewelry, colonial silver and classic toys. In fact, this area of San Telmo is now considered one of the most important antiques centers in the whole of Latin America. And yet strangely, there seems to be an obsession with selling plain old soda siphons, as pictured below (although actually, they can be quite beautiful when many different colored siphons are all displayed together on one stall).

Soda Siphons in Plaza Dorrego Market Stall

Whether or not you do buy anything, you are still sure to have a great time in and around Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday – a true Buenos Aires experience.

Location of Plaza Dorrego

Corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo, San Telmo

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