By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Excellent steak and wine, architecture reminiscent of a European metropolis and a tragic sense of melancholy expressed to perfection in a sophisticated dance. Buenos Aires buzzes with an energy and culture that make it one of South America’s most provocative capitals.
A great place to start exploring the artistic metropolis is its oldest neighborhood. The Bohemian streets of San Telmo are filled with historic culture, from the cobblestone streets where performers dance tango for coins right up to the colonial buildings where old Porteños take in the action while sipping wine on overhanging balconies.
You don’t have to look far to find history in San Telmo: it seeps up from the pavement you walk on. And there is no better time to experience its heightened sense of antiquity than during the antique market held every Sunday in the park and streets surrounding Plaza Dorrego.
During Argentina’s military era, San Telmo residents were often persecuted by the police due to the concentration of Bohemian artists and socialist leaders in the neighborhood.
Plaques on the road side pay tribute to many of the victims, whose names and the date they disappeared are still visible to those who pass by.
Argentina’s most revered writer, Jorge Luis Borges, once claimed, “For everyone in Buenos Aires, the Southside is, in a mysterious way, the secret center of the city.”
Good, cheap accommodation is plentiful around San Telmo, which literally overflows with hostels and budget hotels. A good place to try is Hostel Carlos Gardel at Carlos Calvo 579 with beds around US$10, or Hotel Carly at Humberto 1464/66, which rents full rooms for around US$13– but bring your sleeping bag, because it gets cold in the winter and the building has no heating.
Let your love for tango, which came to life as a mimicked knife fight danced between two males at the turn of the century, carry you a little further into the dance’s legendary birthplace in the glorified lower-class neighborhood of La Boca.
A pocket of the port-side neighborhood has been colorfully restored to attract tourism, and dancing is the main highlight of the area. Be careful where you wander, however, as outside the heavily policed tourist section, La Boca remains as poor and dilapidated as it ever was.
Excellent steak and wine is still one of the major drawing cards for some tourists. Argentina is known for the quality of its beef, and restaurants with all-you-can eat steak buffets such as that at Siga la Vaca (Follow the Cow) draw huge nightly crowds. In addition to avoiding lines, it pays to arrive early at any parrilla (barbecue), as to not be stuck with leftovers and overcooked meet.
Also be warned that Argentina has numerous cuts of beef, often different to what many tourists are used to. If massive chunks of beef aren’t your forté, local specialties like locro stew and escaveche are great alternatives.
The second largest city in South America never sleeps, and as a result nightlife starts late. A true Porteño wouldn’t even consider entering a club until well after two in the morning. If you go out at 11PM, you are better off enjoying a play at one of the numerous theatres along Avenida Corrientes.