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What To Do in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires - True Blood
October 10, 2012
By , Galavante Contributor
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

When the lights turn off, Buenos Aires turns on. A nocturnal city where the cultural activities are 10pm dinners and partying until the sun comes up, Argentines know that the best things happen after dark. And on the dance floor.

Good For: Couples and large groups of friends. South Americans travel in packs, so bring your own entourage. This is not a good city for solo travelers.

The Highlights: 

  • Wandering the San Telmo markets on a Sunday, shopping for antiques, drinking mate, and watch the locals break out in spontaneous tango.
  • Engaging in the ritual of 10pm dinners with what seems like unlimited red meat and red wine.
  • Staying out all night, which includes not arriving at Pacha or Club Museum until the witching hour of 2am.
  • Gorging yourself over a proper three-hour lunch at Cabaña Las Lilas.
  • Palermo window-shopping, but breaking out the credit card to do some real damage in Recoleta.
  • Attending a tango show, and then dirty dancing at the milongas, the underground tango clubs.

What to Know: If your idea of a good time is quiet nights with smooth jazz playing in the background, BA is not for you. Buenos Aires is all about enjoying life through eating, drinking, and dancing. Like Cyndi Lauper, Argentines just wanna have fun. To do up BA right, let loose with the beautiful locals and allow yourself a few days of self-indulgence.  

Suggested Stay: 2–3 Days

Cocktail Chatter

The myth that the tango was born in the brothels of 19th-century Buenos Aires is largely false. While Argentine prostitution houses did employ tango musicians as secondary entertainment, the dance more likely originated in tenement courtyards, or conventillos. In the 1880s, European immigrants would gather with guitars, violins, and flutes for impromptu fiestas that incorporated African and Andalusian cultural traditions. Even today, tango music’s solemn lyrics wax about love and loss, and longing for a homeland.

Palaces and Bordellos

While inflation has set in and prices have skyrocketed in Argentina, it’s still relatively affordable to vacation rock star-style in Buenos Aires. For accommodation, your options are to rent an apartment, which is quite common, or go the traditional route with a hotel. Apartments for rent are abundant through Airbnb, and for as low as a hundred bucks, you and all your friends can be living large. Just note that an apartment may not be as smooth sailing as a hotel. The instances are rare, but if you draw the short end of the stick with a management company that hasn’t paid the electric bill, you may be dealing with unwanted issues during your vacation.  

Those who want to experience the urban grit of BA should post up in Palermo. If you’re looking to roll with the Argentine elite, Recoleta is your hood. The unequivocal best hotel in Recoleta is the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. A grand palace owned by the Duhaus family, whose wealth was based in agriculture, the Park Hyatt restored to it to better than its former glory in the early 2000s. The Alvaer side of the hotel has the restored rooms, and is separated by grand gardens from the new modern addition. Even for a Park Hyatt, the property is exquisite, from the couches covered in the same leather as a Ferrari to the Duhau Restaurante, which features some of the finest cuisine in BA. And that’s not just the 40-plus cheese cellar talking. Regardless of whether or not you stay here, it should be a stop on your BA circuit.   

A primary attraction of Puerto Madero, the Faena Hotel is one funky place. The decor is signature Phillip Stark who, along with Alan Faena, are the masterminds behind the hotel, adjoining residential apartments, and a new arts center. The Puerto Madero is like its own city (which was the point when the area was developed a dozen years ago), where the restaurants and cafés are perennially packed. The Faena Hotel, in its words, is “redefining happiness,” which in this case means beautiful people-watching, gratis yoga classes, a gorgeous hamam, and an attractive poolside scene. During weekday lunches, the restaurant Mercado fills with locals doing deals, while in the Library Lounge, you can break out your computer for a few hours over a cappuccino, before it evolves into an evening club.  

Credit Card Athletics

The first order of business is calling Amex when you arrive and instructing them that under no circumstances can they turn off your credit card during your trip. Their sophisticated algorithms to detect fraud may think that a bandit is running wild with your credit card. No such luck; you’re just hitting the shops hard, along with the locals. The only thing that gets Argentines out of bed on a weekend is the shopping scene.    

Palermo is the hip and gritty neighborhood that was once exclusively where up-and-coming designers opened their first shops. Fast forward to 10 years later, and while it’s still trendy, Palermo is more like Bleecker Street in the West Village, lined with mainstream designers. You’ll still find some interesting shops like Tealosophy, where you can pick up dulce de leche tea. But where you can do some real high-end damage is in Recoleta and Patio Bulrich. Browse leather and fur coats at Breeders, where there are no marked prices, so get ready to negotiate. And, pick up high-quality everyday clothing for ladies and gents at Giesso.

Steak Out

While it’s said that some attractive women are hungry and angry, this is not the city for you to fall into the hangry routine. You’re missing out on an integral part of Argentine culture if you don’t gorge yourself on red meat and red wine during your trip. The early-bird special is technically at 9pm, with the fashionable set not emerging until at least 10pm for dinner.

And you have not experienced Buenos Aires unless you indulge at a traditional Argentine steakhouse like La Brigada in San Telmo or La Cabrera in Palermo. Vegetarians need not apply, but instead take one for the carnivore team and fill up on side dishes and focus on dessert. This is not your typical American-style steakhouse where there are other options like chicken or fish. Get ready to bust a move on at least four types of meat, which will range from sausages to gorgeous grass-fed cuts of steak.  

BA is more European than South American, a great source of pride to the locals. They deserve to shout this from the rooftops, with the best Italian pasta outside of Italy. Stuffed raviolis are a standout at Italian faves like Piegari and Sottovoce. The classic Argentinean dessert is dulce de leche crepes – à la mode.  

It Takes Two to Tango

More so than a museum or historical site, the nightlife in BA is an integral part of Argentine culture. At the witching hour of 2am, the top of the BA food chain arrives at Pacha to dance till dawn. Your eyes never had it so easy. Or hit up Club Boutique (aka Museum). And, like a good tourist, you’ll want to catch a tango show, but like an insider, you’ll want to dance at the milongas, the underground tango clubs, some of which are held in private homes where strangers come to do the seductive dance. After all, it takes two to tango.

(Photos: Park Hyatt Buenos Aires and La Vinoteca at the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, courtesy of Park Hyatt Buenos Aires; Library Lounge at the Faena Hotel, courtesy of the Faena Hotel)