Why I Love Buenos Aires More Each Time (And Why You Will Too)

When I started Marissa Makes Food, I wanted to explore two loves: food and travel, and how they overlap (food from travel, traveling for food). I’ve focused a lot on the food aspect, but I’ve really neglected the travel piece! Starting now, I’m going to focus on at least one travel-related post per month. And I’m going to start with my favorite city in all of Latin America: Buenos Aires.

You could say that Buenos Aires was my first love. When I touched down in Argentina in 2007 for a study abroad program, it was the first time I had traveled outside of the United States or Canada. Fresh-faced and excited, I took in the bustling city as much as I could because I assumed I’d never return. But boy, was I wrong! I’ve been back at least four times since (yes, I’ve actually lost count) to show others the city, visit friends, or stopover for a few hours en route to other destinations. My first love has blossomed into a lifelong affair as the first photo suggests: Cada vez que te veo, te quiero mas (Every time I see you, I love you more).

Public Spaces Abound

There are so many public parks and plazas where you can leisurely sit and people-watch, an important French-inspired feature of Buenos Aires. The largest, and my personal favorite, is the Bosques de Palermo (formally called Parque Tres de Febrero). Here you can explore an enormous rose garden (8000+ roses!), stroll around one of its four lakes, visit the Japanese Garden, enjoy the planetarium, learn about Argentine art at the Museo Sívori, or even go to a horse race!

At the Bosques de Palermo

Stick to the free stuff as you’ll get plenty of value from just walking around, or consider renting bikes, roller blades, or one of these:

I think the best word to describe it is a rickshaw? Though it’s an absurd contraption, we had the most fun as my friends attempted to peddle this monstrosity around the lake while I mostly took selfies like this:

There’s also the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, or ecological reserve. There was a point during my study abroad when I was feeling lonely, stressed, and desperately in need of a refresh, so I headed to this 865-acre expanse of biodiversity nestled along the coast of the Río de la Plata. It did the trick – within minutes I was peddling along the dirt paths, the noise of the city fading away into the distance.

Other notable spaces include Plaza Francia in Recoleta, a space right outside the famous Recoleta cemetery that has a great weekend fair, and Parque Lezama in San Telmo. But don’t let this list limit you – there are plazas and parks all over this pedestrian-friendly city.

It’s An Architecture Lover’s Paradise

One of my first stops in Buenos Aires was the Plaza de Mayo. The city’s main square itself is nondescript aside from its perimeter: the salmon-pink Casa Rosada, the romanesque Metropolitan Cathedral; the Spanish colonial Cabildo; and Buenos Aires’ attractive city hall.

The Cabildo as seen from the Plaza de Mayo

Heading west down Avenida de Mayo, I always imagine that I’m in Europe even though I’ve never been. It’s not surprising though, given the Spanish and French influences visible in the buildings here. I reach the intersection of Avenida 9 de Julio, spanning a whopping 16 lanes of traffic and earning the title of the widest street in the world. In the middle of the hectic crossing, I stop and glance north, where I can see the white stone Obelisk rising above the din.

The Obelisk while crossing 9 de Julio

I stop at Palacio Barolo for a guided tour. Though I neglected it in my earliest visits to the city, this was a mistake. This national landmark, inspired by Dante’s divine comedy, is fascinating on the inside. Even more fun – you can climb into the glass beacon at the top for the best views of the city, if you can handle being stuck in a sweltering glass bubble teetering on top of an old building. My journey ends at the Plaza de Congreso, facing the national Congress.

View of Plaza de Congreso from the beacon atop Palacio Barolo

But the city center and Avenida de Mayo aren’t by any means the city’s only architectural gems. There are European-influenced statues and churches everywhere, Recoleta cemetery with its always-impressive mausoleums (plus, Evita is buried there), La Boca with its brightly painted houses, and even a giant metal flower (aptly named Floralis Generica) that opens during the day and closes at night.

Floralis Generica

Culinary Adventures Await

Despite the number of comments I received upon my return asking how spicy the food in Argentina was, it’s actually quite bland. But bland should not be mistaken for “bad” – it’s just not spicy. The impact of absorbing a large number of Italian immigrants in the early 20th century means that Buenos Aires is abundant with pastry-filled cafés, green-olive-topped flatbread pizza, pasta, copious amounts of wine, milanesa (which is the Argentine take on chicken parmigiana), and ice cream that is far superior to anything in the States. These foods exist alongside other common Latin American dishes, notably empanadas. My host family used to order from Empanadas Gourmet regularly, which I loved because they had such a wide variety of flavors like tomato/basil/mozzarella. Another favorite was Cala Pizza, where I happily camped out for hours using the free WiFi and munching pizza after pizza.

Kitchen crew at Cabañas las Lilas

But the thing Argentina is known for above all others is meat, particularly beef. Argentines consume the second most beef per capita in the world, falling behind only neighbor Uruguay. There’s nothing Argentines love more than spending a full day preparing their asado and consuming ridiculous amounts of chorizo, steak, and morcilla (blood sausage) alongside delicious red wine. This leaves me in a bit of a moral quandary recommendation-wise, because while I ate meat during my study abroad program and many of my visits, I don’t anymore and I believe that we need seriously to reduce our consumption as a planet. So I’ll say this: If you must eat meat, make it count. Leave the fast food burgers behind and go to Cabaña las Lilas immediately. Be prepared to have the best steak of your life. I didn’t even like steak that much back when I ate meat, and this is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. And if you don’t like meat, Argentina isn’t the most vegetarian-friendly place. Luckily, you should be able to stuff your face with breakfast pastry, pizza, and pasta to compensate.

Night Owls Will Thrive

Even 21-year-old me couldn’t keep up with the porteño schedule. My host family would serve dinner at 10pm, which we would chow down while watching the latest episodes of Los Simpsons. This practice led me to eat four full meals a day during my three months there (breakfast, lunch, first dinner at 6, obviously, and second dinner at 10), immediately going to sleep after the second one most of the time. And my family was in the norm: Standard dinner time is from 9-11pm, which means if you go to a restaurant earlier you will definitely mark yourself as a tourist and you run the risk of being the only one there (or worse, it’s closed).

Visiting the Konex Cultural Center for a live show, one of the many things you can do at night

I did manage to see the sunrise once or twice – with considerable effort to stay awake on my part – and the night always went something like this: pregaming in a nondescript bar or someone’s apartment started after dinner, around midnight. The discotecas didn’t even open until 2am, but I was warned by locals that we couldn’t show up until 3. When the time was right, we’d head to Opera Bay, an expansive waterside nightclub modeled after the Sydney Opera House, or Milion, an old mansion with a backyard patio, or Plaza Serrano, to see the square and its establishments flooded with people, or Club Araoz, a local favorite that served food too. We’d stay until…5? 6? 7am?…at which point the sun had come up, the subte was running again (it’s closed from 11pm to 5am, despite the nocturnal culture), and I could happily crash in bed, sleep until 2pm, and swear to never do it again.

Tango show at Café Tortoni

Even if going to a nightclub isn’t your thing, there’s lots to do at night. Theater shows at the historic Teatro Colón. Learn to dance tango at a milonga, or go to a tango show (Café Tortoni, the city’s most famous café, has one most nights). Scout out live music. Explore the hip bars of Palermo or Recoleta.

The Possibilities Are Endless

Painted houses of La Boca

See above.

But seriously, this is list only the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even started on the soccer culture, street art, music scene, literature, or the shopping. It’s enough to make you fall more in love with Buenos Aires every time, too.

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