Travelers planning a trip overseas often think of Western Europe as their destination of choice. However, traveling to South America is a fantastic alternative where one will find fabulous cultural experiences, wonderful culinary options and a rich sense of life and fun!
South America is a bargain compared to Europe or the U.S. The tourism industry has grown accustomed to a steady flow of visitors since the Argentine peso plummeted in value following the 2001 economic crash. While some tourist hot spots are not inexpensive, there are numerous opportunities to keep costs down while exploring the portenos’ (as Buenos Aires’s port-dwelling residents are called) many passions
Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is a cosmopolitan city best experienced through its monumental passions rather than its structures. Visitors to this city will be intrigued by the passion of Argentine life, rather than the need to simply explore a cathedral or war monument. Even the big cities of New York and London will close down early compared to this city where at midnight the locals are just putting on their dancing shoes, and will frequent the tango halls until dawn. The city is alive with experimental cumbia music and local bars that only kick out the frolickers once the sun comes up.
The Argentines adore steak and red wine dinners that stretch on for hours. This country leads the world in beef consumption, eating an average of 143 pounds per person per year. When selecting one of Buenos Aires grills, or parrillas, stay clear of Puerto Madero. While this is the city’s newest neighborhood, it is also one of the most expensive. You may elect to stop at an upscale restaurant along the waterfront for a glass of Malbec red wine, but then travel a few blocks east to Costanera, where real values on meals exist.
During the day, you may want to rent a bike nearby in San Teimo at La Bicicieta Naranja. For approximately $3.00 per hour you can peddle through the reserve to the banks of the Rio de la Plata, one of the widest rivers in the world. It is best to visit this park and Costanera on a weekend afternoon, rather than at night.
An evening at a tango dance hall, or milonga is a “must do”. Entrance to one of these halls is around $5.00. Most people go to dance, but you can sit and have a drink while dozens of intertwined couples prove romance is not dead. As an observer, you will not want to look too intently at anyone – in milonga etiquette that’s a sign you want to dance. If the music and dance inspire you, many milongas offer inexpensive classes before the regulars hit the floor.
Many cultural activities are free in Buenos Aires as a result of the hefty government subsidies and a political push to uphold BA’s reputation as one of Latin America’s rich cultural cities.
Plaza Cortazar (better known as Plaza Serrango) exhibits a comical frenzy of consumerism, making the portenos some of the most stylishly attired people in Latin America. Anxious to capitalize on the neighborhood’s trendiest, real estate agents have titled this area Palermo SoHo. Fostering this interest, a ring of bars and restaurants encircling Plaza Serrano temporarily stop serving on Saturday and Sunday between 2pm and 8pm, opening their doors to dozens of young designers who transform the bars into impromptu stores, selling shirts, purses and accessories on the cheap. Outside these establishments, numerous artisans sell their handicrafts.
After shopping around Plaza Serrano, you may relax with a $3.00 glass of wine and gloat over the bargains while deciding where to go for dinner. Great meals in this area may include a gluttonous 2-pound steak for less than $20.00. With each bite you will begin to understand what the buzz is all about when speaking of Argentine beef.
The neighborhood of San Telmo is typical of porteno charm, with its elegantly decrepit 19th century buildings, cobblestone streets and a quirky mix of expatriates and Argentines who will all frequent the same butcher shop in the San Telmo indoor market. Every Sunday this neighborhood hosts a not-to-be-missed festive street fair running for 10 blocks on Defensea Street. One can meander all morning without spending a cent, listening to live tango orchestras, laughing at street performers and the most favorite sport – people watching!
Another Sunday option s the Feria de Mataderos, a gaucho arts and crafts fair with folk dancing and traditional food, located about half an hour from the city center. This free fair is held from 11am to 8pm, and is well worth the short trip out of town.
A nighttime option is walking along Buenos Aires’ colorful theater strip, Corrientes Avenue. Here you may catch a show or movie (subtitled English language), then eat some Argentine pizza which is a delicious thin crust deep dish variation.
Even though there is much to do during the day and night, you must sleep sometime. The city offers some lovely classic hotels as well as boutique options. Prices will vary, but none reach the levels of the big cities of Europe.
On a recent trip to Buenos Aires we traveled out to the countryside visiting a working cattle farm. The farm is run by a family intent upon preserving the rich culture of the area. Gauchos provided entertainment both on horseback as well as a display of their cultures’ dances. The barbequed feast of beef, pork, and chicken was one of the finest experiences during a visit to Argentina.
Still one of the greatest values is seeing South America by ship. A cruise of South America will range from 10 to 21 days in duration. The longest cruises will begin in Rio de Janeiro; circle the tip of the continent, up the coast of Chile into Valparaiso (port of Santiago), or in reverse. Each port along the route is unique, rich in culture, wildlife and customs.
Cruise lines have wonderful pricing, with up to 50% off the cruise price, thus two can cruise for the price of one! If you have not considered South America as a priority on your list of vacation destinations, I encourage you to think again. It is a destination rich in activities, wildlife and nightlife!