Tango show in Buenos Aires, the ﬁrst and most important action to be done when setting foot in Argentina, so go and see one. You will never regret it.
Buenos Aires has an electric energy which radiates from the city’s residents, known as porteños.
They’re the ﬁrst to tell you dinner is eaten no earlier than 9pm and it’s normal to arrive at a bar at 2am.
But Buenos Aires isn’t just for night owls. Street life is part and parcel of the city’s personality.
Rows of sidewalk cafes and bars line every barrio or district and street artists and tango dancers pop up anywhere and everywhere.
The dance that deﬁnes a city
It is the intense nightlife, with tango as its undisputed king, which deﬁnes the Buenos Aires experience. The tango will teach you more about Argentina’s capital than any guidebook ever could.
As evening falls on San Telmo, the oldest barrio in the city, we hear tango music coming from an empty restaurant. The tables are pushed aside and three couples are dancing, lost to the world outside. Clase de tango! We enter and order a glass of wine, too shy to join in. The beautiful teacher, a woman of around 40, shows how it is done, but the courage to try escapes us.
“Pain on which you can dance,” the tango is called poetically. We feel sorry for an old woman in a ﬂowery dress who is practicing ochos (ﬁgure-eights) against a wall. She seems so utterly alone it hurts to look at her. Why isn’t there anyone to hold her while she makes her turns? But the tango is not about happiness.
A couple in their 30s try very hard to dance in harmony but something keeps going wrong. They start to blame each other. “Why don’t you follow me?” “I beg your pardon, why don’t YOU lead me, like a real man?”
La revancha del Tango
For the rest of our time in Buenos Aires the tango has us in its grip. There is no escaping it. We take lessons every afternoon at different places in San Telmo, and practice at night in the milongas.
In the Las Fulanas restaurant at Plaza Dorrego the waitresses, dressed in traditional costumes, turn out to be tango virtuosos as well.
One night as we are enjoying a romantic moment in a corner, one of the waitresses asks me to dance. I stumble on the dance ﬂoor, in the ﬁrm grip of this determined girl, who is clearly taking the lead. The “me Tarzan” concept seems to have gone into hiding in the jungle.
“How was it?” I was asked, when returning at the table. “As if I was kissing another woman,” I confess. Tango is very intimate and sensual, and it can be an intimidating experience to dance with a stranger.
“Well, don’t worry, I could see you”, came the answer. We embarrass ourselves on the dance ﬂoor until ﬁve the next morning.
The Almagro milonga looks like a budget 1970s disco hall and could be described as tastefully drab. Couples dance courteously in close embrace and, showing good manners, frequently switch partners so no one need leave without a dance.
El Centro / Monserrat
Plaza de Mayo is the highlight of Monserrat, Buenos Aires’ oldest neighborhood, south and east of El Centro business district. Standing here is the elegant pink government building of Casa Rosada. Eva Perón and others have addressed the nation from its balcony, and guided tours offer insights into Argentine politics.
Particularly moving are the Thursday marches by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Their children ‘disappeared’ mysteriously during the military dictatorship which lasted from 1976 to 1983. For a lighter take, stroll along the tree-lined Avenida de Mayo, stopping for lunch at Café Tortoni – Argentina’s oldest cafe.
The oldest parts of Monserrat begin south of Plaza de Mayo, where much of the original architecture and cobblestone streets remain. El Centro has some of Buenos Aires’ most recognizable buildings, including City Hall and Metropolitan Cathedral.
Spot the 67-meter-high El Obelisk along the Avenida 9 de Julio, and meander past bars, theaters, and restaurants along Calle Florida and Avenida Corrientes.
As I told you before, one of the oldest barrios in Buenos Aires, San Telmo was once home to the city’s rich and wealthy. However, yellow fever and cholera epidemics struck the neighborhood in the 1870s and pushed many of them north to Recoleta.
Today, think Cuba’s Havana with an irrepressible bohemian vibe. The cobblestone streets are lined with conventillo tenement houses, and a mix of crumbling and restored facades house art and antique stores, traditional bars, and tango clubs. San Telmo is also home to the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art.
The big attraction is Sunday’s San Telmo ﬂea market along Calle Defensa. Vendors sell crafts, food, clothes and souvenirs, and antique sellers pack out Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires’ second oldest square.
It’s on Plaza Dorrego you’ll catch spontaneous tango performances. This Argentine dance lures many here, and legendary clubs like El Viejo Almacén put on electric performances. The district borders La Boca, ‘Little Italy’.
Visit the colorful corrugated houses along Caminito where artists and tango dancers compete for space. If football’s your thing, match day at La Bombonera stadium is a chance to see Boca Juniors play.
There’s variety too. In the elegant Recoleta district, the beautiful cemetery guards the grave of Eva Perón, Palermo Viejo’s markets and boutiques are one-of-a-kind, and a carnivalesque atmosphere prevails when Boca Juniors play at La Bombonera football stadium. So grab an ice-cold Quilmes beer and make the most of the bold, brilliant, beating heart of Argentina.
There’s one reason why most visitors to Buenos Aires head to Recoleta: to visit the grave of Eva Perón in Recoleta Cemetery. Possessing almost cult-like appeal, the resting place of the charismatic First Lady of Argentina between 1946 and 1962 draws great crowds.
Other graves include presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, and one of Napoleon’s granddaughters. But there’s more to the neighborhood than its beautifully-maintained mausoleum. This wealthy residential neighborhood between Retiro and Palermo is an architectural masterpiece.
You’ll ﬁnd no shortage of grand embassies, ﬁve-star hotels, and opulent mansions – much of it in French château-style. Recoleta is prime territory for the culturally minded. There’s the National Fine Arts Museum or Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the skating rink-turned- multimedia exhibition center, Palais de Glace.
Visit the authentic Plaza Francia market for souvenirs, which places an emphasis on local craftsmanship.
A hotch-potch of high-end hotels, grand buildings, market stalls, and the city’s busiest bus and train terminals give pace and panache to the neighborhood of Retiro. North of the center, with Recoleta to the west and Puerto Madero docklands to its east, Retiro is Buenos Aires in microcosm.
It’s home to some of the city’s wealthiest streets but also Villa 31, its largest shantytown. It’s a slice of real South American city living. Its grandeur is unmistakable.
Visit the Beaux Arts-style Palacio San Martin, now the Foreign Oﬃce, on Calle Arenales, the French Baroque chic of the Estrugamou Building, and the Art Deco skyscraper of the Kavanagh Building.
For city views, the top of the clock tower Torre Monumental is the spot. The hub is leafy Plaza San Martin. Oﬃce workers gather here for lunch, and there’s a glut of excellent restaurants, cafés, and shops.
Porteños love to shop too. Head to Patio Bullrich and Galerias Paciﬁco malls, and the shopping streets of Calle Florida and Avenida Santa Fe.
Not that Palermo
Palermo is the biggest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, once home to Che Guevara and Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. In the North of Recoleta with Rio de la Plata to the east you can see several Palermos (Norte, Chico, Alto to name a few).
But it’s the transformed Palermo Viejo which attracts locals, expats and visitors to its bars, cafes, and restaurants. You’ll ﬁnd many of these around Plaza Serrano and Plaza Armenia in tree-lined Palermo Soho, where street culture, craft markets, and shops feed into the area’s alternative vibe.
Palermo Hollywood is nearby and is similarly abundant in sidewalk cafes, rooftop bars, and parillas/steakhouses. This is where you’ll also ﬁnd clubs such as Club Atlético Palermo.
It’s not short on sights either, with the Museum of Latin American Art, Buenos Aires, or MALBA and National Museum of Decorative Arts. The neighborhood is also home to 400 hectares of lakes and parkland in Bosques de Palermo or Parque Tres de Febrero.
Inside, ﬁnd botanic gardens and the calming oasis of the Jardín Japonés, one of the largest Japanese gardens outside of Japan.
Not my best Spanish, but I am conﬁdent that you will understand
Estoy seguro de que una vez que haya visitado Buenos Aires, seguro que volverá … and all began with a tango show in Buenos Aires …