We just returned from our second trip to Buenos Aires. It was wonderful, and I've compiled a brief trip report that will hopefully help out others.
We stayed at Thames y Costa Rica, which is still a good location. We rented from ByTArgentina and had no problems. The apartment was not as nice as the one we had last year from ApartmentsBA, but it was fine.
We hade been convinced before we came that Palermo Soho was the place to stay. However, after being here for nearly 3 weeks, I think we would consider Palermo Hollywood next time. We found the overall quality of the restaurants to be better there, and it was slightly less touristy than Palermo Soho. There are not as many stores, but we are not big shoppers anyway. It seemed to us to be worth considering, especially if the apartment prices are any cheaper.
We used the subte, the colectivos, bikes, and very rarely remis.
For the subte I recommend getting the 10 ride pass. It was $11AR, and we just shared it between us (i.e. one person goes through and passes it back to the other person). It saves standing in line and the ticket counters are not open all of the time.
We hoarded lots of change so we could take the colectivo. We used the 29 bus a number of times as it went from Palermo to La Boca, via San Telmo. We got around a lot on that route, and it is very scenic as it takes you all through the city.
For our last week we rented bicycles from La Bicicleta Naranja. It as $140AR per week, and the bikes come with a lock, basket, and helmet. Well worth it we felt.
We rarely used remis’, but one one of the few occasions we did we were passed a fake $20. It was quite a good fake (as attested to by other Argentinians I showed it to) but the colour of the number “20” in the upper left is not quite right. It was hard to see it in a dark cab. At least it was only a 20 and not a 100.
On our first full day we started a four-day, 3 hour/day course from Espanol Andando, which was great fun. You meet at a different restaurant every day for your lesson (even being forced to get to these different places was a great exercise). Part of the lesson is taught in the restaurant, and part is taught on a little walk. One day through Palermo Soho to the grocery store, another to the Retiro bus station. Very practical. Not only did we learn some Spanish, we also had a resource to ask lots of stupid questions. We learned that cars with jugs of water on the roof are for sale, and that there was a huge hail storm a couple of years ago that put golf-ball sized dents in lots of cars. We learned some slang and some history about the city, and we got restaurant and bar recommendations. We thought it was worthwhile.
We brought the book “The Authentic Bars, Cafes, and Restaurants of Buenos Aires” with us and had fun going to the different places. We enjoyed the atmosphere at all that we tried. Some we like the food in, others not as much, but we always liked the atmosphere. Very few had many tourists in them, which made it more fun for us. From this book we went to: Angelin, Don Julio, El Preferido de Palermo, Guido’s Bar, Rodi-Bar, Lezama, El Desnivel, Bar del Gallego, Florida Garden, and La Barra, amoung others. So we put a pretty good dent in the list. It was fun to hunt down some of the places, and stumble across others.
I know everyone raves about La Cabrera, but I have to say we won’t be going there again. The service was bad and the waiter was les than friendly. The food was fine, but we had better at Don Julio.
Don Julio was the complete opposite of La Cabrera. The service was wonderful, the waiter was so friendly, and the food was fantastic. Highly recommended – this was our favourite parilla by far.
We also really enjoyed Grappa. Their pizza was divine – very thin crust, wih excellent toppings (arugula is highly recommended).
Las Cabras was great and had a huge patio. They also serve salad on the side be default, which we had not seen here (or else we just ordered it by mistake, but I don’t think so). It seems to be very popular as there were long line ups, but in nice weather the wait it no problem.
Il Ballo del Mattone is an Italian place that was a lot of fun. The staff/owners(?) were so nice to us, and the pastas were great. They made us feel right at home.
La Cupertina, which is one of our favorite places. The atmosphere is so relaxed, the staff are very friendly, and they have the best empanadas and locro ever! (P.S. if anyone has a locro recipe they’d like to share I would really like to try making it).
We were very disappointed with La Brigada. We went last year and really enjoyed it. However, they seem to have changed the approach. The waiters really try to up-sell on everything and we felt they were trying to push us to overspend and over-order. The place is expanding so perhaps this is how they are trying to pay for it? Last year we spent about 100 pesos on a wonderful meal. This year it was almost 300 for a slightly better bottle of wine, and a similar entrée.
We went to a few bars and really liked Dada, The Shamrock, and especially Tiki Bar (a tiki bar that plays rock-a-billy) and Hollywood in Cambodia. We were also invited to Axel for their Sunday "Pool Party", and that was fun.
We went to Iguazu for 2 nights. We stayed at a brand new, beautiful hotel called Hotel Amerian. It is at the far end of the town at the point where the Parana and the Iguazu rivers meet. The river views are beautiful – you can see Brazil and Paraguay. They also have a really nice pool and beautiful rooms.
We had a tour to the Argentinian and the Brailian side of the falls. Both were really nice. You don’t need to spend much time on the Brazilian side (1/2 day), but definitely do a full day at the Argentinian side. There is lots of walking and lots to see.
We also spent a day in Tigre, which we loved. As we were staying in Palermo, we took the train from the Lisandro de la Torre station instead of going to Retiro. When we got there we got our boat tickets to El Gato Blanco, as recommended by other TA experts. It was a great boat ride and the restaurant was great – a beautiful deck to sit on and enjoy a relaxing meal. When we got back to Tigre we walked around a bit, but most of the buildings we wanted to see were a bit of a distance and we wanted to take the Tren de la Costa to San Isidro. Next time we'll spend more time in Tigre. In fact, we noticed that bicycles were permitted on the train to Tigre. If we had known I think we would have brought our bikes so that we could ride around Tigre after lunch.
As this was our second trip we were able to skip the touristy things we did last year and relax a bit more.
We strolled down Florida Street, rode our bikes in barrios we did not have the opportunity to see last year, and enjoyed the many cafes and restaurants. We had the opportunity to see Café de los Maestros at Planetario (thanks Karma for the suggestion!), which was great.
My favourite experience, however, was the Parque de la Memoria. This is a sculpture park that is in memory of the victims of the military regime during the Argentine Dirty War. The walls of names of the disappeared were very moving, and the sculptures were beautiful. We were approached by a young man who works for the park and he gave us a tour and described all of the sculptures to us. Note the park is closed at 6:00 in the evenings and it is not yet completed. As well it is definitely off of the beaten path. However, we found it to be a really worthwhile excursion.
For guidebooks we really liked Time Out. We had also purchased Lonely Planet, but didn’t find as much interesting information in it. Also, pick up the current issue of Time Out magazine (Summer/Autumn 2009). We found it to be a great supplement to the latest edition of the Time Out book as it is more current, and it also had some great information in it about things to see, politics, etc. Generally a good read even if you don’t use the restaurant or bar guide.
We also used the book “The Authentic Bars, Cafes, and Restaurants of Buenos Aires” for restaurants, which we really enjoyed.
Take your laundry to a lavenderia (they are all over the place). It is cheap (AR$12) and quick (drop off in the morning and pick up that evening). Well worth the money. In fact, we took our clothes there the day before we left so we wouldn't have to do laundry when we got home.
Learn how to speak a bit of Spanish. People are really helpful if you try and will help you with pronunciation.
Save your change! Especially if you plan to use the colectivo (bus). They only take change, and change is not the easiest to get.
Carry Kleenex/toilet paper :). The restrooms at many restaurants and in many public places are not the cleanest and rarely have toilet paper.
Relax and enjoy yourself!