We left BA about 2 weeks ago for the warm weather of Patagonia :) and am only now getting around to catching up on all our experiences.
I want to give my warmest thanks to all who give so much time on this forum to help others, the TA experts in particular have been unbelievably helpful - muchas gracias!
We had a little over 2 months in BA and had a wonderful time, I just want to give a quick overview so it may help others.
We arrived in BA by plane in early Nov. As Australians we had to pay the reciprocity fee's but the process was simple (just get in the correct queue). After this we collected our bags and before we entered the general airport spoke to all the transfer companies and chose worldcar (i think - so long ago), they had the cheapest price at 170 peso. The driver and car were good and got us to our destination no problem. Note - you can still book your transfer once you enter the arrivals hall as well. We also withdrew money from the ATM at the airport.
For our first 4 weeks we booked an apt through BYT agency. We had a one bedroom (approx 600 sq ft) apt on Gorriti y Ficuna in Palermo. Overall BYT were ok to deal with - they have a huge list of apts and a good website and were quick in email responses, h/w they do not own the apts and we had some minor problems while staying and in this regard BYT were inconsistent - one woman was downright rude in helping while another was superb. The main thing is we got our deposit back and some small compensation from the owner for the early problems we encountered (provided cleaning service didnt appear for 2 weeks).
The apt was spacious and light, a little old and worn, but all the essentials (hotwater, kitchen appliances) worked well.
Area - we were on the outskirts of Pal Soho so it was in general a residential area and generally quiet. Walking to the main area of Soho was about 10 mins so we liked it and we could also walk to or Spanish school. Safety - we had no problems in the month we were there but did see 3 or 4 incidents of police arresting people and in general it didnt feel as safe as Recoleta or Pal Botanica but that is more due to a younger crowd and less lighting - as I said we had no problems and felt the area was more interesting than our second stay.
Our 2nd month we stayed in an apt on Junin and French (Recoleta/Barrio Norte) through Reynolds. This agency feels a little more "upmarket" than BYT and has positive reviews on this forum. We didnt feel the email responses were as professional as BYT and there were some initial problems with how to pay the rent and deposit as already being in BA we didnt have the USD in cash that they wanted. In the end we paid the deposit on credit card and the rent in USD cash that we used from the previous deposit. NOW as I write this 2 weeks after leaving the apt Reynolds has still not credited back the deposit as they promised they would immediately, so I think it is prudent people are aware of this when dealing with them. Similar to BYT the response to small problems at the apt was much slower than to inquiries about availabilty The apt was smaller than our initial one but the finishings were more modern. There were a number of plumbing problems that were never really addressed properly but it didnt cause any huge problems just minor annoyance. The location was very good being so close to the cemetery etc. The area is very safe with wonderful buildings but does have a more "tourist" feel. It was great to experience both areas and both have adv/disadv.
Spanish school - we attended Vamos in Palermo and did group classes for 5 weeks. There are many schools and it is difficult to compare as few people attend more than one. We based our choice on reviews of people similar to us, location and on "feel" from visitng a few after our arrival. Overall our experience was great, the school is not large, the staff are very friendly, the directors very knowledgeable and the teachers enthusiastic. My only concerns were that over 5 weeks I had 5 different teachers and many different fellow students so continuity could get a little disrupted. However the school had a great vibe and I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to learn another language (although I am useless it has come in very handy). Feel free to PM me if you have any questions on my thoughts of learning Spanish in BA.
Safety - this seems to be a huge concern on this forum so here is my 2 cents. In almost 10 weeks we had no incidents. We are seasoned independent travellers and are used to being "on alert". We have heard of a few incidents though, most of these are bag snatches from passing motorcycles and one which involved someone being distracted and leaving their ATM card in the machine. All I can really say is strap bags, cameras over your shoulder with a hand resting on them - dont have them facing the street side of the sidewalk. Be careful of your pockets on the subway and buses which are always busy. Do not leave bags on the ground at outside tables. Dont flash i-phones. Avoid La Boca outside of the tourist area - we took public buses through the area and it is definitely a dangerous spot. There is a lot of police presence on the streets which I think is for deterrence and smart but overall BA was similar to most other large cities (for the record we have been pickpocketed in Lisbon, bag snatched in our "home" town of Sydney so these things happen everywhere).
Sights - so much to see! We walked and walked and walked - this is a terrific city to explore on foot. Personal highlights - the rose garden (was in full bloom), Recoleta cemetery (twice and I have seen it on a previous trip), architecture esp around San Martin/Retiro, Palace of Flowing Waters (Palacio de Aguas Corrientes), San Telmo, Puerto Madero (esp on weekends when Porteno's out in force) - the list goes on and on
Experiences - we were so lucky with so many events on during our stay - The Palermo Polo Open was fantastic, a great sport and the place to see the "beautiful people"; museum night - visiting MALBA, Bella Artes, Museo Decorativo, Recoleta Cultural Centre, Palais Glace etc; Gallery night - through Palermo an absolute thrill we met loads of artists (and had plenty of vino!); Tango festival - terrific concert in the park and although amateurs were blown away by the quality of the musicians; La Viruta Milonga - went here for my wife's birthday and it was such a fun night, highly recommend. Tigre weekend - if you have time do it as a really interesting area close to the city (if on the tren de la costa get off and walk around San Isidro).
Eating - as permanent budget travellers we dont eat out a lot so cant give great advice here but did enjoy a late night dinner at El Primo in Las Canitas which I would recommend (packed at 1am haha). Ate huge amounts of choripan from street side vendors, empanadas from all over town, dulce de leche icecream (good deal at Volta) and savoured all the baked delights from the wonderful panaderias (incl Pan Dulce for xmas). Staying in an apt we were able to cook a lot of home made meals and it was an affordable way to enjoy the tremendous quality of beef in particular.
Transport - for us mostly walking - its a flat city with great architecture just made for wandering so not unusual for us to walk from Palermo into the city, onto the Recoleta etc. We did take the subway but it is very crowded (cheap). Collectivos were a great way to travel when walking wasnt an option, cheap and plentiful - use omnilineas (?) website and you can click on point on a map to get most appropriate bus.
Areas - Belgrano: huge but one of my favourites, right on the edge of the parks (upmarket part of it with some great commercial streets). Chinatown - part of Belgrano, its tiny and really disappointing for someone who has lived in HK for many years and in comparison to the Chinatowns in Australia. Las Canitas - small area next to Polo fields - trendy area to go out in worth a visit on a Sat night. Pal Hollywood - below Las Canitas, still quite a "grungy area", very good array of restaurants and bars but little else to make it interesting; Pal Soho - big area very popular on w/e's and with tourists, great boutique shopping with lots of bars, cafes and restaurants; Pal Botanico and Chico - b/w the parks and Pal Soho roughly, wealthier part of Palermo but a little more "hip" than recoleta. Older crowd than Pal Soho and Hollywood. The small area known as Chico - great to walk around and see how the "other half live". Recoleta/Barrio Norte - original up end neighborhood with great buildings and parks. Very popular with tourists. I think due to proximity of city getting a little bit commercialised and why Pal Botanico a better bet for longer term visitors. San Telmo - older suburb on the south edge of centro - cobblestone streets - a must visit, I think staying here would be interesting but would need to be careful of exact location. La Boca - purely touristy. Puerto Madero - next to centro, renovated warehouses on one side of canal and brand new apts and office buildings on other. A lot of upscale restaurants. Nice area to walk around as more open feel than rest of BA. Villa Crespo - south of Pal Soho, lots of outlets centres definitely worth visiting for shoppers - had a good feel but rough outside the main blocks and dead on a Sunday. Almagro/Abasto - inner city residential areas worth a look to see true Porteno life with great local eateries, milognas, shopping etc. Centro - full of great sites, plaza mayo, congresso, retiro/san martin (finance blding - palace something ?? awesome) etc but would only stay if a short trip.
People - portenos. Great - real, honest, helpful and funny for the most part. Some of our funniest moments were trying to communicate with the shopkeepers and people on the street. Regularly people stopped to help and on a number of occassions just to tell us their views on life in BA (without being asked). If it seems people arent being helpful it is only the way things are in BA - you need to ask! Rarely to vendors etc push - they wait to be asked. There is a general understatement to the people (as evidenced by the celebrations of xmas and nye) which seems strange given they are passionate (sport, cultural, politics, general life).
Others - visit the parks, great places to hang out to relax and people watch (the public displays of affection of lovers old and young is a sight to see!)
Dislikes - not a lot but among them would be - cleanliness - I know there is a system to this rubbish disposal but it often leads to awful messes and smells; similarly the portenos love of canines is something I share but the lack of cleaning up is not nice; queues - everywhere and they are generally slow; banking/money - limits on withdrawls, fees, machines without cash, usd requirements etc all very archaic and frustrating.
Well I think I have rambled long enough - just the thoughts and feelings of an Australian couple (mid 30's) after a couple of months. Please let me know if you agree or disagree and feel free to PM me for any other thoughts.
Many thanks again for all those (Vero, Scarlett, Dr D, Ricardo, Marnie etc etc there are so many of you) who geuinely helped us squeeze so many experiences out of a wonderful city.
All the best