Buenos Aires is truly one of the great cities of the world. A brief business visit a few years ago had whetted my
appetite to see more of this city with broad boulevards, but a vacation in 2004 made me a believer.
I have visited many cities that call themselves European. I have visited many cities that compare themselves
to Paris. My response is generally skeptical: why not just visit Europe? Why not visit Paris? Why
not see the real thing?
Buenos Aires is very European, and there are places in Recoleta and Palermo that truly can be compared with Paris.
There is no hype about that at all, but also, this is not an imitation Europe or an imitation Paris. It is a New World
city all its own, with a unique blend of the old and the new, south and north, with strong influences from many sources --
Spain, Italy, Germany and Britain, among others. What is unique about Buenos Aires is not that it is a version of somewhere
else, but that it is its own unique blend.
Guidebooks. I am partial to a series that includes a literary background: Buenos Aires: A Cultural
and Literary Companion (Cities of the Imagination Series) by Jason Wilson. This is particularly important for Buenos
Aires, where the literary triumphs are many. Apart from that, pick up a current edition of the Lonely Planet, Fodor
or other guide. (As always, it is easier to find the right general guidebook in the US than it is at your destination.)
For those visiting South America in general, South America on a Shoestring comes highly recommended.
Hotels. The Alvear Palace is one of the world's great historic hotels. It is in the Recoleta neighborhood,
the best place to be for walks. The Alvear is very expensive, but look for bargains on the web. I stayed there
once on business. Our favorite for the money is Hotel Marriot Plaza. This is one of the finest hotels in the city,
in an old building, but with modern amenities. It is well-located across from the Plaza San Martin, and at the end of
Calle Florida, a pedestrian shopping mall. We would go there again. Hotel Marriot, address: Florida 1005, telephone:
(011) 54 11 4318 3000The other hotel, the Park Plaza Kempenski, that we stayed in admittedly was modest (small rooms, window
air conditioners), but it had an outstanding location in Recoleta and a very friendly young staff. Breakfast was
good, but the amenities were very modest (fitness center was the right to use a gym down the street). There are various
Kempenski hotels in town, and we only know about this one. Park Plaza Kempinski Hotel, Parera 183. Telephone: (011)
54 11 6777 0200.
Booking Hotels. "Buenos Aires Hotels Today" often has deep discounts on hotel rooms. From the US, call
800-499-5105. (I also found them on the web, and that is how we booked the Kempenski at a very low price.) We
found the Marriot through Latintrip.com, from the US call, 1-800-811-8829, but found that the prices they quoted for the Kempenski
were higher than those on the web. (For the Marriot, Latintrip was lower!) My recommendation is to try both, plus
the websites for the chains directly. (Our US travel agency consistently quoted higher prices.)
Tango. Probably everyone is partial to the tango show that they saw. We loved El Querandí, whose website
The dancing was great, but we also loved the setting in an old bar-restaurant, so there was nothing of an institutional
flavor to the experience. When not a tango show, the place is an actual restaurant, so the quality of the food for the
dinner show was a plus. This came highly recommended to us by Argentine friends.
Guide. We hired a guide, who came with a van, to give us a six-hour orientation tour of the city. She
came highly recommended and is a middle-aged Argentine lady who had spent time in the US. Yes, she was opinionated,
but don't you expect that in a guide? This is her contact information: Sonia Belostotzky, telephone 5411-4782-0290,
email: firstname.lastname@example.org cell: 15-5328-8560. A day with her is a great way to do the leading sites.
Recoleta. This is the ritziest part of town, whether you are dead or alive. You don't have to be an
Eva Peron fan to want to visit the cemetery. In fact, this is "must-see" in town. For those reluctant to spend
their vacation visiting a cemetery, think of this as a sculpture park, because that is what it is. The mausoleums of
the rich are elaborately adorned with outstanding and sometime garrish monuments. The structures themselves are family-sized
temples. It all is arranged as a city, complete with streets, trees, benches and plazas. My son said he wouldn't
have been surprised to see a satellite dish on top of the mausoleums!
Recoleta also is a lovely part of town, the part that is, in fact, the most like Paris. There are outdoor cafes,
parks and swanky shops. Even when the weather is hot, men in tweed sports jackets and ties take a stroll, looking like
reincarnations of Borges. The women are dressed stylishly and might even have fur-trimmed clothes on. The
dogs in this neighborhood seem to shop at the same place that supplies the well-coiffed, well-dressed Parisian dogs.
Don't miss the Biela cafe -- both outside and inside are fun -- a place unique for having both literary and auto-racing
associations. Down the street is Fredo's, our favorite place for ice cream in a city famous for ice cream. The
convent is worth a visit. Next door is an hall with temporary art exhibits. In the park between the convent and
the cafes is an art fair that assembles every weekend, and, to a lesser extent, during the week.