Living in Buenos Aires: Our unexpected love / hate relationship with Argentina’s capital

From the northern coast of Colombia to the most southern country on the continent, we boarded our flight in Cartagena bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina, which would be our short-term home for the next month.

Renowned for its mouth-watering steaks, robust wines and sultry tango dancing, we were very much looking forward to stepping foot in our second South American country.

We couldn’t wait to see tango shows all over the city!
It all sounded ideal and we had high hopes for our time in the famous Latin American capital, but, unfortunately, we were slightly let down.

I can hear the reactions already:

“Are you crazy?”

“How could you not like one of Latin America’s many dynamic cities?”

“You must’ve missed it then.”

You know when you arrive somewhere and you quickly know you’re going to love it, and you just “click” with the place? This has happened to us various times and we practically always love all over we visit. But, we’re all about first impressions and Buenos Aires just didn’t have the vibe or the feeling of other big cities we’ve been to.

To be fair, numerous people fall in love with the city and there are various things to do in Buenos Aires, but for us, there was just something missing.

It could have been because we weren’t ready for an house yet and still wanted to travel much more of Colombia. Or possibly it was due to the fact that the location of our house was much further away from the main sites and neighbourhoods than we thought it would be. Or, maybe it’s because I had to spend 2 weeks going to doctors due to my back pain.

Did our experience in Buenos Aires suffer due to our personal feelings, or is the city simply not all that appealing? We personally had a love / hate (dislike) relationship with the city during our 1 month stay, and various things about BA amazed us as well. Let’s break it down.

The Love

Our Apartment

Groggy from the overnight flight with layovers, we met with Carla, the owner of our Airbnb. This was the first time we had ever used Airbnb and we had our fingers crossed in hopes that it would be a good experience. Thankfully the host was very sweet and the house we rented was just as it was described on the online booking site.

The living room of our house in Buenos Aires – just as it looked online.
Our little house was located in the vacation home Crespo neighbourhood, about a 20 minute walk from Palermo. fitted with a solid wi-fi connection, a very comfortable king-sized bed, couch and chairs and a flat screen TV, this house would be our digital nomad base for the following 30 days.

The accommodation had a well equipped kitchen, an oven (yes!) and a breakfast bar. just moments away from the house was a fitness center, a large grocery store, a couple of restaurants / cafes and a bus stop.

The living room / dining room / kitchen area of our house in Buenos Aires
About a 20 – 30 minute walk through leafy streets, brought us to the trendy Palermo neighbourhood which provided our preferred red wine bar, an fantastic burger joint, some shopping and lots of (relatively expensive) restaurants.

A 30 minute walk in the other direction brought us to a stunning park, Parque Centenario. We delighted in lazing around some afternoons watching the locals sip on their mate while chatting with their friends.

We certainly loved our little apartment.

This is the stunning Parque Centenario, about a 30 minute walk from our apartment
Recoleta Cemetery

To the east of vacation home Crespo is the neighbourhood of Recoleta, which is one of the much more upscale places in Buenos Aires. home to the famous, extremely ornate cemetery, this is a must-see for anybody visiting Argentina’s capital.

There are 4691 mausoleums lining the “streets” of this cemetery, in a broad variety of architectural styles – neo-Gothic, art deco, baroque and more. many of the tombs are in outstanding condition, but some of them are really unkept with broken glass, cobwebs and garbage inside.

Strolling through the “streets” of the Recoleta Cemetery was a highlight of our time in Buenos Aires

I’ve never seen a cemetery like this before. So numerous of the tombs looked like small churches, or court houses! It was a very outstanding site.

The people of Buenos Aires

We found the Porteños (people from BA) to be very friendly and welcoming – especially for a big city. We had heard that people in Buenos Aires can be a bit “hoity-toity” and think of themselves as being the best, but as tourists, we didn’t get that feeling whatsoever.

The people were well-mannered, polite, considerate and generous. much more typically than not, we saw locals giving money to street performers and to homeless people as well. Plus, the men practically always gave up their seats on the bus to women, and held open the doors of restaurants and shops – chivalry isn’t dead!

San Telmo Sunday Market

South of Recoleta is the interesting San Telmo neighbourhood, which is one of the oldest barrios in Buenos Aires. This is where we were actually able to view some tango dancing – something we thought would be seen much much more frequently. There aren’t as numerous high rise buildings here, and the neighbourhood is simply much more interesting than others.

The Sunday market starts at Plaza de Mayo and lines the street of Defensa all the way to Plaza Dorrego and beyond. the market is bustling with both locals and tourists each Sunday. Anything you can think of is sold here and we loved spending a Sunday wandering through the streets.

This lovable couple was doing some tango on the streets to live music during the San Telmo market
The hate (or, Dislike)

As you can see, there was a lot that we loved about Buenos Aires, but every city has its flaws. some of the things that we disliked about Buneos Aires weren’t actually the city’s fault, it’s just that we personally didn’t jive with it for these reasons:

Dog Shit

OK, so maybe this one is the actual fault of the city!

There was canine poop all over the sidewalks, all over the city. and it wasn’t because there are strays all over BA, actually it was quite the opposite. We didn’t see any strays, just well taken care of, owned dogs. The dogs would do their business, and the owners wouldn’t pick it up. So gross.

It’s hard to delight in walking around looking up at architecture and trees when you have to dodge numerous piles of doggy do-do on every sidewalk.

Pretty gross, right?

Eating Late

We really struggled to get on the eating schedule of Buenos Aires. The people of Argentina, and especially in the city of Buenos Aires like to eat dinner at 10:30 – 11:30 at night. and it’s not just that the people like to eat late, but the restaurants don’t open up until around 9:30pm, and are essentially empty until about 10:30pm.

Even kids are eating at that time!

Because of this, we ended up eating numerous meals at home.

Once we even ordered-in some sushi through an app that is popular in Buenos Aires. We waited for 1.5 hours and the food didn’t show up. So, we messaged our AirBnB host and asked her if food typically takes this long to be delivered in BA. She laughed and said that certainly the sushi place isn’t open yet, it’s only 8:30! But, that our purchase would be first when they opened. It arrived just after 10:00 pm.

Our AirBnB hosts kindly invited us out for dinner at 10:00pm. We didn’t get home until 1:30am…from dinner!

The Size

We rapidly learned just how sprawling and grand the city of BA is. numerous of the streets are incredibly broad and traffic filled, while numerous parks, plazas and roundabouts are enormous.

In fact, one day we were on a road with 12 lanes…12! and it wasn’t like we were outside of the city either, we were just on our way to the port to take us to Uruguay.

Because of the sheer size of Buenos Aires, it wasn’t so easy for us to just “pop over” to another neighbourhood to get some dinner, and we certainly couldn’t walk to San Telmo, Recoleta, La Boca or Centro. Going anywhere was a bit of a task.

Needless to say, we got a lot of use out of our public transportation card.

The subway line in Buenos Aires

Difficult Spanish is Spoken

We don’t speak Spanish. But, we had just been in Colombia for 6 weeks and could usually understand what people were saying. We were able to purchase food, get around on transportation and have some basic conversations.

The Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires is unlike any Spanish we’ve ever heard. They speak with an Italian tone and a double “L” in a word is a “sh” sound, rather than a “y” sound (ie: for chicken it’s not poy-o, it’s po-sho). They also speak extremely fast and use a lot of slang!

We struggled a lot to understand when people were speaking to us, and no one understood what we were saying. This wasn’t terrific for our confidence.

Not very Charming

To our surprise, we didn’t find Buenos Aires to be all that charming. We had expected there would be various lively streets lined with cafes and bars. We thought we’d find street performers doing tango. We visualized small plazas terrific for people watching.

Instead, there were a few cafes here and there, tango only on Sunday at the San Telmo market (or if we wanted to start our night at 3:00am, we could go to a milonga), and substantial plazas with not a lot going on.

For us, Buenos Aires just didn’t have the charm we were hoping it would.

Beautiful trees helped make up for the otherwise lack of charm

Things That amazed Us

It’s Not like the Postcards

You know those photos of Buenos Aires and its colourful buildings? Well, yes, there is the area with colourful buildings, but it’s only in La Boca neighbourhood, and it’s only on one very small street. The rest of the neighbourhood is “too dangerous” for tourists to go walking around.

The other photos we had seen were of stunning European buildings towering over the streets. and again, yes, there are some really beautiful buildings, but they’re really only around the Centro and Recoleta area and are few and far between.

The stunning Plaza Mayo in Centro certainly had some pretty buildings, but not numerous other areas did
This really amazed us as we thought there would be much more areas like we had seen on the pictures before we arrived. It turned out that photographers had cleverly selected the good buildings to photograph, which really doesn’t correctly illustrate the city as a whole.

The low Costs

Buenos Aires wasn’t as expensive as everyone had said. Our house wasn’t the most affordable ($1,200 USD / month) but we were able to have meals at a restaurant for under $10. Groceries were very affordable, carry was $0.50 / journey and bottles of really good red wine could be had for less than $15 – and I imply really good, Gran Reserva bottles.

For a big city, and one with a credibility of being expensive, we actually found it to be quite affordable.

A steak dinner with appetizer and red wine could be had for $15 (for both of us)

No One around For The Holidays

We were really looking forward to spending Christmas and new Year’s Eve in such a well-known city! But, when the days came, there was no one around. Apparently, everyone flees the city during the holidays with their families and heads to the beach.

We hit the streets on new Year’s Eve because there had to be tourists around, right? We left the house at 11:30pm and the streets were dead. It was so eerie. We made our way to the Serrano Plaza in Palermo and found lots of tourists sitting at the restaurants looking incredibly bored. In fact, at the bar we were at, Nick and I were the only ones to do the countdown to the new year.

Happy new Year!! We were the only ones to countdown to midnight…but oh well

This was not the celebration we were searching for whatsoever.

But, the saving grace was when a group of Candombe dancers and drummers from Uruguay started playing on the street and we ended up dancing for a couple of hours. The photo below paints a pretty fun picture of new Years in Buenos Aires, and for the hour that the drummers were there, it was fun… but for the rest of the time, it was dead.

Thankfully these dancers and musicians came out on new Year’s Eve!!
The Italian influence is Prominent

During 1857 to 1940 there was a enormous influx of Italians immigrating to Argentina, and in particular, Buenos Aires.

According to Wikipedia, 25

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