Colorful, cosmopolitan Buenos Aires is still a city in transition


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Once upon a time, we thought of Buenos Aires as the Paris of South America, the birthplace of the tango, the city with the world's widest street (16 lanes), the Argentine capital serving up the largest beefsteaks anywhere.

And we still do.

Yet within the last decade, the city has enjoyed an extra burst of popularity, perhaps fueled by the film "Evita," in which actress Madonna portrayed the legendary former first lady, Eva Peron, or boosted by the popularity of the tango on international dance floors.

San Telmo flea market in Buenos Aires, Argentina.Additionally, the 1990s brought a rise in glittering shopping galleries, five-star hotels, classy restaurants -- all nowadays at some of the continent's highest prices.

The city's renaissance is most visible in the whole new urban center that has sprung up in Puerto Madero, a series of restored 19th century brick warehouses along the Rio de la Plata that now house sleek restaurants, offices, condos and cafes.

On the essentials list of things that clients should do in Buenos Aires are:

  • Explore and enjoy on foot the flowering Plaza de Mayo, the city's principal square -- one block wide and two blocks long. Highlights are the Cabildo museum, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Banco de la Nacion and the National Congress building.
  • Tour the Teatro Colon, visiting not only the plush and gilded 3,500-seat theater but the underground maze of rehearsal halls, carpentry and costume shops. If clients are in Buenos Aires for the season (March through November), attending a concert or ballet performance offers them the ultimate arts experience. Tickets should be reserved in advance April through November.
  • Spend some time in San Telmo, a 19th century neighborhood with buildings distinguished by cast-iron balconies and shaded patios. Visit particularly for the pricey but jolly San Telmo flea market, held on Sundays at the Plaza Dorrego; bordering the square are shops stuffed with 19th and early 20th century antiques -- few bargains here, but browsing is fun. Clients can take a coffee, wine or beer break at the Dorrego Cafe, where tango dancers perform right in front of the outdoor tables, and in the summer (our winter), the plaza fills with tangoing couples on Saturday evenings.
  • Visit the Ricoleta Cemetery, a tourist attraction in its own right and the burial ground of the Argentine upper classes. It is an architectural theme park of neo-Egyptian, Greco-Roman and Italian baroque mausoleums. At the unprepossessing marble vault of Evita (marked with her maiden name, Eva Duarte), devoted fans leave floral tributes.
  • Follow this up with a coffee and sweets at one of the cafes across from the cemetery. La Biela, for instance, offers some of the best people-watching tables.

    This visitor recently dined in Recoleta at the Shorthorn Grill, where friends and I shared small portions of many Argentine specialties, accompanied by a house wine worthy to remember, a 1996 Malbec. A restaurant bonus is the display cases of the owner's Argentine silver collection.

  • Wander around Puerto Madero, the newly remodeled section of the old harbor. And stay for lunch or come back for dinner, for the restaurants are choice. Among those to put on a client's where-to-eat list are Happening, Katrine, Piperno and Bice, all along Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo.
  • Stroll through the neighborhood of La Boca, with its brightly painted houses. Once filled with warehouses, this area has been taken over by artists' studios, shops and cafes and pedestrian walks.
  • The tango was born in La Boca, and statues and other memorabilia of its most famous tango singer, Carlos Gardel, are everywhere along El Caminito, the open-air art fair center where musical groups perform in the afternoon and photographers snap visitors poking their heads through cutouts above the painted torsos of tango dancers.

  • And, of course, do the tango, Argentina's national art form, at one of the dance clubs (many in the San Telmo district) or at least see a splashy tango gala at Casa Blanca or Michelangelo. Also of note is the tango show on stage daily, except Sundays, at 10:20 p.m. at Armenonville in the Recoleta barrio. For clients who want to learn to tango, Armenonville is one of many tango clubs where lessons are available.
  • Argentina Tourist Information Bureaus

    Phone: (212) 603-0443 for New York; (305) 442-1366 for Miami; (213) 930-0681 for Los Angeles

    JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI