Three-lane freeways, skyscrapers and modern cars: an unexpected scenery in a “third-world” country best known for the biggest debt default in history. But this is Buenos Aires, a city of contrasts in Argentina, one of the powerhouses of South America.
There are poor neighbourhoods next to the presidential palace and shanty towns just across the railway from the richest district in the capital. Once the wealthiest city in South America, Buenos Aires is now famous for its beggars, pick pockets and soaring unemployment. But go to the historic districts and you will find yet another face of the city: its European heritage next to sprawling skyscrapers.
I spent six weeks in Buenos Aires researching the Falklands conflict for my university major. I was fortunate enough to meet many generals and pilots from the war and they introduced me to the real Buenos Aires which one cannot learn about from guide books.
This is part 1 of a series about Buenos Aires. Read Part 2 here
Subscribe to the newsletter to get the latest updates soon.
San Telmo – the old Buenos Aires
San Telmo, is one of the oldest districts in Buenos Aires. Cobble stoned streets and turn of the 19th century buildings dominate San Telmo, right next door to La Boca, one of the most dangerous places in the city. Interestingly, this is also the birthplace of Diego Maradona and many other celebrities. Walking around San Telmo will make you think the wheels of time turned back a few decades until you reach a 10-lane highway. A blunt reminder of the present, the freeway runs two blocks from the main square of the San Telmo, cutting the district in half.
San Telmo used to be the meeting place and residence of the rich and famous. Also, most of the government offices were located here with the aristocrats and industrialist magnates. Unfortunately the yellow fever epidemic in 1871 all but wiped out the population of San Telmo, and most people relocated to Recoleta and Palermo to the north. The rich were soon replaced by Italian immigrant workers and their descendants still dominate the neighbourhood.
The San Telmo Fair
The main square in San Telmo is home to the famous fair every Sunday. The fair runs along the Calle Defensa from Avenida Brasil and Avenida de Mayo. Jugglers, buskers and beggars gather all day long along the antique shops and street vendors to amuse passers-by regardless the weather.
Walking between jugglers and buskers I discovered late 19th and early 20th century architecture in Buenos Aires and saw everything from toys made from copper wires to centuries old paintings.
Dinner in San Telmo
I lived in San Telmo for a little while and my local was the Hipopotamo. I had lunch or dinner here many times alone or with my flatmates. Service is very slow but the big and tasty portions will compensate for the time spent waiting. They serve lunch every day at the Hipopotamo at a discount price. Lunch is always two or three courses of mainly Italian dishes and a drink or desert.
Live shows of Jazz and Tango are always popular in Buenos Aires. Wherever you go, including the Hipopotamo, you will find a live event almost every day. Another famous local is the Bar Britanico, one of the oldest in San Telmo. Here you can listen to live Jazz just as people did hundred years ago.
Watch this video below by Sheila Simkin, a fellow travel blogger.
If you enjoyed this post and want to read a similar story, scroll down to see the related posts section. You might also want to watch some of my other videos on Youtube.