WHAT TO DO FOR FREE IN BA´s MOST FAMOUS NEIGHBOURHOODS
FOR WALKING TOURS WRITE ME TO: FLYWITHLOLA@YAHOO.COM
Buenos Aires is a huge city with an incredible variety of things to enjoy. If you´re planning to visit it, be aware that many things can be done without spending a nickel. Also you must know two important things: although it´s a big city, one can walk it from top to bottom; and public transportation is pretty good. Don´t give BA less than 4 to 5 days as you´ll miss many interesting places to visit. Here´s a guide to spend Recoleta, San Telmo and La Boca, some of BA´s most famous neighbourhoods in 2 days without missing the most important spots.
DAY 1: RECOLETA NEIGHBORHOOD
“The Recoleta Cemetery”
The Recoleta Cemetery is a good place to start. It opens daily and its entrance is free. You probably must be thinking, “a cemetery? Not a nice spot to begin!” Well, let me tell you, that it has a strong reputation among tourists because of its amazing sculptures and statues. Many vaults are devoted to former politicians, presidents and generals who gave their lives for the independence of the country and the region. The most popular are Presidents Mitre, Sarmiento, Roca and Quintana, Alberdi, Eva Perón only to mention some, although they´re not the fanciest. Other vaults stand out for their beauty or the symbolism of its statues, such as “Dorrego Ortiz Basualdo”. While some other carry myths and tragic stories, like Rufina Cambaceres and Liliana Crocciati.
It will probably take you about 2 hours to visit the cemetery. It closes early, around 5pm, so don´t leave it for the last hours of the day. Take along a hat with you, as there´re few places with shadow. And if it´s summer, also a bottle of water. Nothing is spent inside. And remember, it´s a place where people still bury their loved ones or honor them, so be respectful and avoid laughing out loud, shouting, mocking people or touching the vaults. While many of us must think this as obvious, many other don´t (this year a tourist was wounded while taking a picture grabbing a statue).
“Del Pilar Basilica” (Basílica del Pilar)
Built in 1732, “El Pilar” (“pillar”) is the second oldest catholic church in BA. The property formerly belonged to a rich family, Narbona, who donated the land to a Franciscan order: the “Recoletos”, a group of friars. As Narbona was had a special devotion to the Spanish “Zaragoza´s Virgin or Lady of the Pillar”, he asked to have the church dedicated to that Virgin. Narbona also had his own home built beside the chuch and now hosts the Cemetery Authority staff.
The church has an external colonial style; however, the interiors are totally baroque and so worth it to visit. All of them are gorgeous but my favorites are the altarpieces of “The Lord of Humbleness and Patience” and “Virgin of the Solitude”. Of course, the main altar is also stunning, with Inca ornamentation from Peru. Most of the figures in the side altarpieces are made of wood and with their original clothing.
Mass is very popular around the local neighbors, so visit “El Pilar” in silence.
“Artisan´s Fair (Feria de Artesanos)”
Plenty of artisans have their stands available steps away from the Cemetery on the weekends. Just know that it´s pretty crowded. One can buy from clothes to rings, “mate”, handbags, fresh juices and lots of stuff. Or just stroll around just looking at handcrafts and not buy a thing.
Perhaps you´re hungry, so if you´re truly on a budget, bring along a sandwich and water or a soda and make a picnic in Plaza Francia (France Square), a nice square where people gather to share a “mate” (local non-alcoholic beverage).
The National Fine Arts Museum (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes)
With a free entrance, this museum shows paintings and sculptures from many important artists, so it´s unique in its kind in South America. From Dutch and Flemish paintings, tapestries, to French and Italian art and sculptures, and also Argentine paintings, one can spend the whole afternoon enjoying an indoor visit. You´ll find sculptures from Rodin, impressionist paintings and a lot more!
The museum opens from to Tue-Fri: 11 am to 7 pm. Weekends: from 10 am to 7 pm. It´s closed on Mondays.
If after the Fine Arts Museum you have some energy, walk a few steps to take a look at the “Floralis Generica” a huge modern metallic sculpture representing a flower, with 6 petals that open every morning as the sun begins to shine. At twilight the flower lights up and closes, which is also nice to see. There are lounge chairs to rest and enjoy the gardens around the sculpture.
DAY 2: LA BOCA and SAN TELMO
This is a very “popular” neighborhood, utterly colorful characterized by its multicolored flats in the south part of BA. At the beginning of the 20th century a colony from Geneva, Italy, arrived at the old BA´s harbor and build their homes in that part of the city. The Genoese peoples established there and were known as “Xeneixes”, those who belonged to Xena, a city in Italy. They had little incomes, so they built flats named “conventillos”, a kind of tenement that had a lower and an upper floor, with many rooms and shared areas such as the bathroom, the kitchen and the dining room. In those spaces families met with others, talking, drinking and remembering Italy.
You will see that the houses are painted in many different colors. This is because the sailormen brought home the painting leftovers to use them on their own facades. The fronts are made of corrugated sheet and look very cheerful. The most popular street is known as “Caminito”, you won´t miss it because plenty of people are strolling around, not to tell if it´s a weekend: masses of tourists and locals sit down on the bars to enjoy a beer or take pictures with tango dancers. Also, artisans are selling their own handcrafts, so bring cash if you´re in the mood of buying something (no credit cards taken!)
TIP 1: you must be very careful, as there´s a slum quarter nearby, so don´t show off your camera neither your mobile. Try to be accompanied by a friend or a tourist guide.
If you´re interested in cultural exhibitions check “Museo Quinquela Martin” and “Fundación Proa”.
Not far from La Boca, San Telmo is the neighborhood were important families that arrived from Spain established their homes in the 18th and 19th centuries. It´s a slightly elevated place, so that helped building new homes, with colonial style. But in 1871the yellow fever epidemy broke out and most of the families left their houses and move to the northern part of the city (Recoleta). Many streets remain cobbled with the original stones as in the old days.
“Dorrego Square” is the main spot where tango dancers gather to show their talent (they will pass the hat round after their performance); also, an important fair is displayed on Sundays. “Defensa” street hosts not only artisans but all the antique stores you can imagine. You can also visit the “San Telmo Market” were you will find vintage clothes, hats, fans, shoes, porcelain and many more at good prices.
If you like old churches, go to Humberto 1° street and visit “San Pedro Telmo”, who gives the name to the area, one of the oldest catholic churches in BA. It was built in honor of Saint Telmo or Saint Elmo (although he´s not a canonized Saint but only beatified), who was a Spanish priest and a friar from the Dominican order (died in 1246). Sailormen worshipped him as he was known as patron of seamen.
TIP 2: “Je suis Raclette” (I am Raclette) serves this famous French dish, amazing! A must try! Find it inside San Telmo´s Market
TIP 3: only use comfy walking shoes (sneakers or running shoes) because the cobblestone streets can be tricky!
FOR WALKING TOURS WRITE ME TO: FLYWITHLOLA@YAHOO.COM