The Barrio: San Telmo
Profile: The gritty, historical heart of Buenos Aires; there’s a lot of romance beneath the grime and graffiti that decorates many a buildings. Behind every weathered door you might find a marble-tiled courtyard or secret garden dating from colonial times. San Telmo is the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires and dates back to the 17th century. It has, throughout the years, been a slum, a brief haven of the well-to-do (who constructed many of those crumbling mansions that line the streets today), a neighborhood of European immigrants and a hangout for artists, writers and tango dancers. San Telmo today maintains a Bohemian vibe akin to Left Bank Paris, but a little rougher. Don’t let this scare you though; San Telmo by far is the best place to take in live tango or sample the succulent steak Argentina is famous for at one of the local parillas. On Sundays the neighborhoods comes alive with a sprawling antiques market and street fair complete with hundreds of stalls, delicious street food and live music and tango performed on street corners.
Hotel Picks: The reasonably priced and Art-Deco hip Moreno Hotel.
The Barrio: Puerto Madero
Profile: As the name suggests, Puerto Madero was originally a shipping port, but was only active for about 15 years. After the size of ocean-going cargo ships eclipsed the capacity of the port, the area became a bit of an industrial graveyard where crumbling warehouses, obsolete ships and rusting freight machinery went to die. Fast forward to 1999 when city planners decided to turn this urban eyesore into a modern neighborhood of high-end hotels, sleek bridges and lots of familiar international names and chains. Everything is pretty swanky here and the neighborhood’s proximity to the domestic airport (Jorge Newbery) plus international dining options catering to the earlier dinner hour of visitors make Puerto Madero a decent choice for travelers who just want a quick night in BA between connecting domestic flights. But don’t expect a lot of character; PM is a convenient place for a one-night stay but is not recommended as a home base for extended time in Buenos Aires. Our favorite part of the neighborhood is the ecological preserve, Constanera Sur, a haven for birds and green spaces.
Hotel Picks: All are large and high-end with full-service amenities. Hotel Madero is a good pick for quality and convenience. Faena Hotel Universe is tops for travelers seeking high standards and contemporary luxury.
The Barrio: Palermo
Profile: If you want excellent boutique hotel options, a plethora of restaurants within walking distance, a generally clean street scene and safe ambiance, Palermo – in particular Palermo SoHo, is for you. Palermo is the largest barrio in Buenos Aires and is a desirable address for expats and porteños alike. It’s been a popular residential area of the city since the 1800s but isn’t exactly replete with historical character like San Telmo to the south. Rather you have tree-lined and pedestrian-friendly streets, boutiques, ateliers and restaurants galore and some nice small parks and plazas to relax in. Palermo SoHo is a hot spot for designers, chefs, the creative, the young and the hip. Shop, eat, stroll and people watch to your heart’s content. But you’re going to have to venture out of Palermo to soak in the historical sites of BA.
Hotel Picks: Mine Hotel, Nuss Hotel, Casa Calma, Legado Mitico, BoBo Hotel…we could go on and on. Expect smaller, unique properties often in converted mansions. While service and amenities are generally quite good, room sizes tend to be small. Real estate is expensive here so room prices match. Fierro Boutique Hotel is a good option at a slightly lower price point; in Palermo but about six blocks walking from Palermo SoHo.
The Barrio: Recoleta
Profile: Keeping with the ‘Paris of the South’ comparison, Recoleta is to Buenos Aires what the 8th Arrondissement is to Paris. This is the wealthy, über bourgeois neighborhood of the city’s old-money oligarchs with palatial hotels to match. Limos come and go, whisking fur-clad grande dames to and from their high rise penthouses. Visitors staying here enjoy easy foot access to a variety of museums and historical landmarks such as the lavish and ornate city of the dead, Recoleta Cemetery. A fun arts and crafts market occurs outside of the gates every Saturday. Real estate in Recoleta Cemetery is a hot commodity and a status symbol among Argentina’s wealthiest families. Ironically, the cemetery entombs Eva Peron who was despised by the rich while living and continues to illicit ill will from her eternal neighbors today. I’ve personally heard ‘puta’ uttered on more than one occasion by a well-to-do woman in mourning as she passed by the tourist crowds that congregate in front of Evita’s mausoleum.
Hotel Picks: Alvear Palace Hotel for old world opulence, Mio Hotel for more modern luxury.