On your visit to the vibrant city of Buenos Aires, in addition to touring the famous barrios of Recoleta and La Boca, plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the neighborhood of Palermo and the Microcentro, and consider a day trip to the Tigre region to enjoy the natural beauty of the Parana River delta.
Lined with leafy green trees, eclectic boutiques, and hip bars and cafes, the neighborhood of Palermo draws both tourists and Portenos alike. Start the day right at Cafe Oui Oui. The heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread engulfs customers as soon as they walk into the quaintly decorated space. A simple menu offers savory egg breakfasts and baked goods for breakfast, with lunch options that include sandwiches, salads, soup, quiche, hamburgers, and house-made limonada – lemonade tinged with mint.
After breakfast, wander around Palermo Viejo. Near Plaza Serrano, Capital Diseño y Objetos offers cute and trendy items for home and office. Papelara Palermo, a wonderful handmade paper store, stocks paper crafts both fine and functional and all made by local artisans, and is an excellent place to pick up gifts, such as notebooks decorated with photos of Eva Peron. Owoko is a shoe box of a store with a vibrant collection of unique and colorful clothing for infants and children aged 2-7. The quirky selection of women’s apparel at La Merceria (Armenia 1609) entices; especially impressive is the rack of designer and vintage formalwear in the very back.
For a green respite from the streets, head to the Jardin Botanico (Av. Santa Fe 3951). Designer Carlos Thays fought to have the garden built to preserve green space in the city. With huge trees and many benches scattered along shady paths, the garden is a treasure much appreciated by Portenos.
A similar treasure, nearby restaurant Hermann (Santa Fe and Malabia) is a Porteno favorite, and a solid option for lunch. The old-fashioned restaurant charms with dark wooden booths and an antique wood and glass bar. White-jacketed waiters serve up hearty, traditional European fare, with dishes such as bratwurst, pork chops, and chopped vegetable salads.
Downtown Buenos Aires, known as the microcentro, is bisected by Avenida Corrientes, the major thoroughfare of the city. A center of commerce, Corrientes lacks the large, shade-giving trees that enhance many BA neighborhoods, but it is a cultural haven. Start at El Obelisco, the national historic monument at the intersection of Avenida Corrientes and 9 de Julio, and wander down the street, taking in the myriad bookstores, theaters, bakeries, and confiterias (confectioners).
The city of Buenos Aires allegedly has more bookstores within its boundaries than the entire country of Brazil. This literary penchant is proven during a stroll down Avenida Corrientes. Most are Spanish-language, but some have a section devoted to foreign language books, including English, and the dedicated treasure-hunter can dig up archaic, ancient, and often hilarious tomes with some effort. One evening during my visit, the Avenida was closed to vehicular traffic for a book fair, with sofas set up on the street, open mics for writers, and bookstores open until late—a book lover’s dream.
True to its European heritage, Buenos Aires has marvelous pastries, both sweet and savory. Locals know that you can have anything in Buenos Aires delivered—from fresh chicken breasts to empanadas, meat-filled pastries—but Avenida Corrientes is an easy place to sample BA’s baked wonders for yourself. At the Havana store, you can buy neatly packaged boxes of the national sweet, alfajores, to take back home, but make it a point to sample fresh-baked alfajores and a variety of empanadas at one of the many bakeries on the Avenida. In its basic form, an alfajor is two buttery cookies sandwiching a sweet filling. There are as many different types of alfajores as there are Argentines: some are coated with chocolate, others with powdered sugar; some are cake-like and others crisp. Fillings vary from the classic dulce de leche (milk caramel) to raspberry jam.
BA also boasts excellent artisanal ice cream. Sample some of the city’s finest at Volta Heladeria on Avenida Callao in the microcentro. My Porteno friend advised me to select one fruit flavor, such as maracuja (passion fruit) or strawberry, and one sweet flavor such as dulche de leche granizado, a local favorite, or chocolate. Between alfajores and sorvete, BA has anyone’s sweet tooth covered.
Tigre and the Rio Parana
A day trip to the Rio Parana delta is a perfect addition to your Buenos Aires itinerary and a welcome break from the city. A short and scenic ride on the Tren de la Costa through some of the ritzy suburbs of Buenos Aires takes you to Tigre, the gateway to the delta region in outer Buenos Aires. Catch the Tren de la Costa at the Bartolome Mitre train station (Tren Buenos Aires) in Olivos, a suburb about 30 minutes from the Retiro train station in downtown.
From Tigre, you can wander along the riverfront through the town and visit the elegant Museo del Arte Tigre. Originally built as a social club in 1912, the museum is housed in an Italian-French-style mansion, graced with Doric columns, arches, and turrets, and is a National Historic Landmark. You can also board a water taxi, or lancha, for a ride up the river.
The lanchas are used by tourists as well as residents, who live on small islands scattered throughout the delta region that have no road access. The islands boast everything from plain cabins to modern homes and Victorian mansions, some in dramatic states of disrepair, making for a fascinating ride.
The land along the river is not open to the public, so if you want to get off the boat and walk around and explore the delta, you’ll need to purchase a paseo (tour) at the Tigre boat launch. It’s best to book a tour that includes lunch, preferably Argentine barbecue (parilla). Make sure to check launch times with tour vendors to ensure your timely return to Tigre to catch the train back to BA.
My Porteno host had called ahead and booked us a tour at Delta Aventura Bonanza, a little over an hour upriver. When we arrived, our lunch was being grilled on the outdoor brick barbecue. Fifteen minutes later, we sat in the quaint dining room of the property’s 1898 red brick house. The casera brought a small charcoal grill to our table, upon which sizzled the parilla: sirloin steak, chorizo sausage, chicken, and short ribs. The meat was flavorful and well-cooked, accompanied by a chimichurri sauce that exploded with flavor, and was so delicious so that we had to ask for seconds and thirds. You’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic parilla in the region.
After lunch, coffee, and a luscious dessert of poached pears and strawberries with cream, we had a pleasant and easy stroll around the property, on levees and through jungles of bamboo and ironwood. I was loth to leave the beautiful delta region, but for the promise of home-delivered empanadas and alfajores waiting for me back in the city.