Buenos Aires is a slight anomaly in South America and it boasts the most divergent personality of all the Latin metropolises.
Here are the cliches and the must-dos that differentiate Buenos Aires as a global city distinct from any other.
It’s a great name for a steakhouse and a BA speciality. Nowhere else in South America has such a culture built around cattle.
This extends to the country ranches found on the outskirts of the city, spread more widely through Argentina. They even have a name for their cowboys – the gaucho. It’s all to do with the terrain of Argentina.
The topography is mainly pampas, flat stretches of land ideal for cattle. Unlike their neighbours, there are no dense rainforest tracts to contend with. This means the steak is plentiful, and the dining institutions have made grilling steak a fine art.
Called parrillas, the meat speaks for itself with a Latin element found in the chimichurri, a tangy relish that uses Latin flavour. Wash it down with a local Malbec, also a product of Argentinian topography, and as rich a red as you could hope for when pairing with steak.
Clubbing… at 3 am
Don’t even think about not experiencing the BA nightlife. We had to have a disco nap at 11 pm but the city is alarmingly wide awake and raring to go in the small hours.
Dinner is eaten at eleven, drinks are had, and then clubs are hit. It’s ideal if you have jetlag. But there was a plethora of red bull and energy drinks being swigged, so perhaps they’re all just as tired as we would be.
After dancing until 6 am, you’ll arrive back at the hotel for breakfast and then settle in for a daytime kip. No wonder they have an instituted siesta here.
There’s a reason why Buenos Aires has been compared to Paris, and it’s a reference that stands. Recoleta is the neighbourhood that was designed to resemble the world’s most beautiful city.
Cast iron grates and balconies on windows, as well as ﬁne pale stonework and steep-grey eaves all look very Parisian.
The Colon Opera House is a great example of this style of homage design. The street lamps are copycats too, being a trio of tall black shaded lanterns.
One way to stay awake until dinner at 11 and dancing at 3 am is to dance your way to 11 pm. Milongas open a little earlier and they are tango dance halls.
The dancers performing the tango are on their A game and take this performance art as seriously as they do sensually. It’s a battle of seduction, quick steps and scissoring. The eye contact and body language make it one of the most intimate dances you can watch.
This may sound a little morbid, but it turns out to be uplifting. Why? Well, the cemetery feels oddly lived in and cared for. Locals still visit their loved ones in vaults that have tiny underground rooms where generations of family members are buried.
The design of the graves are a creative masterpiece, with stone angels and plaques heralding the afterlife. Each imposing statue seems to reach for the heavens, and every grave is distinct.
Then there is the community of cats that pace and curl and pounce throughout the avenues of the cemetery. We count close to 40 in one visit.
You’ll also ﬁnd the grave of Eva Peron – or Evita. Be sure to watch Madonna’s biopic of Peron pre-departure.
This neighbourhood characterises itself as Italian. Immigrants arrived from 1830 onwards and set about making this area as passionate and colourful as Italy itself.
It is famous for having a fanatical following of its football team, with the stadium a mecca for anyone who appreciates sport – but more than that – the camaraderie and fandom that sport can create.
The crowd gets very riled up, just as you’d expect in a Latin American setting. There’s also brightly painted houses, which are a photographic icon of the city.
We won’t reveal them, but the locals sure will. BA has a culture of hidden-away bars, restaurants and speakeasies, not to mention street art.
But the thrill is in ﬁnding them. We visited a restaurant and bar hidden down a staircase from a nondescript ﬂorist. That’s enough information to Google with.
And now there’s also one hidden within the cover of an antique shop, with gipsy jazz, warehouse high ceilings and a very cool aesthetic – it’s an old railway tunnel.
Just an hour beyond the city limits, traditional ranches have polo for all comers. It doesn’t even matter if you can’t ride a horse.
First, you are taught how to manoeuvre a mallet, and then comes the saddle mount.
By the end of a half-day, including a traditional smokey barbecue lunch, you’ll have played a game (at amateur level, it must be said) before watching how the professionals do it.