We spent about a week in the beautiful Buenos Aires over New Years 2020 and were quite happy with our choice. BA is a very festive city with plenty to do over an entire week, even over a holiday.
For ideas on where to visit before Buenos Aires, please read our post: Eight Days in Uruguay (Over Christmas).
- Money: In Argentina, foreigners do not pay the IVA tax on hotels IF they pay with a foreign credit card. However, in at least one case, we were requested to pay cash and still not charged the IVA tax. This is a conversation to have with your hotel upon check-in.
- Money: At the time of our visit, the best exchange rate we found was Western Union, who offered nearly the “blue dollar” rate. To explain concisely, the Argentinian economy is not doing well. Historically, the country has made efforts to match the value of the peso with the US dollar, which did not work out for various reasons. As a result, the US dollar has become a hot commodity! There is a bank rate (one you’ll get if you use your credit card…at this time around 60 pesos/dollar) and then there’s the blue dollar rate (what people are actually willing to exchange for dollars…Western Union gave us 75 pesos/dollar). Pro Tip: Not all locations listed as a Western Union agency will actually give international customers cash. Go to the Pago Facil/Western Union locations. We learned this the hard way…
- Transport: For easy transport around town, Uber is available Buenos Aires. However, most Uber drivers don’t want to wait the amount of time it takes for credit cards to process and prefer cash. Before we learned this, we were rejected for rides over and over. Once we set our payment to cash (yes it is an option in the app), we had no problems getting rides.
Safety: We were anxious about getting robbed in Buenos Aires based on all the web discussion we found. In fact, we witnessed two people getting robbed in broad daylight! We did not get robbed, but you should be VERY aware of your surroundings and your belongings. In our case, we witnessed an organized group of teenage boys grabbing bags and phones out of people’s hands in Puerto Madero.
We are not a paid sponsor for this company or anything, but we have found Skyroam to be a very useful device while traveling abroad. This company provides internet service via satellite and has worked nearly everywhere we’ve traveled. They have daily and monthly plans, but also ways to pay per use. For our long term travel in South America, we paid $99/mo for unlimited service.
In Argentina, we stopped seeing 2-prong American outlets, so be sure to bring a converter. We use a universal converter and have found it helpful no matter where we travel.
10:00am Ferry to Buenos Aires
11:45am Arrive in Buenos Aires/Uber to Howard Johnson Hotel
12:00pm Check In
5:30pm El Zanjon Tour
6:30pm Dinner in San Telmo Mercado
We began our day in Colonia, Uruguay, from where we took the Buquebus ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires. The process is very similar to boarding a plane. You have to get there two hours early, can check your luggage, and (since you’re transporting between two countries) go through immigration. The 1.5 hour ferry ride itself was nothing spectacular without decks, views, or functioning Wifi.
Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, we had already lost a good portion of the day and wanted to get started on our visit right away; however, we were having difficulty getting an Uber! A car would be assigned and they would reject us. This is when we asked our friend Google and learned that the BA Uber drivers prefer cash (which we didn’t have yet). Eventually, a nice young man picked us up and took us to the Howard Johnson on 9 de Julio (the widest street in the world!). The room was only okay, but look at these views from the open windows!
After settling in, we took off for the center of town: the Plaza Mayo (pronounced Masho in Argentina). This plaza is the beating heart of the city, home to the Casa Rosada (like the local White House…but Pink House) and where any protests or gatherings occur, like the Mothers, who have been meeting in the plaza with white scarves since 1977 demanding answers to their missing children during the military dictatorship. We tried to visit the Casa Rosada, but the website said they were not doing tours at this time (they have recently had a change in president that was not exactly…smooth).
Also in the plaza is the Museo de Cabildo, a free history museum housed in the original colonial legislative building.
For the remainder of the afternoon, we wandered the streets in the local vicinity, full of pedestrian walkways, statues, and views to get a feel for the city.
We had wanted to go to Cafe Tortoni for churros con chocolate, the city’s oldest restaurant, but the line outside looked WAY too long, so we found the empty but delicious Museo de Jamon for a late lunch and traditional desserts.
Once our sweet tooth was satisfied, we crossed into the famous San Telmo neighborhood for some more history with an English guided tour at El Zanjon, a former manion turned tenement turned museum, where you can tour the old tunnels that used to divert the now dried up rivers through the city below. We learned quote a bit of history on this tour and highly recommend it.
After our tour, we walked just down the street to the picturesque San Telmo market for some very yummy food! There are MANY restaurants to choose from.
New Year’s Eve
10:30am Leave to Meet Bike Tour
11:00am Bike Tour
4:00pm Buy Food and Drink/Return to Hotel/Relax
9:00pm NYE Dinner at Hotel
We were delighted to find out that not everything closes on New Year’s Eve. We did spend a luxurious morning in our hotel before meeting up for a city bike tour with Biking Buenos Aires, a company we HIGHLY recommend. We were especially excited that we were the only two on the tour and got to ask Marcelo, our terrific and well informed guide, all our questions!
Buenos Aires is perfect for biking with multiple pedestrian streets as well as ample bike lanes throughout the city. However, this tour wasn’t only about biking; we made several stops. First, we stopped in the Plaza Dorrego to learn how to prepare and consume mate and alfajores, very traditional Argentinian treats.
After our snack, we rode through San Telmo to the old port and were able to explore the vivacious (if touristy) area on foot. Marcelo explained that the lively colors of the neighborhood hailed back to its early history, when it was constructed out of whatever materials the original immigrant inhabitants could find, including whatever paint cans they could find.
We also learned about the famous sultry tango dance that originated in this neighborhood. Apparently, it was originally a dance between two men competing over the limited number of prostitutes available at the time! Reuben got a lesson!
Since we also had some extra time, Marcelo (who also leads a graffiti tour) showed us some of his favorite artists and provided a 101 version of Buenos Aires graffiti art (including the history of the Mothers mentioned in day one).
We also visited La Boca and the Juniors’ Soccer (futbol) staduim. Our favorite part was learning about the tradition of drinking fernet colas to lead up the big game!
Next, we visited Puerto Madero, where we feasted on bondiola (pork) sandwiches and hibiscus water before riding alongside the beautiful Ecological Reserve, closed because it rained the day before.
We wrapped up our tour with a ride back across the port with views of the Puente de la Mujer and a history lesson on its controversial past (its inauguration in 2001 was the same day as a MAJOR protest in the city…).
Though the bike ride was tame, we still needed to rest up before staying up until midnight (in a city that only starts to party around midnight), so we returned to the room for a siesta. Our big plan was to spend NYE at our hotel, who had planned a party with a set menu and rooftop celebration viewing the fireworks. It was a lovely night and perfect for non-party folks like us!
New Year’s Day
Wander to the Ample Green Spaces!
8:00pm Steaks by Luis
We actually began our morning with an early run through the city expecting to find tons of trash, but it was fairly limited to the Puerto Madero area, where there was clearly a very large party (and even at 10:00am, some party-goers were still rockin’ on…).
Though much of the city was closed on New Year’s Day, the ample green spaces are always available for pedestrians looking for something to do.
No visit to Buenos Aires is complete without a trip to Recoleta Cemetery, a labyrinth of mausoleums from a bygone era, including the more-than-famous Evita Peron, whose grave one has to line up to get a glimpse of.
After visiting the city of the dead, you’re very close to several other Recoleta area green spaces, including the Paseo el Rosedal, a lovely space with a large collection of roses, water features, and bridges.
After our strolling, we returned to our hotel room for a siesta (we’re getting the hang of the nap thing) before prepping to go out for a fancy dinner!
We found Steaks by Luis because we wanted a fancy-ish New Year’s experience and are VERY glad we went. Luis runs a private restaurant, which only opens by reservation to a limited number of people each night. When you show up, there is no name even listed on the door, only once you’re inside. But Luis greets you and is very fun (as you can see!).
Luis walks you through the five courses and the wine pairings before you are invited to make yourself at home and tuck in! The best part of the night was meeting and socializing with the three other couples (not pictured somehow). We kind of forgot we were at a restaurant and fell into friendship….so the asado experience felt very authentic!
10:00am Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
11:30am Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo/Lunch
3:30pm Museo Evita
5:00pm Dinner/Uber Back to Hotel/Rest
9:00pm Airbnb Tango Experience
All the major museums in Buenos Aires are in the same area, Recoleta, and not too far apart so you can spend the day exploring history and art.
Our first stop on “museum” day was the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a moderate sized collection of some diversity, including both local Argentine art and some masters like Picasso, Monet, Degas, and others. The line to get in was pretty long, so be prepared for a little wait.
Next up we visited the free Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, a diplomat’s mansion turned house museum. The collection inside is small, but the house is stunning and definitely worth a visit. They also have a cafe with patio seating for a lunch.
Next, we recommend a visit to the extensive MALBA, a museum dedicated specifically to the Latin American Art. There was also a very long line for this museum!
To wrap up our museuming, we visited the Museo Evita, all about Eva Peron’s rise from poverty to acting to serving as Argentina’s first lady. The museum features many of her various outfits as she progressed in her sadly short life and serves as a memorial to the nation’s most beloved philanthropist.
After all that looking at stuff, we were pretty beat, so we grabbed a simple milanesa dinner somewhere nearby before catching an Uber back to our hotel to rest up for our evening activity: an Airbnb Tango Experience! If you haven’t tried using Airbnb for experiences, you really should check it out. It’s a mish mash of regular tour companies offering (oftentimes cheaper) regular tourist attractions and just regular people offering you a little something special.
In this case, we met up with a man who just LOVES tango. We met at his apartment with several others to get a lesson in tango before heading out to an authentic, non-touristy tango club, or milonga.
9:00am Tigre Delta Biking and Kayak Tour w/Lunch
7:00pm Return to Hotel/Dinner
On our final day in Buenos Aires, we wanted to get out of the city a little and decided on an active day tour to the Tigre Delta with Biking Buenos Aires, the same company we took the city tour with. Pro Tip: If you book a second tour, they give you a discount!
We began by meeting up at a shop in Palermo then starting a 30 km ride out to Tigre! In case that intimidates you, there was also the option to ride the train partway, but our group of four was interested in riding the full way.
Of course, we stopped along the way for mate and views of the Rio de la Plata!
Once in Tigre, we explored the port market a little but nearly immediately got outfitted for kayaks. The little town was so cute, if not on a bike tour, it’s worth the short 40 minute train ride from the city for a day trip.
The Tigre Delta is full of small islands accessible only by boat. Some people live there year round but it’s also a popular summer and weekend getaway. We kayaked for about an hour through the canals to a riverside beach and cafe where we we fed an enormous amount of meat barbecue!
After filling up, we kayaked back to shore then took the train back to Buenos Aires!