Why Buenos Aires is our Favorite World-Class Latin American City
We have not yet visited all of Latin America’s largest cities, but we have been to many–Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Rio, Lima, Quito and Santiago. Although we were awed by Mexico City’s history and by Rio’s magnificent scenery, social life (especially the over-the-top week of Carnival celebrations) and beaches (while we are certainly not beach people, even we can’t help but to be impressed by them), we feel almost at home in Buenos Aries.
We feel generally safe, comfortable and in control in Buenos Aires. We appreciate the European-style architecture and accommodations, and especially the European-like sensibilities and amenities. There are cafes–often many–on virtually every street, public art and murals, bookstores and magazine kiosks everywhere. And this is not to mention all the incredible patisseries, the ubiquitous flower stands and fresh produce stores.
City Walks and People
Buenos Aires is also a great walking city. It is organized around a grid and street numbering is a consistent navigational tool across the city (as in Chicago). It is loaded with beautiful (especially French-inspired) buildings, inviting cafes and restaurants and all types of enticing shops.
More importantly, Portenos (Buenos Aries residents) are very helpful and seem to have a very European appreciation of a life and its joys. In these traits, however, they appear, from our admittedly very limited experience, to fall a bit behind Cariocas (residents of Rio). Although both were very happy to help, Cariocas (at least during Carnival) seemed more willing to proactively ask people who were struggling to look at maps if they could help (we were, however, generally more confused in Rio). People in Rio also stopped us to suggest ways to make ourselves less susceptible to thieves (less conspicuous displays of maps, carrying packs in front of us, rather than on our backs and so forth) and, as discussed in our Central Rio bog, one man even offered to take us on a three-hour guided tour of some of his favorite places in the city.
And, during the one week we spent in Rio, the residents absolutely and overtly expressed more spontaneity and joy. This, however, was not much of a comparison. After all, I can’t think of anything that is as spontaneity and joy-inducing as Carnival week!
Reservations and Futures
Do we have reservations about Buenos Aries? Of course, but, as Sinatra says about regrets (in “My Way”) we have “almost too few to mention.” This being said, we would love to see more street signs and would love for more drivers to at least acknowledge the existence of, if not necessarily the rights of pedestrians.
And speaking of getting around, we do have one big regret which we blame primarily on ourselves. Although we will walk cities every chance we get (we can think of no better way to see or earn a city), some distances are too long or times too short. In these cases, we usually prefer to take subways to taking cabs. Rio’s subways were very easy to navigate and used. When our Buenos Aries maps showed nothing of the subway system, we asked our hotel. They said the city’s subways were inconvenient and difficult to use and recommended that we use plentiful, convenient, and relatively inexpensive cabs. Although the cabs certainly are all of these things, we regret not even exploring or trying to use the subway system.
Our greatest reservation, however, is based not on the city itself, but on the government of the country. Argentina seems to have a long-term predilection for playing fast and loose with economic laws and fiscal discipline. Its current administration is no exception. Not only are the government’s own financial statistics suspect, but it has now made it a crime for non-governmental Argentinean companies to publish competitive data. Independent sources now estimate that the country is understating the inflation rate by half. One such organization, The Economist Group, recently decided to stop publishing “official” Argentinean government statistics in favor of those from an independent, non-Argentinean, third-party firm.
Number One, But…
While we may have some concerns and reservations about Buenos Aries, our feelings about any city are, in the end, based primarily on our desire to return. Other factors notwithstanding, we are more likely to return to Buenos Aires before we return to Rio or any other South American city to which we have been. Still, we don’t expect to return to either city in the immediate future. Our next stop is likely to come in one of two ways: either as a bracket to a trip to Antarctica, or possibly as an extension of trip to Colombia. Neither trip, however, is likely for a couple of years. To put things into perspective, although Buenos Aires is certainly our favorite Latin American city, even it does not come close to our world favorites–cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, London, Paris or Sydney–not to speak of our home city of San Francisco.
See our detailed perceptions of Buenos Aires, Rio, Santiago Chile and other South American cities at our blog’s South American section at activeboomeradventures.com/category/travel/destinations/south-america/.