Having been forced to take a detour around Uyuni, I was now on a plane from La Paz to Salta, Argentina. Northwestern Argentina is known for being beautiful to drive through with its desert like landscapes. Unfortunately, I missed out on that by taking this flight to avoid being held at gunpoint in Uyuni, but I guess I wasn’t trying to make this trip more dangerous than it already was turning out to be.
Salta is a small city in the northwestern part of Argentina that is a good stop when on a multi-stop roadtrip in the region. It has beautiful architecture, as seen in the cathedrals above, and is deeply traditional. If you want to see true small-town west Argentina, Salta is without a doubt a good choice.
As part of the whole traditional gig, it’s quite the visit to Mercado San Miguel, where there’s wholesale sales of coca leaves and various other spices. I’m pretty sure you can buy large quantities of coca leaves here, which makes me wonder what people use it for…. Aside from that, you get to see life in motion at this market, especially early in the morning when people come to grab breakfast within the market.
What really made Salta stick out for me was the rich variety of food options that are renowned to have come from West Argentina. The Pancho (hotdog) isn’t one of them, I think, but they’re an interesting street snack. You start out with a regular hot dog, maybe slightly longer, and then you go to a full on buffet bar of sauces and toppings, where you can pile anything from corn to salsa to ham bits onto your Pancho. This can be found in Buenos Aires too but I just found it a lot more common in Salta.
Of course, you can’t go to Salta and not have empanadas, the Argentian version of saltenas, which are smaller but for some reason, tastier. They say that Salta has the best empanadas in the country, so I went and sampled a few from different stores. These puffed pastries make great snacks and are just an explosion of flavors.
The city is walkable so you don’t really need to use cabs other than to get to the airport, but even then they have accessible buses. It’s also very safe, so you can go out at night to some of the best traditional bars with folk music for an unique experience.
Salta was a pretty decent one-day trip on the way between Bolivia and Buenos Aires, and it gives you a good small town contrast to the big giant of BA.
Buenos Aires is a capital city, in every sense of the word. It has a metropolitan center, large busy roads, famous restaurants and lots of interesting districts. I definitely enjoyed my time in BA, as it’s affectionately called, but there’s not an immediate sense that you’re in Argentina or that you’re in South America. I quickly learnt through the city tour that a lot of this has to do with the fact that the first group of people were infatuated with the French to the point that they built most of their cities modeled around European cities. In fact, BA was a largely an immigrant city for most of its history. Of course, when you’re in BA, you’ll definitely spend some time walking or driving on the largest urban road in the world – Avenida 9 de Julio, which runs through the centre. It has 7 lanes in each direction, and it’s quite the sight when it’s busy.
Of course, when you’re on the road, you’ll also come across the Obelisco, which is right in the centre. It’s quite the phallic sight, and commemorates the fourth centenary of the first stone laid in the city. I’m personally not a fan of obelisks, but I guess this is a pretty famous part of the city.
I don’t know if it’s the fault of the walking tour company I was with (FreeWalks) but Buenos Aires’s early history wasn’t very captivating because it isn’t based on a lot of grand gestures or ideological shifts. It’s essentially a story of a rich establishment that had its way and its eventual erosion. It’s modern history is a lot more interesting though, and speaks volumes of the kinds of people in Argentina and the issues they have to navigate. Stuff like the Falkland wars are the exciting blips in history that make you peer a bit closer. This clocktower was given by the British actually, and resembles the Big Ben. It’s called the Torre Monumental, and after the Falkland wars was vandalized and damaged by locals. Just goes to show how different signals can be sent the by same building as time changes.
What’s really cool about BA is not really in the main squares however, and more in the districts. San Telmo is one of my favorite districts, where dockworkers and other industrialists used to work, making this the essential heart of local life. The district has a strong bohemian vibe and houses many excellent restaurants and bars. It is home to a lot of beautiful street art and is where you go for professional tango shows. San Telmo was like taking a walk though a photogenic neighborhood. I highly recommend a couple of hours to explore this area.
Another interesting neighborhood to explore is La Boca, which is all the way southeast, near the docks. La Boca is home to a lot of Italian influence, mainly because of the influx of immigrants from Genoa who stayed here. It’s known as the colorful part of the city, for good reason. It’s painted in bright exciting colors, and make for great pictures. La Boca is known for being mainly dangerous outside of Caminito where the tourist area is, so I’d advise being cautious if exploring out of the main streets or late in the day. I personally did both, but I was with another male so I didn’t feel as unsafe.
One of the things to definitely try to catch is an outdoor Tango show that happens spontaneously in Caminito. Tango is known as originating from BA, and was thought of as a dirty, lower class dance. Now it’s seen as a cultural essential and people flock to watch the shows in the city. You can catch it for free here!
Spend some time in the Recoleta Cemetery, which is in the rich upper-class part of the city. The whole of Recoleta is populated with beautiful rich buildings, and the cemetery was meant to provide the same level of comfort to the rich when they died. They’re mini mansions, and each “grave” costs millions. You’ll find mostly aristocrat graves here, but there’s also the famous grave of Evita who many Argentinians adore as a woman for the people. It serves a good reminder of the level of inequality in BA.
Around Recoleta is also the Floralis Generica, a giant metal flower that was gifted by the famous architect Catalano. It opens up at dawn and closes at dusk, so definitely try to catch it at either time as it’s in motion.
If you have time, make your way to El Ateneo as well, which is a bookstore that’s housed in an old theatre. It’s known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and once you walk in, you definitely get why. The cafe is also housed on the stage, so you can grab a coffee there.
Buenos Aires has a lot of good food, both as an international city and a place of good local cuisine. One thing that you get best from BA is its pizza, known even as Argentinian Pizza, because of its adaptation from the recipes of the Genoans who immigrated. Pizzeria Guerrin is my go to, and I wanted to go back for more slices. The interesting slice is the Fugguzza, which is basically an onion pizza on white sauce, but there are also versions with ham and cheese.
Of course, what does it mean to go to Buenos Aires or Argentina and not eat a lot of meat? I had so many different cuts of steak and ribs and other things while here, and I never got sick of it. At Gran Parilla Del Plata, you can get amazing portions for good value, even though it’s also known as one of the best parillas (steakhouses) in the city by the locals. One of the things I’d definitely recommend trying is the offal platter, which comes with intestines, kidneys, blood sausages and even sweetbread (the thryoid gland). This was what the poorer communities ate in BA, because grilling was universal, but it’s so good when done well.
I also ate regular cuts of meat, including these short ribs, known as asado. Across the board, meat in the city is incredibly affordable and so well done. I was spoilt from the get go.
After your meal, try getting ice cream, especially Dulce de Leche which is a local favorite.
Buenos Aires is a fun city, and at night, you can go out to both traditional clubs/bars as well as local tango bars. I was here on Christmas and got to see magnificent fireworks on midnight going into Christmas, launched not so much by the city but by random people. There’s two main groups that launch fireworks: local Argentians and the Chinese immigrant community, and they tend to have a competition which was really cool to watch.
For hostels, I stayed at Rayuela Hostel, which I cannot recommend enough. It’s conveniently accessible and the staff are very helpful. They host a weekly BBQ, and we had ours on Christmas Eve which sweet Argentian wine (a lot of it in fact).
For SIM Cards, I recommend getting one from Personal, but as with most South American cities, go to their local HQ and get it set up there because it can get very tricky, especially if you don’t know Spanish like I do. Personal has good coverage across Argentina.
ATMs in BA charge hefty transaction fees for foreign cards, so exchange money before coming in or front-load your withdrawals. Aside from that, the blue dollar isn’t much of a thing anymore so don’t worry about the scares about inflation etc. that used to be valid.
Uber is convenient and available, but the costs add up. Public transportation though is very accessible and well connected so I’d encourage using it as much as you can. Most hostels have travel passes you can rent to use on public transport.
I want to thank Linus, who was such a good friend and resource on this trip. He provided a lot of good recommendations and even gave me a starter’s pack to the history and context of BA. I’m glad I managed to catch up with this friend from Singapore and have some good conversations on topics back home. Thanks bro.
The trip goes on its last leg, as I make my way to Sao Paolo in Brazil. All my Spanish that I had picked up will become useless as I quickly realize Portugese is the language of use here…