European elegance, stylish hotels, cafe culture, avant-garde galleries, and a slew of designers and musicians are transforming Buenos Aires into South America’s coolest metropolis. Savor the city that’s sizzling again.
“Close your eyes; relax; listen to your body and feel the rhythm,” my tango teacher, Camila Villamil, tells me as I try to master my first tango steps. I don’t know how to stop staring at my feet or worrying about my posture, but Villamil’s soft voice and firm embrace magically take me to a place I never knew existed. “Tango,” she explains, “happens when you let the music sweep you away.”
It doesn’t take long before I fall under the spell of tango and the city that gave birth to its seductive moves. Just like its famous dance, Buenos Aires is sexy yet traditional, fast and furious, graceful and spontaneous. It is sometimes playful and sometimes dramatic, but always sensual and passionate.
An electrifying mix of Europe and Latin America, laid-back and fast-paced, the Argentinean capital is as hot as ever, buzzing and thriving thanks to sophisticated new hotels, innovative restaurants and a flourishing fashion scene spanning its colorful barrios.
Paris, Madrid and Rome all have contributed to the culture of Buenos Aires, making their mark on its food, fashion and elegant architecture. But even with its grand avenues, bustling streets and colonial facades, the great city is undoubtedly Latin, with relaxed afternoons at overflowing cafes, endless glasses of Malbec, that ever-sultry tango and an equally seductive collection of exciting hotels.
Because all Buenos Aires neighborhoods are different, it’s worth staying in a few areas to experience the city’s diversity. Fancy hotels hidden within its most exclusive and eclectic areas guarantee intimacy and excellent service. But whether you’re after a designer, high-on-luxury option or trendy boutique hotel, choices are a plenty, touting style and unique touches as well as an amazing value for what you get.
In the designer category, Faena Hotel+Universe (from $429 per night) offers over-the-top luxury and seductive opulence in sleek Puerto Madero. The brainchild of well-known Argentinean hotelier Alan Faena, who called upon the services of design legend Philippe Starck, this contemporary haven ups the ante for jet-setters and is a world of its own, with everything from the ’20s-inspired cabaret to its spacious spa featuring hammam baths to complimentary cellphones to carry around the property.
The lobby affords an always-entertaining scene—as does the chic pool area with alfresco dining known for its glamorous parties that start at sundown during the summer months and don’t stop until 3am—before moving on to the Library Lounge. Of the hotel’s exceptional restaurants, the all-blanc El Bistro serves a mix of European and South American cuisines; El Mercado plates rustic Argentinean fare; while El Cabaret presents contemporary cuisine—and the best tango show in Buenos Aires. The rooms scream sexy, with silver lion-paw baths, white leather swan chairs, luxurious sleigh beds, faux-fur blankets, red velvet curtains and glass-enclosed bathrooms.
Make time for the Faena Spa, which connects to the hotel via bridge, and offers far more than just facials and massages—it’s a spiritual spa with requisite renewals such as Pranic healing, crystal therapy, chakra alignment and free daily meditation on offer. And, for those desiring, there’s freshly squeezed green juices and a vegan menu available.
Find the boutique Fierro Hotel (from $170 per night) in the fashionable Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. Intimate with just 27 rooms, it is light and modern with a small but popular rooftop pool, terrace garden and gourmet restaurant. The beds are dreamy, with soft Egyptian cotton sheets, down pillows and blankets, and the decor combines wood, wool and bursts of red. The HG Restaurant is the hotel’s real standout, as its Executive Chef Hernán Gipponi came to the helm from stints at a pair of two-Michelin-star kitchens. Tasting menus are a staple here, and special dietary requirements are welcome. No wonder Fierro calls itself “the hotel for the gourmand visiting Buenos Aires.”
In the affluent Recoleta area, which hosts every luxury hotel, you can’t go wrong. Book a room with a butler at the iconic Alvear Palace Hotel (from $408 per night), known for its Louis XV-style furniture, marble accents and luxuriously gilded decor; or, rent out the entire Algodon Mansion ($7,200 per night for all 10 suites), a six-story belle epoque treasure where each guest receives a complimentary bottle of the mansion’s private-label wine. If looking for a serious value in the neighborhood, the Buenos Aires Grand Hotel (from $171 per night) is an elegant newcomer just a few blocks from great shopping. It features ample yet intimate rooms built with fine eco-friendly materials that give a touch of warm welcome.
After a day in B.A., fashion mavens would no doubt want to own some of the impeccable outfits porteños (Buenos Aires residents) wear. Shopping here is a lot of fun and, like everything else in the city, an art form. Be it a stunning leather jacket, an edgy pair of boots or the perfect black dress worn so well by willowy fashionistas here, knowing where to go to find these is a must.
Palermo’s trendy shopping streets are full of cutting-edge boutiques, rising-star designer shops and local name brands. San Telmo is the place to go for vintage finds and antiques as well as clothing with a bohemian vibe. Recoleta’s swanky malls like Patio Bullrich are stocked with high fashion and luxury brands. Everywhere, however, old and new are blended with twists into creative styles with hipster, elegant and cutting-edge elements.
Wander the shopping streets to discover your favorite designers, eclectic shops and trendy cafes.
Lose yourself in a maze of tombs and mausoleums at the Cementerio de la Recoleta, an astonishing necropolis in one of the most exclusive areas of Buenos Aires. Famous families and military heroes are laid to rest here in mini pantheons of various architectural styles. But most people come to see the burial place of the former fist lady of Argentina, Eva Perón. She is buried 22 feet underground in her family’s mausoleum, to prevent anyone from removing her body. Hire a local guide (or eavesdrop on someone else’s tour) to receive both a history lesson and political opinion, as the city is still divided over her controversial life and death.
Stroll Caminito Street on the edge of the working-class area of La Boca, and marvel at the brightly hued houses, ubiquitous tango dancers and the famous street art. If there’s time, take a walking tour led by Graffitimundo to learn more about the neighborhood.
No matter what you do in B.A., tango is the essence of life here, and you can see it on every street corner. The passion for tango lies in the very heart of porteños, and that’s why going to see a tango show is a must during your visit. The most extravagant place in the city is Rojo Tango at the Faena Hotel; it’s sexy and intimate, full of glamour and romance.
Better yet, take a private tango class from a local instructor to feel the magical force of the dance. I met Villamil, who introduced me to the tango moves, through experts at Blue Parallel. And if you make it to a milonga (tango salon) like La Viruta, which is popular among locals, don’t be intimidated by the agile octogenarians living and breathing as the stars of the show. Instead, remember what you learned, and then test your moves on the floor. Etiquette at these venues is important to understand: Men and women sit separately on two sides and invite a partner to dance via a complicated code of subtle nods and eyebrow twitches. Rather than fret, request an instructor of the opposite sex so you can simply enjoy the dance.
But be careful; you might fall in love. Villamil tells me that when she first started dancing tango, she thought she fell in love with her dance partner. “I had butterflies in my stomach every time,” she says. “But then I realized I was in love with tango, not him.” As I leave Buenos Aires, I feel in love with both tango and its city.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
You can fly out of either O’Hare or Midway with average round-trip ticket prices of $2,000 this month, with connecting
flights in Miami or Atlanta, depending on the airline.
Before traveling, you will need to pay a reciprocity fee. Valid for 10 years, it can be purchased online at provinciapagos.com.ar for $160. Check the U.S. State Department website (travel.state.gov) for additional requirements and things to consider before you go.
Taxis from the airport and around town are safe and easy to come by. Flagging one is as easy as if in London or New York.
U.S. dollars and credit cards are accepted in most places, but carry small change for cab rides, as many drivers refuse to give change for 100 pesos. Also, be aware that cross streets, roads and avenues in Buenos Aires can stretch for miles.
Knowing a few phrases in Spanish is helpful, especially when in taxis, stores and restaurants.