After hiking Patagonia for two weeks, my wife and I finished our South American jaunt recently by overnighting in one of its greatest cities—Buenos Aires. Our first time there, we did what any tourist would do in an attempt to see as much as possible in only 27 hours before our scheduled flight home.
Specifically, we booked a five-hour bicycle tour, reserved a room in the coolest part in town, and sought out as much tango, grilled meats, drive-by culture and caffeine-rich mate that we could find. This is what I learned from the short-lived but invigorating experience.
It is the fourth largest in the Americas, in fact, after Sao Paulo, Mexico City, and New York. As we approached our landing one golden afternoon, I was struck by the the amount of sprawl we were heading into. Similar to Sao Paulo and seemingly more than even New York in my experience. But when crisscrossing its streets, this botanical port city feels a lot more like Boston than the aforementioned giants. It’s also more colorful, warm and soothingly lined with inviting palm trees and European architecture.
Over the last five years, city officials have reportedly installed over 100 miles of bike lanes. We rode many of these lanes on a guided “heart of the city” tour with Biking Buenos Aires and never felt unsafe. Since the city is flat, we zoomed through the more interesting neighborhoods with ease, stopping for lunch (included) at the scrumptious Mi Sueno sandwich truck in Parque de Mujeres and finishing in the tourist-packed La Boca (pictured) for knick-knack shopping and street tango. As long as you steer clear of the notorious Villa 31 slum, I can’t imagine a better way to feel the pulse of the city.
Of all the neighborhoods we visited, including the popular Palermo, Puerto Madero was my favorite. This remodeled shipyard is brimming with shops, locals, parks and restaurants and can be enjoyed both day and night. To get the most from the area and its iconic footbridge, we stayed at the chic but reasonable Hilton Buenos Aires and enjoyed its clean design, artistic atrium and towering in-room windows. As a bonus, its in-house restaurant (El Faro) served us the best meal we enjoyed during our entire stay on the continent: chorizo sausage with provoleta (aka sauteed provolone), melt-in-your-mouth lamb, lime sweet bread with egg noodles, and passion fruit mousse with pistachio cookies.
When limiting your travels to meet other personal obligations, you’ll often encounter the following reaction from locals or anyone who’s already visited your stated destination: “Oh, that’s not enough time!” While that’s certainly true in this and other cases, my enthusiastic response to this observation is always the same wherever I go: “I’ll take what I can get!”
In a short amount of time, I’m happy to report that Buenos Aires gave me a lot. After visiting it, I can see why it regularly ranks as Latin America’s “most liveable city.” I understand why it receives tourists from all over the world, more than any other South American city. Given its wide range of amenities and urban adventure, not to mention its hybrid culture of European and Latin American vibes, I know why it’s such a beloved place.
Lead photo courtesy of Buenos Aires Tourism
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him @blakesnow