Buenos Aires overview

Spontaneous, chaotic, beautiful: Buenos Aires is a truly thrilling city

Buenos Aires overview The colourful Caminito, Buenos Aires - © iStockphoto.com/Nikada
By Daniel Neilson

In his poem, 'The Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires', Argentina's prodigal son, the writer Jorge Luis Borges, wrote 'Hard to believe Buenos Aires had any beginning/I feel it to be as eternal as air and water'.

As Argentina approaches its bicentennial anniversary in 2010, it is hard to wander the streets of its capital Buenos Aires and imagine that, with the exception of La Boca, San Telmo and some of downtown, all the city was fields 200 years ago.

In two centuries of independence, porteños, as the city's residents are called, have developed some strong characteristics. They are gregarious, occasionally melancholy yet endlessly welcoming. It is likely that an impromptu chat or drink with a talkative resident will stay in your memory long after you've relegated your photo of the Casa Rosada to the bottom drawer and forgotten your tango steps.

Buenos Aires, you see, is not a city to visit, but a city to live in. That is not to suggest that everyone should quit their jobs, sell up and move to Argentina's capital, but those who come should, whether visiting for three days or three months, take time to live like porteños. Be sure to visit the sites, take amusing perspective shots of the Obelísco, and watch a cheesy tango show, but also spend hours in coffee shops mulling over a novel, cheer along with fanatics at a football game, chat for hours after your steak dinner and stay up until dawn, partying with BA's carefree and beautiful young crowd. This is how to get under the skin of an utterly, and wonderfully, beguiling city.

Through its chaotic and frenetic exterior, you will see that much of the city is beautiful, with grandiose buildings, world-class art galleries, fine restaurants and a thriving fashion industry. Yet those who come with the wince-inducing 'Paris of the South' tag in mind will be disappointed (if that's your bag, we suggest Paris). Buenos Aires, despite the occasional European pretence, is undoubtedly a Latin city, as anyone who takes time to explore neighbourhoods, such as Once and Retiro, will discover. Like every other city in Latin America, it still has major problems with inequalities of wealth.

Buenos Aires is unpredictable. Sometimes frustratingly so, but more often thrillingly so. You never know what's around the next corner: a spontaneous tango display, a flash mob from BA's exciting theatre scene, a free concert by one of the world's leading artists, or maybe another protest.

This is why we adore Buenos Aires, and why we know you will too.

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