8 days in Buenos Aires – a backpackers guide

So we rock up to the Terminal Tres Cruces bus station in Montevideo, Uruguay. We’d bought a combination ticket online from Buquebus back in the UK before we left home and it was as easy as pie. The combination ticket costs US $65 (non flexible) which gets you onto a bus to colonia and then onto a ferry to Buenos Aires. All you need to do when you’re at the bus station is take your print out and passport to the Buquebus desk so they can give you another print out and off you go. Head onto the bus which is a very comfortable one complete with USB chargers. The journey only takes a couple of hours and the bus literally drops you RIGHT in the ferry terminal so you cannot get lost. Follow the signs to the immigration and those with foreign passports will be sent to two separate desks. No biggie – all they ask you is where are you staying in Buenos Aires? Even when you tell them they don’t have a care in the world and just say yes and stamp you in. You’ll be sent into a huge waiting area until boarding. The Buquebus ferries are massive! They have hundreds of seats and standing areas. There’s also a huge outside deck and restaurants. Probably the best part is the duty free shop: for all you Brits out there they even sell Badger ales amongst other gems! The shop takes numerous currencies (card and cash) and bottles of beer cost just 70pence. The ferry is extremely slow but only takes about an hour and 40.

Up on the top deck at sunset
British badger ales on board!

Arriving into Buenos Aires at night was pretty cool. Huge high rise buildings adorned with lights dominate the skyline. As we exited the ferry terminal we found the nearest taxi. The Buquebus terminal really doesn’t have a lot in it, not even a cash machine/ATM. Make sure you either arrive with Argentinian Pesos or US dollars. As we approached the first taxi we asked if they accepted dollars. (As if we needed to ask! More about this later!) we agreed on $15 dollars to our hotel. The taxi driver was extremely chatty and loved to talking to Jack about his rugby trip to Argentina 10 years ago and the one time it SNOWED there… crazy!

So we were majorly last minute when it came to booking our accommodation in Buenos Aires. Turns out hostels are always rammed there so make sure you book in advance. So we ended up booking 8 days in 3 separate places. Sometimes this can work really well. Hostels charge more for Friday and weekend days so it can be cheaper to split your cost in different places and also get last minute deals when the hostels try and sell off their rooms. We had huge success with this in Rio staying in multiple places as it gave us more of a feel of the city staying in different districts which were closer to certain tourist attractions.

Our first hostel was Elefante Rosa Hostel located in the Monserrat district. We chose the superior room mainly because I was obsessed with the decor. It was advertised as £30 per night. Before we arrived in Argentina we had done some research on how their tax situation works. We’d heard a few conflicting arguments. So it turns out that VAT is set as 21% in Argentina. 21% VAT is unbelievably high… tourists are in fact EXEMPT from this tax when booking accommodation. After reading this online we booked our accommodation with the set prices online in mind confident in the fact we wouldn’t need to pay the additional tax for ARGENTINIAN citizens. Our first experience of this complicated tax issue was so apparent when we checked into Elefante Rosa Hostel. The owner requested the full amount in US dollars from us upon arrival PLUS tax. He did not have a card machine. We soon realised that the only way we would be exempt from paying the tax would be using a foreign card. When then realised that hotels and hostels have purposely got rid of their card machines so the tourists DO pay the tax in cash. The only way tourists can claim back their paid VAT is from retailers that are part of the so called ‘Global Blue Argentina’ scheme. And guess what? No one appears to be part of it. In all honesty the minute this situation occurred in Buenos Aires I automatically felt quite let down and cheated in a way. The fact that all the official info online states that we wouldn’t need to pay the VAT and getting to the city and finding that hotel and business owners basically cheat the system annoyed me.

Anyways the Elefante Rosa Hostel was pretty beautiful- a split level New York style loft apartment. The place was filled with cool antiques and huge mirrors, just my sort of style. Despite the VAT issue I do 100% recommend staying here.

Extremely cool interiors at Elefante Rosa hotel: my first taste of Buenos Aires style

Our first proper day in Buenos Aires can only be described as abit of a disaster. We soon realised we were out of walking distance of any tourist attractions. We walked to the metro and realised we needed to buy a SUBE card for the metro. We still only had US dollars and there was no cash point or exchange desks in sight. So we walked. And walked. And walked. We walked for AGES. It was SO humid and we just couldn’t find anything. We couldn’t even buy water because NOWHERE took card. A huge tip for anyone visiting BA in the future: vendors taking card is VERY sparse. I couldn’t believe it actually. We were well aware it was to do with the VAT situation. We ended up walking all the way to Palmero and finally finding a cash machine. The cash machine cost us $177/£7 to withdraw cash. Absolutely extortionate!After some research online it seems all banks charge similar fees. So Palmero is a famous hipster district in the city. It was pretty cool. Expensive boutiques, street art and craft beer bars line the cobbled streets. We found a bar with a ‘craft beer tap map’ which located all the craft beer spots in the city we descended on a pub crawl until the early hours. The average price for a pint of beer was about $80 Pesos/£3. We also found decent tex mex food for the first time in age!

The next day we checked out of our hostel at 10am… yes 10am! So it turns out 10am is the regular time in Argentina for check out… we ordered an Uber (super easy to use in BA and YAY you can use card…). Our Uber driver turned up in a blacked out BMW and played Elton John tunes on full blast the entire journey. It was surreal to say the least! We arrived at our second hostel V&S Hostel Club. Before I go on with more complaints (stay with me it’s not all bad..) I will say I DO NOT recommend this place at all. V&S was located in the Centro area with easy walking distance to lots of top locations. When we arrived at V&S we were requested to CANCEL our booking through booking.com after paying ONCE AGAIN the full VAT in cash. We were asked numerous times to cancel the booking online so they could save money and not pay the tax… but we had paid it! How was this fair? We were furious at the system to be honest!

The day we checked in was a Sunday. We booked ourselves in for a tour online at the La Casa Rosada which is located at the Plaza De Mayo. They have free English tours every Saturday/Sunday and on public holidays at 10am and 12pm. You have to pre book online and can’t just show up. Also don’t forget to to bring your passport as identification to get in.
La Casa Rosada: The Pink House is the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina. The palatial mansion is known officially as Casa de Gobierno, (“House of Government” or “Government House”). Normally, the President lives at the official residence which is located in Olivos, BA.
The tour was pretty informative & the actual building could be compared to those in Paris or Italy. The ornate rooms were beautiful and the courtyard lined with palm trees and stained glass doors was a great spot for pics. The tour also takes you past he President’s official desk but unfortunately you can’t take any pics here.

Inside the palace
Stained glass looking out onto the courtyard

Sunday’s are great in Buenos Aires because the famous San Telmo market runs all day! We took the short walk towards Plaza Dorrego and wandered for hours. The market certainly was not a disappointment. The stalls were filled with arts and crafts, foods and drinks. It literally goes on for MILES about 10am-4pm through the streets. It does get very busy and there’s a lot of tourists there (mainly American) After traveling for the last few months only meeting a handle of English speaking tourists it was a slight shock to the system. The bohemian area of San Telmo is adorable too: full of French style ornate buildings, bakeries, stained glass and hundreds of vintage and antique shops. A must see in Buenos Aires.

Beautiful Telmo streets

The following day we headed to my favourite spot in Buenos Aires! The world famous El Ateneo bookshop. El Ateneo Grand Splendid was voted in 2008 by The Guardian as the second most beautiful bookshop in the world. The bookshop is situated on Santa Fe Avenue in Barrio Norte and opened opened as a theatre called Teatro Gran Splendid in May 1919. The original theatre had a seating capacity of 1,050, and staged a variety of performances, including appearances by famous tango artists and singers. In the late twenties the theatre was converted into a cinema, and in 1929 showed the first sound films in Argentina.

In 2000 the building was renovated and converted into a book and music shop. The cinema seating was removed and in its place book shelves were installed.

Chairs are provided throughout the building, including the still-intact theatre boxes, where customers can dip into books before purchase, and there is now an (expensive) café on the back of what was once the stage. The ceiling, the ornate carvings, the crimson stage curtains, the auditorium lighting and many architectural details remain. It’s honestly one the most beautiful places I’ve ever stepped foot in!

Breathtakingly beautiful

The following day was the time for the final hostel change. We’d booked Art Factory San Telmo hostel for the remainder of our days in Buenos Aires. Art Factory has three hostels in BA which are renowned for their art, great locations and party vibes. Best thing about this hostel was paying online in full WITHOUT tax! Happy days. This made the private double room at the hostel just £22 a night! The hostel was covered in crazy art and was huge. Apparently you can stay here for free if you paint a room… Anyways our room was pretty cool, the rooftop had an (overpriced) bar, but the rest of the facilities in the hostel weren’t great. Smallest kitchen I’ve ever seen in my life, terrible WiFi and rude staff- definitely overrated but a bargain though.

So Monday’s in Buenos Aires are famous for a percussion show called ‘La Bomba el Tiempo’ It sounded incredible and was only $90 Pesos/£3.60 a ticket. That lunchtime we headed to a local cafe in San Telmo for a few cheeky empanadas. The TV was on in the corner. The waitress seemed pretty distracted. As we looked closer at the screen it became apparent that there was something quite serious going down in Buneos Aires. Rubber bullets were being fired and tear gas thrown on screen and what looked like thousands of people protesting. We quickly googled to find a a couple of articles: the protest was a reaction to HUGE pension reforms in the country. People were FUMING. As we stepped back outside the café we could hear the protest, turns out it wasn’t far away at all, just a couple of streets. We had to go and change some money that afternoon and pretty much had to walk right up to the protest, we were warned that the biggest danger to us were actually the policemen themselves and not the rioters.

Without thinking we got ready to head out to the famous ‘La Bomba El Tiempo’. It was on the other side of town located in South Palmero but we thought we would just jump on the subway.

The subway system in Buenos Aires is generally pretty safe and easy to use. You have to purchase a SUBE card from the desk for $25 ARS/ and then after that each trip is $7.50 ARS/ The card also lets you on the local buses for the same price. You can top up the card in cash only from machines in the actual station and in some newsagent style shops. It does allow you to go into quite a lot debt on it weirdly enough… but we did get chucked off one bus for not reloading and then we had to walk AGES to find another machine. A weird and complicated system to say the least. Truth be told we got into debt on one and then binned it off! You can use just one card for two people and just pass it over the barrier surprisingly.

Anyways, what a massive mistake we made that day. We were CRUSHED on the train… I mean seriously crushed I never experienced anything like it. Believe me, I’m from London I know what it’s like to be squashed up against the tube door in rush hour. But this was another level. Someone fainted on the platform. It was BOILING sweat was dripping EVERYWHERE. Jack and I looked at each other and just prayed for it to be over. When it was time to get off at our stop we had to scream ‘permisso’ and literally climb over people. Honestly no one wouldn’t even move an inch and just sighed at us. Truthfully for me this just sums up a lot of Argentinaians… the disrespect was real.

So we made it off the subway alive (not entirely sure about everyone else) and headed to the venue. Surprise surprise it was cancelled. We were so annoyed. So apparently the Konex theatre where this show is held is a government theatre and of course with huge government protests they cancelled… but there was nothing on their social media or anything. We were so gutted.

We wandered the streets feeling defeated. After a quick google search we stumbled across a famous restaurant named El Mosquito located in the Mataderos area. This was a restaurant made famous by Maradona himself so we thought we’d give it a go. HOLY MACARONI this place served me the best steak i ever had in my life. Finally, a real experience in Argentina that I had been longing for. Not only was the food incredible it was amazing value and wait for it…. ALL YOU CAN EAT BBQ for $271/£10.80 per person.

Meat for days

Maradona signed the wall… then they framed it

Ever seen a penguin carafe?

Hands down the best meal we had in Buenos Aires. The others don’t even need mentioning. During our meal the streets got louder and louder outside. We were well aware the protest was still in full swing but we had no idea of the extent of it. Before we knew it a small crowd gathered on the crossroads right outside with pots and pans. They crashing the pots and pans together and standing in front of the cars bringing everything to a halt. Next minute we know all the cars started honking their horns in chorus (not to move people but to support!) they was even an elderly lady with a huge baking tray and a ladel making some of loudest noises I’ve ever heard! It was quite comical in a way and also very very surreal. The weirdest part was the fact that everyone inside the restaurant (which was heaving by the way… make sure you go early) was completely oblivious as to why was going on outside. As we wrapped up our meal and thanked our incredible waiter we headed out onto the streets. Cars were going MAD and EVERY crossroads had at least 50 people on it withhold kitchen utensils and even massive drums. We walked to the subway… guess what? It was CLOSED. We tried at least 3 stations. We couldn’t believe our luck. Cut a long story short we had to walk over 7km back to our hostel in San Telmo. Definitely a day we will never forget.

The following day we were wandering around town and lucky to spot the Olympic Rings on display at downtown Oblesik Monument. The youth Olympics are to be held here in 2018! The Monument also has a huge BA sign which is pretty nifty for a few pics! We couldn’t believe thought that only a few days before Christmas and there was not a Christmas tree or barely any decorations in sight. What a let down. We really thought they’d be super into it in Argentina.

Feeling fab.. spot the ONLY Christmas decoration in BA

The following day brought a very interesting adventure. It was a boiling day but we decided to check out one of the best rated things to do in BA- La Recoleta Cemetery located in Recoleta neighbourhood. Now I’m sure this sounds like a rather bizarre thing to do but believe me when I tell you cemeteries are works of art in South America and really beautiful attractions. La Recoleta Cemetery spans a HUGE 14 acres and contains the graves of many notable people, including Eva Perón, presidents of Argentina, Nobel prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy and a granddaughter of Napoleon. The true beauty of this cemetery lies with the huge wealth that is buried with the people: most graves are the size of small churches, with chapels inside, coffins on display and photographs. There are huge statues and bronze figurines too. 94 of the 4691 vaults all above ground have been declared National Historical Monuments by the Argentinian Government and are protected by the the state. In 2011, the BBC hailed it as one of the world’s best cemeteries, and in 2013, CNN listed it among the 10 most beautiful cemeteries in the world. Despite melting in the cemetery it was an incredible visit. The Dulce de leche frappe and aircon from Starbucks across the road afterwards polished the day off nicely too…

We’d finally reached our last full day in Buenos Aires and it was time to visit probably the most famous area: La Boca. We jumped on the 64 bus from San Telmo- there’s tonnes of buses that head there and all the stops are listed on the bus signs. We arrived at the end stop right outside the entrance to main tourist area – couldn’t have been any easier. La Boca is a working-class area with a cluster of attractions near the Riachuelo River. The area is famous for the street Caminito, a narrow alley flanked by brightly painted zinc shacks that evoke the district’s early immigrant days. The area is VERY touristy, filled with shop after shop selling Messi shirts and Maté tea cups. Tango dancers perform in front of restaurants and street performers are everywhere.

Beautiful Caminito – photo heaven!

The famous La Bombonera football ground is also located right here in the heart of it all. This is the home of the famous Boca Juniors football team. The roads surrounding the stadium are all painted painted in the teams colours too, it’s just SO cool. Make sure you go and spot some of the most famous Argentinians depicted in all the street art too. We wandered with a couple of cold Quilmes beers in hand $30/£1.20 from a shop on a side street soaking up the vibe and we even found a pretty decent little restaurant off the tourist track for a great steak sandwich $160 ARS/£7. Make sure you always wander away from the Caminito street for a better bargain!

Boca Juniors Stadium!

8 days in Buenos Aires is probably a little too long. It depends what kind of vibe your after. In all honesty there were lots of beautiful parts, I can see why they call it the ‘Paris of the south’ the buildings are so ornate and have this great hidden history to them that I love.

So stunning.

The food was incredible. However, the people of Buenos Aires were not friendly or welcoming at all, I honestly felt like I was a nuisance most of the time even when I was paying for a hotel or a meal. I understand the Argentinian people have not had the easiest time and the tax situation is simply mad but I wouldn’t return here any time soon. I am also well aware that the political situation is very temperamental in Argentina right now which undoubtedly has angered many people. Despite this I would definitely encourage others to visit and see and experience the tonne of wonderful sights this city has to offer. It’s like no other place (well maybe Paris…)

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Hi, I'm Flo from London and I'm 27 years young. Currently on an epic adventure with a backpack and my boyfriend. We’ve just spent one year in South & Central America, one year in New Zealand on a working holiday visa and now living in a camper van travelling the entirety of Australia. I'm obsessed with experiencing new cultures, eating burgers, beers from around the globe and social media. A true millennial right?

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