Guest bloggers Russ and Susan Rosenberry are owners of Islands in the Sun Cruises and Tours. You can find the original blog from their 2008 cruise around South American here, or visit the company’s website at www.crus-sun.com.
Dec. 19 — When we arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina this morning, so had summer — with abundant sunshine the afternoon temperature reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Luckily the tour we had chosen for part of the day started fairly early in the morning. We chose a ‘highlights of Buenos Aires’ tour combined with an authentic tango show and lunch. Our guide spoke excellent English and we first traveled to the famed Recoleta Cemetery. This is located in an upscale ‘old money’ neighborhood of Buenos Aires that has become an important sight for tourists because Eva Duarte Peron — “Evita” — is currently layed to rest 18 feet below the Duarte family’s black marble mausoleum. Despite her short but controversial life and her death over fifty years ago, she has been the most important woman in Argentina’s history to date, and fresh flowers are still left as daily mementos. This cemetery dates from 1822 and the sheer size of the cemetery and diversity and ornateness of many of the mausoleums makes it an interesting sight. (It recalls similarities with the above ground cemeteries in New Orleans.)
Buenos Aires is often called the Paris of South America, and the many apartment and government buildings decorated in Parisian style with the ornate iron grill work attest to this. The grand and wide ‘Avenue de 9 de Julio’ boulevard and with its many parks and obelisk reminds us ofthe Champs de Elysees in Paris. As the city and environs have grown to approximately 12 million, traffic has become a ‘headache,’ and you must allow adequate time to travel even short distances within the city.
Despite the traffic we were able to see many of the historic and impressive government buildings including the Casa Rosada. This is the ‘Pink House’ which holds the offices and residential quarters for Argentina’s president — currently a woman, Christina Kirchener — who recently succeeded her husband in office. La Boca was another very ‘colorful’ neighborhood — both literally and culturally — that we visited. Many of the original immigrants in this area were from Italy and they built inexpensive housing and other structures from corrugated iron that they then colorfully painted. There is an interesting selection of cafes, shops and street markets for tourists to enjoy here.
We also passed by the old but newly renovated port area, Port Madreo. It was the old, neglected port area of the city which had been completely abandoned and run down, but which now features many of the city’s best restaurants, hotels and international corporation headquarters. We then proceeded to the highlight of our tour: a tango show and luncheon at ‘La Ventana’ in the San Telmo neighborhood.
Tango shows and ‘culture’ have experienced quite a revival in Buenos Aires over the last 20 years, and locals and visitors have a wide variety of shows to experience most evenings. Tango shows during the daytime are not normal, however the cruise line arranged for one of the most popular shows to conduct an afternoon performance for a limited number of guests — it ‘sold out’ to a full house. A hearty lunch was followed by an hour-long show with a full tango band, complete with the important accordion section, both male and female tango singers, and four of the best tango dance couples you’ll ever see. The intensity and fancy footwork is an incredible sight to see up close and personal — and highly recommended.
Then before heading back to the ship, we and others interested in shopping and soaking up more of the local culture were dropped off at the famed ‘Calle Florida’ pedestrian shopping street. Many of the best and most popular buys were leather coats, purses, ‘gaucho related’ and woolen items. The street goes on for about four miles and is somewhat reminiscent of ‘Las Ramblas’ in Barcelona with the eclectic mix of street performers. The variety of stores is wide with upscale jewelry, leather goods and clothing stores side by side with less expensive souvenir shops. A grand old building from the 19th century was coverted into a large mall with many world class boutiques – ‘Gallerias Pacificos’.
We then had plenty of time to return to the ship before it’s 8:30 p.m. departure. It was certainly a port with a lot to offer and we hope to return again for further exploration in the future.