Two mums, two sons and less than ten days for a three-centre trip to Argentina and Brazil. These are the sights – from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro via Iguazú Falls – that we rated unmissable. Part 1 of this family holiday in Argentina and Brazil starts in Buenos Aires
- Cities and waterfalls
- Culture and cafes
- Football and flea markets
- Tango and samba
Who Nancy and son, Ed, 15 with friends Sheila and her son, Max, 19
Where and why Nancy: Ed’s older brother and friends were in South America on a school football tour. We flew out to watch a couple of matches and take in some sights. Three centres in less than 10 days is a tall order – especially when there are football matches to watch as well – but this trip, tailor-made by Audley Travel, worked well for us and maximised our time.
Itinerary London Heathrow BA flight overnight, direct to Buenos Aires. Two days in BA, then internal flight to Puerto Iguazú, the Argentinian side of the Falls. Two days at Iguazú then internal flight from Foz d’Iguazú in Brazil to Rio de Janeiro. Three days in Rio then direct flight back to London.
When: August 2014
Buenos Aires Family Holiday
Nancy says: “Two mums, two teenagers and two days in Buenos Aires – we needed a plan to keep everyone happy and make the most of our time in the city. We knew that one afternoon would be spent watching football matches outside town which left us with no time to lose. So for our first morning we had booked a three hour guided tour via Audley Travel.
Although we’re usually happy exploring under our own steam this was a fabulous taster of the city and we would never have managed to cover so much ground on our own.
Our well-informed and chatty guide bustled us in and out of our mini-cab to show us the elegant European-style boulevards and stately facades along with significant sculptures and monuments. We got a sense of the history of the place – both in its 19th century heyday and in more recent politically troubled times. And we were whisked around the key sights. Here are our highlights:
Our tour began in the Recoleta cemetery, because it’s quietest at the beginning of the day. I’d slightly baulked at the idea of burial ground as tourist attraction but was persuaded by our visit. Recoleta is like a small and ornate town for the dead, beautiful in its own way and full of the city’s history and memories, the resting place of heroes, aristocrats and artists.
Our guide directed us to tombs with beautiful carvings and tragic stories. Look out for the graceful statue of a girl at a doorway, commemorating heiress Rufina Cambaceres who was mistakenly buried alive when she fell into a coma, aged 19.
And of course, the Duarte grave where Eva Peron is buried.
But the most poignant of all are the mausoleums that are no longer tended – decaying and forgotten.
Outside Recoleta cemetery, and in complete contrast, is a bustling handicrafts market. Standing alongside, rather surprisingly, are statues of three of Argentina’s finest footballers: Maradona, Messi and Batistuta placed there just before the 2014 World Cup. These brought us straight back into the present day!
Recoleta itself is an affluent and stylish area with a grand European vibe and famous cafe, La Biela, a favourite in the 1950s of racing drivers and fans.
Plaza de Mayo
Casa Rosada or the Pink Palace hardly needs an introduction – the balcony where Eva Peron waved to her supporters is globally famous.
There’s a museum inside but we made do with the exterior and a tour around Plaza de Mayo. Our guide explained that the white headscarf symbols painted on the paving represent the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. They demonstrate in the Plaza each week on behalf of ‘the disappeared,’ young people from the city who were abducted or murdered for political reasons during the military dictatorship of the 1970s and early 80s.
We moved on into the cathedral, perfectly timed to see the changing of the guard who watch over the tomb of General San Martin, hero of Argentina’s fight for independence from Spain in 1816.
From Plaza de Mayo we hopped into our taxi and drove on to our next stop: the colourful neighbourhood called La Boca.
This is one of the most touristy areas of BA. Italian immigrants in the 1830s built the tenement homes by the old port and decorated them using leftover marine paint. In the 1950s artists moved in and the barrio took on a new lease of life. Today the cobbled and pedestrianised El Caminito is the place for photo opps – but it’s also host to a complete tourist industry: giant papier mache figures wave from balconies and tango dancers busk in the street.
There are street artists, souvenir shops and places to eat. It doesn’t feel particularly authentic – but it has an atmosphere of its own and you can’t really miss it!
La Bombonera stadium
Close by La Boca is the final stop of our tour: La Bombonera football stadium, home of Maradona’s team Boca Juniors.
We chose not to take a tour here but bought tickets to go into the museum and one of the stands. For the boys it was definitely a sight worth seeing. Our guide left us at the stadium with strict instructions to catch a Radio Taxi home – identified by a sign on the roof and logos on the doors. These cabs are registered to a company which gives a tourist more security.
Although full of visitors this is a tough neighbourhood: we were warned to stick to the tourist area (actually very small) and be aware of the real risk of muggings and pickpocketing around La Boca.
San Telmo market
On Sunday morning we went to Plaza de Mayo for coffee and then headed off down Defensa to San Telmo market. Everybody else in BA that morning seemed to be doing the same thing. The cobbled street is packed with stalls selling souvenirs and crafts – lots of leatherwork and mate tea sets – as well as antique shops and street performers. The crowds were all drifting in the same general direction: to the main square, Plaza Dorrego, where an antiques fair was underway.
There’s a good buzz: bands perform on street corners and the obligatory tango dancers appear in restaurant doorways and beside cafe tables. It’s fun – if rather geared to tourists. So after lunch we set off to find some more authentic tango’ing.
Tango in Buenos Aires
Tango parties or milongas happen very late at night. But some venues have matinee sessions. We had a couple of addresses – the first, close to Plaza de Mayo was holding classes that afternoon but required registration and our lack of Spanish was too much of a barrier. So we jumped on the metro to our second address in an area of wrought iron balconies and crumbling elegance.
The Centro Region la Leonesa is a famous and beautiful old dance hall which hosts renowned milongas. There was an afternoon lesson going on when we arrived and rather to our surprise we were invited to join. The boys firmly sat this one out while their mothers learnt a basic tango move or two – pretty much by sign language from the cheerful teacher and welcoming class. Then we took our places at the little tables and chairs on the sidelines for tea and cake while the real experts – including some of our classmates – glided onto the dancefloor. This wasn’t a tourist trap – it was a real glimpse into Buenos Aire’s tango culture.
We decided at the last minute to spend an evening at a tango show. We’d thought it might be over-commercial but friends had recommended it and anyway, we were in the city of tango – our afternoon tea taster, though authentic, hadn’t been enough. A helpful staff member at our hotel rose to the challenge and summoned up an agent, tickets and a taxi with no notice at all. This possibly wasn’t the cheapest way to do things but it got us into a good show.
Our venue was Esqui Carlos Garcel, a smart looking supper club. The whole evening was a package – food was whisked on and off tables in a strict schedule – but the show was slick and entertaining, a glam’ed up version of the real-life tango we’d seen the previous afternoon.
Where we stayed in Buenos Aires
248 Finisterra is a quiet and friendly boutique hotel with just ten bedrooms in Las Canitas, part of the Palermo neighbourhood. It’s a fashionable area with plenty of bars and restaurants and makes a good base for exploring the city. Had we been a month or two later we could also have watched polo round the corner at the Campo Argentino de Polo! The hotel is carved into a terrace of shops in a sympathetic conversion that has retained some traditional details and added antique furniture for character. Bedrooms and bathrooms were small but adequate and clean. Breakfasts consisted of slices of fruit: kiwi, strawberry, papaya with sweet croissants, dulche con leche and plates of scrambled eggs.
A great place to eat with teens in Buenos Aires
Las Cholas Arce 306, Palermo. Just a stroll from our hotel, the Las Cholas parrilla, or grill, came well recommended for hungry teens – and parents. It’s a great place for definitive Argentinian steaks along with plenty of variations on the theme of beef. We ordered a sizzling and delicious mixed board to share along with empanadas and grilled cheese. It gets busy, and noisy, but the atmosphere is part of the experience.
Family holiday in Buenos Aires, Argentina
To read about another family visit to Buenos Aires click here
This holiday in South America was tailor-made by Audley Travel
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Photos taken by Nancy and family are all rights reserved.