With vibrant cities and glorious scenery South America is a great destination for a family trip with teens. On our whistle-stop three centre holiday, these are the sights that we rated unmissable from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls and Rio de Janeiro. We began our family holiday in Argentina and Brazil with a city tour of Buenos Aires. Argentina’s elegant capital is packed with colour and culture: in two days in Buenos Aires we took in the painted houses of La Boca, Sunday at San Telmo market, a visit to La Bombonera football stadium plus an unexpected tango lesson!
- The Paris of Latin America
- 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 Nancy: Ed’s older brother and friends went to 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’s football to watch as well. But this trip, tailor-made for us around our dates and matches by Audley Travel, worked well and really maximised our time in the two countries.
Our Argentina and Brazil Itinerary We took a British Airways London Buenos Aires flight from Heathrow which is both direct and overnight. After two days in Buenos Aires, an internal flight took us to Puerto Iguazú, on the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls. We had two days to explore Iguazú then took another internal flight, this time from Foz d’Iguazú in Brazil to Rio de Janeiro. After three days in Rio we flew direct back to London.
When: August 2014. This post updated in July 2018.
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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 booked a three hour guided tour via Audley Travel.
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City Tour Buenos Aires
Although we’re usually happy exploring under our own steam this was a fabulous taster of the city. 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 air-conditioned mini-cab to show us the key sights of this iconic capital city.
Buenos Aires is famous for its glorious Belle Epoque architecture dating from the early 20th century. This was boom time for the city which built a fortune on the export of beef and grain. We toured elegant tree-lined European-style boulevards, lingered in front of stately facades and stopped for significant sculptures and monuments. Our guide gave us a sense of the history of the place, both in its 19th century heyday and in more recent politically troubled times. Here’s a similar guided tour. These are our highlights:
Recoleta Cemetery tour
Our tour began in the Recoleta cemetery, because it’s quietest at the beginning of the day. I’d baulked slightly at the idea of a burial ground as tourist attraction but I was won round by our visit. Recoleta is like a small and ornate town for the dead and it’s beautiful in its own way. Full of the city’s history and memories it is 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, mistakenly buried alive when she fell into a coma, aged 19.
And of course, the Duarte grave where the legendary Eva Peron is buried. She was First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to her death in 1952 aged only 33 years old. The musical Evita is based on her life.
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. Its famous cafe, La Biela, was a favourite in the 1950s of racing drivers and fans.
Plaza de Mayo and Eva Peron’s balcony
Plaza de Mayo is a political hub of Buenos Aires. Casa Rosada or the Presidential Pink Palace hardly needs an introduction. The balcony where the popular and controversial 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 Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis was once archbishop. Our visit coincided perfectly with the changing of the guard who watch over the tomb of General San Martin. He was a hero of Argentina’s fight for independence from Spain in 1816.
Colourful La Boca Buenos Aires
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 all of its own and you can’t really miss it!
La Bombonera football stadium
Close by La Boca is the final stop of our tour: La Bombonera Buenos Aires, home of Maradona’s team Boca Juniors.
We decided 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. The name of the stadium means ‘chocolate box’ and refers to its shape with steeply pitched stands which maximise the space on a narrow site. Legend says the team’s blue and yellow colours were chosen in 1906 from a Swedish ship that happened to sail into port! If you’ve more time than us a La Bombonera stadium tour like this one could be fun!
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.
Thinking of a family trip to Argentina or Brazil? Click here for our tips on viewing the spectacular Iguazu Falls and a 2 day itinerary in iconic Rio de Janeiro.
Sunday morning at 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. There’s lots of leatherwork and mate tea sets aimed at tourists, 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 in. 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 of Buenos Aire’s historic 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 visiting 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 tango show with dinner.
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.
If you’re travelling independently and thinking of booking ahead here’s a selection of tickets and tours from Get Your Guide
Where we stayed in Buenos Aires
248 Finisterra. A quiet, 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 have watched some 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. Antique furniture adds 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
Or read about another family visit to Buenos Aires click here
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