Exit Elsa, Enter Evita: Buenos Aires for Families

Elsa is out, Evita is in, and my 7-year-old is officially obsessed.

It is nearly impossible to visit Buenos Aires without being inundated with images of the former first lady and beloved national symbol, Eva (Evita) Perón.  

My daughter’s fascination almost certainly started with our visit to the gorgeous Evita Perón Museum in the Palermo neighborhood. I was surprised to notice her lingering over the Argentine heroine’s personal effects, wide-eyed, and adoring as she watched films of Evita addressing massive crowds or caring for young orphans.  When, days later, I saw her fall in line with the other pilgrims visiting Evita’s flower-adorned tombstone in Recoleta Cemetery, I knew she was hooked: The Frozen queen of Arendelle simply could not compete with this extraordinary icon.

While Evita is now firmly embedded in our family’s psyche, so too is this amazing city.  Buenos Aires is difficult to characterize and impossible to forget. I knew my husband and I would love it, but I was thrilled to see my kids equally charmed.

Serving as our home base for a two month sabbatical in Argentina, we spent three autumn weeks of March and April in this incredible city – and really only scratched the surface: the architecture, gorgeous parks, complicated – often violent – history, endless and incredible street art, world-class cuisine, dulce de leche, Malbecs, helado.   There’s a lot to love…

While Evita Perón captivated my daughter, it was soccer (or to the rest of the world, fúbol) that beset my son. If Evita is the heroine in this travel tale, the hero is a toss-up between Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Anticipation for summer’s 2018 World Cup was running high during our visit and fúbol fever overtook our son.

Argentines adore their national players, but they’re equally obsessed with their local team. Attending a home match of the Boca Juniors, one of Buenos Aires’ professional club squads, was a top priority for my soccer-obsessed son. Season ticket holders insure these matches are all permanently sold out, but working through LandingPad BA, a travel agency specializing in events and tours, we were able to get our hands on four of these sought-after tickets and immerse ourselves in the insanity.

Our adventure began by loading into a tour bus with other newbies, learning the do’s and don’ts of being a spectator, trying to memorize various chants (your children will be thrilled to learn Spanish swear words!), stopping off for pre-game pizza at an old-school pizzeria, and finally, a thrilling match with a packed stadium full of super fans. The Boca Junior stadium, La Bombonera, does not allow alcohol or opposing team fans, so wear your blue and gold, stay with your group, and root for the only team you’re allowed to – Boca!

The ROAM Report: Buenos Aires, Argentina

  • Travelers: Family of four, kids ages 11 and 7
  • Date: Approximately three weeks in total during March and April 2018 
  • Itinerary: We were spoiled and able to stay for a good amount of time, but I’d suggest a minimum of 4 to 5 nights here.
  • Cost: The Argentinian peso has seen some big fluctuations over the past few months, and is currently pretty weak against the dollar. That being said, Buenos Aires is a big city, so while it’s not as expensive as a trip to New York, don’t expect a huge bargain if you’re staying at The Four Seasons.

The Good Stuff

Sights

Evita Perón Museum  – Located in the Palermo neighborhood, Evita’s museum memorializes this heroine of Argentine history and features everything from her personal effects and clothing to photographs and films depicting her life and accomplishments. It’s small but quite comprehensive and worth a visit.

La Recoleta Cemetery Located in the upscale Recoleta neighborhood and spanning nearly 14 acres, this fascinating cemetery houses more than 6400 graves and is a virtual who’s who of Argentine history. Elaborate mausoleums house the remains of aristocratic families, artists, ex-presidents, and perhaps most famously, Evita Perón. Many are well kept, but dilapidated graves also pepper this amazing cemetery, adding to the mystique.

La Boca Settled by Italian immigrants, La Boca is one of the oldest neighborhoods in BA, and a top tourist destination. The famous and often photographed pedestrian walkway, El Caminito, is lined with brightly colored homes and shops, tango dancers and artisans.

La Bombanero – The home stadium for the La Boca soccer team is also a huge attraction here. The neighborhood itself is poor, and visitors are advised to not carry valuables and watch your belongings. That being said, we always felt safe.

Casa Rosada/Plaza de Mayo Ground zero for political demonstrations, rousing speeches, and many pivotal historic moments, the Casa Rosada currently serves as the executive office of the President. Evita Perón famously addressed the Argentinian people from the balcony here, and her legacy is honored with paintings and memorials throughout the building.  Because this is not the residence of the current President, visitors can tour on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Tours are free, but advanced online reservations and passports are required. 

Parks of Palermo  (referred to as Bosques or “Woods” of Palermo)  – While I’ve heard there’s nothing quite like being here for the blooming jacarandas in the spring, the fall was impressive. A myriad of many small parks–rose gardens, botanical gardens, link together to form a huge expanse of green space in the Palermo neighborhood. Stroll, rent paddle boats, or take a bike tour like we did (see activities, below.)

Teatro ColónConsidered one of the top 10 opera houses in the world, this beautiful building was re-opened in 2010 after a massive restoration. English tours are given daily and are definitely worthwhile.  Better yet, attend a concert or performance there, and hear the amazing acoustics for yourself.

Activities

SoccerTickets to every match are sold out, so must be purchased through another company who buys from season ticket holders. We secured seats through LandingPadBA.  Attending a game through one of these companies is a day-long event and involves much more than simply watching the match.

BikesRent bikes or take a small bike tour with one of many local guides throughout the city.  Many companies offer bikes for smaller kids; just be sure to reserve in advance and make sure everyone has a helmet and can follow instructions, as crossing the street can be a bit dodgy. This is a perfect way to see the Bosques de Palermo and get a lay of the land.

Art While there are plenty of worthwhile museums in this city, I found the colorful murals and prolific street art most compelling. The rules of street art are different in Buenos Aires. First, the only permission an artist needs to create a mural is from the building’s owner – not the local authorities or zoning board. While street art is often thought-provoking, political and sometimes controversial, it is encouraged, rather than criminalized. 

You’ll be able to see colorful murals everywhere you go, but I highly suggest taking a tour for a deeper dive into this unique world. Graffiti Mundo offers fantastic street art tours of different lengths throughout the city. Our guide was amazing with our kids and we even got to meet one of the city’s most prolific artists. Added bonus: the kids were able to try their hand at the craft. Art classes for kids and adults are also available.

Day Trip to TigreAs much as we loved the hustle and bustle of BA, our friend, and amazing travel concierge, Madi Lang implored us to take advantage of one of her company’s most unique options: a day trip to neighboring Tigre with Captain Ariel. While a trip to Tigre can easily be done on your own by train and water taxi, this was something special. Madi’s colleague, Juan, accompanied us by train to Tigre, where we met the ship captain/chef extraordinaire/amazing musician, Ariel. After motoring around this unique delta by private boat, learning a bit of history (Juan translated as Ariel really only speaks Spanish), we anchored under a tree in the shade and enjoyed a delicious, four-course lunch with wine.

After a post-lunch swim, we were serenaded by Ariel on his century-old bandoneón, a vintage, German-made instrument resembling an accordion and often played in Tango ensembles. By the time we returned to BA, we were exhausted and inspired, and thankful to Madi and Juan for this incredibly memorable day.

Day Trip to Colonia Del Sacramento, Uruguay – Book your tickets in advance, bring your passports and give yourself ample time (you are crossing borders) for the one hour journey to Uruguay.  The ferry dock is a few short blocks from the center of this charming little town and UNESCO Heritage Site. While I imagine it can get quite busy in the summer, our weekday excursion was uncrowded and beautiful. We regretted not booking a room and staying overnight.

El ZanjonThe tour guide for this fascinating underground maze and museum was amazing!  Our kids were rapt as he relayed the history of this very unusual and beautifully restored piece of Argentine history.

Food & Drink

Puerta Cerrada/Closed-Door RestaurantsMy husband was lucky enough to have a birthday land in the middle of our days in BA. So after our family celebration, we got a sitter and headed out to celebrate grown-up style, at a puerta cerrada, or “closed door” restaurant – one of a relatively secret and unregulated network of chef-run and curated eateries in private homes and buildings around the city.

After knocking at a random door in what looked like an abandoned building in the Chacarita neighborhood, a door opened and we entered Toro 777, a fabulous restaurant and the stylish home of our amazing hosts, Christian and Guillermo.  We were led straight to the lush roof deck where we enjoyed cocktails and appetizers with other guests, then proceeded back inside for a five-course, farm-to-table feast.  Not only was the food amazing, hosts Christian and Guillermo were two of the nicest people we met in Argentina. When they learned it was my husband’s birthday, they whipped up a  special cake and brought out champagne for all the guests. We stayed chatting with them late into the night, and they connected us to all sorts of great people, including an amazing winemaker in Mendoza.

Meat – Ideally, get a local to invite you to a Sunday Asado or traditional Argentine barbeque. Barring that elusive invitation, try one of the following. Don Julio is a super famous, upscale steakhouse. It’s crowded and a bit touristy, but well worth it. Reservations are recommended.  If you love soccer and steak, La Brigada is the promised land. Old-school waiters turn up the charm while cutting your Bife De Chorizo with a spoon!

Ice CreamSo many choices and people will fight to the death defending their heladeria. Our hands-down favorite was Tufic in Palermo Soho. Also, be sure you know the Argentinian order of ice-cream-shop operations: Choose your cone size, pay, then wait for your turn and tell the scooper/server your preferred flavors.

Pizza Argentinians are proud of their pizza but it’s, um, unusual and not for the lactose intolerant. Cheese is plentiful and toppings are unexpected. The exception is the pizza from Siamo Del Forno in Palermo Hollywood. This place is crazy good by any standards; maybe because the Pizzaiolo trained in Naples.

EmpanadasLittle pastry pockets filled with meat, cheese, eggs or a variety of fillings. These can be found everywhere, but our favorites were at a funky little restaurant called Peron Peron in Palermo Hollywood.

Dulce de Leche everythingStart slow, and sample the typical Alfajores (sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche), but know that by Week Three, there’s a solid chance you’ll be eating it by the spoonful.  

SubmarinoA glass of hot milk with a small chocolate bar, this is really an ingenious, DIY hot chocolate. Kids love this and so will you.

ChoripánThe best of Argentine street food. Grilled chorizo in a bun, generally served with chimichurri sauce. Our favorites were Nuestra Parrilla (old school) or Chori (new school). So good.

Malbec?  Check. But craft beer is also kind of a big deal here. Try to sample both while you’re here.

Mate At first, I wondered why everyone in Argentina seemed to be carrying around a thermos and drinking out of a metal straw from a gourd. That was before I learned about mate–the drink, the tradition, and really, sort of the national pastime. Mate (or yerba mate) is a hot, caffeinated tea, but so much more. Drinking mate is a social experience, a tradition with specific rules, and a way of making friends. Its bitter at first taste, but it will grow on you. The rules are and details matter. Click here to read more.

The Not so Good

Puerto Madero  Meh. This is the new, shiny, business-y part of town. There’s a neat bridge, but otherwise, it feels a little soulless. I’d skip it.

Mosquitos – They’re plentiful and Dengue outbreaks happen occasionally. Bring spray and use it.

Fish – Despite the fact that this is a coastal city, great seafood is not so easy to find. As the story goes, Mediterranean immigrants who came here were pretty familiar with fish, but were far more excited about beef, which was harder to come by in Western Europe. I guess that explains it, sort of.

Poop – I mean, come on people, clean up after your pooch. Dogs are everywhere in the city, and so is their poop. Owners and dog walkers rarely clean it up, so watch your step.

Good to Know

Language – By all means practice your Spanish, but be aware that Argentinian Spanish is a bit different. Most notably, the double “ll” is pronounced “sh” instead of “y,”  vos is used, and it kind of sounds like an Italian auctioneer is singing to you. Click here to read more.

Money Finding a working ATM can be a challenge. Often times they are simply out of money or only allow you to take a limited amount out, with a fat surcharge for each transaction.  Many places take credit cards, but there are also quite a few that only accept cash. As of the date of publishing, the Argentine peso is in a bit of a free fall and the dollar is getting stronger

Tours  They are really worth taking here! The history of Argentina is SO rich, and the cIty is huge. It helps to have someone guide you through it, and every one of our guides was super knowledgeable.

Bedtime Like Spain, this is a late night city. Restaurants don’t generally even open until 9pm or later. Take a quick afternoon nap and then start drinking mate.

Getting Around  Uber is here, but not always reliable. Taxis are reliable, but some are shady so check the math and your maps. Subways and buses are a great way to get around, especially during the day.

Safety We never felt unsafe, but petty crime is definitely a thing, so take the precautions you would in any big city and don’t flash your new iPhone if you don’t have to.

Kids in Restaurants  Children are welcomed in most restaurants, as long as they can manage to stay seated and keep it together. If this is a problem, try hitting up a restaurant right when they open, and tables are plenty.

Good for Next Time

Colonia del Sacramento I wish we could have stayed longer in this nearby Uruguayan town.

New Neighborhood We stayed in Airbnbs in Palermo Soho and it was great, but I wouldn’t mind checking out a new barrio, like San Telmo or Palermo Hollywood.

Seasons A visit in spring to see the jacarandas would be perfect.  Next Thanksgiving?!

Children’s Museum This center was undergoing renovations when we visited but is supposed to be great. There’s also a theme park next door.

Good Resources

BA Cultural Concierge  Madi Lang and her colleagues, Juan and Nestor, were incredible!  Because we were in Argentina for a longer haul, we used them in a concierge capacity, but they are definitely worth checking out for any length visit. Super nice, super knowledgeable and fun to be around, they help you make the most out of your trip to this fantastic city.  Also important to note: Juan is a kid whisperer extraordinaire. My kids still talk about him.

Landing Pad BA This is a great resource for excursions to Boca Junior games, and for transfers to and from Jorge Newberry, the international airport.

 

by Sarah Hart, June 2018

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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, buenos aires with kids, argentina with kids, argentina family vacation

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