Buenos Aires, Argentina Travel - Guides
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|Buenos Aires Introduction|
A country's tragedy has become a tourist's opportunity, and in between the two is a vastly improved economy for Buenos Aires, the glamorous capital of Argentina. Up until the peso crisis of December 2001, Buenos Aires was regarded as Latin America's most expensive city, if not one of the world's, with prices for some hotels and restaurants rivaling those of New York and Paris. Many on the South American-tourist crawl avoided this sophisticated and beautiful city altogether, staying in the cheaper capitals of the countries that surrounded it. But now that the peso, once on par with the U.S. dollar, has fallen to a third of its former value and stabilized there, tourists from all over the world are flocking to this city, often called the Paris of South America. I have to admit that since the 2005 edition of this guide, prices have gone up, most considerably in terms of hotels. Still, the city is a relative bargain, as the enormous number of tourists here will tell you. Tourism has become the third most important component of Argentina's economy, with Buenos Aires the main recipient of visitors.
In spite of the 2001 peso crisis, the beauty of Buenos Aires is still here and always will be. Now, with the pending 2010 bicentennial, the city is busily renovating to renew its wealth of architecture, much of which dates from nearly a century ago. Stroll through the neighborhoods of Recoleta or Palermo, full of buildings with marble neoclassical facades on broad tree-lined boulevards, or tour the historic Avenida de Mayo, which was designed to rival Paris's Champs Elysées. European immigrants to Buenos Aires, mostly from Spain and Italy, brought with them the warm ways of Mediterranean culture, where friends, family, and conversation were the most important things in life. Whiling away the night over a long meal was the norm, and locals had always packed into cafes, restaurants, and bars until the early morning hours. The peso crisis hit the locals all the harder because of this, making the lifestyle and good times that they cherished almost unattainable for a period of time.
But don't think that the new Buenos Aires is a depressing shell of its former glorious self. Instead, when you get to Buenos Aires, you'll find a city quickly recovering from its former problems, with old cafes and restaurants not only full of patrons but also competing with new places opening up at a breakneck pace all over town.
The crisis also had a remarkable effect on the country's soul. Argentines as a whole are becoming more self-reflective, looking at themselves and the reasons why their country fell into so much trouble and trying to find answers. This has led, ironically, to an incredible flourishing of all things Porteño, the word Buenos Aires locals use to describe both themselves and the culture of their city. Unable to import expensive foods from overseas, Buenos Aires's restaurants are concentrating instead on cooking with Argentine staples like Pampas grass-fed beef and using locally produced, organic ingredients as seasonings. What has developed is a spectacular array of Argentine-nouvelle cuisine of incredible quality and originality. Chefs can't seem to produce it fast enough in the ever-expanding array of Buenos Aires's restaurants, particularly in the trendy Palermo Viejo district on the city's north side.
This new Argentine self-reliance and pride is not just limited to its restaurants. The same thing has happened with the country's fashion. In the go-go 1990s, when the peso was pegged to the U.S. dollar, Argentines loaded up on European labels and made shopping trips to the malls of Miami for their clothing. Now, however, even the middle class cannot afford to do this anymore. Instead, with necessity as the mother of invention, young Argentine designers are opening up their own shops and boutiques in the Palermo Soho neighborhood, putting other Argentines to work sewing, selling, and modeling their designs. Women, especially, will find fantastic and utterly unique fashions in Buenos Aires that you won't find anywhere else in the world, at prices that are unbelievable. And, if you're looking for leather goods, say no more. The greatest variety and quality in the world are available all over town.
Importantly, the most Porteño thing of all, the tango, has also witnessed an explosive growth. Up until the peso crisis, Argentines worried that the dance would die out as young people bopped instead to American hip-hop and European techno. But the peso crisis and the self-reflection it created helped bolster the art form's popularity: New varieties of shows for tourists mean you can now see a different form of tango every night of your stay. And, more importantly to residents, the traditional, 1930s-style milongas (tango salons) have opened in spaces all over town. These are drawing not only the typical tango dancers but also young Argentines, who have rediscovered their grandparents' favorite dance, as well as young expats who are making Buenos Aires the world's new hot city, the way Prague was at the end of the Cold War.
The city is also home to an incomparable array of theaters and other traditional venues. Buenos Aires's vast array of museums, many in beautiful neoclassical structures along broad tree-lined Avenida Libertador, is as exquisite as the treasures these museums hold inside.
This all means there is no time like now to come visit Buenos Aires, a city rich in cultural excitement, all at a bargain price unheard of just a few short years ago. With prices on the upswing, this will of course change, so get there soon!
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