I recently hosted my parents here in Buenos Aires. It was a trip we had been planning for over a month now – choosing restaurants, day-trips, markets, accommodation… etc.
Over their ten days here, I played host and translator, and somehow managed to get us into one tricky situation after another. As a relatively new porteño myself, parts of this city still get the best of me, and probably always will.
The best way to explore this city is to ‘lose yourself’ in it; to wander its streets soaking in the architecture, history, and cityscapes. I think maybe we took that a bit too literally as we spent a lot of time hopelessly lost.
While wandering is important, wandering aimlessly while babbling (in English) about how lost you are makes you a bit of a target in certain areas you probably shouldn’t be wandering in. Combine that with the fact that you definitely look like foreigners (the combination of rain jackets, hiking boots, and fanny-packs are the visual equivalent of demanding to be robbed).
This week’s top five is the result of ten days of hard earned gum-shoe research towards where/how not to take your parents, or any visiting relatives, arriving at the city for the first time.
1. Villa 31
I’m not really sure how it happened or why I didn’t realise it earlier (I find myself asking this question a lot though) but somehow we managed to stumble into Villa 31, or at least close enough to send my mum into conniptions and my dad’s eyebrows into his hairline.
Most villas are off the beaten tourist track, located outside the city limits or hugging its furthest edges, far enough away from thimble hot-spots to keep my parents and I out of their limits. Villa 31 on the other hand, is right in Retiro, easy wandering distance from the train station
We were at the train station in Retiro waiting for our ride to Tigre. With about 20 mins to kill until the train was scheduled to leave we decided to take a tour of the area. We sauntered around for awhile and eventually, as aimless wandering often goes, veered onto the wrong side of the tracks. Soon enough it became pretty clear that my mom wasn’t going to find any thimbles for her collection here and we high-tailed it out pretty quick.
No need for details on this one. Villas, while a evident part of life in Buenos Aires, aren’t a good place to bring your parents. Lots of great people live there, but the abject poverty draws in some who could try and take advantage of you.
2. Tourist Traps
Any city with a market for tourism is going to have a couple of these. There are a few in Buenos Aires – pedestrianised Florida and La Boca’s ‘Caminito’ are a couple of classics.
It is important to give yourself a tight schedule when entering known tourist sections as one can easily end up spending more time than needed. I would suggest drawing up short contracts for all to sign, which clearly limit the amount of time allotted for searching for thimbles (we did this a lot), or any other unnecessary souvenir.
The fruit market in Tigre is another example: it offers some great local crafts, but pier after pier of wicker can start getting prickly (get it?). I would highly recommend Tigre as a place to visit. It is beautiful, but wicker is stupid.
3. Plaza de Mayo (during a protest)
This historic square is a must-see when you are in Buenos Aires. Since being the scene of the 25th May 1810 revolution that led to Argentina’s independence. It is the seat of countless historical events over the life and times of the city.
You really can’t come to Buenos Aires and miss the chance to soak up the square. Unfortunately, though, I brought my parents here just in time for the heat of Hugo Moyano’s CGT demonstration, which brought thousands of angry unionists together to get rowdy and do some shouting.
A tourist hot-spot with an aura of ‘protest’, that has bubbled over into violence in the past, a major social demonstration can become rowdy and uncomfortable for unaccustomed sightseers.
Be sure to check the news before leading your parents into a possible riot, if not to avoid, then at least to give yourself time to make a fun sign and think of clever chants.
On the plus side, protests do draw in the best street vendors!
4. Adult Shows
Buenos Aires can be a bit more sexually liberal than other places, especially straight-laced North America. Even television and advertising seems more explicit.
The nightlife in general is pretty liberal in this respect. There are plenty of clubs, restaurants, bars, etc, that cater to the ‘erotic’ tourist, not to mention that the city is often labelled as the ‘gay mecca’ of Latin America.
In short, there are plenty of opportunities to create painfully uncomfortable situations if you are travelling with relatives in tote.
Conveniently located in Palermo, Te Mataré Ramirez is an excellent example of a place you probably don’t want to take your parents. The restaurant markets itself as an aphrodisiac dining experience; Kama Sutra themed décor and nightly erotic shows top the menu here.
A friend of mine shared a lesbian tango show and a male strip tease with her parents – just a couple of examples of what you could enjoy with your meal here.
Speaking for myself here, but associating my parents with anything, remotely sexual is a special kind of awful. That said, if you feel like enjoying some erotic performances with mum and dad, here you can do so- and eat too!
5. Bosques de Palermo (at night)
Like Plaza de Mayo, the bosques are a must-see in BA. Some 400 hectares of beautiful park replete with groves, lakes, and rose gardens. You can take a stroll, rent a bike, rent a boat, bring some mate and just have a sit down – have fun!
After dark, however, the lungs of the city turn into a red-light district specialising in transsexuals.
By all means check out the bosques, just don’t hang around too late, unless of course you’re seeking that sort of entertainment (even then, hopefully not as part of a family outing).
While it was still daylight when my parents and I strolled through the Bosques, we managed to find some trouble here as well. Pausing to look at the map we fell for the ol’ spray-you-with-fake-bird-poo-steal-your-wallet trick. Fortunately, before we had time to hand-over our passports and socks, an unknown gentleman came to the rescue. This is apparently a common trick, so heads up!
In the end we all had a great time, and maybe even had a more authentic experience than most through our aimless wandering. In that sense, this week’s top five could be taken either way.
Have you had an interesting experience with visiting relatives in Buenos Aires? Tell us about it in the comments below!