Gone are the days when riding an open-top bus or following a garrulous guide with a rainbow-coloured umbrella were the only ways to tour a city. Buenos Aires is now host to a plethora of options, the best five of which we have sussed out for you:
1. Fileteado Porteño Tour by 054
Fileteado, the style of painting associated with Buenos Aires, is characterised by intertwining forms, bold letters and vivid colours; for example, on the ornate red and yellow wagons that you might associate with gypsies and the circus. It turns out the city is a treasure trove of examples. Starting in Abasto and moving onto San Telmo, the tour takes you around the city by bus and subte. Guides, who speak English and Spanish, point out and explain examples of this artwork on shops and buildings. As this painting form has much to do with tango, there is a stop at the house where Carlos Gardel lived, now a museum paying homage to the famous singer. The stand-out feature of the tour is a 90 minute-long class where a fileteado artist demonstrates how to paint in the style. You also learn more of the secrets behind the art introduced by Italian immigrants working as cart builders in the early 20th century. You get to have a go yourself and keep your own attempt as a souvenir. Hard work over, the tour finishes up with a drink and snack in a traditional San Telmo bar.
2. Anda Responsible Travel La Boca Tour
Anda is part of a group of hostels and tour operators dedicated to sustainable tourism; that is to say, environmentally-friendly tourism that promotes fair trade and supports projects for social improvement (Anda donates 5% of company profits to the projects with which they work).They offer a tour to Iguazú where you can meet and learn from indigenous Guaraní people in order to help preserve their cultural heritage. Within Buenos Aires, Anda options include an Ideas Café where you can discuss Argentine idiosyncrasies with a local expert or a Tango Tour, which includes a visit to the Carlos Gardel museum, a tango class and a real milonga.
However, Anda are best known for their La Boca Beyond Caminito tour which, as well as showing the tourist the traditional sights, takes them beneath the veneer of coloured houses to see in action some social projects that aim to reduce poverty in the barrio. Within a shared housing complex, you meet a man who makes figurines from nuts and bolts. There is also chance to try and buy alfajores made by groups of mothers affected by the economic crisis who sell them at weekend football games. A third project, Eloisa, started by cartoneros, sells books donated by authors, which are printed on recycled paper and bound with hand-decorated cardboard covers. This tour offers a unique opportunity to support local economy and pick up a few original souvenirs. All participants also receive a specially-designed free gift.
Day and time to suit. Max group size: 7. Duration: 3.5- 4 hours. Cost: $131 – $448 depending on numbers. For more information, click here
3. Urban Running Tours
In this innovative tour, you run approximately ten kilometres around the city, with stops to catch your breath, have a sip of water, take photos and hear more detailed explanations. Whilst you need to enjoy running, you don’t have to be an athlete – the four guides (themselves all experienced runners) are patient, can change the pace to suit and even offer tips on technique. Hardcore runners can opt for more kilometres. Tours are tailored to pick you up from and drop you off at where you’re staying but are generally based around Palermo, Puerto Madero, Recoleta or San Telmo .
The tour of Recoleta and Palermo includes the flower sculpture, the law faculty, Palermo parks, the rose garden and the famous cemetery. It’s amazing how much you can see in 90 minutes when you’re not shuffling in large group formation through crowded pavements. It’s like running with a personal trainer who pushes you just outside of your comfort zone, leaving you feeling exhilarated and fed with interesting and relevant titbits of history rather than overloaded with information. The guide has a backpack to carry your valuables and water bottle and also brings a digital camera so you can later enjoy sweaty pictures of yourself in various beautiful locations by email. All tours include a free t-shirt.
Day and time to suit. Max group size: 4. Duration: 90 mins. Cost: US$30-50, depending on numbers. 5% of this is donated to the Cardiovascular Foundation. Website: www.urbanrunningtours.com.ar Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Graffiti Mundo Tour
Buenos Aires street art is a fascinating world which is about so much more than tags and delinquents. Graffiti started here with political messages during Peron’s 1950s government, yet the art really took off in the 1990s. Post-economic crisis examples can express fury and frustration or contain repeated cartoon-like characters aiming to cheer up passers-by. A few years back, two English girls decided there was much interest in graffiti yet to an outsider it seemed an impenetrable scene. They sought to hunt down the prettiest, most striking and most bizarre examples of graffiti, track the artists behind them and bring it all together in a three-hour tour that involves walking and a few rides in a minibus that will take you back to school trip days. The tour starts in Colegiales and moves through Villa Crespo and Palermo Soho and Viejo, stopping at abandoned walls, bus depots, toy shops and houses, adorned with everything from cacti with nipples and robotic dogs to stencilled faces and spaceships.
The tour has the blessing of the artists, some of whom are known personally to the organisers. The guides recount in-the-know stories about what went into creating a certain piece so that by the end you feel the graffiti world is your oyster and the artists your old friends. You will even be able to spot for yourself examples of a specific artist’s work – surely the mark of a good tour. The afternoon includes visits into one or two galleries with the option to buy art.
This company started off in 1999 organising a weekly, value-for-money walking tour for porteños, aiming to educate Spanish-speaking residents about their cultural and historical patrimony. Since then, Eternautas has been steadily growing with increased tourist traffic and now runs private tours for school groups, ex-pats and tourists…they even provided services to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands! Group size is limited to increase interaction with the guide who, unlike a recording, can take questions and cater for special areas of interest. The tour is run either in English or Spanish, so you don’t have to wait through translation, and whilst tour groups can enter into local businesses, purchases are entirely voluntary.
The guides are grad students or professors, all enthusiasts and experts in their fields of art, economics, history or architecture. The founders also serve as specialist consultants for TV history channels. As well as the classic ‘Imágenes de Buenos Aires’ city visit, there are diverse tour options including art (during which museums and galleries are visited), architecture or Peronism. Eternautas also runs courses on certain subjects and adventures to further-flung places such as Tigre or estancias that are a little more off-the-beaten-track, having less than 30 people staying at any one time.