Thursday, January 19, 2012

San Telmo & La Boca – Two Barrios in Buenos Aires

Of the 48 barrios (neighborhoods) in Buenos Aires, San Telmo is the oldest and La Boca along with Barracus and Puerto Madero are next. Most of the residents are of mixed European descent, mainly Italian, Spanish, French and Basque. Known for its 19th century architecture and cobblestone streets, San Telmo is teeming with cafes, tango parlors, art and antique shops. If you are ever in Buenos Aires, put this on your schedule: “San Telmo on Sunday”. Centered in Plaza Dorrego, the arts and crafts fair stretches down numerous side streets. The little barrio is teeming with artisans, musicians, tango dancers and performers and the atmosphere is filled with energy. Arts and crafts, antiques and all things tango are for sale in the pedestrian only streets. Some expensive, some not and you can always bargain. I purchased a small leather-bound notebook with a tango scene on the cover for only $5.00! The artist even put my name on the back. Taking time we would stop often and listen to the performers, who range from one person singing the melancholy sounds of tango to full scale tango orchestras. I was entranced by a tango show being performed by two dancers in a small amphitheatre style setting. I could have watched longer but the guys wanted to keep moving. The day was heating up when we stopped at one of the many restaurants that line the streets, many of which host performances of tango and folklore song and dance. Here you can see dancers performing the tango, milonga (a more energetic version of tango) and folk dancing without spending the money to visit a show. As we sat drinking our chopp (draft beer) we watched tango and folk dancers, while at the restaurant across from us there was another more elderly performer singing tango. In fact at one point the owner came across and tried to tell the owner of the restaurant where we were that his music was too loud. I also had to ask the owner to sit down because he was standing in front, blocking the view and as a result most of the photos we took, he was in them! If in the mood, you can try your hand (and feet) and learn to tango from many of the dancers. With so much to see and do, it is easy to forget to look up at the old, restored buildings with their flower filled ornate balconies and cupola topped roofs. I could have stayed here all day but we want to see La Boca too. La Boca is the most colorful area of Buenos Aires and the buildings and homes in the barrio are painted vibrant shades of blue, red, yellow and green. Italian immigrants were the first settlers in this neighborhood and it was the city’s first port. Although many of the world’s football (soccer) fans know La Boca as being the home of La Bombonera and the Boca Juniors, we are going to the main pedestrian street, La Caminito, named after a famous tango song. Like San Telmo, the streets were lined with artists selling their designs and local dancers performing and teaching tango. Unlike San Telmo , due to the brilliant splashes of color you definitely won’t forget to look up and check out the buildings with their adornments of statues and mannequins. From this quaint, quirky, colorful neighborhood, with echoes of tango in my head, we headed back to the city center for more sightseeing.


  1. i regret not spending more time in Buenos Aires when I went to Ushauia... thanks for sharing this journey.

  2. When we started the trip there were a few cities I wanted to visit, as a tourist - one of them being Buenos Aires. We weren't disappointed. It was beautiful and would highly recommend it for a vacation.