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9 Reasons to Love (or Hate) Buenos Aires

By: Adam Dubove - @dubdam - Jan 12, 2016, 2:53 pm

EspañolLiving in a large metropolitan city in Latin America can be a double-edged sword. The possibilities are endless, but the noise and the constant rush can also be overwhelming.

Buenos Aires, the second largest metropolitan area in South America, is one such city: full of contradictions and stark contrasts, home to 3 million people, and many more daily commuters. In Buenos Aires, one can find joy in soccer, melancholy in tango, chaos in protests, and peace in city parks.

These can all be pros or cons, depending on whom you ask, so here are my nine reasons to love, or hate, Buenos Aires:

1. Architecture

Every neighborhood has its own style. In Recoleta, you feel like you’re in Paris. La Boca is a common postcard of Buenos Aires, a former port with colorful houses built with leftover metal sheets and paint from ships.

Not everything is an eye candy, though. The Argentinean capital is also home to one of the world’s ugliest buildings, right in the middle of an important avenue. Legend goes that you can go blind if you stare at the Public Works Ministry for too long.

Architecture in Buenos Aires
There is a wide range of architectural styles in Buenos Aires. (Alejandro Grussu / Wally Gobetz / Marissa Strniste)

2. World’s Bookshop Capital

If Buenos Aires residents can boast about anything, it’s that they have more bookstores per capita than any other city in the world. No reader is left wanting: there are small ones, big ones, second-hand shops, stores that specialize in things like law or art, and even some with in-store cafés, where you can sit and read books without even paying for them.

Corrientes Avenue must have the world’s highest rate of bookstores on a single block. Having so much from which to choose, however, leads to the “problem” of not knowing where to start.

The Gran Splendid is an old theater that's been turned into a giant bookstore.
The Gran Splendid is an old theater that’s been turned into a giant bookstore. (Christian Jiménez)

3. Pizza

Thanks to Italian migrants, pizza is a symbol of Buenos Aires. Several restaurants are famous across the city, and their fans regularly argue over which one is the best. There are basically three types, depending on how thick you want your pizza to be: thin crust, which is cooked on a baking stone, medium, and thick.

Flavors abound, all with abundant cheese. Of course, after eating a true Buenos Aires pizza, make sure to sign up for the gym or the annual marathon.

Fugazzeta, napolitana o calabresa, todas las variedades son sabrosas (Wally Gobetz)
Typical slices of napolitana and fugazzeta pizzas from Buenos Aires. (Wally Gobetz)

4. Diversity

“Argentineans are Italians who speak Spanish and believe they are French,” the poet Octavio Paz once said. It’s spot on, particularly about Buenos Aires, which is truly a cultural melting pot. Between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, millions of Spaniards, Italians, Britons, Germans, Jews, and Poles came here, transforming the city forever.

But immigration never stopped, it just changed. In the past decades, Bolivians, Paraguayans, Peruvians, Chinese, and Africans have arrived to seek better living conditions, just like our grandfathers did.

Ironically, the sons and grandsons of the first wave of immigrants discriminate against the recently arrived.

Buenos Aires migrants
Argentina’s own Ellis Island, the Hotel of Immigrants, hosted all the European migrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Wikimedia)

5. Public Transportation

Buenos Aires residents travel across their large city on bondis or colectivos, buses which are the object of both love and hate. Their trajectories can be mysterious, and waiting times at bus stops can seem eternal, but there’s always one that takes you from one point of the city to the other.

The Argentinean capital has a subway since 1919, the first city in the entire southern hemisphere to have a massive underground transportation system. Despite a rapid expansion in the first years, it has notably stalled. Using it during rush hour is recommended if you enjoy the warmth of close bodily contact.

Para viajar en hora pica en los subtes de Buenos Aires se recomienda ser flaco para no ocupar tanto lugar (Santiago Sito)
Being skinny in Buenos Aires has extra benefits: fitting in crammed subway trains. (Santiago Sito)

6. It Never Sleeps

People say New York is the city that never sleeps, but anyone who has walked around Times Square at 3:00 a.m. knows that is an exaggeration. In Buenos Aires, on the other hand, there’s always something to do, Monday through Sunday. Porteños, in fact, love the night.

Dinner is usually served around 10:00 p.m. whether at home or at a restaurant. Then, it’s party time. People almost never arrive in night clubs before 3:00 a.m.

Why do we leave everything for the last minute? If we did things earlier, we would have more time to enjoy.

Probablemente sean las 8 p.m., por eso el restaurante está vació. (Beatrice Murch)
Wondering why no one is at this Buenos Aires restaurant? It’s probably only 8:00 p.m. (Beatrice Murch)

7. The Weather

Unlike other Latin Americans, we are really blessed with weather in Buenos Aires: it has four clear-cut seasons, comfortable temperatures in autumn and spring, and tolerable temperatures in summer and winter. We get a bit of snow every 50 years, and we luckily experience no extreme natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes

The only weather complaint: too much humidity.

Excepto por la humedad, el clima en Buenos Aires siempre es amistoso, aunque la gente tiende a sobreabrigarse. (Pablo Andrés Rivero)
Weather in Buenos Aires can get chilly, but people tend to wear coats at the slightest breeze. (Pablo Andrés Rivero)

8. Tango

Buenos Aires is the undisputed tango capital. Fans of this traditional genre led by Carlos Gardel can find some of the best performances on the streets.

However, besides tourists and old folks, no one really listens to tango, or dances to it.

Aunque sea la capital mundial del tango, los turistas son los más interesados en este típico género porteño. (Andrea Balducci)
Tango is mostly a tourist attraction in Buenos Aires. (Balducci)

9. Green Areas

The many parks in Buenos Aires allow its residents to escape the city’s stress, even if for a short moment. Parks Rosedal, Bosques de Palermo, or Sarmiento are some ideal places to relax, drink mate, jog, ride a bicycle, or play soccer.

However, according to UN Habitat, Buenos Aires is one of cities with the least square meters of green areas per inhabitant.

And even though porteños love being outside, they’re not very mindful of cleaning up afterward.

El 21 de septiembre, Día de la Primavera (y del Estudiante) los parques de la ciudad se llenan de estudiantes de escuelas secundarias. Pero cuando se van, el pasto suele estar repleto de papeles, botellas y cualquier residuo que pueda imaginar (Pictures Argentina)
Thousands of students flock to parks on September 21, Youth Day. (Pictures Argentina)

Translated by Daniel Duarte.

Adam Dubove Adam Dubove

Adam Dubove is a journalist, co-host of The Titanic's Violinists radio show, and the secretary of the Amagi Institute. Follow him on Twitter: @dubdam, and read his blog: Diario de un Drapetómano.