Most people who choose to visit or study in Buenos Aires are familiar with its elegant European vibe and Latin flavor, but there is so much more to this great city than tango shows and architecture tours. Visiting Evita’s grave in the Recoleta Cemetery and touring La Boca’s colorful buildings are both awesome, but the real draw to Buenos Aires is its alternative side filled with unusual activities and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Whether you’re just visiting for a weekend or studying here for a year, these five activities are absolute must-do.
1. Experience Feria de Mataderos
You don’t need to leave the city to experience Argentina’s gaucho (cowboy) culture. Buenos Aires is famous for its weekend fairs, but none beats the Feria de Mataderos, where colorfully dressed locals perform chacareras (folk dances), gauchos of all ages compete in traditional horseback contests, and booths sell the finest leather crafts, metalwork, mate gourds, and heaping jars of dulce de leche. The best part of the Feria is the asado (barbeque), where delicious cuts of chicken and beef are served with fresh empanadas and locro. This Feria is located on the west side of the city (about a one hour bus ride from center city) and held every Sunday (as well as Saturday evenings in the summer).
2. Get Involved in the History
Buenos Aires has had a troubling past, particularly in the last 50 years, with military dictatorships and corrupt politicians creating large amounts of terror. There are many ways to learn about its unique history that go beyond just touring La Casa Rosada. No time in Argentina is complete without seeing the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (above), who commemorate “los desaparecidos”, or the “disappeared children” during the military dictatorship in the 1970s (called The Dirty War). Visitors can also take a tour of the ESMA, which was an illegal and secret concentration camp during the Dirty War that is now open to the public as a museum. The Plaza de Mayo offers more than just the Madres and Dirty War history, however. The most popular plaza in Buenos Aires, protests are held almost daily and visitors can experience the unique contrast of quaint markets and beautiful architecture with powerful protests and rallies. Don’t forget about the many walking tours that give students and visitors a real look at the city’s history, including museums dedicated to Evita and Peronism as well as the desaparecidos.
Often referred to as the “world’s most dangerous zoo”, the Luján Zoo is one of the few places in the world that lets visitors get an up-close-and-personal experience with wild animals. Located about an hour outside of Buenos Aires, this zoo is often overlooked because of the Buenos Aires Zoo in the center-city neighborhood of Palermo. However, in this secret gem of a zoo in Lujan, visitors can cuddle, feed, or even ride on various types of wild animals, including lions, bears, elephants, and tigers. In typical Argentine fashion, there has been some controversy about the zoo; particularly the welfare of the animals. Many people believe that the animals are sedated; however, the zoo claims that all of the animals are raised with human (and even dog) interaction, which teaches them how to behave around the public. The only way to form your own opinion is to visit the zoo for yourself!
4. Experience the Nightlife like a Local
No other city in the world does nightlife quite like Buenos Aires. Most clubs don’t even open until around 2am and stay bumping until children leave for school in the morning. What makes its nightlife really unique is the diversity and acceptance: the city is filled with underground tango joints, electronic raves, rustic bars, and risque transvestite clubs. The best example of the “anything goes” attitude is at the infamous Club 69, which takes over the Niceto Club every Thursday night with transvestite strippers, b-boys, and live music. Better yet, grab a late night choripan and hit up the Bosques de Palermo once the sun goes down to see some of the most fabulous drag queens lining the streets. For something a little bit more wholesome (but not by much), check out La Bomba de Tiempo. Every Monday at the Konex Center, a 17-piece improvisational drum group creates some of the best live music and dancing in the city. Incorporating Central American and African rhythms with Argentine folk and Latin flavor, a night boogying down to this group is an absolute must-do. No time in Buenos Aires is complete without taking advantage of the many forms of partying that occur here.
5. Visit the Land of Christ
In the traditional Argentine way, this is not as holy as it sounds. Tierra Santa, or Holy Land (but more commonly referred to as Jesus World), is the world’s only religious theme park. Located just outside of Buenos Aires, this unique theme park offers a nativity light show, the resurrection of a giant Jesus every hour, and even a belly dancing show (we’re still not quite clear on how this is related to Jesus but it’s entertaining nonetheless), as well as tons of food. More kitschy than anything, the grounds are a loose interpretation of Jerusalem and Jesus’s life, and worth it mainly so that you can say you’ve been to a Christian theme park.
From weekend fairs and bumping parties to orchestra performances and empanadas in the park, there is an infinite amount of things to do in Buenos Aires, which is why it is such a special city. Don’t stop at just these five things — take a tango class, watch the sunrise over the Floralis Genérica, or bike around the Palermo Rosedal. Most importantly, don’t forget to eat as much dulce de leche as possible!
Which of these alternative things will you do in Buenos Aires? Let us know in the comments.
Photo credits: Rebecca’s own, Tanoka via Flickr, Rebecca’s own, Gabriel Juan via Flickr, Rebecca’s own, Rebecca’s own