Buenos Aires

My husband, Joe, and I were incredibly happy that we chose Buenos Aires (B.A.), Argentina, as our vacation destination this year. Aside from the U.S. dollar’s being strong there, one of the main reasons we decided to go was because we read W.E.B. Griffin’s “Honor Bound” series, “Honor Bound” and “Blood and Honor” among them, which addresses B.A. during WWII. It is very descriptive of the city and the estancias, also mentioning the Alvear Palace Hotel, and it sounded like an exciting and fascinating place. We were not disappointed.

Since we visited so many websites and read so many travel articles in which people sang the praises of sites, hotels and restaurants there, we feel that we should reciprocate and give a summary of our trip and helpful hints.

We flew from Los Angeles (via Dallas) on March 29, ’06, and spent 15 days in Argentina (and Uruguay).
At Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport (EZE), we had trouble with the ATMs. Later we found out that you can take out only 500 pesos, which is about $160 (this seemed to be true only in B.A.). So we cashed dollars in at the airport bank and, to our surprise, there was a good exchange rate and no transaction fee.

Although we had taken U.S. dollars and at least 50 singles, we wish that we had taken more U.S. dollars, as they are accepted easily and there is no fee for exchange.

From EZE we took Taxi Ezeiza, which has a kiosk at the terminal. It cost us $18 to go to our hotel downtown near Florida Street.

We learned that it was better to use remises from the airports rather than taxis, but circumstances caused us to use both. A remise is basically a hired car. You pay ahead a set price so that you don’t have any trouble with cab drivers’ switching your money and telling you that you gave them counterfeit bills.

We spent eight wonderful days in B.A., seven of those nights at the Claridge Hotel (Tucuman 535, B.A.; phone 54-11 4314-7700, www.claridge.com.ar), at $120 per night plus tax. The rooms were small but very clean and quiet. The buffet breakfast was excellent, with lots of fruit, cheese and bread as well as a hot dish.

A 30-minute massage cost $16. Use of the Internet at the business center was free. Since it was our first time in B.A., we were pleased to find that the concierges and reception desk staff were quite helpful. In fact, everyone was prompt and anxious to assist us.

Our hotel was located less than a block from Florida Street. Florida Street was great — a bit touristy but overall a great place to stay, as we were able to walk around at night listening to music and watching tango dancers late into the night.

We felt very comfortable in B.A. We spent a lot of time walking around the city and exploring the different neighborhoods. We particularly liked Puerto Madero, Belgrano, Palermo Soho and Viejo. Generally, we walked, but we also used the subway system (less than 25 cents for a ticket, including transfers!) and taxis (also quite inexpensive) when we needed them.

We ate lunch and dinner in areas throughout the city. We also went to as many bakeries and pastry places as possible and found many of them to have excellent pastries.
Don’t miss Murillo 666 (or other leather outlets on Murillo Street). It is near the Malabia subway station. They will bargain with you. Cash is preferred.

We timed our trip so that we could go to the San Telmo Sunday market, which we found to be quite lively and a great deal of fun. The empanadas sold out of baskets on the street cost about 30 cents and were delicious.
When we arrived in B.A., we took a general city tour, booking it through the hotel concierge. It was three hours and cost $15 each.

Although we did a lot of sightseeing, we recommend the English tour at La Recoleta Cemetery. Just show up at the front gate at 11:00 on Tuesday or Thursday; it’s free and takes a couple of hours. Our guide was great. The time flew by walking around and listening to tales about the prominent people and public figures buried there.
We also recommend the English tour of the Opera House, Teatro Colón, which takes place at 11 and 1 (maybe 3 also). It cost 10 pesos ($3.25). You should make reservations the day before; either call the opera house directly at 011/4378-7344 or ask the hotel concierge to call for you as we did. It was an excellent tour.

We went to the tango show at Michelangelo (Balcarce 433 – 1064 Capital Federal, Buenos Aires; phone 4342-7007, www.michelangelo.com.ar). We arranged this through the concierge at the Claridge. A van comes and picks you up from your hotel and then returns you — important because all of the tango shows are in the San Telmo area and it is not advisable to walk there at night.

We skipped the dinner and only attended the show. It cost us 280 pesos for two ($45 each). It was terrific.
Through Mawa Travel Agency in the Galleria Pacifica (the mall on Florida Street), we booked a trip to an estancia, Don Silvano, for $40 per person. We went on a Saturday and found that, except for a small group of travelers from Russia, Germany and Mexico plus us, all of the guests were local people from B.A. celebrating birthdays, anniversaries or other occasions.

The asado (barbecue) was excellent, and we enjoyed the folk dances and gaucho show. It was neither fancy nor touristy and we had a great time.

For our last two nights in B.A., after taking side trips elsewhere, we splurged and stayed at the Alvear Palace Hotel (Av. Alvear 1891, C1129AAA, Buenos Aires; tel. [+54-11] 4808-2100, fax 4804-0034 or e-mail info@alvearpalace.com. Phone The Leading Hotels of the World at 800/745-8883 or visit www.lhw.com). It was fantastic but, obviously, expensive. It cost 2,879 pesos for two nights, or about $479 per night, including tax.
Each floor has a butler. They press two items each on your arrival. An excellent champagne buffet breakfast is included in Le Orangerie, a beautiful room.

We ate at their restaurant, La Bourgogne, and had a truly elegant meal, absolutely wonderful. I had tenderloin with a béarnaise sauce and my husband had venison and an appetizer. Added were a modest wine and a full sampler of desserts. At $193 it was expensive by B.A. standards but not for that same meal in Europe or the U.S.; in the States it would have cost $300-plus.

Redondo Beach, CA