I spent some time in Cordoba, Puerto Iguazu and Buenos Aires. So the real question is Cordoba V Buenos Aires. If you have seen Batman V Superman then there isn’t one single hero, they are both great cities but which did I prefer and more importantly, which would you prefer?
I met a lot of young travellers in Argentina, when I say young usually in their late 20’s. I am not so far off my late 20’s (I’m in my mids – showing my age!). A lot of them had passed from Brazil or started their journey in Argentina and were going to pass through Bolivia, Chile and end up in Peru. Popular destinations included Mendoza, Bariloche and Salta. I would have loved to visit Bariloche and Salta but alas another time. Mendoza is supposedly nice but I think if you are a wine drinker then you would say that.
Hostels and Airbnb are popular here. I stayed in Airbnbs during my stay and a cheap hostel in Puerto Iguazu. I really enjoyed Cordoba because I chilled out with the host during the evenings, where he showed me some local hang outs. Unfortunately he didn’t speak much English so my Spanish was truly tested.
Buenos Aires was completely different, it felt more like London and was much busier. Cordoba felt like a small town compared to BA and the culture there did differ somewhat. My host in BA wasn’t as inviting as my one in Cordoba but the city was still an interesting visit.
Puerto Iguazu is an Argentinian town near the famous Iguazu falls (there are two parts – Brazillian side and Argentinian side where the latter is considerably larger). It is a must see if you are in South America and a good way to see it would be either to do a day trip from a larger city (so you don’t have to carry your bags) or while you are passing through countries. I stayed in a £3 a night hostel, although very budget, I had a great time there as the other long term lodgers wanted to chat and get to know me and we had an Argentian chicken stew. Unfortunately I missed out on the asado the day after!
Cordoba has the Redbus where you can purchase a reloadable card and each trip varies but it is around $9-15 AR and some local buses run about but only take cash. Argentina has a separate system which utilises the SUBE card. This works on underground (SUBTE) and buses, it was such a great way to travel and muy economico. The SUBTE isn’t as efficient as the London Underground and some of the entrances were closed when I tried to get on, most of the lines intersect towards the terminuses which is slightly pointless which means that you pretty much have to catch the line towards the end to switch. There isn’t Uber in Argentina either which could remedy the issue.
I would definitely advise investing in these cards but just remember they won’t work outside their respective cities.
The buses to get to other cities were immense. Take advantage of the cama seats as they are super comfortable and literally turn into beds. I remember taking the bus to Puerto Iguazu and lying almost at 180 degrees while watching Blade Runner 2, serious comfort! There were drinks and hot food included and the bus host (Esteban) even offered me a glass of champagne! Talk about service eh.
The pricing of the buses is reasonable and dare I say tremendous value for money. It roughly costs about £30 for a ticket which includes hot food and drinks along the way. However some buses may not have the entertainment package but at least the seat goes all the way back.
When I went on the walking tours they talked about how Argentina has changed a lot and its old architecture mixes in with neo-classical architecture as they tried to emulate France. Another common thread was the Dirty war, which was a sad period in Argentina’s history. Prior to 1976 when it began, it was governed by Juan Domingo Peron several times before and after his exile. However I believe a tour guide told me that there were several coup-d’etats in its history. This is exactly what happened with the dirty war period.
Isabel Peron was deposed in 1976 and the military dictatorship took over. This led to censorship and any sign of resistance was met with extreme force. There was a famous movie called the Night of the Pencils, which is based on a true story, where school students protested against a rise in bus fares. The government then took some of the students away from their homes and tortured them (as some were believed to be part of extremist parties). Many were killed and some lived, Pablo Diaz was one of the survivors and gave graphic details of how the prisoners were treated.
Another movement during that period were the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Abuelas. These were mothers who did not know where their children had gone and wore headscarves as a sign they were part of this movement. They would protest to no avail but even to this day the organisation meets up as a symbol and reminder of what occurred in this time. The abuelas (grandmothers) are slightly different, as some of their children were pregnant they never had the chance to meet their grandchildren and some of these children were taken into military homes and raised. To this day, people are still being reunited with their blood relatives through government programs.
It isn’t a friend or “mate” as we might say in the UK but ma-te is a type of tea. On my first night in Cordoba, my host and I conversed in a mixture of broken Spanish and English and then asked if I had tried mate. He pulled out a chalice, a metal straw and two bags. I thought, this guy might be trying to sell me some “oregano” but joked and said it wasn’t marijuana. It was mate and peppermint leaves.
There is a certain etiquette to drinking mate, the bombilla has to be set in the right position, the water poured around the mate and then even the method of drinking the mate. They usually boil the water to 70-80 degrees and you have to almost immediately swallow the mate, don’t savour it. Another thing is definitely do not stir the mate.
Also just pass the mate around, as soon as you say gracias then your friends will take it as a queue that you’ve had enough. It contains a lot of good nutrients and anti-oxidants and it is extremely popular in South America, in Paraguay they even drink it with juice (terrere) as it gets extremely hot there. Try it!
Plaza de San Martin
This famous square is in the heart of Cordoba and walk down any of the streets and you will get into the hustle and bustle of the city. Directly opposite the statue of San Martin (the man who liberated and fought for Argentina) is the cathedral, you can enter freely and walk inside its beautifully ornate structure. There is a free walking tour which starts in the plaza which takes you into the cathedral as its first stop off.
Museum of Memories
This is near the cathedral and it is free to enter. It is a museum dedicated to the disappeared during the Dirty war and has a number of exhibits but it is only a single floor. There are two videos playing and also a room to commemorate those who were never found, with their belongings and written letters from family. It really illustrates the atrocity during that time, however be warned that a lot of the text is in Spanish and it was difficult to decipher all of it because my Spanish was pretty poor!
Paseo de las artes – Barrio Guemes
I remember my first night in Cordoba, the host gave me mate and then we went out. He took me to Paseo de las Artes which is an area/street where they will sell craft and Argentinian goods like mate cups but it is only open during the weekend. There are usually vintage items on sale and snacks but also gives you a chance to practice your Spanish or chat to some of the locals.
Guemes is another area, which is fairly close to Paseo de las artes. It has a very Soho vibe and has a lot of cool bars and restaurants to hang out in. It really does remind me of London and even had a Thai ice cream shop! (where they pour cream on cold plates and make ice cream). If you fancy beer, there is a patagonia artisan beer garden and more bars down the street.
Iglesia de los Capuchinos
You cannot miss this church, it has a huge spire and it probably one of the most colourful churches you will see. The church itself isn’t named after the famous coffee drink but after a group of catholic friars (cappuchino is named after these friars as the drink resembles their brown hoods). The church has two spires, one is finished and the other is incomplete. The guide told us that the complete spire represents our aspirations to reach heaven and the incomplete spire is to symbolise how man is imperfect. However, she also said that in those times if a building was left unfinished then it would not have to be taxed. Suspicious maybe?
It sounds creepy and it was slightly creepy. The crypt was accidentally discovered and is an now an underground museum, it was used by Jesuit priests to pray but as the cholera epidemic swept the nation it was later used as a crypt for the deceased. The Jesuits themselves were a catholic branch and were scholars.
San Telmo Market – Plaza Dorrego – El Zanjon
The market and plaza Dorrego are not far from each other. San Telmo market and the plaza are most interesting during the weekend, there is music, all the stalls are open and during the evening there is usually salsa in the Plaza. I went to the market during the week and although interesting, a lot of the stalls were closed but I did manage to eat some empanadas from El Hornero and a morcipan from Nuestra parilla.
I would highly recommend going with friends and venturing around the market, they sold vintage clothes, books and miscellaneous items but the food is probably what you will be able to buy.
El Zanjon is also an interesting find along the way to the market, it is a museum which opens every hour and you get given a guided tour. The museum showcases underground passages which were discovered in BA.
The famous obelisk is found near what the Guiness World Records said was the widest road in South America (later displaced by Brazil). It is an iconic monument which was thrust up in 1936 and it almost impossible to miss. There is even a ghost story about a worker who was working on the side of the obelisk who fell from it, people still say to this day you can sometimes hear the man screaming. Spooky.
This is another area far from the heart of BA. I would advise getting a bus there, I walked for a few hours to get to La Boca but it was worth it. It was definitely one of the highlights of BA as it was so different. Although it is extremely touristy, it was deemed to be the area which gave birth to tango. If you walk down El Caminito street, you cant miss the colourful houses and the vendors trying to sell you choripan and goods. It is definitely a place to visit and if you have time you can head into the Benito Martinez art museum.
La Recoleta Cemetery
The cemetery is famous for being the resting place for the elite. The marble headstones and statues are extremely beautiful and each tells a story. The most famous are as follows:
Eva Peron or Evita is the most iconic first lady of Argentina, actress turned political figure was loved by Argentinians as a grounded figure who parallels Princess Diana. Her body circulated across the Atlantic for 17 years until she was buried in Recoleta.
Dorrego Ortiz Basualdo
The centrepiece is most elaborate and built for the wealthy landowner family. It features a sculpture of a virgin lighting a seven branched candelabra.
The most well known story is of Rufina. There are varying stories about it but the concept remains the same. She was to be getting ready to head out of her home but was found to be seemingly dead, her mother invested in an ornate tomb for her. She was buried but a few days later, workers heard screaming from the tomb. By the time they opened it, they found scratches on the inside and Rufina motionless. Legend goes that she awoke from her coma and was still alive and was said to be the girl that died twice.
The story goes that David who worked in the Recoleta cemetery for a number of decades wanted his own tombstone there. He saved up all his life savings and had a tombstone made by an Italian sculptor. When it was ready he took his own life so he could finally rest in the cemetery.
Liliana Crociati de Szaszak
Liliana’s mother commissioned a statue of her and her dog after she was killed in an avalanche in Austria. It has a more innocent story behind the sculpture but it is definitely beautiful to look at, the dog’s nose has a golden tinge but no one has yet to claim a story for this. It is probably likely that if you rub his nose, you may get a wish.
This was actually down the road from where I was staying and it was an old theatre which has now been turned into a grand bookstore. It has turned into a tourist attraction and you can go in and sit with a book or even go to the coffee shop which is located on its stage.
If you go to Argentina then you cannot leave without trying their version of a BBQ/ Asado/ Churrasco. If you are a vegetarian, then you’re gonna enjoy eating cheese and bread a lot! There are a lot of reputable restaurants in Buenos Aires that do asado or are known as Parrila houses (grill houses). I was going to go to one of the fancy ones but as they opened up late, I decided just to search for a local one. I believe La Brigada, Las Cabras, Don Julio were on the top of the list but if you are going for a trip then definitely make a reservation and enjoy the meat.
I decided to go to Parrilla Los Pinos but they didn’t accept mastercard (only visa or cash), I couldn’t decipher the ATM, so I ended up walking to Parilla Teodoro. I really wished that I could get some cash out because Los pinos was packed full of locals and you could see the chef grill the meat on the bbq. Teodoro was full of locals too but the service lacked and the food wasn’t bad but I deeply regretted not going to a reputable grillhouse.
There are some options for you. Bife de chorizo is the most well known and it is the new York strip, definitely get it medium-rare (jugoso). Ojo de chorizo has abit more fat and is the ribeye and then there are the offal cuts. Sweetbreads were recommended to me but I could only see them in the higher end restaurants.
This is kind of like a Cornish pastry. The casing is a lot thinner and easier to chew, I find a lot of Cornish pasties quite thick but filling. Empanadas are cheap but also usually fresh, if you pass an empanada hole in the wall, then you might have found a gold well. On average, I spent about 60p per empanada and you can get a host of fillings.
Caprese is a vegetarian style empanada, Pollo is chicken but they usually add onions, egg whites and sometimes olives, carne is usually a beef mince and they add egg whites too and then they have jamon y queso which was my favourite – ham and cheese. These were the classic selections but some empanada shops sold different fillings. If you get the chance to go to San Telmo market then have a decent lunch at El Hornero.
Alfajores and Dulce de leche
Dulce de leche translates into candy of milk. It is a caramel type sweet and Argentinians love it! It is sickly by itself but combined with other things, it becomes a delicious snack. My host Laureano asked if I had tried it, as I nodded no, he proceeded to get a spoon and a tub of dulce de leche out of the fridge so I could try this delicacy. I can only describe it like a type of caramel but it wasn’t as sticky and people usually put it on toast, ice cream or fruit. However one of the most famous sweets would be the alfajores which comprises of two soft biscuits with a generous layer of dulce de leche and coconut shavings inside. There are other variations but you need to try it and have a café con leche or cortado with it.
Choripan – Morcipan- Bondiola – Lomito
Choripan is a slang for chorizo and pan. It is basically a sausage sandwich and it is ridiculously good. The sandwich comes loaded with salad and you can add chimichurri sauce and chili oil to your taste but even if it was plain, its delicious by itself. There will usually be a lot of street vendors selling it but have a look at what comes with it and if there are other people eating at the stall. I saw a lot of vendors usually in more touristy spots like La Boca.
Morcipan is another slang for morcilla (blood sausage) and pan (bread). If you don’t like black pudding then don’t try it. It has a very rich flavour and creamy texture and it is an alternative to choripan.
Also lomito is extremely popular, there isn’t really a translation for it but it essentially is a sub-sandwich with meat and salad. It is a popular meal and can be extremely filling
This refers to a piece of meat which is breaded and then fried. It is another popular dish and you can even buy the meats pre-breaded in the butcher, take it home and stick it in the oven. Alot of Argentinians will recommend trying milanese.
Fernet and Coke
It’s a strong drink which is brown and herbal. It is originally an Italian drink but Argentinians love to drink it and consume 90% of its production. They usually mix 1/3 fernet with 2/3 coke (or pepsi), personally I really didn’t like it but I guess it is an acquired taste like marmite, but marmite is tasty.
- Take cash with you, Argentinian ATM fees are ridiculous. I got charged £4 per transaction but I have heard it can go up to £8. It would be a very wise choice to take Euros or US dollars with you to exchange as the exchanges prefer this, I was unable to change my sterling at the airport but luckily Banco Nancional Argentina worked with my Monzo card
- Invest in a bus card. BA has SUBE which is useful and gives you discounted travel whereas Cordoba has its own rechargeable card (REDBUS). You cannot use them across cities, so will need to buy them separately
- Bug spray. I got bitten horrendously, I actually carried a bottle of DEET with me but I think it may be wise if you spray yourself once in the morning and at night
- Visit the markets on the weekend, I went to El Tigre but everything interesting opens up on Sundays. San Telmo and Matazeros also have interesting events on Sundays
- Order a slab of Bife de chorizo, papas fritas and a cheap Malbec. You’ll feel like a king eating and for the price, its pretty inexpensive. Forget any budget concerns, treat yourself.
- If you want to enjoy a tango experience then you can also watch locals dance on the weekend or if you are in BA then you can partake in a tango tour