Like every big city, Buenos Aires has many popular tourist attractions that can be found in every guide book or website you read about it. Many times as tourists, we go to popular tourists sites that are labeled “must sees” only to come away feeling disappointed and misguided. This post is not to say you shouldn’t visit any of the places listed, but rather to analyze if they really are a “must see” destination like so many websites and guide books say they are.
Caminito in La Boca
When people pick up a guide book to Buenos Aires, one of the first images they see is usually the colorful houses that populate the small area of La Boca, know as “Caminito.” Caminito is usually defined as a must see destination while you are in Buenos Aires. But is it really worth making the trip to Caminito?
Nope, unless you want to be bombarded by a million people trying to sell you things, eat at an overpriced restaurant all the while feeling like you are in an amusement park as opposed to a historical neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Due to its growth as a tourist destination, the colorful buildings of Caminito have started to feel less authentic and more like a movie set.
Some people may find Caminito worth going to and if you have the time, sure, check it out. But if you come to Buenos Aires, don’t feel like you can’t miss it. All of my friends who have visited me in Buenos Aires have commented that they really didn’t need to go.
However, if you are an avid photographer, I would suggest a trip to Caminito and its nearby streets, as there are many great photo opportunities.
MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires)
For me, a trip to a new city is all about walking around and exploring new neighborhoods. I don’t really need to check out any museums unless they are a MUST. But as a person who generally enjoys Art Museums, I found MALBA to be quite boring with a limited collection, not worth its admission of 22 pesos. Please note, this is just one man’s opinion, as many people love MALBA.
The question is, unless you are an Art aficionado or very interested in Latin American art, is MALBA a “must see” like the Art Institute of Chicago or MOMA in New York? Nope.
Have you ever been to Schaumburg, Illinois? It is a northwest suburb of Chicago. It has a TGIF Fridays next to a Hooters. It also has many corporate campuses and shopping centers. Sounds like a lot of other suburbs in the states right? Well then, if you have been to places like that, you won’t be missing anything if you don’t go to Puerto Madero, unless, you have an urgent need to eat some extreme jalepeño poppers at TGIF Fridays or some wings and Hooters…..
Built up over the last 15 years, Puerto Madero has transformed from a rusty dock area to a ‘let’s-turn-the-dock-area-into-an-apartment-tower-luxury-hotel-and-international-corporation-office-precinct’ place. Which is to say it lacks character and looks like any city in the world.
If you are into high scale bars and clubs, checking out Puerto Madero at nighttime could be worth it. But to visit just as a place to check out and walk around, it can be missed.
This place is not as well known as many of the places on this list, but it can be found as a must see recommendation in San Telmo in many guide books and websites.
What is El Zanjón? It is an old house with tunnels from the early settlement of Buenos Aires that has been renovated as a museum. The tunnels provide a glimpse into the city”s architecture layers. At first glance El Zanjón sounds really interesting and was the reason I decided to check it out.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. What they don’t tell you in the guide books is that this place is used as a banquet hall for companies, organizations, etc and that this key fact influences the tour they give you. The tour comes across as a big advertisement to use the place as your next banquet hall. While learning little about the history of the building, I learned more about the kitchen where the chefs prepare the food for the banquets, how certain parts of the building are used to serve appetizers and wine at the banquets and how a certain room is used as a dance floor complete with modern dj equipment for the banquets.
The main selling point is the tunnels, which makes it sound like you are going to actually explore abandoned tunnels under the ground, as in something you would see on a ghost hunters television program. When in reality, since the tunnels have been renovated with modern lighting and other upgrades, you just feel like you are in any other museum.
Colonia Del Sacramento
We have written two articles already which should help you decide about Colonia. One about why you shouldn’t go to Colonia and one about why you should. These should help you make up your mind if it is worth it or not to make the trip across the river!!
Interested in checking out some places worth visiting? Make sure the check out some Buenos Aires Tours from Landing Pad BA.
Colonia del Sacramento is not part of Bs. As, is not even part of the same country.
Hi Ramon, yes but Colonia is a common place to go and more importantly a common place to be suggested to go when visiting Buenos Aires as it is only 40 min away. People associate Colonia with Buenos Aires.
I absolutely disagree with the 1st 3. You are SO dead wrong.
Thanks for the comment Andi!! If you read this, please let us know why you disagree. It will be good to have a different perspective about Caminito and Puerto Madero to counter the article. Thanks!!
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Hmmm, I would have to say I disagree with some of the places on the list as well. Although you guys are right when you say that Puerto Madero has a lot of restaurants, etc. you could find in the U.S., it is also a peaceful, not-as-polluted place to relax. Plus, it’s where the epic scene in “Nueve Reinas” was filmed. 🙂
MALBA is pricey, but I think on Wednesdays there’s a discount. I think that for MALBA is really an acquired taste-not everyone is going to like its art. Best to check online first and see what new exhibits they have.
I think part of the fun of Caminito is that it is a circus with all the hecklers/street performers. The guy walking around claiming to be Diego Maradona is hilarious.
Haven’t been to El Zanjon; Colonia de Sacramento I would spend only a few hours at.
An interesting and controversial list! Clearly some places in Buenos Aires aren’t for everyone. Vicky Baker recently wrote a post for our blog, The Real Argentina, about some of the best architecture in Buenos Aires, including her list of 5 quirky buildings that should not be missed. http://www.therealargentina.com/argentinian-wine-blog/the-best-of-buenos-aires-architecture-including-five-quirky-finds/
This post is totally unnecessary, first of all Colonia Sacramento is in Uruguay founded by the portuguese is an historic quater declared world heritage site by unesco, like saying if u go to Toronto, dont waste your time in Niagara Falls..or “must see” in NYC the ground zero museum (Museum !!) or the Central Park, just a park … Every city in the world has its charm including Buenos Aires in Argentina and Colonia and Montevideo in Uruguay. Well Im getting bored reading this.
If you are coming to BsAs and have only a few days, you can definitely overlook all of these things.
Puerto Madero is the best. It has al great offer of restaurants, cool people, and the best view, a must in daytime
Agree with you in Caminito, it’s a waste of time. I live in Buenos Aires
You may also add San Telmo to your list, it is a glorified flea market/street fair, nice architecture, but you can find that in a lot of Buenos Aires. I loved El Tigre, I saw residents wave down passing grocery “lanchas” to buy stuff!
Being a local argentinian (born and raised) I find this article to be interesting. I could give you the argentine view for these places (representing my personal opinion and the local people I hang out with)
1) Caminito: If you think some colorful paint on poverty and stagnation, to sell stuff to foreigners, is a cool thing to watch, it´s definitely a “must see” for you.
2) MALBA: -Value is subjective-. If you wanna see SOME latin american art, go. Not very popular among locals.
3) Puerto Madero: Here´s the big difference on what a local and a foreigner might think of this place. The author is quite right: for someone who comes from places where this is an everyday scenary, well, why go spend your time on more of the same. But for locals, Puerto Madero is exactly that: like being in “another country” (“es como otro país” they´d usually say); so it´s a very popular place for local “porteños” and argentine tourists from other parts of the country.
4) El Zanjón: What the heck is that??? never heard of that one (neither the people around me at this moment (all argentinians). Some good Lonely Planet marketing deal, I guess.
5) Colonia del Sacramento (Just “Colonia”) is another one for the wild card “value is subjective”. This one´s on me now: if you come to Buenos Aires and meet a local girl/guy, Colonia is a good quiet place to spend a romantic weekend at.
This is a great article in my opinion.
I have visited Bs.As. on three occasions. The last time was for a three month stay. I found this article interesting. I agree with some things and disagree with others.
1. El Caminito — Agree and disagree.
I tell friends that it is indeed a bit of a tourist trap, but that it does make for a great photo op. There are also a few good museums down there. I would highly recommend Proa.
2. MALBA — Agree.
I have to say that I was not impressed with this museum. If you are going to do the art museum thing, check out el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Recoleta. Bellas Artes is a shoebox of a museum, yet it is a shoebox crammed to the rafters with an impressive collection. Also check out Centro Cultural Recoleta.
3. Puerto Madero — Agree (more or less).
I just tell people to stay on the west side of the diques. It feels a bit like the docklands of London. There are some good restaurants (aside from things like TGIF!) and some trendy shopping. If you go to the east side of the diques, you feel as though you are in any modern southern U.S. city. Don’t waste your time over there.
4. El Zanjón — Absolutely DISAGREE!
Yes, they do have banquet/reception facilities; however, the English language tour that I took was led by a knowledgeable historian and provided a wealth of in-depth historical information regarding the architecture, engineering, and social life of the people who once inhabited the site.
5. Colonia del Sacramento — Disagree.
I think there is enough there for a day visit. Perhaps the ferry schedule has changed; but the last time I was there, Buquebus ran a late afternoon return high-speed ferry ride that would get you back to Bs.As. in plenty of time for dinner.
Just my two cents worth! 😉
Thanks Reed & Eric for your thoughts!!!
Dude , your an asshole….
dont read this bullshit its not true.
El Zanjon is a must see in BA. Specially if you want to know something about the history of San Telmo, the oldest area of the city.
The tour guide is amazing! and in English!!!! what is something not easy to find….
Caminito you are right its like a movie set!
and Malba is beatifull, nice Latin art
Enjoy Buenos Aires and its people who are amazing!
Anibal Lascano, Sevilla, Spain.
I have been living and working in Buenos Aires for over 18 months, and I (as well as every single one of the 3 expat and 6 Argentine coworkers who read your post with me) disagree with your statement that these are “overrated” tourist attractions. All of them have cultural and/or historical significance and thus reasons for going. Future B’aires visitors should actually do the opposite of what this post says.
I am a porteña living abroad, I agree about Pto Madero and La Boca, but gringos in general like them.
I’ve never heard of El Zanjon. Where is it?
You know, I’ve never been to Caminito either even though I lived in BA for 32 years! It does sound like a tourist trap but on the other hand, it seems to offer great photo ops.
The advantage of the MALBA is that it displays Latin American artists only, as opposed to the MNBA. If you want to see European art, the best place to see it is Europe. Come here to see renowned local artists.
Ermmmm I haven’t been to Colonia either but would love to, one day.
Puerto Madero is nice for a quiet walk 🙂
I live in BA, and I used to live in Schaumburg, IL, and I thought that comparison was hysterical. Are you from the suburbs in Chicago? If so, then you and me might be soul brothers… Good article.
So as a foreigner visiting BA for one week I now know where perhaps I should consider Not going….
So where Should one go?? Would love to know the highlights not to be missed…. FYI first week of Feb 2012
I’ve been in SA for 4 months but still only speak a disgraceful amount of Spanish…gringo I am.
Disagree on Boca and Colonia, and Puerto Madero to some extent. The wife and I were in BA 2 years ago, we saw everything, attended a River game (Boca was away the 2 weekends we were there), tango shows, flew out to Mendoza, etc. Plan to return for more of BA and to hit Bariloche and lower Patagonia.
Despite what Boca may be now, at minimum it is a colorful and vibrant part of the city, fun to visit. But it is also the original port area of BA and, correct me if I am wrong, one of the first settlement areas of immigrants (particulary Italian) that settled in BA. For history alone it is significant. In many ways while you are there you can sense the history and feel it is the heart of the city (though admittedly we spent at least 1/2 our time off Caminito and also toured the Boca museum and stadium).
Colonia is also an important site for history and to learn more about the Portugese and Spanish eras/influence/trading, etc.
As for Puerto Madero, it is nice to see new development and revitalization of a commercial dock area into a commercial and residential zone.
I can easily understand why if you were living in BA one would not frequent any of these places, but for a tourist in BA I think Boca (though not necessarily Caminito) and Puerto Madero are worth 1/2 a day.
We got the most enjoyment in BA at the tango shows, parrillas, the park areas, Palermo and Recoleta, architecture, the history museum in San Telmo. We also attended Opera Pampa at La Rural, it was lightly attended but an excellent and amazing show. I don’t know if this is purely a kitschy tourist trap but the food was good (or decent in comparison to the other great places we ate in BA) but the show was amazing. We are from Texas and perhaps enjoyed that show more as the history of Argentina with Spain is very, very similar to Texas.
All my friends that are Euro snobs I em encouraging to go to BA and Argentina, it is my favorite intl. destination next to Prague.
I was looking for what TO photograph in BA. All you have is negative info. If I were writing something like this, I would try and guide people to the great things to photograph… offer them some positive info and opportunities.
I found this whole page filled with nothing but negativity… which doesn’t give me and planning tools for BA.
Offer me something that will help me step forward, not keep me standing in my place.
Colonia should have been your first place mentioned. It is not in Buenos Aires, not even in Argentina! That is the only place you should not go if you come to Buenos Aires!!
In my opinion this article needs some options. If you think visitors do not have to visit MALBA, tell them about an alternative museum; if you think Caminito is not the best places to go, suggest which one it is… and so on (like Reed tells).
I have travelled to many places in Europe, Latinamerica and USA and most places suggested by famous visitors guides are like these places you mention on this article but it is up to you to visit them among many others. Even if you go to Disney Parks you will find some overrated attractions…
You don’t know shit! Colonia del Sacramento is in Uruguay, A DIFFERENT COUNTRY! And this attractions are overrated TO YOU. Stay home man!
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Obviously a provocative list, but I like most of what is being said – my own experience is based on 3 years living in Quilmes and regularly being in Capital:
Caminito: Tourist trap. La Boca is more than a little dodgy, but hire a bicycle and cycle round it – go with someone else so you can keep half an eye on each other and half an eye on who might be getting a bit too close for comfort., A bicycle gives you enough of a speed edge over someone on foot if you feel you have to get out of there in a hurry (I have also lived in Johannesburg, so maybe I am just a bit too used to dealing with dodgy areas pragmatically).
MALBA – I am an art freak and really in to Latin American art, so I personally liked it. One of my favourite art museums in BsAs is the Xul Solar museum.
Puerto Madero – Agree with you 100% – but it might be a class thing. It is very much the posh end of town (Palermo without the charm and old buildings). But you have taken a bit of stick on this one, so clearly it is what a lot of tourists are after.
El Zanjon – can’t comment.
Colonia de Sacramento – your pro and con articles nicely weigh up the issues. I would spend no more than a couple of hours en route to Montevideo – love the slow ferry, and like the suggestion from Eric that it is a good place for a romantic time away, but it is a very small place.
By the way – one addition for tango dancers – avoid Confiteria Ideal: Pricy, crap food, and really bad discipline on the dance floor – one tends to get heels in the ankle a bit too regularly for fun. A little more controversially I do not like Salon Canning, but please try that one yourself first – many people love it, I find the floor just too crowded. My own favourites include Gricel and Yira Yira, both fairly traditional and mainly local dancers, or Maldita Milonga for a more international crowd. My absolute favourite is Sunderland – lots of disadvantages: it is a long way from the centre in Villa Urquiza, held in a basketball hall with neon strip lighting, which can be a little odd when you get used to more subdues lighting, but it attracts the absolute cream of local salon tangueros – the dancing is of an astonishingly high standard (which can make it really scary as a gringo getting on the floor, but as long as you don’t bump in to someone you should have fun).
My tuppence worth.
Yeap! I hate locals behaving like poor toursits and defending Caminito.
Caminito sucks and La Boca is a fucking tourist trap. True, there are tons of things to see (conventillos, artists’ workshops, etc.) but obviously NOT from a tourist’s perspective.
Puerto Madero is nothing special in comparison to other cities in the world BUT… it gives you a break from Buenos Aires’lack of trees, open views and fresh air (oh the irony… THANK YOU MACRI!)