Buenos Aires is, famously, a city with its face turned away from the water. So what about the barrio that’s right on the water, Puerto Madero? Well the short answer is: you won’t find an area less like Buenos Aires anywhere else in Buenos Aires. A TGI Friday’s within walking distance of a Hooters…no holes in the sidewalks…say whaaat? Read on for more about this strangest of barrios.
An introduction to Puerto Madero
Puerto Madero was of course originally a port (did the name give it away?). Odd enough though it was only a functioning port for about fifteen years after it was finished in 1897. It was built to accommodate the cargo ships of the day, but the increasing use of larger cargo ships around that time quickly rendered it obsolete. A new port built to accommodate the larger ships opened in 1911, and that was the beginning of the end of Puerto Madero’s life as a port.
From 1911 until 1999 the Puerto Madero area was used for ancillary port functions. Rusting ships and decaying warehouses littered the area, and although proposal after proposal was put forward about what to do with it, nothing was done for many years.
Finally, no doubt inspired by places such as the Docklands in London and Darling Harbour in Sydney, the ‘let’s-turn-the-dock-area-into-an-apartment-tower-luxury-hotel-and-international-corporation-office-precinct’ –brigade took over, and the rest is (very recent) history. Gone are the rusting ships and vacant warehouses, and in their place is an upmarket and clean but characterless area that feels like it could be in any city in the world.
Things to see, do or both
In the dock area, the two ships-cum-floating-museums, Sarmiento and Uruguay, are each worth half an hour or so of your time.
If you’re into your bridges (not at all weird), you might appreciate the Puente de la Mujer. It spans the water in the dock three area, and is moderately impressive, with cables and stuff. (Not content with that description, bridge lovers? Ok fine, it’s a ‘cantilever spar cable-stayed swing bridge.’ Happy now?)
The best thing in Puerto Madero is the 864-acre ecological reserve that sits between the high rises in Puerto Madero and the Rio de la Plata. It’s a very popular weekend spot for birdwatchers, walkers and cyclists. Very well-maintained trails wend their way through the reserve and lead eventually to the waterfront. Just in front of the entrance to the reserve is a row of snacks stands selling delicious things like choripan and vaciopan.
Nightlife and restaurants
Unsurprisingly, the night haunts in Puerto Madero are high-end without exception. There are some good bars, clubs and restaurants, but you’ll pay well over the odds to sample their wares.
• Despite the huge Italian influence in Buenos Aires, the Italian fare here is all too often mediocre. Thankfully, Sottovoce (Alicia Moreau de Justo 176) is around to remedy this. It’s one of the best Italian restaurants in the entire city. The fresh pasta, calamari, and Patagonian wines are particularly good, as are the desserts.
• Want to go drinking in Puerto Madero? You could try Universe Bar (Martha Salotti 445), which is the resident bar at the fancy party hotel Faena. The décor, which is by Philipe Starck, is a mishmash of old-money and postmodern touches. There are DJs and live music most nights. As you would expect, it’s really expensive, and even more so if you opt for the cocktails and the caviar.
• On the boliche as opposed to bar side of things, Asia de Cuba (Pierina Dialessi 750) and Jet Lounge (Avenida Rafael Obligado 4801) reign supreme in Puerto Madero. The dockside Asia de Cuba is best on Wednesday nights, while the slick Jet has a vice-like grip on Thursdays.
Puerto Madero is no doubt an impressive achievement – the area has gone from post-industrial wasteland to high-rise hoe-down in just 10 years – but that doesn’t mean you should go there. It feels like a giant corporate university campus or a sprawled out shopping center suburb. Buenos Aires is a city with a lot of character, so why would you want to spend time in the one area that has none? With the exception of the ecological reserve, for most of us Puerto Madero is best left to the people who don’t know any better.