With its lavish stately homes and plush hotels, Recoleta is considered by many to be the most affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires. It is also an area of immense historical interest, namely the impressive Recoleta Cemetery.
An introduction to Recoleta
Recoleta is the neighborhood situated directly northeast of Buenos Aires City Center and shares a border with Almagro, Palermo and Retiro. The barrios popularity began towards the latter part of the 18th century when an outbreak of yellow fever (1871) in the southern suburbs forced the city’s residents to seek refuge elsewhere. Whilst the poorer headed south, the wealthier families chose Recoleta due to its higher terrain thus a lack of disease infecting insects.
With the migration to Recoleta came inevitable development and the new residents were quick to capitalize on the large estates present in the area by dividing them into smaller plots and building upon them. The transformation into a residential barrio was a quick process and the estates were soon replaced with the luxurious stately homes for which it is famed today.
The name Recoleta originates from the Monastery of the Recollect Fathers (Convento de Recoletos Descalzos), a faction of the Franciscan Order. The monastery was built on land owned by the barrio’s first mayor, Rodrigo Ortiz de Zarate, after Juan de Garay presented it to him as far back as 1583. At the time, Recoleta was a solitary and desolate area unaware of the changes that were to come.
Today, Recoleta is characterized by its elegantly dressed residents seen meandering along exclusive avenues and dining in in chic cafés. Moreover, with its architectural and cultural history, the neighborhood forms an important part of the city’s tourism trail.
Things to see, do or both
Boasting museums, cultural centers and historical landmarks, the beauty of Recoleta is that as a tourist you can find something of interest on any given day of the week. The standout highlight is the Recoleta Cemetery. Covering just under 55,000sqm, the cemetery is a mini-village of tombs, some lavish and others crumbling, which serve as the resting places of Argentina’s most important families, namely Eva Peron and writer Jose Hernandez. Attached to the cemetery is the brilliant-white church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, which symbolizes the heart of the barrio.
If you are in the mood for culture, then at the Centro Cultural Recoleta you can enjoy art displays, concerts, theatrical performances, workshops and festivals, such as BAFICI, dedicated to independent cinema. Recoleta is also home to the magnificent Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, displaying work by Goya and Rembrandt and offering free entrance from Tuesday to Sunday, and the funky-looking Biblioteca Nacional.
If you simply want to relax, Recoleta boasts its fair share of green spaces. Plaza Francia is a popular weekend spot for bohemian types and every Saturday and Sunday hosts the artisan market Feria de Artesanos de Plaza Francia, commonly known as the ‘Hippy Fair’. Crossing Avenida de Libertador – one of the city’s principal avenues – you can kick back in the well-kept gardens of Parque Thays or Plaza Justo Jose de Urquiza, the latter of which houses a rotating sculpture display and stretches to the border of Palermo.
A visit to Recoleta would not be complete without seeing its shopping areas. You can check out the latest in local style and design at Buenos Aires Design or splurge in the up market stores scattered along the opulent Avenida Alvear.
Nightlife and Restaurants
Recoleta has a limitless collection of bars and restaurant so you are sure to find something to suit your taste.
Cumana (Rodriguez Pena 1149). The best place in Recoleta for traditional Argentine fare, and at reasonable prices. Naturally, you will find steak on the menu but it is the hearty helpings of criolla cuisine that stand out. Queues are likely everyday of the week; however, the wait for a steaming plate of locro – corn, meat and vegetable stew – is worth the wait.
Casa Salt Shaker – Closed-door restaurants have taken Buenos Aires by storm and this is considered as one of the best. You won’t know what you’ll be eating until you arrive and you’ll be sharing a table with a stranger but the experience is truly memorable, just read the reviews.
La Bourgogne (Alvear Palace Hotel, Avenida Alvear 1891). Dig deep into your pocket and put your glad rags on to bask in the luxury of this refined French restaurant. Plates such as foie gras scallop and ravioli d’escargot expertly prepared by renowned chef Jean Paul Bondoux will have you salivating as you dine amongst Argentina’s gentry.
Milion (Parana 1048). This converted five-story mansion is a popular haunt of Buenos Aires’ expat community and the city’s in-crowd. Entering via the long marbled hallway is like a scene from a movie. Inside, the innovative cocktails perfectly compliment the bars aristocratic décor. Its popularity means finding a table can be difficult, although on a warm night you can hang out in the dimly lit garden.
Casa Bar (Rodriguez Pena 1150). Converted homes seem to be a trend in Recoleta, and Casa Bar is another fine example of how it should be done. A favorite with students and workers from the US who arrive on mass to watch NFL games on the large flat screen TVs, you’ll find a good selection of international beers and spirits plus plates of spicy buffalo wings to rival any you have sampled before.
Shamrock (Rodriguez Pena 1220). An Irish name it might have but you won’t find gimmicky leprechauns and mock mahogany furnishings here. Instead, come on any given night of the week and enjoy one of Buenos Aires’ best party bars. Spread over two floors, take advantage of cheap beer and happy hours until midnight before heading down into the basement to dance the night away with the best local house and electronic DJs.
You Know My Name (Marcelo T de Alvear 1540). Formerly known as El Living, this lounge-restaurant cum nightclub is a must for any music guru. From Thursday to Saturday, two VJs battle for the supremacy by playing everything from Depeche Mode and Human League to The Smiths and Oasis. The party starts around 1am, with queues likely, although you can come early for dinner and guarantee yourself a prime spot.
Club Shampoo (Avenida Pres. Manual Quintana 362). Sparkling chandeliers, disco balls, deep red curtains and swanky leather couches make Shampoo one the most exclusive boliches in the city. For years a seedy cabaret club, today Shampoo is a place to see and be seen amidst the Buenos Aires elite. Open from Thursday through Saturday, international DJs regularly stop by to entertaining the chic clientele.
Why it’s hot / Why it’s not
If you want to mix with the well-to-do of the city and see why Buenos Aires has often compared to Paris and Madrid then Recoleta is definitely the place to stay. Nevertheless, owing to its affluent reputation, hotel prices are considerably higher than other areas and can potentially burn a hole in your pocket.
Recoleta is the cream of the crop of Buenos Aires’ neighborhoods. In addition to possessing a wealth of attractions, its close proximity to the city centre and Palermo make it a safe bet if you only have a few days in the city.