Destination Review – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Often referred to as the Europe of South America, Argentina is one of those countries that draws you in and makes you feel right at home amongst its friendly people, beautiful scenery and relaxed way of life.

A country I could easily call home, Argentina captured my heart upon arrival in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires, and anyone who enjoys great food, excellent wine, music, dancing, and socialising will appreciate what this grand city has to offer.

Buenos Aires combines a mishmash of old colonial-style buildings with modern condominiums and as each barrio of the city offers something that little bit different, it caters for every taste. Fine dining along Puerto Madero, catching a local football match at the Boca Stadium, watching the Tango danced outside pavement cafes in El Caminito, and searching for antiques in San Telmo are just some of the things one can to fill up a day.

Argentina is easily accessible from major European and US airports, and if you start your journey in Buenos Aires, you will be perfectly placed to discover the rest of the country. The bus system is comfortable, reliable and affordable, and you can get to virtually any other city in the country from this bustling hub.

20 years ago, Argentina was an expensive place to visit, but with today’s exchange rate international currencies such as Euros, Pounds and Dollars go a very long way. Eating out is cheap, beers and wines are plentiful, and as the hotels are generally cheaper than those at home are, one can stay longer and see more of the country.

As a “Peronista”, my highlight of Buenos Aires would have to be the Casa Rosada. A magnificent building in the centre of town, you can almost taste the history that surrounds this rose coloured structure, and I guarantee you will feel an urge to sing “Don’t cry for me Argentina” when you see it (thank Madonna for that one)!

The food in BS AS is as varied as the people that live there. Breakfast usually consists of hot coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a basket of freshly baked medialunas, a sweet croissant shaped pastry. Lunch, for us at least, generally consists of a stone baked pizza with fresh mozzarella or pasta, and for dinner, it has to be Parrillada!

Just walking around this amazing city is enough for me, and if you take the time to learn a few words of Spanish before you arrive, you will have plenty of opportunities to chat with the locals, and maybe make some new Porteño friends in this cosmopolitan metropolis. Buenos Aires – Me Encanta!

Wendy Kaufmann is the owner of Equatours Limited. A family owned and family run business specialising in unique travel experiences to countries below the equator.

Fully bonded tour operator, our packages are inclusive of all travel arrangements, accommodation, insurance and a personal travel guide is with you every step of the way to make sure your trip with us is a holiday of a lifetime.

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A Culture of Benidorm

Mention Benidorm and with it, by implication, the concepts of package tourism, hotel buffets, British bars with one euro a pint lager, northern English Working Men’s Club turns imitating something neither themselves nor their audience have ever been, lobster-impersonating spit-burnt sunbathers and fried English breakfasts with the bacon already coated in tomato sauce, and I would bet that very few punters would auto-associate the phrase “cultural experience”. More likely, perhaps, might be the image of over-revelled revellers spewing out from the industrial-sized, garish and scruffy discos along the strip at nine in the morning, seated wavering by the roadside amidst the split, cracked and squashed plastic waste which these no doubt environmentally aware individuals seem to generate by the ton.

Benidorm, certainly, is not Spain. Like many other popular mass tourism resorts around the world, it has an identity which is quite apart from its host country or hinterland. Benidorm is not Spain in the same way, perhaps, that Kuta is not Bali, Nice not France, nor Acapulco Mexico. On the same scale, Blackpool is Britain! In effect these places are melting pots of imported identity, usually with a strong flavour of the largest group of visitors. In the case of Benidorm, of course, it’s the Brits. A fortnight in Benidorm can offer about as much exposure to Spanish culture as the experience of September lights in Blackpool informed the visitor of the Lancashire cotton industry. (The past tense is highly relevant here.) Equally, Benidorm juxtaposed with the word “culture” might vie for a definition of “oxymoron”, alongside German with humour, Ireland with culinary and British with honest. (I may borrow here and there from our working Men’s Club humour tradition, but perhaps employing a consistently different skin colour!)

Benidorm is known for its seven kilometres of perfectly kept, clean beaches, its year round tourism, its millions of visitors. It has fine places to eat in its old town and environs. It has nightlife, theme parks and five star golf resorts. It is surrounded by mountains, has an island nature reserve. And in a European sense, the area as a whole is truly cosmopolitan and increasingly sophisticated.

So when my wife and I came here about five years ago to claim a November base while we examined the possibility of a life-changing shift from work-a-day pressures, our prime goal was to investigate whether, near this tourism megalith, there might be space for a small rental business, aimed at those who might crave proximity to the iniquitous den whilst also wanting to retain a suburban distance from the rasping motorbikes, the hen and stag parties, the beachfront Harley Davidson pubs, the plastic glass discos and even the line dancing. Well we found our place and took the plunge. What we had not bargained for was “the culture”.

In that first month, as late-booking package tourists ourselves, we were making our first visit to mainland Spain for 24 years and we were pleased to find an odd festivity or two. Having lived here for a few years we now know, of course, that it’s actually quite hard to avoid them! The Benidorm town band – symphonic bands are the Valencian tradition, we now know – did a free concert in the salubrious Benidorm Palace, a place whose usual show apes the Folies Bergeres. The local choral society did the Venusburg music from Tannhauser alongside original compositions for the band and some populist offerings. We sought and found a sub-set of the band doing a jazz and Latino evening at the CAM Bank auditorium where, another night, there was a chamber music recital. Just along the road at the Cultural Centre in Alfaz del Pi there was an American pianist who had studied in Barcelona playing Montsalvatge.
Similarly, we found a soprano giving opera arias in Calpe.

And so we bought the place and we were owners of a house with two apartments, a beautiful Mediterranean garden, proximity to the tourist hub, but still very much a part of its own town, a place with outstanding local services. Our aim was limited, pragmatic and clear. After some fifty-six years of unbroken professional employment between us, we decided that a change was potentially better than a rest. We had already lived and worked in five countries and had extended experience of several others, but we had also concluded that pounds of flesh weigh the same the world over. Though we had gained a few of these over the years, having them occasionally demanded and extracted ran the risk of their being ripped from critical areas. Over the years the pay had been good, the pressure significant and, overall, the rewards worth the pain. But times change, lives change, priorities change and people reach fifty.

This was the time to do something different, to trade income for quality. We bought a house in La Nucia, just five kilometres from Benidorm’s beaches, the town’s skyscraper hotels visible from our front balcony. Our aim was to establish our own niche business renting the two bedroom garden apartment while we lived a modest if sometimes indulgent life on the first floor. We have now been doing this for more than four years, have an established clientele and basically have achieved what we wanted to achieve. We will not get rich from the trade. That was never our goal. From the start we wanted to offer simple, clean, affordable accommodation at a reasonable price, modelling our pitch on the kind of place middle class backpackers like ourselves would find both satisfying and a little surprising at the price. And it has worked well. What we had not bargained for was the “culture”.

For some sixteen of our thirty or so post-graduation years we had lived in London. We were vultures of the cultural type whenever energy levels ran to it. We were friends of the English National Opera during its ‘power house’ years. I was a teacher and, during school holidays, used to walk from Balham to central London for the lunchtime concerts, St James’s in Piccadilly being my favourite venue. Then we moved to Brunei and then to the United Arab Emirates. In Brunei we were members of the Music Society and helped to organise concerts. In Abu Dhabi, cultural events were very much in the purview of the diplomatic and private sector people, and there was and remains a vibrant cultural life in the city which, after all, is the nation’s capital. So we were able to attend good quality cultural events, comprising mainly music, theatre and visual arts, in both places. And then we came to Spain.

Our initial visit had suggested that there was more going on in this sphere than a browse through the package tour brochures might suggest. But if I was to relate that in the last eight months we have been to four operas, four full orchestral concerts, ten chamber music recitals, five local festivities, an international film festival, uncountable art exhibitions and goodness knows what else – and furthermore if I were to qualify this by saying that not once did we have to travel more than ten kilometres from home, would you associate this with Benidorm and the Costa Blanca? And, if you are mildly surprised by what I have just claimed, it would probably further surprise you to learn that in addition to this, Benidorm itself is building a new cultural centre, that ten kilometres down the road the new Villajoyosa Cultural Centre is about to open and that this year La Nucia, our home town, itself opened a 600-seat concert hall and a 3000-seat outside auditorium.

Perhaps I need to re-state how local is my claim. About thirty kilometres down the road from Benidorm is Alicante, a regional centre with a nineteenth century theatre presenting a full programme of ballet, drama and opera. About a hundred and forty kilometres north is Valencia, where the programme of the spectacular new Reina Sofia opera house is coordinated with those of New York’s Met and London’s Covent Garden. What I have described excludes those venues and only includes what can be found within ten kilometres of where we live, within ten kilometres of Benidorm, a cultural paradise.

You may have guessed that we are very keen on music, my wife and I. But we are also keen on theatre, dance, painting and the arts in general. We don’t tend to go to pop festivals, but if we did we have those locally as well.

Why not check out the listings for La Nucia, Altea, Benidorm, Alfaz del Pi, Villajoyosa and Finestrat? Choose your time of year and you could attend a superb musical event every night of your stay and I guarantee that the performance standard will be as good as anywhere. And if you can also take in Joachim Palomares and his ensemble playing their arrangements of Piazzolla tangos, or Altea’s April opera week or La Nucia’s Les Nits festival, you are in for a real treat. And when Benidorm’s new cultural centre is open, imagine glossy package tour brochures offering deals inclusive of stalls seats for Puccini or a performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming! Followed, of course, by a one euro pint of lager, bacon and eggs and a northern comic, perhaps.

Buenos Aires – Tango With Luxury

Buenos Aires is a bright city of melancholia set to a dance-step; a tango town of once-fabulous wealth and now of nostalgic mansions gone to delicious decrepitude; the city of jackbooted generals and the Mothers of the Disappeared, of Maradona and even, briefly, of Madonna.

There’s more to Buenos Aires than memories of tarts, tango and generalissimos. This city of Belle Epoque elegance and endlessly wide avenues is like no other Latin American capital. From the red, pink and blue houses of Caminita to the centre’s grandiose edifices, it is a city of fascinations.

Where to stay in Buenos Aires

In addition to its hip-swinging culture, the city is also host to a slew of high-end luxury hotels to make your stay as decadent as possible.

Alvear Palace Hotel: The most elegant and comfortable luxury hotel in Buenos Aires. It glories in its Louis XIV and Empire style – all marble, gilt and elaborate stucco. The suites on the ninth and tenth floors have the best views over the Parks and the River Plate.

The Mansion: A century-old palace with period rooms and suites. The eleventh and twelfth floors of the main building allow faraway views of the madness of the Avenida 9 de Julio (Avenue of the 9th July), Buenos Aires’ massive, multi-laned main street, with obelisk commemorating the city’s 400 years.

Faena Hotel: Rock-star glamour finds its home at uber-designer Philippe Stark’s edgy take on luxury hotels, all done up in piano black and red leather.

Two to Tango

They say the dance reflects the soul of Argentina: melancholy, wistful, erotic. It originated in working-class neighbourhoods, such as San Telmo itself, as a rough and ready musical style often accompanied by obscene lyrics. Later it was refined, and embraced, by all of Argentina. There’s nothing better than to linger on the street, talking to the artists and watching the tango dancers: Buenos Aires at its brilliant best.

Cafe Dorrego: As an entre to this most theatrical of dances, head for the Sunday morning antiques market in the bohemian barrio of San Telmo, where dancers perform in front of the Cafe on Plaza Dorrego. Watch as dancers twirl and pout in the shadows of evening, accompanied by the haunting banoneon concertina and the raspy voices of elderly men.

Confiteria Ideal: If you’re misguided enough to think you can do it too, join in on an afternoon milonga – an up-tempo style of tango and a participatory event, where you can take lessons.

Gran Cafe Tortoni: Established in 1858, the robust European cafe culture revels in this beloved venue, undoubtedly the granddaddy of old-school Euro-style, with its red velvet curtains, stained glass ceilings and waiters in black suits. The cafe is only one of the dozens of locations that host the annual Tango Festival; ten days filled with music, dancing and even cinematic competitions.

Buenos Aires – A Bargain Hunters Dream!

Not very long ago the currency of Buenos Aires was tied to the US dollar. While this fabulous city offered great panache and European flair, it had spiraling inflation and was as pricey to visit as any other major metropolis. That all changed in 2002 when the Argentine Peso was liberated to float on its own and experienced a significant devaluation. In the five years since, while the Peso has slowly gained in value, Argentina has become the darling of jet set travelers flocking to bargain shop in trendy boutiques filled with European designer goods, dine in world class restaurants and learn to Tango.

So what makes this city such a magnet for those in the know? Quite simply, the city sizzles! Often called the Paris of South America, the streets hum with the exuberance of a culture that has embraced its uniqueness and has rediscovered its youthful vitality. Buenos Aires enjoys a vibrant cafe society where
artisans mold works of vibrant color, musicians old and young revel in the music of the street, and nothing seems more important than gathering with friends to discuss the news of the day.

Fashioned by immigrants from Europe, the architecture of Buenos Aires evokes feelings of Rome, Paris and Barcelona. The city is home to numerous landscaped parks, a world famous opera house, well respected museums, magnificent churches and broad avenues filled with trendy shops selling designer goods at a fraction of their Euro prices. Tango bars and techno clubs abound to make Buenos Aires one of the great nightlife cities of the world. And do not leave without purchasing some of their world famous custom crafted leather goods.

So let’s review 7 reasons why you should hop on a plane to Buenos Aires as soon as you can:

1)It is a fun, sophisticated city with museums galore, cafes for dining, boutiques for shopping, on streets that could have been lifted straight from France or Spain.

2) The tremendously good rate of exchange means all your activities and purchases will be a terrific value.

3) Because Argentina is in the southern hemisphere, they have summer when we are having winter. January, February and March see temperatures averaging 80 degrees. Likewise, when we’re hot and steamy in summer, they are having temps in the 60’s.

4) Shopping is divine, with supple leathers and designer clothes being the best bargain.

5) Dining is world class. Try their famous Argentinean Beef at incredible prices.

6) The nightlife positively sizzles to a Tango beat.

7) For all you sports fans, no one loves their football (soccer) more than Argentines! Soccer, polo and horse racing are much loved as well and draw huge crowds. You may want to bring along your golf clubs, as BA is home to several exquisite golf courses.

All this and great prices too – incredible! Where else can you find five star hotels for only $200 a night; or gourmet dinners at upscale restaurants for only $25 per person? It’s time to move Buenos Aires to the top of your MUST SEE list!

The Cheapest Awesome Places to Travel

International travel doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, if you pick your destination properly you’ll be able to live at a much higher standard of living than you can Stateside without spending any more money than you’d shell out for an average weekend of forgettable nonsense at your usual low-rent haunts.

If you’re in the mood for some low-cost travelling that won’t leave you broke, consider the following awesome cheap places to visit.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin has held the title as Europe’s premier low-cost capital for nearly two decades now. Despite being the capital city of the world’s third largest industrial power, the fall of the wall back in the late 1980’s set the stage for an affordable international party hub. During Berlin’s half-century of schism the Soviets just couldn’t stop building unnecessary new neighborhoods and utility buildings in the East and that means to this day East Berlin continues to stretch out in a nearly endless sprawl of city blocks slowly being transformed by artists, immigrants, and anyone with a dream and a lack of capital to make it happen elsewhere. Cheap housing = cheap everything, and it’s easy to have a truly world-class night on the town for $30 USD (€23 euros, £18.50 British pounds) or less.

Porto, Portugal

Lisbon is cheap, but Porto puts Portugal’s capital to shame, especially if you go during the off-season. You can find great lodging in Porto for $10-$15 (€8-€12, £4.50-£9) a night, an exceptional lunch of seafood caught right outside town for $5 and massive dinners of grilled octopus, heaps of salt cod and all the vegetables and buttered potatoes you can eat for no more than $10 a head. Cheap tours of the local Port cellars (complete with buzz-inducing tastings), trips up the Douro river to visit some of the world’s most gorgeous vineyards and the natural beauty of the city’s rocky terrain and expansive beach make Porto one of Europe’s hidden treasures.

Greece

It’s important to note, very quickly, that economic instability in safe, developed countries is every budget traveller’s dream. The bigger a country’s economic crisis the cheaper and cheaper it becomes to spend some quality time exploring its shores. This is true both when it comes to daily living and to actually reaching countries suffering from hard times, as locales taking a beating tend to bend over backwards on airfare to get people to continue to visit them (i.e. Japan post-Tsunami).

It isn’t exploitative to live it up in a country like Greece while they’re experiencing some economic turmoil. In fact, there are few more positive actions you can take for these countries than travelling to them and spending a bunch of money on local products and services. Helping to stimulate local economies while living like (polite) royalty is the definition of a win-win.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A perennial favorite, Buenos Aires (a.k.a. BsAs) is home to more travellers and ex-pats than any other city in South America, and for good reason. Modern BsAs is the result of a mix of about a half-dozen different European and South American cultures meaning the food, architecture, attitude, and vibe of the city strikes the right chord between the foreign and the familiar. Want another positive benefit of the city’s mixed pedigree? You’ll be able to find just about anything you could ever want there, including more than enough English speakers to find your way around. Add on other positives including the city’s love of dance and a resident daily diet consisting mainly of gelato (ice cream) and the world’s best grass-fed beef and BsAs would be a steal at any price. The fact you’ll get the equivalent worth of $4 for every one US dollar you spend makes visiting BsAs a no-brainer for the wise budget-conscious traveller.

Central America

As great as Buenos Aires may be when you’re looking to live large on the cheap, the city does have one daunting downside that might prevent you from living up your tango-dancing dreams. That is the fact BsAs sits at the absolute end of the world, down at the southern part of the South American continent. It might as well be a short boat ride from the glaciers of the South Pole. BsAs’ distance means it can be a bit expensive to fly to, and shelling out $1,000-$2,000 US for a round trip ticket won’t strike the average individual as a cheap trip, no matter how cost-effective the end destination may be.

But Panama, in addition to other relatively stable and safe Central American countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras are cheap to enjoy and cheap to fly to, even from the northern United States. A two-second search on Kayak just revealed I could purchase a round-trip ticket from New York City to Panama City, leaving next week no less, for $301. Unlike Costa Rica and Guatemala, Panama remains a hidden treasure, offering inexpensive amenities and entertainment, endless natural beauty, and a decidedly welcome lack of tourists.

Thailand

If there’s one budget travel destination more famous and well-trafficked than Buenos Aires it’s Thailand. Bangkok has long been considered the destination for a traveller to live like a little prince without breaking the bank, providing easy access to every sensual pleasure you could ever want at a bargain. And when I say every sensual pleasure I do mean every. Great local food for under $1 US a plate, hour-long massages on the beach for $12 US, and yes, whatever sex you could ever dream of. You don’t need to seek out sexual experiences when you visit Bangkok to have a good time, not in the least, but it’s impossible to mention Thailand’s best-known destination without at least tipping your hat to its status as the world capital of sex tourism.

If you’re interested in a lower-key, but still inexpensive and traveller-friendly corner of Thailand, you should visit Chiang Mai. At Chiang Mai you’ll find an abundance of travellers and ex-pats more interested in living a less wild expression of the good life while still getting an authentically Thai experience.

And if Thailand is too popular for your desires, nearby Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia offer their own unique low-cost traveller-friendly pleasures.

Think North American

You don’t always need to travel overseas to open yourself up to new experiences, to regain a little perspective on your life and to rewire your perspective on the world. I currently live in North America and while I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to various far-off corners of the world, I’ve stumbled upon some of my most significant revelations and enjoyed some of my most life-changing experiences travelling in this continent.

The warmth of a bank teller in Knoxville, Tennessee, once dissolved my encrusted cynicism as powerfully as the kindness of strangers located half the world away. Visiting the West Coast for a couple months was a bigger culture shock than visiting Berlin, and spending a few days at my friend’s cabin in Central Pennsylvania always acts as a powerful system-reset and never costs me more than an all-inclusive $60 (€48 euros, £27 pounds).

International travel does offer its own unique set of circumstance and environmental cues that sets off personal growth in a manner domestic travel doesn’t always achieve, but don’t assume you need to jet away to get the break from everyday life you crave.