Sometimes it takes a special person to point out the charms of a city and make its history come alive so it doesn't just seem like a pile of concrete and bricks with a few trees thrown in for good measure. I can say without hesitation that Alan Patrick of Buenos Tours is one such individual.
During the initial planning of my most recent trip to Argentina, I decided that an English-speaking guide for Buenos Aires would be essential to not only my parents' enjoyment of the tour but my own. While vacationing in Bariloche earlier this year with Daniel, I served as an impromptu interpreter for a pair of English-speaking travelers on a Spanish-language tour of Isla Victoria. Though happy to be of service to them, I found my own enjoyment of the tour was diminished to a certain extent because, well, I was working (and for free, no less)! I vowed not to repeat that mistake, and I began my search for a guide in earnest.
I discovered Buenos Tours through Alan's excellent website. Alan is an English expat who has called Buenos Aires home for about three years, and apart from an obvious love of the city, this man has done his homework. I booked a private, full-day walking tour with him, and Alan absolutely delivered! He engaged all of us with a highly informative and well-planned tour. Alan's pleasant, easy-going style mixed with a touch of classic British wit resulted in an outing that was truly memorable. My parents raved about the tour and are already planning to use Alan's services on future trips to Buenos Aires.
Alright, so where exactly did our intrepid guide lead us? We started off in the barrio of San Telmo, one of Buenos Aires' most celebrated neighborhoods. We slipped inside the lovely courtyards of outwardly unassuming conventillos, stood in the center of the famed Plaza Dorrego, and surveyed with curiosity the endless stream of antiques that we encountered at practically every turn, all while Alan wove a tale about the down-and-dirty beginnings of Argentina's beloved tango right there in the heart of San Telmo.
Next, we made our way over to the barrio of Monserrat where we took a quick café break at the historic La Puerto Rico. We then continued exploring some hidden gems such as Farmacia de la Estrella, an old-time pharmacy featuring a fantastic painted ceiling and intricate woodwork, as well as a couple of beautiful yet crumbling churches before heading over to the Plaza de Mayo, home to some of Buenos Aires' most important landmarks.
Afterwards we zipped along on Línea A of the subte with its original wooden cars before transferring to one of the more modern subway lines, and we picked up the tour at Plaza San Martín in the barrio of Retiro. As we wandered through Barrio Norte, we passed by some of the most posh areas of the city, filled with grand monuments and works of sheer architectural genius. We broke for lunch at a small neighborhood restaurant, Rodi Bar, which served up a tasty meal at reasonable prices.
The very last stop on the tour was Cementerio de la Recoleta [Recoleta Cemetery] where Alan recounted the tales of some of the cemetery's most famous residents. Many groups rush in merely to visit Evita's grave, bypassing so many other worthwhile spots, but Alan's approach differed considerably.
In my opinion, the cemetery is not to be missed, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the culture and history of Argentina through the figures buried there. At ten minutes to 6 the bell at the entrance gate rang out in a series of near-deafening peals, announcing that it was time for the living to depart the city of the dead.
After exiting the cemetery we bade a fond farewell to Alan, our feet a bit sore but our minds chock-full of fascinating information to mull over and submit to further exploration.
Check out additional photos in my Buenos Aires set on Flickr.