Time for Tango

Argentina's hot-blooded dance makes for an exciting tour of Buenos Aires.

Tango 88 248 (photo credit: Shelley Paz)
Tango 88 248
(photo credit: Shelley Paz)
Though a little more distant than traditional destinations, Argentina is the perfect "new" spot for travelers who wish to discover extreme and wild nature, to indulge themselves in its abundance of resources (yes, I mean meat, its wonderful cheeses and wine) and for travelers who can enjoy romantic culture that still nurtures the tango that more than anything symbolizes the locals' appreciation of both new and old. Whether you are a young traveler on a budget or more sophisticated one who wants to be pampered, a trip to this side of the world fits all type of visitors. You will probably want to spend a few days in Buenos Aires, described by many as the New York of Latin America. Our visit to the city revolved around the tango, its history, culture and present. We stayed at the five-star Abasto Buenos Aires Plaza Hotel, that has turned the tango into its main theme. Guests are welcome to daily free tango lessons, and watch the tango shows and championships that are held there from time to time. It also offers two suites whose design was influenced by the tango. The hotel is on Avenida Corrientes, which is well tied into the tango culture and features many tango clubs as well as famous cafés and restaurants which are institutions for the porteños, the nickname for Buenos Aires natives. The word derives from "port city" and is sometimes used in a positive way - and sometimes to describe a spoiled, Europeanized local. And if you are curious about tango, you might want to book a table in Buenos Aires' most veteran tango club, El Viejo Almacen (The Old Storehouse), where this passionate dance was arguably born. El Viejo Almacen is situated in the heart of a trendy neighborhood, San Telmo, in a colonial building that used to be the first British hospital in South America. It became the first tango club in Argentina in 1969 and attracted the famous stars and dancers whose pictures decorate the walls of the three-story restaurant next door that is also called El Viejo Almacen. It is recommended to book the dinner and tango show package and to enjoy a full traditional Argentinean dinner before crossing the street for the beautiful show that starts usually at 10 p.m. The tango show at El Viejo Almacen supplies an overview of the development of the dance and the changes it has gone through over the years. A day trip in Buenos Aires must include a visit to the Plaza de Mayo, the main downtown square which was the focal point of the May 25, 1810, revolution that led to independence. The presidential palace, Casa Rosada (Pink House) where you will see the balcony from which Eva Perón waved to the crowd, is located there. Several of the city's major landmarks are located around the plaza as well; the Cabildo that housed the city council during the colonial era, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the May Pyramid (an obelisk situated at the center of the square) and the current city hall building. From Plaza de Mayo you can walk to the Obelisk which is located in the center of the Plaza de la República and was built in May 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city. The Obelisk is situated on Avenida 9 de Julio, whose name honors Argentina's Independence Day, in 1816, and it serves as a venue for cultural activities and a traditional gathering spot for sports fans, especially when the national soccer team beats its international rivals. Two neighborhoods that are better and much more colorful to visit on Sunday, are La Boca and San Telmo. La Boca is a poor neighborhood in western Buenos Aires that was inhabited first by Italian immigrants from Genoa and is the home of Boca Juniors, one of the world's top football clubs. The team's home stadium, at the edge of La Boca, is called La Bombonera because its shape is reminiscent of a box of chocolates. La Boca's colorful houses are a reminder of the time when the residents worked at the nearby port and painted their houses with leftover paint used for painting the ships. The Caminito - a pedestrian walkway - turns into a flea market every Sunday and visitors can sit in one of the Italian restaurants and enjoy street tango shows or enjoy a choripán, a popular sandwich of a grilled chorizo and a crusty roll, while wandering the handicraft stalls or sipping a glass of wine in one of the local bars. Later on Sunday, visit San Telmo, a bohemian neighborhood with dozens of trendy clothing stores, cafés and restaurants and an atmosphere that gets younger and more vibrant as night falls. On another day you might want to explore the Puerto Madero, a constantly developing district along the Rio de la Plata that features some of the latest architectural trends in the city. The port has a deck full of restaurants overlooking the river where you can also see Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's Puente de la Mujer which will remind some readers of his Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem. It is called the Women's Bridge because all the streets of Puerto Madero are named after women. One of the branches of the restaurant chain Siga la Vaca (Follow the Cow) is in the port. It offers an all you can eat meal that includes a bottle of wine, large selection of side dishes, deserts and of course barbecued meat on the grill at 59 pesos (almost $20) per person. A beautiful tourist destination that has been developed in recent years and is popular among the locals is Tigre, a town 28 km. north of Buenos Aires, on the Paraná delta. It is easily reached by bus or train from Buenos Aires's Retiro station and the journey takes 45 minutes. The town sits on an island and was founded in 1820, after floods had destroyed other settlements in the area, then known as the Las Conchas Partido. The name is a reminder of the days when jaguars were hunted there. Tigre was first settled by Europeans who came to cultivate the land and the port was developed to serve the delta Tigre's Puerto de Frutos is now a crafts fair located in the old fruit market by the riverside. The Naval Museum is nearby and visitors can explore the area on foot, learn how to row in one of the rowing clubs or watch the unique way of life of the residents of the small islands whose lives are run by taxi boats, supermarket boats, school boats that pick the children every morning and even by mobile gasoline stations. The riverbanks abound with restaurants, pubs and nightclubs and even if you don't stay overnight, Tigre is an off the beaten track one day tour. Argentina is blessed with all sorts of landscapes and all types of vacations to offer year-round. Thus, you can see the Perito Moreno Glacier in the National Glaciers Park in Patagonia, 50 km. from Antarctica. You can go skiing in Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes. You can indulge yourself in Mendoza, the land of wine and wineries, or visit the Latin American version of Niagara Falls in Iguazu, which is surrounded by rain forests. A visit to the Iguazu National Park is an opportunity to experience a jungle that includes 67,620 protected hectares, 2,000 species of flowers and plants, 450 species of birds, 80 types of mammals and 275 waterfalls. The Iguazu falls can be reached from both the Argentinean and the Brazilian sides. The Argentinean access is facilitated by the Tren Ecológico de la Selva, which brings visitors to different walkways. The Paseo Garganta del Diablo is a one-kilometer walkway that brings visitors directly over the Garganta del Diablo falls. Other walkways allow access to the elongated stretch of falls on the Argentinean side and to the ferry that connects to San Martin island. The area provides opportunities for water sports and rock climbing, but your hotel can arrange other sporting activities. The Iguazu is also full of five-star hotels with casinos, but mainly offers a relaxing vacation under the tropical sun. We stayed at the Iguazu Grand Hotel that has three outdoor swimming pools and one heated indoor pool, two outdoor Jacuzzis, a gym, spa, three tennis courts and a rare atmosphere of relaxation in the heart of this wild piece of land. The writer was a guest of Iberia and the National Institute of Tourism Promotion in Argentina.