The Ugly Underbelly of Buenos Aires – A Great City or Not?

Buenos Aires is the tango hub of Argentina. Walking through the city it isn’t hard to miss tango performers along every street, and in the numerous clubs, hosting tango throughout the city. Learning to tango or watching tango exhibitions are very popular for tourists visiting the capital. However, tango was not high up on my agenda as I was mainly in the city to see Club Atlético Boca Juniors – the Boca Juniors soccer team. Buenos Aires is also the number one fashion capital in South America and it contains many historical sites. I was looking forward to my visit to the capital. I love cities, however after my visit I don’t think I would rush back there.

Many tourists walk through the area of La Boca where the Boca Juniors’ stadium, La Bombonera, is located, as well as other tourist sights. At first glance, I thought La Boca looked like a great place, full of colourful buildings and streets bustling with buskers and people selling handicraft. I couldn’t help but take a few pictures of the multi-coloured houses made of wood and steel. All the tourists here were taking pictures of these vibrant houses. On my walk to the stadium, I got to see the real La Boca that tourists miss. The main thoroughfare of La Boca is essentially a romanticised and glorified shanty town. Behind these tourist areas, you see the underbelly of Buenos Aires. Shanty houses are located in dark alleyways, street corners and under bridges that are also made of wood and corrugated sheet metal. The difference here is the ‘houses’ are dilapidated, not painted in rich colours to make them look attractive, and are made of rusted sheet metal that look like they will crumble any minute. It left me sad to see tourists being fooled by thinking this is a great place but it is an area of some of the poorest people. Such shacks are found all around the city. I sensed an unnerving atmosphere whenever I was walking around this city. I only enjoyed the capital when I was inside the excellent cathedrals and relishing on delicious beef in restaurants. Seeing a local soccer team play in Buenos Aires is the best highlight of the city in my opinion. It is something I would highly recommend for the incredible buzzing atmosphere and seeing some of the highly skilled players. From the distaste on the streets, I would have preferred to get a taxi straight to the stadium to see my favourite soccer team play than walk through La Boca.

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Most great cities around the world have a spire. Buenos Aires has one called the Obelisco. I am undecided if I would consider Buenos Aires a great city. There is much to see and do in Argentina’s capital, however I believe the best thing about Argentina is their cuisine and seeing the diverse and raw natural areas that this vast country has to offer, such as Iguazú Falls, the region of Patagonia and the Mendoza province that has the highest mountain of both North and South America called Aconcagua.

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15 thoughts on “The Ugly Underbelly of Buenos Aires – A Great City or Not?

  1. The houses are lovely, but I know what you mean about the unseen areas. Although, I’ve had a similar experience in every major city I’ve ever been to or lived in. The tourist traps are made pretty, and the rest of the city lives in relative poverty. I’d be very interested to hear of a place that wasn’t like that.

    • Ah yes the tourist traps are made pretty! I have had the same experiences in every city I have been to. But what I found different in Buenos Aires is that the glamorised tourist trap is the poverty site! Those colourful houses above are just like the houses behind it but with no paint! Rusted frames, etc! It is the world we live in though!

  2. “It left me sad to see tourists being fooled by thinking this is a great place but it is an area of some of the poorest people.” I had a similar experience in South Africa. I wasn’t saddened because I was able to find the beauty in the people and their personal happiness. I was in awe of how the locals used what we in the West consider garbage, to decorate their shanty homes. It was truly stunning and very colorful and the people had joy, a deep joy that many people (no matter where the location) don’t have. What we see is often a reflection of our past and personal experiences. Perhaps the tourists weren’t “fooled” but instead found the beauty and to them it was a great place? Great photos, by the way.

  3. I’ve heard La Boca is a good place for people to avoid in Buenos Aires; it is unfortunate that the poverty level there would be so great in a city that is supposed to be great. I’ll have to check out a soccer game during my stay there, you made it sound pretty fun, though I’m sure you made a mistake in skipping out on the tango.

    • Going to see Boca Juniors is a must see thing to do in Buenos Aires! Once you are street wise you will have no problems in La Boca. I never felt threatened in the city despite many of my Argentinian friends from Cordoba and Salta telling me to “watch myself”. However, it is known as a dangerous area and it was good that I was aware of that when I was walking through it.

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