She Said, She Said: Perspectives on a visit to La Boca | Buenos Aires, Argentina

Posted on 04. Dec, 2012 by in Argentina, Travel Reflections, Travel Tips

We spend nearly twenty-four hours a day seven days a week traveling together and share a whole host of things in common, but we definitely don’t always see eye to eye on everything. Instead of merging our opinions into one, we’re starting a new series, She Said, She Said, where we both tell our side of the story about events and experiences while we travel.  In our first article in the series, find out Dani’s perspective of our afternoon out at the colorful La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires and then read on to find out what Jess thought about this popular tourist attraction. 

She Said: Dani’s perspective of La Boca

Buenos Aires El CaminitoThe images of the colorful houses in Caminito, an alleyway-turned-street museum in the neighborhood of La Boca, were some of the pictures that had stuck in my head the most when I was researching our trip to Buenos Aires. I knew that La Boca had been a working-class neighborhood during the 1800s, mainly populated by people who were employed at the nearby river mouth (‘boca’ in Spanish, hence the name) where a shipyard was located.

When the port was moved, many people also left the neighborhood, leaving houses abandoned, particularly around El Caminito. An artist who lived nearby started to paint the fading houses in the 1950s, laying the groundwork for what Caminito is today: a street museum, combining colorful houses, tango music and platefuls of steak. La Boca had very few visitors just a few years ago, but nowadays it is filled with busloads of tourists at all times. I didn’t care about it being touristy, the colors of the houses are a photographer’s dream and I knew I wanted to visit Caminito.

Buenos Aires El Caminito La BocaThe minute we got off the bus in La Boca I realized how much more of a tourist trap El Caminito was than I had thought: tango dancers were staging for photos in front of the restaurants, and even props for tourists to take their photo in ‘tango gear’. Cheesy photo walls where visitors can stick their heads through were lined up along the Plazeta de los Suspiros, market stalls selling tourist trinkets were set up, and eager waiters tried to divert us into their restaurants.

el caminito houseI guess that I would have been disappointed about how ‘set up’ everything felt had I not known what to expect before I went. Instead of letting the tourist circus bring me down, I decided to focus on what I came here for: photographing the colorful houses. We were visiting on a perfect spring day with blue skies and lots of sun, and it was a glorious day to take pictures.

la boca blue house
la boca houseLater, we sat down in one of the restaurants to watch one of the tango shows that were on in every single restaurant along Magallanes, the main road off El Caminito. Every single restaurant offers two things: a little stage where tango dancers entertain the tourists, and steak. I opted for a coffee instead and even though we knew how touristy the whole thing was (nowhere else in Buenos Aires you walk by a restaurant during the day and see tango dancers), but we saw the best Argentine stomach tango to date.

Buenos Aires Tango DancersWe were about to leave when I remembered that I had read about a small modern art museum, the PROA, in our Buenos Aires bible: For 91 Days in Buenos Aires. The renovated building with its glass front stands out from the rest of the buildings along the Avenida Don Pedro De Mendoza, right across the river mouth, and at only 12 Pesos ($2.50) is well worth a visit. You shouldn’t leave without visiting the café on the second floor, which had some fantastic views over the river and after a quick glance through the menu we wished we would have come hungry.

My tip: I would still recommend a visit to La Boca, even though it is touristy and does not reflect the true Buenos Aires in any way. As long as you know what you’re in for, you can still enjoy a stroll around the neighborhood, maybe pick up a couple of souvenirs and watch some tango.

Buenos Aires El Caminito ColorsShe Said: Jessica’s perspective of La Boca

Meh. That’s pretty accurately described how I felt on the bus on the way to La Boca, just outside downtown Buenos Aires. This was definitely more of something Dani wanted to do, but I allowed myself to be dragged along because a. it was a beautiful sunny day, b. we were going with friends and finally c. sometimes I can be a bit too sarcastic or negative about touristy places and I usually find myself pleasantly surprised in the end.

la boca housesI knew about the colorful buildings, the tango and the story behind La Boca and the street called El Caminito. Culturally La Boca is a place where a large population of immigrants lived and worked in the shipyards. Later, when they moved away from the area, they took this newly-formed culture with them out into the wider context of Argentine identity.

Historically and geographically La Boca represented the strength of the nation’s trade and commerce and the entry point of development and growth in the New World in the 1800s.
la boca windowThis is a fascinating story, but I find that could be accurately and compellingly told in within the confines of a museum: $10 entry, interesting exhibitions, maybe Tango shows on the weekends. Instead, while you could consider El Caminito an outdoor museum of sorts, it is the definition of a tourist trap and a caricature of its former self.

Hordes of people, both Argentinians and foreigners, shuffle along the streets lined with souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants taking pictures of people and scenes created purely for tourists to take pictures of.

la boca tango restaurantThe restaurants all have low-rent tango shows available in exchange for an overpriced steak or $5 bottles of water. The truth is, I really enjoyed the tango. Maybe I was just admiring that stomach… or lost in thought imagining the life of a Tango dancer in La Boca.

How long do they dance each day? Are the dancers all trying to hit the big time, or are they just the owner’s cousin or nephew or neighbor working a job like the rest of the restaurant staff.

Buenos Aires Tango CoupleI’ll admit it – I also enjoyed the quick stroll, the colorful houses and the tango music, which always inspires me to want to write and paint and be fabulous (though not to dance, because I just can’t move my body that way!).

I still do not think La Boca is worth a visit. Maybe that is because I do not have a photographer’s eye, so once I have soaked up the situation, I will not notice those charming little details that Dani sees until I look at them later on her computer screen. I tended to focus on the fact that there is nothing authentic about El Caminito, so what is it that you are visiting? Plus, straying out into the surrounding neighborhood puts you in a rough area rife with robberies and crime (or so they say, nothing happened to us).

la boca caminito houseMy Tip: If you, like me, find yourself agreeing to go to La Boca, make sure you spend time at the PROA gallery. It is the utter antithesis of El Caminito and I mean this in a good way: White walls, sharp angles, glass windows, intelligent art, clean bathrooms and a great view of the river. I wish I had known about the rooftop café, which has a menu of fresh, healthy food, good coffee, delicious-looking desserts and an outdoor patio with comfortable lounge chairs covered by big umbrellas reassuring you that you can stay here all afternoon while you wait for the others to finish shopping for refrigerator magnets.

dani & jess & aaron & lena in caminito

Enjoying the company of our friends Lena & Aaron in La Boca

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15 Responses to “She Said, She Said: Perspectives on a visit to La Boca | Buenos Aires, Argentina”

  1. Erin

    04. Dec, 2012

    Love the new series!

    El Caminito is super touristy but the rest of the La Boca isn’t. PROA is great and we loved wandering around the neighbourhood with no other tourists in sight. We didn’t feel unsafe either.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      05. Dec, 2012

      Thanks, Erin! There were a few times when we visited a place where we didn’t agree 100% on how we felt about it and we finally decided to each have our own say about it :) We should have started it earlier, really.

      I am so glad that I remembered the PROA before we left – what a great museum.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Pauline

    05. Dec, 2012

    LOVE that picture with the man and his bike and the purple & blue wall as his background. It’s stunning!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Oh no, what a shame you didn’t like it! It’s one of my favorite places in BA! I visit almost every single time I’m in town. AWESOME pics!!!

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      06. Dec, 2012

      Well, I think it would have been much more charming without the crowds. I loved the colors of the buildings and would love to go back really early in the morning when nobody’s there to take more pictures :)

      Reply to this comment
  4. Lena

    06. Dec, 2012

    I second the man and bike picture – awesome shot. Dani, you definitely have a great eye for photography.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      06. Dec, 2012

      Thanks, Lena :) I have to say that if we hadn’t been with you guys, we wouldn’t even have sat down to watch the tango, but we really enjoyed it.. so thanks for that! :)

      Reply to this comment
  5. TammyOnTheMove

    06. Dec, 2012

    Blimey La Boca seems to have changed a lot since I was there in 2008. The only touristy thing we came across was a Maradonna lookalike who charged tourists some money to have photos taken. I loved La Boca at the time, but it seems that it still looks as pretty as it used to in 2008. Your photos are lovely as usual.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      06. Dec, 2012

      Tammy – the Maradona lookalike was still there!! He was trying so hard to get the tourists to take their picture with him :D

      Reply to this comment
  6. Sam

    07. Dec, 2012

    I’m so glad you disagreed and choose to share that with us! I’ve often wondered how much travel blogging couples gloss over their differences in opinion and choose to represent themselves as having just one, perpetually in-sync view of everything. Thanks!

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      08. Dec, 2012

      Sam – yes, sometimes we do disagree, but we have to say it’s not often. I can already see another She Said / She Said post coming when we get to the Amazon, since I love nature and jungle but Jess is more of a city girl ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  7. Arlene

    08. Dec, 2013

    Boca is a great place for photos, but we were completely underwhelmed by it on the whole. We didn’t get off the bus at the right stop and one of the locals made the bus stop for us and told us that it wasn’t safe for tourists outside of the tourist area. We saw the same dancing that you have the photo with the little boy with long hair! The steak was the same price as elsewhere we had in BsAs. We didn’t go into the museum as the weather was too nice and we ended up walking, on the safe road, all the way back to our hostel in the micro centre. Maybe next time on the way back home. :)
    Arlene recently posted..Highlights of El Chalten and The Fitz Roy

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