The Paris of South America—Buenos Aires

A warm and gentle climate coupled with the Spanish influence has made Buenos Aires the hottest destination in South America for gay vacationers seeking a genuine Latin experience-from Tango dancing and historic architecture to elegant dining and vibrant nightlife. The city’s original European settlers came mostly in the nineteenth century from Spain, Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Exploring Buenos Aires, you will sense a sort of déjà vu of Europe while you explore the splendid boulevards, classic architecture, community plazas, extensive parks, and ever-changing style of Argentina’s stunning capital city.You will quickly understand why this city is known as ‘The Paris of South America’, populated by sophisticated Porteños, as the local residents are known. Buenos Aires is the gateway to Argentina, and whether you are vacationing in the city or heading for the magnificent water falls at Iguazu, wine-tasting at the Mendoza vineyards, skiing at Bariloche in the Andes, whale-watching at the Peninsula Valdes, glacier walking at Perito Moreno, or boarding a gay cruise ship, your time in Argentina is certain to be memorable.

Perhaps one of Argentina’s most valuable tourist attractions is the low cost of living and shopping bargains to be found here. If a bottle of good wine or a litre of beer for two dollars sounds appealing, then you will also be pleased to rent a cozy vacation apartment for around five hundred dollars per week. Even gourmet restaurant dining is affordable when a three-course dinner with wine can readily be enjoyed for less than twenty dollars Canadian per person. During my recent travels, I have found this certainly to be the vacation bargain of the year.

Although there is no gay village in Buenos Aires, the community is spread throughout the centre of town. The districts of Recoleta, Palermo, and San Telmo are very gay and the local bars, restaurants and clubs are found mostly in these areas. People sometimes refer to the gay Barrio Norte district-which isn’t actually a district but includes parts of Recoleta and Palermo. However, many gay places are within a relatively short walk or inexpensive taxi ride of each other. These districts of Buenos Aires are some of the safest zones of any major city in South America and visitors should feel secure walking around day or night-however, sensible precautions should never be abandoned.

Sidewalk cafes, Argentinean beef grill-restaurants—renowned for the best beef in the world—and cheap shopping make this a wondrous gay destination. In 2010, same-sex marriages and adoptions were legalized in Argentina and the legal age of consent is sixteen. Over the last two years the city has become well known for its liberal attitude to gay life so that it has become one of the new choices for gay holidays. Buenos Aires now has over sixty gay discos, restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, saunas,movie theaters, and possibly the best-looking Latin men you will see anywhere.

The gay scene in Buenos Aires, in common with other cities in South America, starts very late. Apart from one bar called Flux and the cruising bars and movie theaters, nothing really starts until around midnight.Very few people arrive at discos until 2:00 AM, but then the discos quickly fill to capacity and line-ups occur, particularly on Saturdays. The principal discos and bars mostly operate from Thursday to Sunday, but there are show bars with comedy drag and strippers open seven nights a week. Most of the cruising bars, cinemas and saunas are open seven days a week, with some being open twenty-four hours throughout the weekend.

Renting an apartment for your stay in the city will make you feel like a Porteño soon after you arrive in town.The convenience of having a well-stocked kitchen and being in a residential neighbourhood rather than a tourist zone will prove to be very beneficial. In the gay districts ba4u apartments and Myargentianhome offer different luxury suites for rent daily, weekly, monthly or for extended stays. Each unit is modern, tastefully furnished with a contemporary bathroom and kitchen, plus weekly maid service. All this priced from approximately seventy Canadian dollars per night with discounts based on the length of stay. The friendly English-speaking staff at both agencies can arrange for airport transfers at a reasonable cost, provide you with local information, gay maps, and any assistance to make your stay in Buenos Aires the perfect holiday.

The city occupies two hundred and two square kilometers with approximately thirteen million residents and comprises a multitude of attractions. A tour guide is essential to find your way around initially. Local guides make sure you have fun in Buenos Aires and help you to explore this incredible city with ease. Gay tour guides and other LGBT information can be found at the Pink Point information center in the Galeria Luxor at 669 Lavalle street downtown where the multi-lingual staff speak English. They can help you enjoy gay tango, a gay pub crawl, a gay day in the Tigre Islands, and much more!

Traditions abound in Argentina and the Asado traditional beef entrée must be enjoyed at a grill restaurant where this dish is served. Dinner is always late—hardly ever before 10:00 PM—which is probably why the bars and clubs don’t get going until after midnight but rave until 7AM!

Sharing Mate is a custom symbolizing courtesy and friendship whereby friends drink an infusion of hotwater and yerba mate-a sort of herbal tea-from a container also called a mate and sipped through a bombilla tube. The usual greeting between same-gender or different-gender people is a kiss on the cheek, which is so gay, especially when followed by an embrace. These Argentinean customs soon become a way of life as you settle into this gay-friendly Latin culture.

Finding your way around the city is easy with the buses—called colectivos—which run around the clock and the subterranean  underground trains—known as the Subte—connecting the city with five different lines.Taxis are also extremely cheap and easy to find on the major streets or by telephone reservation. Of course,walking around the city is most pleasant but due to the size of Buenos Aires a ride from one district to another is often required. The GMap360 Gay Map is an excellent source of local information and detailed maps to find your way to most of the local attractions. Even if you spend the whole vacation discovering the city, there will still be more places to go and see the next time you visit this amazing city—and there most surely will be a next time!

Although there are too many attractions to mention in one travel story, there are a few worthy of note. The area or barrio known as La Boca is the original old port of the city dating back to the 1500s with early settlers from the Italian city of Genoa. This area is renowned for its colourful houses and main street—the Caminito—and many other attractions including the La Ribera theatre, many Tango clubs and Italian Taverns, as well as La Bombonera, home of the famous football team the Boca Juniors. The Plaza de Mayo in downtown is a beautiful park surrounded by the Casa Rosada—original seat of the national government and now the office of the President of Argentina—the Buenos Aires City Hall, the House of Culture, the Cabildo and the Cathedral. This is the most historic part of the city and every gay person remembers Madonna portraying Evita on the balcony of the Casa Rosada—don’t they? There’s also the Museo Evita in Palermo where you can learn more about the fascinating life of Argentina’s most famous female, Eva Duarte de Perón.

From the Plaza de Mayo a long walk down the Avenida de Mayo is rewarded with hotels from the beginning of the twentieth century, many cafés including the Tortoni Art Nouveau Café—the city’s first confitería (confectionery), established in 1858—where important artists gathered and theatres like the Avenida. At the end of this stroll through history is the magnificent Congreso de la Nación, the home of the Chamber of Representatives and Senators of Argentina.

The district of San Telmo is the new up and coming gay neighbourhood where older homes are being renovated and antique stores abound. At its heart is the Plaza Dorrego with some of the city’s oldest architecture and sidewalk cafés, and home to the largest antique market on Sundays. Nearby is the Iglesia Ortodoxa Rusa in front of the Lezama Park.This example of magnificent seventeenth-century Russian Muscovite architecture is one of the city’s most distinctive buildings. Close to this, you can also find the magnificent mansion that Madonna rented as her home-away-from-home during the four months of filming Evita. Perhaps the gayest district of all is Recoleta where you will find gourmet restaurants, exquisite parks and plazas, the Cementerio de la Recoleta—where Eva Perón is interred—and where many famous Argentineans are laid to rest. Also here, the Basilica Nuestra Senora del Pilar and the Buenos Aires Design Centre are adjacent to the Plaza Francia where every Saturday and Sunday the largest outdoor crafts fair is held.This festive event is also a place where you can enjoy some of Argentina’s culture with outdoor performers of the tango, jugglers, acrobats, clowns, traditional dancers and more providing top-notch busker style entertainment. Like so many major cities, Buenos Aires has some of the most beautiful inner city parks for urbanites to enjoy. The largest of which is the Bosques de Palermo-Palermo Woods-with three artificial lakes offering paddleboats and hydro cycles for exploring the waters and parkland. Among the trees and paths are the Rosedal—Rose Garden—the Zoo Garden, Botanical Garden, Galileo Planetarium, and the famous Japanese Garden. Throughout Buenos Aires the trees seem to be greener than any you have ever seen, and the flowers brighter than anywhere in the world. This is especially true in the Springtime—November in Buenos Aires—when the city is the most vibrant you could experience anywhere in your travels.

So, put on your dancing shoes for a gay tango lesson, prepare for a sophisticated Latin culture, have your pink dollars or plastic ready for severe action and head to the Paris of South America—gay Buenos Aires. It will be a vacation full of memories and well worth the long journey to experience this vibrant culture. Oh, and did I mention the cheap Botox treatments, teeth whitening, and “Nip ‘n’ Tuck” surgery? Brush up on your Spanish and make it a refreshing winter holiday and arrive home truly rejuvenated-both inside and out.

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