Are you headed to Argentina? Chances are, you will begin or end your journey in Buenos Aires. This gorgeous city and its famed surrounding region is well worth the stop for not only the cultured and historical city life, but the gaucho culture in the countryside as well. You can experience the best of the area with some planning and a great guide. Here is how to do it and what to see.
Start or End in the Countryside of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Depending on whether you are a city slicker or a country lover, the course of your time in Buenos Aires can be catered to you. Some people love to end up in the countryside as a last bit of relaxation, and some love to end their trip in the vibe of the city.
For my trip to Buenos Aires, I put myself in the hands of my gracious hosts, and went with the flow. We started in the countryside before exploring the city.
When headed to Buenos Aires, make sure to explore the countryside in Las Pampas region for gaucho culture and polo. Click To Tweet
Days One and Two: The Countryside of Buenos Aires
The first thing to know about Argentina is how (polo) horse crazy they are.
Argentina’s First Love: Polo
Argentina is considered the mecca of polo worldwide.
Palermo, in the Buenos Aires region, hosts the most important polo matches in the world at the stadium, Campo Argentino del Polo. The owner of the Four Seasons Buenos Aires owns polo teams, and so its famous bar the Polo Lounge is decorated around horses and the polo lifestyle.
Argentina’s Polo Season
The polo season is in late Spring (November into December) when the major tournaments are played. But throughout the year, you can take lessons or watch matches on polo farms, and that is where I am headed my first day.
Polo Club Farm “La Aguada” owned by the Novilla Astrada family
My host Corinne and I go to La Aguada, the polo club farm owned by the Novilla Astrada family and sibling team that won the three most important polo cups in one year recently.
As we travel out to the farm through the expansive flat grassland of the Pampas region, we are treated to the sights and smells of roadside barbecues. The region is one of wide open spaces on which sit large estancia estates. Grazing horses and cattle can be spotted as well as equestrian centers.
Life at the “Farm”
On the La Aguada property’s 270 acres are 5 pitches and the best facilities for practices and lessons. Stay on the property during polo season in one of the two fully staffed, 5 star guesthouses complete with chefs.
Both have lovely common spaces and pools, cozy and homey rooms of high style standard, yet you feel of the place and lifestyle.
You can come to learn or improve your polo skills, watch matches, or watch practices and lessons under the best coaches in the world on some of the best polo ponies. (There are accommodations on the property for younger players and gap year students as well.) I witnessed the lessons of a Peruvian gentleman, under the tutelage of team’s top coach.
Driving around the immense well-landscaped property, we pass beautifully fenced fields and pastures with some of the most well-conditioned and handsome horses I have ever seen. I visit the stables where a group of polo horses were being washed and having their legs wrapped by groomsmen for transport to a cup match in Hurlingham. Each player takes several mounts to use during a match.
I would suggest staying at this marvelous property or at least visiting for a lesson.
It is well worth it for immersion into the polo culture.
While in the area’s Las Pampas region, stay at an estancia to experience the gaucho culture.
In Argentina you can experience luxury, adventure, and sustainability through cultural immersion at an estancia. Click To Tweet
Next it is time to revel in another strong cultural influence in the countryside: the gaucho.
Gaucho Town San Antonio de Areco
Continuing through the Pampas, Corinne takes me through San Antonio de Areco, a traditional gaucho town.
Here, a great deal of the creole and gaucho (cowboy) traditions are preserved, especially among its artisans, who produce very fine silverwork and saddles. The town has a pretty Plaza Ruiz de Arellano which is ringed by historic buildings, including the local parish church, Iglesia Parroquial, and the 1720 Colonial-style Casa de los Martinez.
Estancia La Bamba de Areco
We visit Estancia La Bamba de Areco, a Relais & Chateaux colonial-style ranch. It is close to the historic Camino Real (Royal Highway) running from Buenos Aires to the silver mines of Alto Peru.
Sumptuous rooms and suites are arranged around manicured lawns with a pool, stables for the native criollo horses and polo ponies, and space for a lavish barbecue.
A Gaucho is waiting to welcome you …
Set off the main road down a dusty lane, I feel immediately immersed into the countryside.
At the entrance to the estancia, we drive through the ironwork arch to be greeted by a gaucho on a thick-chested magnificent horse who led us to the main reception area where the staff waited to greet us, as they do for every guest. The reception and lounge area is the old posta, or stop along the route between major cities from Argentina to Peru.
Here, riders would have a place to stay at estancias and a fresh mount to continue their way.
Peaceful and Restorative
My hostess is Lucila, the property’s Sales and Reservations Manager. She works in conjunction with the Guillermo Savino the General Manager and the owners to provide a high level of service to their guests.
I meet a young couple from France who were ending their active Argentina honeymoon with a stay here.
And that is something I would recommend, for the setting is so peaceful and restorative. La Bamba is about 1 hour’s drive from Buenos Aires, so it also can be a last stay before going to the airport to head home.
La Bamba’s Luxurious Guest Rooms
The sumptuous rooms at La Bamba’s one level deep pink-red ranch-style main house are individually decorated, and have configurations that can accommodate couples as well as families.
The dwelling is as if you live on the estancia, with cozy leather couched common rooms, soothing neutral colors, fine art and local handicrafts.
Right outside your door are the expansive manicured grounds of the estate, with a gorgeous pool, a rolling green lawn, a polo pitch for lessons and match-watching, and a rose-colored stable.
Horses, cattle and sheep graze in the fields.
I have the joyous fun of herding sheep from a back pasture, my horse far more skilled at the task than me. Newborn lambs trot by their mothers’ side, seemingly attached by an invisible cord. The air is filled with birdsong, the verdant spring turf spongy underfoot. As we approach the stables, the air is filled with the delicious smell of the asada being prepared.
Coming Together to Eat
I am led to an outdoor pavilion with a long heavy wooden table set for lunch.
Natural plants and elements fill the centerpiece wooden bowl. I like the communal atmosphere of all guests being able to dine together if they want.
What a wonderful way to meet people from all over the world!
I ask about dining in inclement weather, and am reminded that the posta building has ample room at its large dining table.
Before I sit at table, though, I have to see what the chef and his grill staff are doing in the open barbecue area at the top end of the pavilion.
The coals glow red and cuts of meat, sausages and chicken are turned and basted to delicious tenderness.
Our feast is rounded out with potatoes and vegetables grown in the estancia’s own gardens – a true farm-to-table meal.
Last comes dessert – a crepe with a crème interior that the chef then seared with a branding iron the caramelized the sprinkling of sugar on top!
The Horse Tamer
After a convivial lunch with Lucila as our hostess, she rises with a conspirator’s smile and asks us to follow her, where she invites us to sit on benches on the lawn.
Wondering what would happen next. A gaucho leads his horse from behind us, positions himself in in front of us, and begins to speak.
Through Lucila’s translation we learn he is a horse tamer of the “Doma India” tradition that stretches back to the time of the Ranquel, the local indigenous group. They believed the horse to be a demi-god, and would tame wild horses without violence or coercion, opting instead to understand the horse’s temperament and instincts.
Magical Connection between Man and Horse
From this tradition, a man named Oscar Scarpatis and now his family train horses in this style, and travel the world to teach others. The gaucho tells us of his training with Oscar, now 70 years old.
And then he begins to demonstrate a magical connection with this horse.
- The gaucho first takes the horse’s head in his hands, and breathes into its nostrils. Man and animal communicate through eyes, touch and common breath.
- Then, just by gesture and hand guidance they begin to demonstrate what can be done with a strong bond and deep understanding.
A Trusting Band
The trust between them is truly captivating, and as we watch in rapt silence, man could climb on a prone animal and under him without fear of sudden startling. The horse bows, stoops low for a smaller rider to mount, and is ridden bareback without need of bridle.
I found what could be achieved through patience and kind understanding.
Returning to Buenos Aires
Dazed and grateful, I thank Lucila and leave La Bamba, again escorted out by a gaucho to the front gate to return to Buenos Aires. Although I stayed only one night, a two-night stay at La Bamba de Areco is a great way to end your trip to Argentina.
Boutique Hotel La Serena
We make it back to Buenos Aires in the evening and I check into the lovely boutique hotel La Serena, located in the downtown residential Recoleta district, an area with historical and architectural interest, due to its European-inspired architecture.In some places I feel like I am in Paris during the Belle Epoque.
In this district are also the Four Seasons Buenos Aires, the Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, the Sofitel Buenos Aires and the queen of all, the Alvear Palace.
At La Serena, my large room with sumptuous bathroom creates an atmosphere of quiet calm, as if I were living in an apartment building with only a few apartments on each floor. The cozy downstairs bar, reading library and green leafy walled patio further add to the “at home” discreet atmosphere.
Tango’s Roots in Buenos Aires
And this evening, the next thing to sample whilst in Argentina – Tango!
This highly stylized dance art form has its roots in the more earthy sections of Buenos Aires, and it is here, many years later that the dance is practiced by everyday passionistas called milongueras for whom tango is a lifestyle.
In fact, there is a code of conduct in the milongas that are hard to detect by a newbie outsider such as myself.
And so I need a guide, and am lucky to have Gabby Masson as my hostess into her world. Gabby, in her fifties, is the wife of a professor at the university, cultured and educated herself. During the day she leads highly contextualized touring in her city, but her nights, well, they belong to tango.
On any night you can find a milonga filled with people sitting and sipping their wine, watching- and being watched. Gabby points out the subtle communications done only with eyes and small body language- will you dance? Not now, but perhaps later. Here the young and old gather to dance into the early morning hours to a DJ or live music. Each club offers a different atmosphere, from relaxed to formal, from young vibe to family.
In Buenos Aires you can see high art and common versions of tango in theaters, clubs and in the streets. Click To Tweet
Tango in its Art Form at the Faena Hotel
Before we hit the milongas, though, I see tango in its art form with my host Patricia at the best show in town, Rojo Tango, at the beautiful Faena Hotel.
We sit at a table in the 1920s nightclub setting, facing a small stage and the long bar beside it. Behind us are the musicians led by a great piano player.
He moves the performance through fast-paced and slow and sensuous pieces, the dancers lithe and athletic, the singers adding the evocative element of a lounge club. The show is a mesmerizing performance; the Faena a great place to enhance the whole experience before and after in its cozy Library Lounge.
My last day in Buenos Aires, I again meet Gabby Masson for a tour of the city.
Due to some societal protests, we must skirt around barriers that early that morning funneled protesters, their signs of messages for the government still hanging from them.
We visit the parliamentarian building where you can see the balcony from which Peron and Evita spoke. We step inside churches and the cathedral where Pope Francis preached. We study architectural styles.
Buenos Aires is the most European of cities in South America; much of that influence due to its port position on the astoundingly wide Rio de la Plata, which seems like an ocean.
The various influences from early Spanish giving way to French are seen everywhere in the architecture. We discuss the fascinating La Boca district with its colorful shanty houses and determined working-class identity. Here, on El Caminito (“little walkway”) you are immersed in art, music, tango and a little danger in pickpockets and buskers.
The Feel of Culture
Buenos Aires has the feel of culture. It is infused in the café culture, and many historic ones, where artists, writers and political figures gathered to discuss, are still in existence. We stop at Café Tortoni for refreshment and there meet up with Patricia. Its elegant, highly polished interior remind me of the best cafes in Paris and Vienna.
Yet, running through the elegance of Buenos Aires is a tension wire of a country still developing through many political, economic and social changes. It is evidenced in memorials to significant protests, in the larger-than-life portrait of Evita on the grand avenue, in the few remaining Spanish buildings, in the Beaux-Arts buildings of French influence, in the reformation of the Puerto Madero section.
Opera House “Teatro Colon”
The beauty of Buenos Aires comes from its wide avenues, green parks, cafes, shops and museums. For me the crowning effect is Teatro Colon, one of the most important opera houses in the world.
Built by Italian immigrants, who then crowded into the SRO top sections to hear performances- and criticize what they so clearly hear; its acoustics are so fine-tuned that Pavarotti called them too perfect.
It is a beautiful building, where I am lucky enough to sit in a ballet rehearsal. Opened again after a full refurbishment, the Teatro de Colon is as much a stop on an historic and architectural tour of Buenos Aires, as it is a school in all the arts supporting an opera, as it is a performance space.
Patricia and I bid farewell to Gabby and from here, walk the neighborhood back to my hotel.
Buenos Aires has a European look and feel with a fascinating mix with Latin America social and political influences. Click To Tweet
As our last experience, Patricia and I go shopping.
Three things stand out: the Argentinian clothing designers, the soft and supple leather goods made from the large rodent capybara, and perfume.
Fueguia 1833 Emporium
At the Fueguia 1833 emporium we sampled scents inspired by the company’s origins in Patagonia. The founder, Julian Bedel, is a pioneer in sustainable fragrance production. Each ingredient is natural and because of scarcity, perfumes are only made in limited amounts. The species are cultivated and distilled by the local community with support from universities. The high-end scents, to me, are worth the price for the production value as much as the excellent final product.
The perfumes are hand packed in recyclable glass bottles and wooden boxes handcrafted by a carpentry school in Patagonia using wood from fallen trees in the Patagonian “Valdiviano” forest. Even the labels are hand signed. The name originates from the abducted 12-year-old Patagonian boy who traveled with Charles Darwin and Robert Fitz Roy on the trip where darwin’s “origin of Species” was born.
As I learn from my too short stay in Buenos Aires, there is far more to discover. This city rates among the best in the world and is worth many return visits.
I am thankful for my Buenos Aires experience courtesy of my hosts Corinne Tateossian and Patricia Sanchez at Deluxe Argentina, a boutique travel design service for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru, who arranged my stay at la Serena Hotel, all my Buenos Aires touring and seating at the tango show, and the visits to La Aguada, and La Bamba de Areco.
Don’t forget to check out our other Argentina blog posts from this series:
- Argentina Travel Guide: A Land of Many Reasons to Go
- Traveling to Argentina: Adventure and Sustainable Travel – Where in the World is Theresa now?
- Salta, Argentina: A City in Andean Argentina (Part 1.a.1)
- Cultural, Natural and Ultimately Transformative Argentina Travel Tips: A Life-Changing Day in Salta, Argentina (Part 1.a.2)
- Natural Argentina: Ecotourism Can Fill Your Heart and Life Your Spirit (Part 1.b.)
- Desolate Beauty: The Great Salt Flat Salinas Grandes in Awe-Inspiring Argentina (Part 1.e.)
- Hiking in Search of the Pachamama in Argentina (Part 1.f.1.)
- Hiking in Search of the Pachamama in Argentina (Part 1.f.2.)
- Buenos Aires: How to Experience the Best of Its City and Countryside in 3 Days
If you’d like to have more ease in your travel planning, I’d love to help!
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