HOTEL DEALS

Buenos Aires at a Price That's Right

We've picked reliable, affordable places to stay in a wide variety of neighborhoods in Argentina's capital. Here are eight properties worth considering, from upscale hostels to apartment-style hotels.

By Cintra Scott, Thursday, Dec 18, 2008, 11:00 AM

Your dollars go far in Argentina for meals and shopping, but not for hotels. As bargain-seekers fly in to sample Buenos Aires's famous steaks, wine, and tango lessons, they may be surprised that hotels, as a general rule, aren't cheap.

Some booking strategies
Watch out for the value-added tax (VAT) of 21 percent. Some hotels leave it off their price sheets, while others include it as part of the published rate.

High season runs November through March, when swimming pools are especially in demand. Book a few months ahead for a choice spot. But that's about as far ahead as you may be able to reserve at many places. Double-digit inflation has kept some hoteliers from setting rates more than a few months in advance. Naturally, you'll want to verify all prices before you book.

For a longer stay, consider renting an apartment by the week. Reputable agencies, such as B y T Argentina, list hundreds of digs by price range and neighborhood.

Be aware of bargain-looking city hotels—albergues transitorios (or telos in local slang)—these charge by the hour and block all windows so straying spouses can keep a low profile. Look elsewhere for a traditional hotel experience.

Light sleepers should ask for a room away from the street, especially on bus routes. Buenos Aires may be the noisiest city in South America. Public buses with screechy brakes run 24 hours a day.

Buenos Aires's independent boutique hotels hit a sweet spot. They tend to be run out of renovated mansions and town houses bought at bargain prices during or after the financial crisis of 2001. The best ones offer a level of luxury and personalized service that's usually out of reach for bargain-minded travelers. You might pay as little as $120 to stay in an impeccably renovated 18th-century house. And you'll typically receive service that large, corporate-owned hotels can't provide.

Below is our boutique hotel–heavy list of places to stay in Buenos Aires from about $85 to $175 a night—along with a classy hostel for good measure. Cheaper lodgings can be found, but these properties are among the city's best values.

ART HOTEL
'Hood Recoleta/Barrio Norte, on a residential block with doctors' offices and sought-after apartment towers. Within a short walk of tourist must-sees, such as the Recoleta Cemetery (where Eva Perón is buried) and the fine-arts museum (Museo Nacional de Belles Artes).

First Impression Relaxed civility. The six-story 1929 town house has an art gallery and café on its ground floor and a sundeck on its roof. A whirlpool bath is open in warm weather, typically between December and March.

Rooms Thirty-five rooms are classified from "small & cozy" to "king." Elegant touches include canopied beds, wrought-iron work, French doors, and wood floors. Light sleepers may want to opt for the rooms in back, which are at a quiet remove from the street.

Plus A fine value in a desirable area—plus it packs personality. Nearby competitors tend to be in anonymous towers.

Minus Only the king rooms contain bathtubs, but not even kings have king-size beds: Queen-size beds are the largest ones here.

Free Wi-Fi? Yes, in the lobby.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details Azcuenaga 1268, 011-54/11-4821-4744, arthotel.com.ar, doubles from $95, including VAT.

Hotel Type Hotel.

Relevant Lifestyle Romance, Family-friendly.

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AXEL HOTEL BUENOS AIRES
'Hood San Telmo, a densely packed historic neighborhood. Antique shops, church spires, and tango shows compete for your attention. Sotheby's "For Sale" signs in front of many buildings signal the area's gentrification.

First Impression Architecturally at odds with the well-preserved neighborhood, Axel Hotel is modern and angular. It's a self-proclaimed "heterofriendly" luxury hotel chain for gay travelers. The top-floor swimming pool has a glass bottom that gives an eyeful to people five stories below in the lobby. If you're not a fitness buff, you'll wish you were.

Rooms Most of the 48 rooms fall into two categories: "City" rooms provide views of the skyline (or of a parking lot, if you're unlucky) and "superior" rooms offer a view of Axel's second pool, which is surrounded by terraced sundecks in the style of an amphitheatre. All rooms are nearly soundproof. Clever wood sliding doors alternately conceal and reveal features in the compact rooms, blocking out, by turns, the sun or the closet, the bathtub or the minibar. A hydro-massage bathtub or shower is in each superior room, and a standard shower is in each city room. Interior glass walls leave a bather on display.

Plus The top-floor pool is indoors and well heated for winter, with a sleek, expansive gym and spa nearby.

Minus Axel's affordability vanishes during the summer high season.

Free Wi-Fi? Yes, in all rooms and public areas.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details Venezuela 649, 011-54/11-4136-9393, axelhotels.com, doubles from $139, spike in summer.

Hotel Type Hotel.

Relevant Lifestyle Gay, Hip.

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BABEL HOTEL
'Hood San Telmo, on a cobblestoned street a couple of blocks from Plaza Dorrego, whose outdoor cafés are filled during the week and whose market of antiques and curiosities is crowded on Sundays.

First Impression Is this what happens when hostels grow up? The owners were in the hostel business before renovating this 1842 mansion, giving it recessed lighting and modern, Scandinavian-style built-ins in elegant dark wood. It opened in August 2008, so everything still looks shiny.

Rooms The nine rooms vary in carpet and tile colors, but little else. Four "superior" rooms are slightly larger than the remaining five "standard" rooms, but all amenities are the same (TVs, DVD players, safes, private bathrooms, to name a few). Two rooms peer onto the street. The others look onto a quiet, interior courtyard.

Plus The co-owners promise a 24-hour bilingual staff who can book you a table at a fine restaurant, a tango lesson, or a horseback ride in the country.

Minus No swimming pool. From the rooms, no views. No bathtubs (just showers).

Free Wi-Fi? Yes, in all rooms and public areas.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details Balcarce 946, 011-54/11-4300-8300, hotelbabel.com.ar, doubles from $85.

Hotel Type Hotel.

Relevant Lifestyle Hip.

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BO-BO HOTEL
'Hood Palermo Soho, on a quiet cobblestoned street lined with tipa trees, just a block from the site of writer Jorge Luis Borges's childhood home. Nearby are hip restaurants and trendy boutiques, making the area feel a bit like Manhattan's SoHo district.

First Impression An elegant, early-20th-century mansion with a stately façade, black-and-white marble floors, a central staircase, and lofty ceilings. Modern artwork, an efficient elevator, Wi-Fi, and copies of David Brooks's Bobos in Paradise in the common area all remind you we're in the 21st century.

Rooms Seven rooms are decorated by theme: Argentine, Art deco, Classic, Minimalist, Pop, Rationalist, and Techno. The "deluxe" Pop room is playfully rendered in orange and green, with a shallow, street-facing balcony. Quiet-seekers should consider the Minimalist room: It faces a serene terrace filled with plants.

Plus A tiny boutique hotel with many of the amenities of a full service hotel, such as a restaurant and an ample, 24/7 staff.

Minus Word is out, and there are only seven spaces: Book two to three months in advance.

Free Wi-Fi? Yes, in all rooms and public areas.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details Guatemala 4882, 011-54/11-4774-0505, bobohotel.com, doubles from $165.

Hotel Type Hotel.

Relevant Lifestyle Romance, Hip, Gay-friendly.

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HOME HOTEL
'Hood Palermo Hollywood, so named for its abundance of TV studios. Heavier on the nightlife and restaurant options than Palermo Soho, the shopping district across the train tracks.

First Impression If only your agent could see you now. A U.K. record producer and an Argentine publicity director created Home after they got married in Buenos Aires several years ago and couldn't find a hotel they liked for their friends and family. They transformed this "chorizo house"—so-called because it curves around one side of a central courtyard the way a grilled chorizo sausage curves—with hip touches, such as poolside pod chairs, llama-wool throws, and vintage wallpaper (including an English 1960s flora-and-trellis pattern).

Rooms The overarching style is a cool, mid-century modern—with floral prints and Chilean wool to warm things up. All 19 rooms are appointed with things you didn't know you needed—such as a safe that can hold your laptop, speakers for your iPod, and double-paned glass to shut out the street noise.

Plus The pool, the sauna, and the spa treatments will help you recover from Palermo Hollywood's relentless nightlife.

Minus It's been discovered the world over: Book at least three months in advance.

Free Wi-Fi Yes, in all rooms and public areas.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details Honduras 5860, 011-54/11-4778-1008, homebuenosaires.com, doubles from $125, superior rooms from $175.

Hotel Type Hotel.

Relevant Lifestyle Hip, Romance, Gay-friendly.

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LA CAYETANA HISTORIC HOUSE
'Hood Monserrat, a quiet neighborhood, especially in contrast to the bustling city center nearby.

First Impression A country house in the city. Step off the city street into an early-19th-century house. In back is a flower-filled courtyard garden with birds singing from the branches of a century-old fig tree. One family owned the house for 148 years. When the current owners bought it in 2005, they kept much of the original furniture and detailing. Old Italianate tiles, original chandeliers, and colored-glass windows adorn the public areas.

Rooms Original mantels, wardrobes, and claw-foot tubs are classic touches in many of the 11 rooms. Smaller "standard" rooms run along the street in the oldest portion of the house, while the larger rooms look to the patio and courtyard. Two "master suites" are former stables.

Plus The staff fires up the parrilla (barbeque) on Friday nights to roast Argentine, grass-fed beef for guests.

Minus There's no restaurant, and the neighborhood is off the beaten path.

Free Wi-Fi Yes, in all guest rooms and public areas.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details México 1330, 011-54/11-4383 2230, lacayetanahotel.com.ar, doubles from $120, executive suites from $140, master suites from $180, rincluding VAT.

Hotel Type Inn/B&B.

Relevant Lifestyle Romance, Family-friendly.

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MIRA VIDA SOHO
'Hood Palermo Soho, on a tiny plaza surrounded by trees in a smart neighborhood known for low-rise buildings and a bohemian vibe.

First Impression Only six guest rooms—yet there is ample space in this 1930s mansion, which was thoroughly renovated to offer modern amenities while keeping its neoclassical origins. Owner James King opened Mira Vida's ground-floor wine bar in 2008 to introduce his guests to Argentine wine, especially malbec. The bar has become popular with some locals, too.

Rooms Between the wine cellar and a rooftop sundeck, six guest rooms are simple, spacious, and luxurious. A flat-screen TV, French doors, and a private patio or balcony are typical amenities. Expect 12-foot cathedral ceilings in the two top-floor rooms.

Plus The Canadian owner is around to offer advice in English.

Minus With only six guest rooms and 24-hour staff, Mira Vida isn't for people seeking an anonymous stay.

Free Wi-Fi? Yes, in all rooms and public areas.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details Darragueyra 2050, 011-54/11-4774-6433, miravidasoho.com, doubles from $128.

Hotel Type Hotel.

Relevant Lifestyle Romance, Family-friendly, Gay-friendly, Hip.

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TRIP RECOLETA HOSTEL
'Hood Recoleta, a tourism hotbed. The hostel is on the same block as a Hard Rock Café. The famous Recoleta Cemetery (where Evita is buried) is across the street. You can't get closer without dying.

First Impression Feel like roughing it in a 1920s cabaret/bordello overlooking a cemetery that's crammed with Gothic mausoleums? If not, read no further. But budget-conscious Goths and their admirers will be delighted. Climb up one flight of tile-adorned steps to reach a floor of dorm rooms and one private room. Climb another flight for more of the same. But now look out the window—or, better yet, climb one more flight to the lounge deck—and: Wow. It's a view you won't soon forget. Cupolas, columns, angels, crosses, and stained glass compete for attention over every square inch of the walled city of the dead.

Rooms Plain, clean, bright, Trip Recoleta offers four dorm rooms equipped with five to seven beds and two additional rooms that are singles or doubles, depending on the day. No private bathrooms. Families or groups of friends could take over a dorm room with a bit of negotiating with the owner.

Plus For a sumptuous mid-afternoon splurge, wander into any one of Recoleta's nearby high-end hotels, such as Alvear and Park Hyatt. For about $25, sample teas and decadent pastries in sumptuously formal settings.

Minus It's a hostel with shared bathrooms. The noise-averse and couples over the age of, say, 30 will want to stay away.

Free Wi-Fi? Yes, in all rooms and public areas.

Credit Cards Accepted AmEx, MC, Visa.

Details Vincente Lopez 2180, 011-54/11-4807-8726, triprecoletahostel.com.ar, single bed in a dorm room from $14, including taxes, discounts for staying multiple nights.

Hotel Type Hostel.

Relevant Lifestyle Youth, Noise-tolerant adults.

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AFFORDABLE B.A.