Buenos Aires: Tango, Maté, and More

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Two sisters from Pittsburgh are heading to Buenos Aires and are looking for a soccer match, special day trips, and the best place for maté.

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Dear Trip Coach...
My sister, Mary, and I were both Latin American studies majors in college, and we're planning a trip to Buenos Aires. We're using frequent-flier miles for our flights and Marriott points for our hotel, so most of our travel budget can go to exploring the city, taking side trips, and eating delicious food. Katie Roche, Pittsburgh, Pa.

"Between Eva Perón and the Dirty War, Argentina had a fascinating 20th century. Which historic sites should we check out?" Argentina's very big--and very pink--presidential palace, Casa Rosada, dominates the Plaza de Mayo, the city's main square. Juan and Eva Perón addressed crowds from the first-floor balcony in the north wing. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group that commemorates those killed by the military dictatorship during the Dirty War, demonstrates at the palace on Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. For more of Eva Perón's story, explore The Evita Museum, in a beautiful old restored home in the Palermo neighborhood (Lafinur 2988, 011-54/11-4807-0306, evitaperon.org), and the Recoleta Cemetery, where she's buried--along with Argentine boxers, presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and, oddly, the mother of Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. The cemetery covers about 14 acres; buy a map from former tour guide Robert Wright (011-54/9-11-5174-4440, info@urbex.com.ar, $6.50).

"I have a weakness for taking photos of my friends next to their meals. I can't wait to catch Mary eating a steak and sipping Argentine wine." The down-home Parrilla El 22, in the Villa Crespo neighborhood, is a vaulted room with outdoor seating, good meat, and fútbol on the TV (Jufre 1085, 011-54/11-4775-8608, entrées usually feed two and start at $6). Order the mollejas (sweetbreads), the asado de tira (short ribs), and a bottle of Norton or Trapiche wine. For something a little tonier, go to La Dorita for the bife de chorizo steak, provoletas (grilled cheeses), and wine served in a penguin-shaped pingüino pitcher (Humboldt 1905, 011-54/11-4773-0070, entrées from $6). Wine bars aren't as popular as in the U.S., but a few have popped up. There's a chic wine bar/restaurant in Palermo called Omm; snag a spot outside if you can (Honduras 5656, 011-54/11-4774-4224).

"Where can we try maté?" You can find the bitter herbal infusion--said to offer the boost of coffee without the acidic buzz--in many places, but two we recommend are Nonna Bianca, a Patagonian-themed ice cream shop in San Telmo (Estados Unidos 407, 011-54/11-4362-0604), and La Peña del Colorado, a restaurant and music club in Palermo (Güemes 3657, 011-54/11-4822-1038).

"We fell in love with soccer during the 2002 World Cup. Any chance of catching a match?" The most popular team is the Boca Juniors, but tickets go quickly. Seats for other big teams--River Plate, Racing, Independiente, and San Lorenzo--are easier to come by. Another angle is to see Huracán, a once great and now rebounding team that plays in a beautiful art deco stadium in a barrio called Parque Patricios. Tangol.com has tickets for all teams (from $48). Soccer matches in Argentina are occasionally marred by violence, but unless you sit in the cheap seats and scream obscenities at the opposing fans, you'll be fine.

"Should we bring traveler's checks, rely on credit cards, or use ATMs?" Argentina is a cash economy, so ATMs are your best bet. The big tourist hotels and swank restaurants take credit cards, but most places either don't or will stick you with a surcharge if you pay with one. Tax-dodging is an art in Argentina, which often means that if you pay cash and ask for a discount, you may get a nod, a wink, and 10 percent off.

"Are there local clothing or jewelry designers we should check out?" You'll find great boutiques in Palermo. Soldba, a store featuring young clothing designers, sells cool T-shirts, handbags, and music (Costa Rica 4645, 011-54/11-4833-7990). Sabater Hnos. Fabrica de Jabones has artisanal soaps (Gurru­chaga 1821, 011-54/11-4833-3004), and Divia Shoes has groovy women's shoes (Armenia 1489, 011-54/11-4831-9090). The city's design center, the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño, turns a former fruit market in Colegiales, just west of Palermo, into the Dorrego market three times a year. Designers sell clothing and housewares. Contact the CMD for dates and times (011-54/11-4773-1438, cmd.gov.ar).

"Where can we watch authentic tango?" Avoid the pricey shows in San Telmo and go to a milonga (tango hall) instead. The dancing in most places doesn't begin until around 11 p.m. Salón Canning is a lovely, tattered dance hall in Palermo where a hip, young group named Parakultural presides on Monday nights (Scalabrini Ortiz 1331, 011-54/11-4832-6753). For a more traditional, elegant experience, you can't beat Niño Bien on Thursdays (Humberto Primo 1462, 011-54/9-11-4147-8687).

"Should we take any side trips?" Tigre, a little town in the river delta 45 minutes from Buenos Aires, is reminiscent of the Louisiana bayou (tigre.gov.ar). TBA runs a direct train (tbanet.com.ar, 50¢). For the scenic route, take a train to Mitre and connect to the Tren de la Costa, which stops in towns with artisanal and antique fairs on weekends (011-54/11-4002-6000, trendelacosta.com.ar, $2.50). Both trains leave from Retiro Station in Buenos Aires. Three blocks from the Tren de la Costa station is the Estación Fluvial de Tigre, where you can pay for a boat tour of the rivers and islands (from $3.50). Watch for the home of former president Domingo Sarmiento; the government has preserved the house by placing a large glass box over it (on Río Sarmiento, 011-54/11-4728-0570). Lan & Kramer runs half-day bike tours in Tigre for $35, including the train ride (011-54/11-4311-5199, biketours.com.ar).

Uruguay is another engaging day trip. The high-speed ferry takes you from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, in about an hour (011-54/11-4316-6500, buquebus.com, $31 each way). Be sure to get to the ferry terminal early, because you'll need to pass through immigration. Check out the cowhide rugs at Artesanías y Tejidos (Calle del Colegio 66, 011-598/52-23158), and go to El Asador for grilled meat and Uruguayan wine (Ituzaingó 168, 011-598/52-31024, dinner from $4).

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