Buenos Aires: Tango and Football

There were two very Argentine things that Jason and I both really wanted to do while in Buenos Aires: go watch a football game and enjoy Argentine tango.

The two couldn’t be more different but after watching both, I have to say they’re so similar that I wouldn’t be surprised if Argentine tango dancers started wearing jerseys and football players traded in their cleats for tango shoes. Okay, perhaps I’m being a little extreme, but hear me out.

Venue

We wanted to watch the Boca Juniors play in the La Bombenera stadium but since the Boca Juniors fans are crazy, it would be really difficult to get tickets to a game. Instead we watched the River Plate soccer club play at the River Plate stadium – a huge venue filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans.

River Plate Football Stadium in Buenos Aires

The River Plate Football Stadium. And yes, that’s a water cannon on top of a tank at the bottom of the picture.

Jason and I were lucky enough to visit Buenos Aires just as the World Tango Championships kicked off. We were even able to score tickets to the World Tango Finals

Buenos Aires World Tango Championship tickets

We scored tickets to World Tango Finals. We only had to line up for 1.5 hours for them!

Like football, the Tango Finals were held in Luna Park Stadium – a huge venue filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans

Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires

Luna Park Stadium – where the World Tango Finals took place

Athleticism

Watching the River Plate team was pretty impressive. They were obviously the better team and played their hearts out. Their display of endurance, speed, and agility was pure joy to watch. There was no question they were world-class athletes.

River Plate vs Colon football match

River plate vs. Colon

The tango finalists that we watched that night were spectacular. Even Jason was impressed with how technical and difficult the Tango was – especially when it came to the intricate footwork. As with the football players, the Tango dancers’ display of endurance, speed, and agility was exhilarating to watch. World-class athletes here too.

Passion

A lot of what makes a live football game so exciting to watch can be credited to the team’s fans. Football fans are the pure definition of the world: fanatics. They are in love with the game, the players, the excitement and are not afraid to let you know. The whole stadium shook when fans chanted, stomped, and sang in unison. The passion was palpable. Side note: if the River Plate fans are considered to be tamer than Boca Juniors fans, then I don’t think I ever want to get on the bad side of a Boca Juniors fan.

River Plate fans

Football fans take their sport VERY seriously

Like a football game, the passion is also palpable when watching a pair of tango dancers ooze desire all over the dance floor. The best tango dancers make you feel a little voyeuristic when watching them dance. It feels a little wrong watching that much passion exchanged between two people.

Buenos Aires World Tango Finals

A passionate embrace in between intense tango footwork

Acting Ability

Two world-class tango dancers will make you believe they are absolutely in love with each other. I would not be surprised if every single dance couple up there were actually romantically involved by the way they touched (and locked lips with) each other.

On the tango world stage

Putting on a show for the audience and judges

Like tango dancers, football players also possess an incredible acting ability. More times than I can count, two football players will barely make incidental contact and almost always, one of them will roll around on the ground in agony. They writhe in “pain” until they are certain the ref won’t be making a foul or penalty call. At that point, they jump up and rejoin the game as if nothing ever happened.

The fenced in seating in River Plate Stadium

There is, however, one big difference between the two displays of athleticism – Security

While the security guards at the Tango Finals just waved us through without so much as an extra glance, we were met with this when we tried to make our way into the football stadium:

Getting into a River Plate game

Some serious crowd control before the football match

Fans were funneled down certain streets by the stadium where they were then subjected to full body pat-downs and bag searches by riot gear-clad police officers.

Pat-downs and bag searches before the football match

Pat-downs and bag searches by police in full riot gear

After the initial search, your bag is subjected to 3 more searches at various checkpoints until you are finally allowed into the general area around the stadium. One final bag search when you reach your entrance gate and then you’re allowed inside into this:

Fenced-in seating area in River Plate Stadium

Our “box seats” for the River Plate game

A fenced-in seating area topped with barbed wire.

This area is where fans of the opposing team are seated. After the game, the entire stadium is locked down for 30 minutes to allow the opposing team to leave the stadium and surrounding area first. Crazy football fans!

So there you have it.  Really, other than the barbed wire seating area, Argentine Tango and football are like two peas in an Argentine pod.

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Buenos Aires: City of Neighbourhoods

Sunset over Buenes Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is a wonderful city – probably one of our favourite cities in South America. It’s a city of beautiful French and Spanish architecture, fascinating political and cultural history, a vibrant arts scene, great restaurants – it makes for an incredibly liveable city. Jason and I have spent over 3 weeks in Buenos Aires – the longest we’ve stayed in just one city and we loved every moment of it.

Buenos Aires kind of reminds us of Toronto, or Paris, or New York – probably because it’s also a city of neighbourhoods. Each neighbourhood or district has its own unique look and feel. The posh refinement of Recoleta, trendy hip Palermo, gastronomic Las Canitas, the proud roots of La Boca, historical Montserrat…the list goes on. It’d take weeks to explore all the little nooks of Buenos Aires, and weeks we took.

Luckily, Buenos Aires has an excellent and inexpensive public transport system: a clean and efficient subway system (ARS$2.5 or CDN$0.50) and a very extensive city bus network (ARS$1.60 or CDN$0.30). We only used a cab twice the whole time we were there.

The Subte - the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Las Cañitas

We stayed in a modern little apartment in Las Cañitas

Our modern apartment in Las Canitas neighbouhood

Our apartment for the 3 weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Wedged between Palermo and Belgrano, Las Canitas is a pretty, tree-lined neighbourhood. It popped up in the 90s and quickly became a neighbourhood of signature restaurants and hip bars. Today, it possesses the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in the city.

At Las Cholas, one of the great restaurants in Las Canitas

At Las Cholas, one of the great restaurants in Las Canitas

Montserrat

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also spent a few days in Montserrat. A place of historical significance, Montserrat is the district that holds Plaza de Mayo, the Cabildo (where Eva “Evita” Peron famously addressed the nation), and Casa Rosada.

The face of Evita on one of the buildings in Montserrat

The face of Evita on one of the buildings in Montserrat

San Telmo

Closeby is the neighbourhood of San Telmo. It’s a beautiful old neighbourhood – its history rooted in tango dancers pressed together on the cobblestone streets, colonial houses, and antique stores. Today, it’s one of Buenos Aires’ trendiest areas – full of hostels, refurbished old pubs, and independent designer boutiques.

Cobblestone streets in San Telmo

Cobblestone streets in San Telmo

On Sunday, many of the main streets close down for its weekly antique fair and is packed full of performers, artisans, and market stalls.

Sunday Antique Market in San Telmo

Sunday Antique Market in San Telmo

Performers in San Telmo

Artists & performers in San Telmo

Performers in San Telmo

Artists & performers in San Telmo

San Telmo was one of our favourite neighbourhoods. We frequented this neighbouhood often – returning to enjoy Argentine pizza, grab a microbrewed beer, or to wander through the market.

La Boca

Another neighbourhood steeped in history is La Boca. The old port (Vuelta de Rocha), is where thousands of European immigrants arrived at the end of the 19th century – bringing and instilling a very proud Italian subculture in the neighbouhood.

The old port in La Boca

The old port in La Boca

La Boca is also home to the rowdiest and craziest football club in Buenos Aires: the Boca Juniors. Fans are so rowdy (and sometimes violent) that tickets are no longer sold to visitors- only club members can purchase tickets to football games. We were told that the only way tourists can see a game is to either purchase tickets on game day through very sketchy scalpers (i.e. counterfeit tickets galore) or to go through a tour operator that charges USD$150/ticket. Jason REALLY wanted to see a football game while in Argentina. But we didn’t end up seeing the Boca Juniors.

La Bombenera: the Boca Juniors stadium

La Bombenera: the Boca Juniors stadium

La Boca can be pretty dangerous. We were advised, by our guide book and locals alike, to not wander off the beaten path and to always be aware of our surroundings. Luckily, the beaten path offers some very interesting sights.

El Caminito in La Boca (Buenos Aires)

El Caminito in La Boca

El Caminito in La Boca (Buenos Aires)

Colourful sheet metal houses in El Caminito

‘El Caminito’ is one-part tourist trap and one-part bohemian getaway. The picturesque streets are lined with colourful sheet metal houses and filled with (artists dressed like) tango dancers that want to take a picture with you (for a fee, of course!)

Belgrano

Belgrano is a quiet neighbourhood that’s also home to the city’s Chinatown. The stores here sell anything and everything; pungent smells waft from the fish markets; and barbecued duck and pig carcasses hang in the front of restaurants.

El Barrio Chino in Belgrano

El Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in Belgrano

I can see why there are no Asian people in the rest of the city – they all seem to congregate here. I also found my favourite comfort food here: a steaming bowl of noodle soup.

Noodle soup in El Barrio Chino

My favourite comfort food: noodle soup

Recoleta

Recoleta became the most exclusive area in the city in the late 1800s when a yellow fever epidemic forced the wealthy aristocrats from San Telmo to the tree-lined streets of this upper class neighbourhood.

Parks and walkways in Recoleta

Parks and walkways in Recoleta

One of the most exclusive addresses in the city can be found in Recoleta, but no one actually lives there: the Recoleta Cemetary. It’s a must-see for all visitors, especially during the week when it’s eerily empty and quiet.

Recoleta Cemetary

Spooky Recoleta Cemetary

Recoleta Cemetary

Looks like its ready for Halloween year-round

Recoleta Cemetary

Recoleta Cemetary: beautiful and eerie

Evita’s remains are buried here with her family, under her maiden name.

Eva 'Evita' Peron's final resting place

Eva ‘Evita’ Peron’s final resting place

The above were just a few of the neighbouhoods we visited and enjoyed. There are so many more neighbouhoods to explore. If you get a chance to visit other neighbouhoods in Buenos Aires, leave me a comment below and let me know about it. Or did I miss any of your favourite neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires? Tell me about them 🙂