Here at The Bubble we love all of Buenos Aires’ classic tourist neighborhoods, like San Telmo, Recoleta and the many Palermos, but there is so much more to see around the city apart from these iconic barrios. To help locals and tourists alike discover other areas, the City Government of Buenos Aires has launched the Barrios Creativos program (“creative neighborhoods”), featuring themed audio guides available on Spotify as well as downloadable maps with self-guided walking tours. Each audio tour is around an hour long, with a local celebrity vecino guiding you around their favorite haunts.
The first three audio guides and maps showcase Chacarita, Villa Crespo, and Abasto. According to the Culture Secretary, the government hopes to expand the program to offer audio guides and walking routes for all of Buenos Aires’ 48 neighborhoods. Each map contains five routes to walk through, and each point of interest offers a brief description along with accompanying audio material which will teach you about the highlights of each barrio. Sadly, for those readers (myself included) who are a bit challenged in the language department, at the moment, the audio guides are only available in Spanish, but the Office of Tourism for the City of Buenos Aires is planning translated audio guides in English, Portuguese and Chinese.
What sets these audio tours apart from the classic walking tours you could get of San Telmo or Recoleta is that they were designed by members of the community you are exploring. While the city provided funding and the initial concept, the actual design of the routes and the information in the audio guide was done by the cultural organizations and leaders of the community itself. So much so, that at the May 23rd launch, the Minister of Culture for the City of Buenos Aires Enrique Avogadro said that the purpose of the audio guide project was primarily to “stimulate culture in the neighborhoods” and “develop the cultural networks of all of the city’s neighborhoods.” The audio tours that emerged from this collaboration were “wonderful,” he said, but not the only positive outcome, or even the primary objective.
To test the concept, The Bubble listened to and participated in the inaugural Chacarita tour. The tour kicked off in the iconic, imposing Chacarita cemetery (its claim to fame is being the largest cemetery in Argentina). The tour then wound us through a series of bars, boutique art galleries, and restaurants that all felt a little off the beaten path, bringing us to interesting gems we would have never found otherwise.
Actor Mike Amigorena, the narrator of the audio guide, will order you to walk through an inconspicuous door, down a narrow hallway, and then (just when you’ve decided this was all an elaborate setup to rob you), into a small local theater, where at night there are musical shows, and during the day there are workshops and yoga classes. The charming children’s bookstore located on a leafy avenue feels like a real Argentine classroom, and the owner will happily tell you about why it is so important to have spaces like these for children.
In fact, we found that all residents of Chacarita on the tour’s itinerary were welcoming and informative, which could have something to do with that it was launch day, but one can hope will remain a part of the tour as time passes. The audio guides accompany every site on the tour with a story, historical fact or description of some local project and the tour as a whole feels authentic, as it is wonderfully clear that, while Chacarita has many points of interest, it is not necessarily a top Buenos Aires tourist destination.
Tombs in the Chacarita cemetery (Photo via Clarin)
Chacarita is a largely residential neighborhood, meaning you get a feel for how Argentines actually live and spend their day-to-day. The people you meet take pride in their barrio, the sights don’t seem overdeveloped, and on the whole, it feels as if Chacarita is presenting quirky, real parts of Argentine life. If you finish the audio tour and are still yearning for more, you can go on any of the other five (non-audio) walks in each neighborhood which, if you do them all, will take you through 348 different “cultural spaces” in Abasto, Villa Crespo and Chacarita.
In addition to the museums and statues the tour will show you, it will also provide restaurant and bar recommendations, which you can dip into during your tour if (like me) you simply can’t go a full hour between meals. The nocturnal walking tour also has advice for a night out in Chacarita, pointing out rock bars, whiskey houses and beer gardens to satisfy everyone’s idea of fun. Unless your ideal night is clubbing, in which case there are no recommendations in this guide. #SorryAboutIt.
Just like the Chacarita tour shows off both the famous and the bohemian, the Villa Crespo and Abasto tour make sure to cover the well-known favorites as well as the niche treasures. In Villa Crespo, expect to see retro vinyl stores and a monument to legendary Tango artist, Villa Crespo native, and the barrio’s patron saint Osvaldo Pugliese. Then, if it suits your fancy, enjoy an entire walking tour dedicated to converted spaces, featuring a cafe fused with the workshop of Argentine designer Jessica Trosman, and an old apartment which is now a local theater.
A monument to Osvaldo Pugliese on the Villa Crespo tour (via patrimonio.com.ar)
On the Abasto tours, see the former houses of both the legendary tango musician Carlos Gardel and Luca Prodan, the front-man of one of Argentina’s most notorious rock bands, Sumo. Learn about Abasto’s affection for a movement know as “plastic art” as you look through the workshop of artist Alberto Morales and admire the tasteful vandalism on its streets. At the “three structures” viewpoint and the “ex-market balcony” follow the journey of the famous Abasto market: from a few vegetable stalls into one of Buenos Aires’ largest markets and then into the huge shopping mall it is today. Then, if you’d like, walk the building’s handsome halls.
The former Abasto market, now Abasto shopping mall (via www.caputo.com.ar).
The audio guides and walking tours of Chacarita, Villa Crespo and Abasto are short, manageable introductions to some of Buenos Aires’ lesser known, but nonetheless charming neighborhoods. While we all love touring the famous San Telmo and Recoleta, these guides provide a wonderful opportunity to see a different side of Buenos Aires, and the neighborhoods themselves provide a nice contrast to the typical, and perhaps stale, tourist experience. You should walk away with a better understanding of Buenos Aires, and a few good restaurant and bar recommendations if you’re ever in the area again. Above all, they are a fun, unique, one-hour way to explore Buenos Aires and all it has to offer.
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