Argentina: Celebrating Life, History, Beauty and LGBT Friendliness
When I first received an invitation to visit Argentina, I really didn't know what to expect. It's seemingly always been overshadowed in the media by neighboring Brazil, so I really had to do my research to see exactly what I was going to experience. After about an hour of scavenging through Google, I realized that I needed to accept the invitation.
This would only be my second time visiting South America and I was very eager to discover a different country and culture. Over the years, I had heard many positive things about Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole, but I had yet to experience them first hand. I spent countless hours researching various regions of the country and was most excited to put my four years of Spanish language studies to use.
Upon my arrival to Buenos Aires, I quickly became familiar with the enormity of the city. With a population of approximately 12 million people, it is easily one of the largest cities I've ever visited, second only to São Paulo.
My first observation was how European the city felt. I immediately noticed signs of the city's Italian influence and began to see hints of Spain scattered throughout the Argentinean capital. The neighborhood I was staying in was named Palermo, derived from the still-existing Franciscan abbey of Saint Benedict of Palermo, who was the complementary patron saint of Palermo, Sicily. Being of Sicilian descent, I felt at home.
Palermo is the largest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, adorned with cobblestone sidewalks, outdoor cafes, and a mix of traditional and modern architecture.
I checked in at one of the swankiest properties in Palermo: Vitrum Hotel. The hotel's concept is a fusion of fashion, art and cuisine, and the main attraction is a restaurant inside the hotel called Sushi Club, which has been voted one of the best Japanese restaurants in Buenos Aires.
Vitrum Hotel is everything the modern day traveler needs in a hotel. With complimentary wireless Internet throughout, this hotel is perfect for a quick business trip or a vacation with a partner.
Buenos Aires is divided into many neighborhoods, my favorite being Puerto Madero, one of the newest and trendiest places in town. The neighborhood is filled with upscale residential apartments, restaurants, offices, and lofts located along picturesque canals. The locals spend afternoons strolling along the docks, riding bikes on the wide pathways, and lingering over coffee and pastries at riverfront cafes.
Puerto Madero attracts businessmen during the day and a fashionable, and affluent crowd at night. It is lined with elegant restaurants serving Argentine steaks and seafood specialties. The Argentine Catholic University campus and a private art museum call this neighborhood home - among numerous other establishments.
After a few days touring Buenos Aires, our group headed north to the province of Misiones. Over 35 percent of this area consists of sub-tropical rainforest.
One of the highlights of this region are the incredible San Ignacio ruins, founded in 1632 by the Jesuits during the Spanish colonial period. Priests José Cataldino and Simón Maceta erected the original mission near the year 1610. In the 18th century, the mission had a population of around 3,000 people, and enjoyed a rich economy, helped by the nearby Paraná River. After the
Suppression of the Society of the Jesuits of 1767, the Jesuits left the mission a year later, and the mission was destroyed in 1817, as well as other missions in the area.
What remains is a remarkable display of some of the most well preserved ruins I have ever visited. Our knowledgeable tour guide walked us through the sprawling compound, pointing out fine details and craftsmanship at every turn. One cannot appreciate San Ignacio until they see it up close. There was a certain mystique about the ruins that kept me captivated during the entire visit. At sundown, guests are invited to partake in an incredible laser and light show, which rivals most shows you would expect to see at Walt Disney World.
If you have time, stop by one of the small shops that surround the ruins. This is the best place to find local crafts and souvenirs. I purchased a beautiful geode wind chime for less than $10 in addition to a few other items. Argentina is a fairly inexpensive country to visit, especially when compared to Brazil.
For a truly unique Argentinean experience, check into Santa Cecilia, a historic Estancia built in 1908, located in close proximity to the ruins. The property features a large main house consisting of four guestrooms each with private bath, a charming sitting area and an expansive dining room. Guests here will indulge in traditional cuisine prepared by a private chef while partaking in wonderful conversation with fellow travelers and the gracious hosts.
Guests at Santa Cecilia are encouraged to live like the gauchos and partake in horseback riding and a variety of other outdoor activities. After our wonderful tour of the countryside, we were treated to a delicious BBQ meal.
From Santa Cecilia, it is short ride to Iguazú Falls, one of the greatest natural wonders of South America, and the world for that matter. After a short walk through the lush jungle, you can soon begin to hear the thunderous falls, but it is that first glimpse which is truly breathtaking.
Iguazú is actually a network over 275 different waterfalls spanning 23 kilometers in distance. The most impressive waterfall, known as "the Devil's Throat," is 80 meters high, and is considered the "original" waterfall. Three ring-shaped balconies allow visitors to get a close look at "Devil's Throat," which spans 492 feet in length.
One of the best places to stay while visiting Iguazú is Loi Suites. The hotel, set on 600 hectares in the Iryapu jungle is only 15 minutes away from the falls and has a total of 162 beautifully appointed guest rooms.
Built in 2009, the resort features a spa, convention centre, restaurant, Tiki bar, and game room in addition to Internet access throughout. Swinging bridges connect multiple buildings, which was actually quite enjoyable, but could be dangerous if you've had one too many cocktails.
After a wonderful night's rest at Loi Suites, we boarded our LAN Airlines flight back to Buenos Aires, where we celebrated Gay Pride. Although the parade isn't as large as São Paulo, it still was a site to be seen. Thousands of revelers partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning.
Gay life in Buenos Aires alone definitely makes it worth the visit. The locals are all very friendly and although I did not have the chance to visit any mega-clubs during my stay, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of nightlife options available in the city. Everything from LGBT-owned restaurants, to traditional bars to swanky ultra lounges were all within walking distance of the city center.
Some places I would recommend include: Sitges, Zoom and Glam. Also, the Axel Hotel is worth seeing for its widely popular Sunday "T-dance."
It was really hard to say goodbye to my new friends I made in Buenos Aires, but one thing is for certain, I vowed to visit Argentina again. Gay friendliness aside, it was the friendliness of the people which ultimately made the journey so enjoyable.