Argentina's indigenous colour

STREETS OF COLOUR: Brilliant murals brighten up buildings in Buenos Aires. Two must-see neighbourhoods are Recoleta and Palermo Soho. Recoleta is a refined neighbourhood with leafy boulevards and French-style townhouses.
Argentina's indigenous colour

WHAT A VIEW! The 80m-high Iguazu Falls
Argentina's indigenous colour

EVITA LIVES ON: Former first lady Evita looms large on the side of the Public Works Building.


    Feb 12, 2014

    Argentina's indigenous colour

    WE WALKED down several streets lined with shops and crossed the grand La Avenida 9 de Julio - one of Buenos Aires' most historic boulevards - before we hit a stretch of Jacaranda trees in full bloom.

    But we couldn't stop for an Instagram moment - not when we were on a mission to change money. We had just 10 minutes before the money changer in Palermo, the city's poshest shopping street, closed.

    Our travel agent cautioned us against changing notes with the touts in the central district's Calle Florida. They openly shout "Cambio! Cambio! (exchange)" at you, but tourists have blogged about fake Argentinian pesos, or getting robbed down the road.

    We thought we were going to a regular money exchange.

    It turned out that we were going to get an introduction to our most valuable resource in Buenos Aires, just down the street from the Park Hyatt.

    It took some serious asking around before a convenience-store owner who was pulling down his shop shutters pointed to a signless office in front of his shop.

    "That one?" we asked, puzzled. The glass facade was covered from wall to ceiling with opaque wallpaper, and all it had was a doorbell.

    We pressed it.

    A buzz indicated that we could push the door open, and we entered a room in which two men were waiting to be served.

    We got into the queue, behind a guy with a Four Seasons hotel uniform, and soon it was our turn to go through another buzzing door into the hallowed hall of the black-market exchange.

    There, we got a whopping 10 Argentinian pesos to a dollar, when the official rate was only five. Since then, the peso has slid sharply against the dollar, following the Argentinian government's easing of foreign-currency controls last month.

    Our first encounter with the black market turned out to be one of the most memorable adventures in this otherwise sophisticated South American country.

    Buenos Aires - with its Parisian-styled boulevards and laid-back pace - is an old soul with a hip feel. But, for a taste of the whole country, Mendoza and Iguazu Falls also need to be added to your itinerary.

    There's a step-back-in-time feel to Argentina, and the sense of well-preserved glory is especially strong in its capital, Buenos Aires. But even Argentina isn't impervious to the new world order as it has opened its doors to the mainland Chinese - who run the supermarkets in the country, especially in Chinatown (Barrio Chino) at Belgrano.




    Even if you don't know much about Argentinian history, you'd have some kind of impression of its tempestuous political legacy through the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita.

    Former first lady Eva Peron still features significantly - as one can tell from her large mural gracing the Public Works Building in Avenida 9 de Julio.

    One of the must-dos is a tour of Casa Rosada (the Red House), where one can look out from the balcony where Evita once made her famous speeches.

    The house functions as the Argentinian President's office, but it's open to tourists on the weekend for guided tours.

    Another iconic sight is the Teatro Colon opera house, which conducts tours.

    The weekend is a time when the La Boca neighbourhood comes alive - with live tango music bouncing off the colourful corrugated iron walls of buildings.

    Sundays are great for shopping - especially if you're into vintage wear. The historic San Telmo, just a 15-minute walk from the Puerto Madero - the Clarke Quay of the city - turns into a street market with arts and antiques for sale.

    The colonial-style houses on cobblestone lanes and the art deco cafes make for a picturesque visit.

    Two must-see neighbourhoods are Recoleta and Palermo Soho. Recoleta is where the "old money" is - a refined neighbourhood with leafy boulevards and French-style townhouses. The famous Recoleta Cemetery is a must - if not to see Eva Peron's tomb, then to witness the macabre tradition of exposed coffins.

    For fashion shopping, Palermo Soho is the hip hub with streets of cafes and trendy shops, followed by large branded outlets in Alto Palermo.

    Buenos Aires also has a happening indie design scene, and you're bound to come across shops retailing collectives of local designer brands.




    The 80m-high Cataratas del Iguazu are spectacular, but even better is the marvellous boardwalk at the falls' edge. Visitors get so close, they're soaked by the spray and mist.

    Those of a certain age may remember the seminal film, The Mission, about the early Jesuit missionary activity in the area. The falls were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984, and form the border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

    The falls and their national park are shared between Argentina and Brazil. Although the Argentinian town is smaller, it is purportedly the safer one to stay in. There are lots of parrillas (BBQ restaurants) around, serving wood-fired Argentinian steaks, good pasta and pizzas.




    Mendoza looks like an Australian town - think Melbourne - and it is all about the wine and good food. The region has over 2,000 wineries producing over 6,000 labels.

    One of the most stunning wineries to visit is the Dutch-owned Salentein winery in Uco Valley, which has a glorious setting, an art gallery and a grand piano in its wine cellar. The drive there is also a scenic one.

    When you get to Mendoza, there are a number of agencies offering wine tours. You can also rent a bike with a map, and cycle to various wineries. Just note that the prettier countryside and wineries are farther from town.