kamila

Can't live without travels! Wherever she goes she always looks for alternative spots or street art. A huge fan of Central Europe and off the beaten path places and a living proof that you can balance full time job and extensive travel!

La Boca, Buenos Aires – the biggest disappointment of the Argentinian capital

I didn’t know what to expect from Buenos Aires, I left Poland totally unprepared. But then, during my long flight to South America, I found in the in-flight entertainment “Globetrekker”, the tv show I used to watch and cherish. There was only one episode and well, the luck was on my side as it was the one about Buenos Aires. I watched it carefully, trying to remember as many sights, tips and details as possible. There was one place that I loved right away and I knew I have to visit it in the capital of Argentina and that was La Boca. Well, unfortunately the reality of the place was much different than I expected and La Boca, Buenos Aires was utterly disappointing.

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La Boca – Buenos Aires entrance

La Boca is one of the 47 districts of Buenos Aires, located next to the city’s port where Riachuelo river meet Rio de la Plata. It is one of the oldest parts of the city, the place where most of the European immigrants started their life in Argentina. At the end of the 19th century the district was heavily inhabited, mostly by people of Italian origins (hence Buenos Aires has a really amazing pizza!) who gave the area unique look and European vibe. The houses of La Boca are  cute, colourful and somehow kitschy but that’s what makes the neighbourhood one of the biggest attractions of Buenos Aires!

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La Boca safety

What I saw in “Globetrekker” looked like the place I should enjoy, a lot! Cobbled streets, hardly any people around, artists sitting on the benches and painting and everything surrounded by the funky houses. It looked really pretty and I’ve decided to visit it soon after arriving to Buenos Aires. Before setting off I checked some details on Wikitravel and I was welcomed by the latest reports from the robberies and crimes in La Boca. After all it’s still one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city but I figured it can’t be that bad, hundreds of tourists somehow visit it every day!

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I’ve decided to stick only to the main street of La Boca even if backstreets looked really tempting and I’m sure I’d love them big time! But the common sense in me was wiser and I only looked into them longingly, reasonably staying away. And I felt fine until suddenly, without any warning, everything has changed. Nothing happened, no one bothered me but just the vibe of the place was so much different and I had this hunch it’s not so safe anymore and all the warnings might be true. It was irrational, I was on the main street, in the middle of the day yet there was almost no one around me and I was slowly freaking out. At some point I was almost running, just to get out of there.

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The dangerous vibe ended just as it started, without any warning. As soon as I got to the riverside things seemed all fine again, few tourists were taking picture of the bridge – one of the most famous landmarks of La Boca, I’ve noticed couple of policemen around too. I could clearly see I’m getting closer and closer to the most famous part of La Boca – Caminito. That’s where the colorful wooden houses are and where the whole touristic show is and let me tell you – it was nothing like I saw in “Globetrekker”!

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Is it worth to visit La Boca?

From the empty, horrifying streets I stepped into the completely different world – busy, kitschy and incredibly touristy. There were brightly painted houses and cobbled streets, that’s true, but everything else was a pure madness! The numerous restaurants had tango shows between the tables – after a short dance the performers went around to collect money. If someone felt like being a tango dancer too there were mock-ups to put your head on for the pictures – of course next to each there was someone waiting for the payment for using it. Souvenir shops well full of just about everything with Evita, Maradona or Pope Francis – three most famous Argentinians that were shown in somewhat grotesque way. It turned out that La Boca, the place I was so looking forward to visiting, was just a tourist trap that I’d gladly avoid! What was supposed to be an authentic experience (and probably was for most of the people) screamed “FAKE!” to me.

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The funniest thing was that this tourist show was only on one street. Few steps further was much calmer yet still somehow touristy. But that’s where the artists were working, where few locals hang out and where the slightly uncomfortable vibe came back. I walked around twice but soon I’ve realized La Boca is nothing I was hoping to see and I’d better leave it, before my disappointment will grow bigger. And here another problem came up – I was somehow trapped there!

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How to get to La Boca

99.9% of people visiting La Boca come and leave with the touristic buses – something I did only in Cape Town where public transport doesn’t really exist but I didn’t see a point in using these in Buenos Aires. I didn’t really want to walk back via the scary streets but I figured there’s a city bus going from La Boca to the center – I was saved! If only it was that easy to get into the bus no 29! I managed to board one but since I didn’t have a ticket and I couldn’t get it from the driver I had to leave. No one around could explain to me where I can buy the ticket – eventually after asking in 5th or so souvenir shop the guy told me to walk 2 blocks down to the bus terminal and pointed the direction vaguely. Again I had to enter the uncomfortable streets of La Boca, this time well awarded of how they feel like. Fortunately I managed to find the terminal of bus no 29 where, after wandering between buses and getting help from drivers, I somehow got the ticket and I could leave La Boca. When I looked at the streets passing by I was so relieved and so disappointed – both at the tourist trap I found myself in and at the non existing safety that kept me away from exploring this neighborhood that, besides Caminito, seemed like a really wonderful place I would probably really enjoy!

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La Boca – the tourist trap of Buenos Aires

This whole situation made me think about two issues that still bother me. How can we trust TV shows or magazines showing us the destinations we are supposed to visit? In this case La Boca was nothing like “Globetrekker” showed and I assume that most places are candy colored too, just to attract people… The other thing is – how far the destination can go in selling itself to tourist, to offer them an authentic and ultimate experience that is so far from being real? I guess I will never get clear answers to these questions…

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What was the biggest travel disappointments for you? Do you like visiting touristic places too? Is Buenos Aires on your bucket list?


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10 Lis '14

There are 6 Comments.

  1. Your pictures capture a completely different essence than the experience. I’ve been to disappointing places, Prague. Everyone spoke so highly of it but it didn’t engagement like I’d expected.
    Reginia Cordell latest post…Fairmont SingaporeMy Profile

    • kami
      22:02 06/04/2015

      It was hard to take a bad picture in La Boca. All these colorful houses made t just too pretty! I actually love Prague and it’s my all time favourite city but I can see why it disappointed you. I’m there few times per year but I don’t remember when I’ve seen the Charles Bridge and other tourist attractions, I just try to avoid them because they are overcrowded!

  2. I agree, La Boca is a weird place and quite a disappointment. Pretty for the tourists in one bit, while also being not the safest neighbourhood for visitors at all. We stayed in San Telmo and really liked it there: much nicer than flashy Palermo! And the Sunday market was great too.
    Sarah Lambert latest post…Introducing TallinnMy Profile

    • kami
      23:52 19/06/2015

      I stayed in San Telmo too and it was definitely my fave part of Buenos Aires! Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to discover Palermo properly but what I could see was pretty cool

  3. I totally agree. I felt the same way and immediately jumped into a cab after our rip off lunch at LA BocA. The surrounding area is scary as hell. It’s a place I would have been better off not visiting but when people ask if you’ve visited LA Boca and you say No, it’s like a big deal; Thanks to TV shows and magazines which as you rightly mentioned sometimes oversell a tourist trap.
    Sarah latest post…It’s Kinda Foreign – Brasov and BucharestMy Profile

    • kami
      23:53 19/06/2015

      I honestly have no idea why La Boca is so popular as it’s the biggest tourist trap in BA yet people keep falling for it…

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