Argentina

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

(Last Updated On: 13/09/2019)

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.

La Boca Buenos Aires

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, colorful and somehow kitschy but that’s what makes the neighborhood one of the biggest attractions of Buenos Aires!

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

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 in 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!

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

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!

But the common sense in me was wiser and I only looked into them longingly, reasonably staying away.

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.

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

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 pictures of the bridge – one of the most famous landmarks of La Boca, I’ve noticed a 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”!

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

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 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 were well full of just about everything with Evita, Maradona or Pope Francis – three most famous Argentinians that were shown in a 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.

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

The funniest thing was that this tourist show was only on one street. Few steps further were 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!

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

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!

La Boca Buenos Aires

La Boca Buenos Aires

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…

La Boca Buenos Aires

If you still decide to visit La Boca, which I think is nice to have a full Buenos Aires experience but just be prepared for what you will see, I definitely recommend going with a tour. Click here to see the details and book a highly rated Buenos Aires tour!


Travel resources

With over 15 years of independent traveling, I’ve learned which websites and services are the best when planning a trip. I always use and trust the following websites:

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Revolut supports over 140 currencies and offers free withdrawal from ATMs all over the world. In the first 6 months I’ve used Revolut card in 12 countries in 3 continents and had no issues at all. And I saved a lot of money in the exchange rates!

Click here to learn more about the service and order your own Revolut card!

Accommodation – I always book my accommodation through Booking.com.

They have really good deals (especially with their “Genius” program that you become a member of after few reservations) and in most of the cases, if your plans change, you can cancel the reservation without any extra costs.

I also value them for a really good customer service that I had to use a few times.

Check the best deals on accommodation in Buenos Aires here!

Insurance – I never travel without the insurance as you never know what might happen on the road and better safe than sorry (I’ve learnt my lesson).

I can recommend World Nomads that offer the insurance dedicated to travelers just like you and me.

Click here to get the insurance policy for Argentina here.

Day tours – I do go for a day trips when I travel as often they are the most convenient way to see the place that saves you time and money.

I most often use Get Your Guide that offers a variety of tours all over the world. Click here to check all the best tours you can take during your trip to Buenos Aires!

Offline maps – For years I’ve been using MAPS.ME app and I can’t recommend it enough!

It’s free, works offline perfectly fine and saved me many times. You can easily transfer Google Maps with all the bookmarks to maps.me and use them offline wherever you are.

Click here to download it to your phone before your next trip!


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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Reginia Cordell
    13/03/2015 at 19:00

    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.

    • Reply
      kami
      06/04/2015 at 22:02

      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!

    • Reply
      Zoe
      08/01/2019 at 11:16

      I agree. If I didn’t read thru the article, I wouldn’t know she’s had a terrible experience around the area. Goes to show, there are more to it than the pictures!

  • Reply
    Sarah Lambert
    13/04/2015 at 19:33

    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.

    • Reply
      kami
      19/06/2015 at 23:52

      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

  • Reply
    Sarah
    19/06/2015 at 14:13

    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.

    • Reply
      kami
      19/06/2015 at 23:53

      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…

    • Reply
      Bea
      01/07/2019 at 21:42

      In general La Boca is an too my hype. It is dirty with dog poo all over, stray dogs wandering around. At one point during our walk away from Caminito a policeman told us to turn back as it is a dangerous place and he pointed to his gun. I had your same feeling when I saw shut stores and almost a ghost town. We ran out of there quick. Do not venture on your own in La Boca.

      • Reply
        kami
        20/07/2019 at 12:05

        I think it still is an interesting place to visit, it’s just a bit different than you might expect. But I don’t think I would like to return there

  • Reply
    Zoe
    08/01/2019 at 11:19

    Great, honest review. Maybe you weren’t able to contact a local before you went around the city, or your experience might have been different. But, this review revealed that the place needs to be tourist-friendly to improve a more quality and safe experience.

    • Reply
      kami
      27/01/2019 at 15:28

      Thank you! I can imagine most people enjoy La Boca and probably I’d have had a different experience if I were there with the tour. But I didn’t and I felt like I have to share my honest review about it.

  • Reply
    ANTHONY Reale
    10/05/2019 at 06:11

    I was in La Boca years ago….some friends took me there…but I paid for the meal…. bathrooms were disgusting and so was the food….it was really a trap for tourists…they gave us some cheap wine and some past…and made me pay lit of money for something worthless….not a good experience …but I loved the rest of the city and enjoyed great food…

    • Reply
      kami
      26/06/2019 at 00:59

      Agree, there are so many better places in Buenos Aires than La Boca!

  • Reply
    Gisela
    21/05/2019 at 10:51

    I thank you for your honest view on LB but I think you are not appreciating that it is precisely that exaggerated and kitschy spirit that makes locals unique.
    Please hear “Libertango” next time you walk down BA and LB and you will understand. The pace, the passion, the dramatic and lunatic emptiness of the soul impregnates daily life. Portenos will try to smug you, will attack you, verbally, with noise, with gestures, with expectations. But they will stop for a moment to sip in from a miniature coffee mug or a mate and you will suddenly feel human and at home again. And so it goes. From familiarity and connection, to total estrangeness and off-beat feels.

    • Reply
      kami
      25/06/2019 at 16:58

      Thank you for your comment. Hopefully I will be able to visit Buenos Aires again and experience what you mentioned.

  • Reply
    David Doig
    03/07/2019 at 12:12

    Went there in April. Yes it’s a bit of tourist trap and the restaurants rip you off but still an enjoyable trip. Super easy to get there by public bus and would avoid a guided tour at all cost – an even bigger rip off.

    Just a step ( 100 yards from the Caminito) away is the Benito Quinquela Martín Museum – a genuinely great art gallery/ museum. Also next to the bus depot.

    • Reply
      kami
      20/07/2019 at 12:09

      Thanks for the info about the museum, would love to check it the next time I’m in BA!

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