But there are free tours of Buenos Aires, and quality-wise they are about on par with the steak. In other words, they are pretty damn awesome.
I wasn’t expecting that. When Jeff, while surfing the Internet for things to do in Buenos Aires, announced that he’d found a free tour of the city, I scoffed. There had to be a catch. Free…but only if we stayed at a certain hotel. Free…but boring as sin. Free…but we had to listen to a two-hour presentation on kitchenware first. But no, Jeff assured me, there was no catch, and to top it off, there were all kinds of glowing reviews of the tours on the Internet. Hmmm.
Though I was still a bit skeptical, we (Jeff, my parents, and I) decided to go ahead and give the tour a shot, since, well, we had nothing to lose. If it wasn’t any good, we’d just wander away from the group and declare our trip over. So at 11 a.m., we made our way to Plaza del Congresso where we met our tour-leader Gaston, a young local with impecable English thanks to a few years in the U.S., and a big group of other English-speaking travelers (from the U.S., Canada, Ireland, England, Australia, and South Africa). Our tour was to be of the central downtown area of Buenos Aires and was scheduled to last 2.5 hours. As Jeff and I had already been in the city for four days, many of the sites were ones we’d already seen, but as my parents had just arrived the day before, it was all new to them.
In the end, we all had a great time. We saw the main sites of the city center—the Casa Rosada, the Congress, the Obelisk, and other buildings of interesting historical and/or architectural interest—and learned the requisite facts and figures about them.
But what made the tour really notable wasn’t the fact that it covered all the standard tour sites for free, but that it included all of them plus more. The highlight of the tour was the insight it gave into the culture of Buenos Aires. We learned things on our tour that we didn’t find in our guidebook and almost certainly wouldn’t have learned on an official tour that we paid for.
*The reason coins are so darn hard to come by is that the bus companies, which only take coins, hoard them and then sell them on the black market.
*All the seemingly random lines you see throughout the city are lines of job applicants. Oddly enough the only other thing people line up for are buses.
*Private insurance covers one plastic surgery a year. No wonder people here are so attractive!
*Over 60% of Argentina’s population lives below the poverty line.
*While officials give the inflation rate as less than 1%, it’s actually over 10%.
*To become an Argentinian citizen, you must only live in the country for two years.
Any question, any curiosity, we had, Gaston answered. He was both incredibly knowledgeable and completely entertaining. And in the end, I’m pretty sure he made more money than he would have if the tour had had a price, as we all tipped well and then dispersed to explore the city closer on our own (with his tips on what was worth more time and what wasn’t, as well as with his phone number in hand in case, as he said, we wanted any advice on things to do or places to go). And now I feel obligated to spread the word…if you want a great tour of Buenos Aires check out BA Free Tours. You’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
(In addition to the city center tour, they also offer a tour of Recoleta, which we plan to take on Tuesday. I expect it to be just as good, but I’ll be sure to update to let you know.)