Even if you are not staying in the beautiful barrio of San Telmo in Buenos Aires, you should put aside a day or two to visit it. San Telmo defines the colourful, romantic character of colonial Argentina, with cobble-stoned streets, wrought-iron balconies and the seductive sounds of the tango wafting through the doors of old world cafes.
San Telmo is Buenos Aires oldest neighbourhood, first inhabited by wealthy colonists. An outbreak of yellow fever sent them packing in the late 19th century to the neighbourhoods north of the city, leaving San Telmo to immigrants and working class, a melting pot of cultures that is still strongly felt today. Over the past decade San Telmo has been rediscovered by the Bohemian crowd, with galleries, chic bars and designer-run boutiques operating out of the old tenement housing.
The lovely Plaza Dorrego lies at the heart of San Telmo. Here you’ll find nostalgic tango bars and cafes that look like they have stepped out of a silent film. Market and second hand junkies should make a bee-line here, as you’ll find the city’s most eclectic antique stores and a rambling flea market in Sundays, The covered Mercado de San Telmo dates from the 1890s, and sells fresh produce and kick-knacks.
Music is not hard to find in San Telmo. On Sundays street performers pour onto the Calle Defensa, as do couples ready to perform Argentina’s quintessential dance, the tango. Tango and San Telmo are intertwined: the barrio’s sizable foreign community has kept the art alive and El Viejo Alamacén (Independencia y Balcarce) has been one of the city’s most treasured tango halls since the late 1960s.
San Telmo also offers one of the city’s prettiest, and most significant, parks. The Parque Lezama is the site where, in 1526, the Spanish explorer Pedro de Mendoza founded the city by creating its first settlement. You can see a statue of him at the park’s northern end, as well as a playground, petty carousel and plenty of trees and lawn.