La Boca is a neighborhood in Buenos Aires that is most famous for its colorful buildings, Tango, and The Boca Juniors Futbol (soccer) team. La Boca used to be docks and the houses of dockworkers who made their houses from discarded materials but that was long ago and the area is now also famous for being a tourist trap.
If you’ve done any research before visiting Buenos Aires, you will likely have heard that you should stay away from La Boca unless you are with a group and during the day. I’m not sure if I entirely agree with that, since I have been there several times alone, but I would say that you should stick to the Caminito area. As soon as you get outside of the main tourist drag, things get rough quickly.
What to do in La Boca
On the weekends, there are a lot of good artists, and the art is actually pretty cheap. I picked up two original watercolors for $140 pesos each (about $10 USD at the time). Now, a quick word on these “original” pieces of art. A lot of the artists here (not all) will paint the same scene over and over again, so the same painting you purchased on Saturday, will likely be for sale again on Sunday. It will be original, and it will be slightly different, but it will be the same scene. Don’t let that deter you though! For 10-20 bucks (or even more) you really can’t go wrong because there really are some good artists.
If you like Tango, you will see dancers at corners, in the plaza, and at most restaurants. Some are better than others. If you are feeling brave, dance a few steps, have your picture taken, and give them 10 or 20 pesos.
Speaking of having your picture taken, Diego Maradona’s poor twin brother apparently lives in La Boca and would be happy to take a picture with you for a small donation! Of course, the guy is not really Maradona’s brother, but he certainly does look like him and he is always there!
If you have a chance, go see a game. It is an experience you will never forget. For the ultimate experience, go see Boca play River Plate (called the Superclasico), but for the love of God do not wear anything red. Red and white are River’s colors and I am not joking when I say you will put yourself in serious personal danger if you are a male wearing red and white during or after a Boca vs. River Plate game.
For more art, there is a great contemporary art museum right by Caminito called Fundación Proa, and Usina del Arte. I highly recommend a visit to both if you have the time.
Where to eat
There are a LOT of options for food and I would recommend you choose based on the following criteria:
You want really good food – Go to Patagonia Sur. This restaurant is own by Francis Mallman (if you don’t know who he is, do Google him). The cost is high compared to other restaurants, but the food… amazing! And I REALLY regret not having a camera when we ate there but will not forget if/when we go back. Reservations are required, and only available in the evening as far as I am aware.
Check it out here: http://www.restaurantepatagoniasur.com/
If you are visiting during the day or you want to watch some Tango
If you are there during the day on the weekend, there are a ton of options. I would just walk down the street, find some music and dancers you like, and have a seat. You will pay more than you should, but the experience will be worth it. You’ll have the option of tango or traditional Gaucho/Folkloric dance.
Another option I would recommend is to do this: Walk to the end of the Caminito, and you will run into train tracks. Go right, or go left, and you will run into a couple hole-in-the-wall joints that serve pretty darn good Choripan (sausage sandwich), Bondiola (pork sandwich), and Lomito (beef tenderloin sandwich). Pick up a sandwich and a beer, walk to the plaza, and watch Tango there. You’ll save money and have better food than some of the other restaurants, but don’t forget to load up the sandwich with some Chimichurri or Salsa Criolla.
Don’t order pasta. Despite this area being settled by Italian immigrants, the pasta is really bad around here. I am sure there is a good restaurant or two, but I haven’t been there.
What to buy
Boca Jr’s gear is all over. Pick up a jersey, a hat, or even a keychain. Sure you can buy the same stuff for a little less in other areas, but wouldn’t you rather say you purchased it in La Boca, and Maradona helped you pick it out?!
Another good option is right by the water. There are several handicraft stands that sell handmade scarfs, hats, etc. I purchased a Bolivian hat here that has lasted 10 years, and an amazing Alpaca sweater.