How Bad is Crime in Buenos Aires?

Editor’s Note: I originally published this article back in 2009. Since then, I’ve received many comments and emails from both tourists and Porteños concerned about crime in the great city of Buenos Aires. Is the city safe? Is crime getting worse? Read below for the original story plus recently updated comments.

How bad is crime in Buenos Aires? The question is more difficult to answer than you might think.

On one hand, many people who have visited Buenos Aires will say things like “I walked everywhere in Buenos Aires at all hours of the day and night and never had a problem or felt unsafe. I saw women pushing their strollers at midnight for gosh sakes. It’s safe.”

On the other hand, you will hear people who have been touched by crime say things like “the crime here is horrible, especially against tourists. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that goes unreported.” And you can certainly read stories in the newspapers about robberies, murders and all manner of terrible crimes taking place with alarming frequency.

So who do we believe?

We could turn to official statistics and try to compare crime rates in Buenos Aires with that of other cities, but that won’t really answer our question. First of all, official statistics are probably not accurate. The police are not sufficiently organized to provide accurate statistics. Plus the government is notorious for reporting inaccuracies. For example, last year the government reported the official inflation rate at 8% when any objective measure will show that it was closer to 25%.

Another reason crimes rates aren’t that relevant is that most crime happens in parts of the city where tourists never go, in impoverished areas nothing like Palermo or Recoleta or other tourist zones.

So that leaves us with anecdotal information. Let me pass along a few personal stories and observations that I hope may answer the question about how bad crime is in Buenos Aires, in particular as it relates to tourists. I’m not out to scare anyone. I just want to try to answer the question posed in the title of this blog entry.

First of all, I wouldn’t even think about wearing an expensive watch in Buenos Aires. I know it would set me up as a target for robbery in any neighborhood. By comparison, I would have no hesitation wearing that same watch in any city in Canada or the United States. Does that mean that Buenos Aires is more dangerous than Canada or the US? In this regard, I would say yes. Money is tight and unemployment is high. That breeds desperation and crime.

Here’s another thing I wouldn’t do in Buenos Aires. I certainly wouldn’t go to a bank, withdraw a large sum of cash (thousands of dollars), then catch a taxi in front of the bank. I’ve read too many news stories of people being robbed or killed this way. Again, I wouldn’t have the same fear in New York or London or Tokyo. It’s different here.

Perhaps my cautious nature is paying off. I’ve spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires over the past few years and I’ve never had a problem. But I’m tall, male and speak Spanish. And I do think this city is more dangerous for women than men.

For example, last September Clarín (a local newspaper) reported on a taxi driver who would pick up lone female tourists outside a Palermo nightclub late at night and sexually assault them. The newspaper indicated that at least eight women were attacked before police captured the man.

Last month, in December, the newspaper also reported on not one but two, separate serial rapists committing a string of attacks on women in Recoleta. The attacks occurred in the daytime, even on a Sunday afternoon. The rapist would follow a woman into a building, pretending he lived there or was visiting a friend.

So women do need to take special precautions. But, sadly, isn’t this true in all big cities?

I do feel the level of crime in Buenos Aires is rising. A female Argentine friend of mine recently told me “this year for the first time I felt unsafe in my city. My grandmother has been robbed twice. It’s getting bad.”

But we need to put all the crime horror stories in perspective. Buenos Aires is a huge city of some 13 million people. Of course awful crimes are going to happen. They happen here but they also happen in Toronto, Munich, Sydney and Paris — in all big cities, everywhere.

To sum up, I believe the question “how bad is crime in Buenos Aires” is best answered by a quote I read in a report prepared by the US Overseas Security Advisory Council:

Crime is a serious problem in Argentina that can be managed with common sense precautions.”

I encourage you to read the report which includes advice on how to avoid becoming a victim.

Read recent comments and updates to this article

The Codigos of the Milonga

Most tango dancers around the world have heard of the “codigos” (unwritten rules of the milongas in Buenos Aires) and know a little bit about the cabeceo, or the head-nod invitation to dance. Also, at many international tango festivals there is discussion about the line of dance, la ronda, and how leaders need to manage it, which is also covered by the codigos. These two aspects are the most well known of the milonga codes.

But do you know that there are more than forty codigos of how to behave, from when you enter the milonga until you leave? There is etiquette to cover every situation (before it becomes a “situation”). 

Many foreign tangueros don’t know or care about “old-fashioned” rules from a time and culture gone by. But the Argentines have been dancing tango in Buenos Aires for 150 years and have figured out a few things about how to conduct themselves at a milonga. The tried and true codigos are for everyone’s benefit.h

Tourist dancers in Buenos Aires sometimes rebel and want to act as they are used to at milongas in their home countries. But out of respect for tradition, the local tangueros, and the tango itself, it behooves one to learn and follow at least the most important of the codigos while dancing in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires.

I’m not going to list them here, because you can find the “rules” elsewhere on the web. Suffice it to say they are all about common courtesy, and making everyone feel comfortable so they can enjoy the dancing.

Generally it’s the traditional milongas that observe the codigos; at the “bailes joven” pretty much almost anything goes in dance invitations and floor craft, and that’s exactly why the codes are so useful where they are upheld. Not only does good etiquette show respect for the dancers, but also for the tango itself. .

 

Experience Authentic Social Tango in Buenos Aires 

If you want to experience authentic social tango, you really need to know the best places for you to go to watch and dance. You could pick up one of the many free tango publications from shoe salons and hotels which list all of the milongas (places to dance social tango), but unless you have lots of time and money to explore each one, you can’t tell which is right for you. And that’s why Ruben & Cherie provide a service to help tango tourists get the most out of their visits to Buenos Aires. They know where you can have the most fun and how to break the codigos, and will even take you there themselves and dance with you. Check out the details on Cherie’s blog.  Cherie is the author of The Church of Tango: a Memoir available on Amazon world-wide in paper and Kindle.

Gambling in Buenos Aires

If you are planning a trip to Buenos Aires and fancy a break from the Tango dancing you might want to spend a night out at a casino.

The Casino de Buenos Aires or casino Buenos Aires was opened on 8th October 1999 and is situated on board the Estrella de la Fortuna, a reflective of a Mississippi riverboat of long gone times. This floating casino comprises of three decks that include over 100 tables games among which are a wide selection of roulette games, different kinds of poker, blackjack and 700 slot machines.

The Casino is situated in the historic Puerto Madero barrio, is open 24 hours and is free to enter.

The only downsides to the place is that there is no accommodation available in connection with the casino but with it being situated only 5 minutes from the centre of town  it should be within walking distance from several of Buenos Aires hotels.

If you would like to try out any of the games available in Casino de Buenos Aires before arrival why not try out an online slots. Most of these places offer a wide variety of slots games together with all your traditional casino games like poker and blackjack.

If you fancy a change in scenery a 40 minute drive from the centre of town will take you to Casino de Tigre. This casino has 1800 slots machines and 74 table games. It is cleaner and newer than the floating casino (having opened only a year after) and also has a hotel connected if you don’t fancy the ride back to Buenos Aires.

Lost Travelers – Episode 1 – Buenos Aires (San Telmo Market & Puerto Madero)

This is the Lost Travelers first video blog about their adventures around South America, It documents the time they spent in San Telmo Market & Puerto Madero. This video includes some nice outdoor tango dancing demonstrations.

Buenos Aires Milongas: Where to Dance

If you want to dance tango in Buenos Aires, where do you go?

A good question, but this depends on many things:  your age, what style you dance, what day or night of the week you want to go out, if you go with or without a partner, and so on…

Dancing social tango in Buenos Aires has nothing to do with the Tango Show Dancing on the streets of San Telmo, Caminito, calle Florida, or Recoleta, or the many Tango Dinner Shows with an orchestra, stage dancers, singers, and dinner. The first thing to know about tango is that what you’ll see in those places is a different dance – Tango Entertainment for Export. And that is another post entirely!

Types of Tango Salons in Buenos Aires

First, a tip: when checking where to go to mingle with the locals in Buenos Aires on the dance floor, remember that dances in the same salon vary greatly depending on the organizer, day of the week, time of day etc. In other words, every milonga at Region Leonesa or Canning will not be the same. Plus milongas tend to open and close every week, so it’s always a good idea to call first.

Before venturing out for a night of tango dancing, it’s a good idea to check the listings in the quarterly magazine, B.A. Tango, available free in milongas, shoe shops, and for online download on tangocherie.

The following is a general break-down of the different types of places to dance tango in Buenos Aires, with some examples of each…

SALON DE BAILE

A formal atmosphere especially for traditional dancing, with predominantly elegant attire, tables with tablecloths, uniformed waiters, tango codes are strictly respected, professional DJs play tango, vals and milonga music of the 1930′s-50′s, often with tandas (sets) of Latin and occasionally folklore. The public here is older (50-80) with an intermediate to high level of dancing in the close-embrace milonguero style. Women and men sit on opposite sides of the salon and use the cabeceo (traditional nodding of the head as an invitation to dance). The afternoon milongas tend to be more formal and traditional than the late night dances.

Examples in Buenos Aires: El Arranque, Gricel, Salon Canning, Los Consagrados, Lo de Celia, El Beso, Nuevo Chique, La Nacional, Plaza Bohemia.

CONFITERIA BAILABLE

This old-fashioned type of tea salon has many of the same characteristics of the Salons de Baile, but it is open as a salon de the.  The public is more varied, with lots of groups. The only example today is the Confiteria Ideal, which is famous for its long life and its architecture, as well as for starring in all of the tango movies. La Confiteria El Molino is another example (on the corner of Callao y Rivadavia) but it has been closed and barren for several years.

 


Ruben y Cherie dancing an exhibition in the Confiteria Ideal, Buenos Aires

CLUB DE BARRIO

The dance floors are cement basketball courts or the club restaurant. Meals are usually available. Predominantly attended by the neighborhood families and older married couples; the music includes tango, jazz and tropical.

Examples in Buenos Aires: Sin Rumbo, Los Bohemios, Sunderland, Club Chicago.

BAILE JOVEN

Informal atmosphere, young public (18-30), variety of casual dress, often with live music and dance exhibitions. More relaxed standards, a more diverse level of dancing, and more salon-style than close embrace. You will hear the music of Piazzola, some rock ‘n’ roll, as well as salsa and cumbia, and tango alternitivo. The ambiance is informal without respect to the formal codigos.

Examples in Buenos Aires:  La Viruta (right), Parakultural, La Catédral.  

AIRE LIBRE

Outdoor milongas that attract a wide variety of dancers.

Examples in Buenos Aires: La Glorieta (below) and Plaza Dorrego (year round) and La Calesita (in summer).  

PRACTICAS

Informal, bare-bones ambiance, no professional DJ.

Examples in Buenos Aires:  El Motivo, Tangocool, Soho Tango.

GAY MILONGAS

Informal, relaxed atmosphere, anybody can dance with anybody, alternative music along with the classics.

Examples in Buenos Aires: La Marshall, TangoQueer.

Cherie and Ruben

Experience Authentic Social Tango in Buenos Aires

If you want to experience authentic social tango, you really need to know the best places for you to go to watch and dance. You could pick up one of the many free tango publications from shoe salons and hotels which list all of the milongas (places to dance social tango), but unless you have lots of time and money to explore each one, you can’t tell which is right for you. And that’s why Ruben & Cherie provide a service to help tango tourists get the most out of their visits to Buenos Aires. They know where you can have the most fun and how to break the codigos, and will even take you there themselves and dance with you. Check out the details on Cherie’s blog. Cherie’s book, The Church of Tango: a Memoir is available world-wide on Amazon in paper and for Kindle.

Tango in Buenos Aires: an Introduction

Ruben dancing with a friend from Australia

When people travel to Argentina, most of them want a taste of tango. Either because they are tango dancers themselves or just because tango is so much a part of the culture. Either way, there are various ways to experience Argentina’s most famous export.

Tango in Buenos Aires falls into two categories: tango for tourists, and social tango that people dance in “milongas,” or tango dance halls.

Tourist tango is stage tango – what you see in all the “cena tango dinner shows” around town. Professional dancers perform choreography usually to live music that concentrates heavily on music by Piazzola (tango with jazz elements.) The dancers wear flashy costumes and do flashy moves and lifts; usually there is a scene in a brothel to illustrate the beginnings of tango. This is the tango you see on television in shows like Dancing With the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing.

The tango you see on the streets in tourist areas like Recoleta, San Telmo, Calle Florida, and La Boca is also stage tango, although the dancers are usually much less accomplished.

Stage tango is nothing at all like the “real” tango of the Argentine people, who have grown up hearing the traditional music and watching their parents dance it at weddings and parties. Most of the Argentines don’t dance tango, but they know the music and the orchestras of the Golden Age – the 40s and 50s.

With the success of touring stage shows like Tango Argentino and Forever Tango, more and more people around the globe have taken up tango. Sooner or later they try to visit Buenos Aires, the Mecca of all tango dancers. But often what they’ve learned at home is stage tango, and must start all over again in Argentina to learn the improvised “milonguero” style that is danced socially in Buenos Aires.

But young Argentines often dance another style of tango which is more athletic, and requires more space than the milonguero tango of tight embrace and small steps. This style is especially popular with European visitors.

So if you are visiting Buenos Aires and want to taste the tango, you can do it as a tourist, or you can jump right in with classes and watching locals dance at milongas. Along with steak and wine, tango is an Argentine national treasure that was awarded UNESCO World Heritage.

Cherie Magnus and her milonguero partner, Ruben Aybar, were Finalistas in the Buenos Aires Tango Championships of 2006 and have been teaching together ever since. Cherie writes a tango blog, and in 2012 published her first book, The Church of Tango: a Memoir, available world-wide in paper and Kindle on Amazon.

Why Take a Tango Trip to Buenos Aires?

Maybe it’s like having a baby; if you think too much about it, all the pros and cons, you’ll never do it. It’s too scary, too much of a commitment. With tango, too, if your expectations are too high to be realized, well, then maybe a two week vacation in Buenos Aires instead of Provence or Prague is not for you.

When I went to Europe for the first time, I was blown away–it was even better than I expected. But there are first-time tourists who are disappointed, maybe because they have a sense of deja-vu, that they’ve already seen it all at Disneyland and in the movies.

I first came here on a tango tour in 1997, with no expectations, only that I would be learning from the masters, whoever they might be, and dancing in Buenos Aires for ten days. I knew nothing about the codigos, or La Confiteria Ideal (not yet the star of all the tango movies), or Comme Il Faut shoes (which didn’t yet exist). I just expected a fun dance vacation.

And it was.

But it changed my life.

But for those who want to experience an art form at its source, who want to understand tango and Argentina, who want to be immersed in tango culture where taxi drivers sing a tango to you, where at a karaoke party the tangos are sung with passion, where you overhear old milongueros reminiscing about this or that orchestra, where everyone in the street has one opinion or another about the tango, where the history of the tango is intertwined with the history of an entire country–well, then they should experience Buenos Aires.

Put the art museums and rugby matches on the back burner. Buenos Aires is not the Paris of South America or anywhere else. It has its own unique culture, architecture, language (not Spanish, but a combination of Castellano and Lunfardo), history and way of life. But to fully understand it, you need to experience the culture of tango and vice versa.

Anything worth doing is doing as best one can, right? So you don’t want to be a professional dancer or teacher, you just want to dance at your local milongas back home and have fun. Great. But don’t you want to dance as well as you can in this lifetime? For tango, you need to dance in Buenos Aires, to experience the porteño embrace. With no preconceptions, with an open mind.

Otherwise, if you just want to meet like folks and have a social evening, save your money and dance at home or in nearby festivals. Buenos Aires doesn’t need another critical foreigner who is closed-minded and thinks they know everything. There are plenty of those here already.

You might say that tango in other places is like the “French” architecture of Buenos Aires in the 20’s: the “Disney” copy of a beautiful, original phenomenon of another time and place. Which is fine, if that’s what you like. The world is full of dabblers and copiers in all of the arts.

But if you want to delve profoundly, to grow and feel and thrill, to give yourself and be taken, Buenos Aires is waiting for you. There is no place else on earth where the embrace is so emotional, where the music is so embodied, where hundreds of dancers of all ages feel D’Arienzo and express it in their unique way at the same moment in the same salon. There’s no tango experience like it.

And maybe that will change your life too.

Cherie Magnus and her milonguero partner, Ruben Aybar, were Finalistas in the Buenos Aires Tango Championships of 2006 and have been teaching together ever since. Cherie writes a tango blog, and in 2012 published her first book, The Church of Tango: a Memoir, available in paper and Kindle on Amazon.

Now You Can Post Your Tips and Articles to BAtips Group Blog!

BAtips is now a group blog and needs writers and contributors like you. If you have visited Buenos Aires, or live in BA, now you can post your tips and articles directly to BAtips.com.

It’s okay to promote your business or website in the article if it is related to Buenos Aires but please note that the main purpose of BAtips is to share useful information that will help people enjoy a successful trip to Buenos Aires.

To become a BAtips Contributor, contact CJ at editor@batips.com for a password.

Thank you for sharing your Buenos Aires knowledge!

BAtips Contributor Guidelines

1) Posts must provide useful information on Buenos Aires travel, tango, tourism or accommodations for people who will be visiting Buenos Aires.

2) It’s okay to promote your business, service or website in the article if it is related to Buenos Aires but please do this at the end of the post.

3) Each post must be 300 words or longer.

4) Submissions must be 100% exclusively written by you. Submissions cannot not be plagiarized or in violation of another author’s copyright. Each post must be unique and not posted anywhere else on the web.

5) Your author credit will be posted with the article. You can also include a link to your website in your profile. There is no payment for articles. Once submitted, articles become property of batips.com.

To get started, contact CJ at editor@batips.com for a password.

Entry Fee for Americans, Canadians and Australians

Effective December 28, 2009, citizens of US, Canada and Australia will be required to pay a fee when visiting Argentina.

Americans will pay US$131, Canadians US$70 and Australians US$100. The entry fee will be collected only at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires.

The fee permits Americans multiple entries into Argentina for 10 years. Canadians and Australians will pay per entry.

This payment is not a visa since citizens of these countries don’t require a visa when visiting Argentina for leisure or business.

More details at http://argentina.usembassy.gov

Clarry’s Buenos Aires Tango Tips

Clarry Smits (seen here with dance partner Lorie) is one of the top tango dancers and instructors in Vancouver, Canada. He also runs Tango a Media Luz, a popular Vancouver milonga that features Golden Age tango every Friday night.

Clarry recently visited Buenos Aires and I asked him about his tango experience in “the Paris of South America”. He offered some wonderful tips on milongas, tango schools, and other tango-related topics. Read them below.

What are your favorite Buenos Aires milongas?

My favorite milongas in Buenos Aires seem to differ every time I go there. It depends a lot on the visiting transient population at the time.

I like Niño Bien on Saturday night. A lot of the good dancers go there on a Saturday night. Friday night at Niño Bien is a posing night. A lot of well dressed beautiful ladies go there to see and be seen not necessarily to dance. It is a night for socializing. It was a puzzle to me at first until I was enlightened by a local Tanguera.

I love Sunderland. The floor always seems to move well there. The food is also very good and affordable. It is a popular haunt for a lot of the maestros. I enjoy watching them dance socially when they are not performing.

Confiteria Ideal is great for their afternoon milonga. The ambiance there is very comfortable. An older crowd. Sometimes they have live music.

Salon Canning is a must. There is always good energy. Many good dancers. Also a favorite haunt for the maestros. They also usually have a live band there which is a wonderful experience.

What are your least favorite milongas?

Every time I have been to Club Gricel it has been a zoo. Bad floorcraft, crazy dancers. But, I have friends who have been there and absolutely loved it.

Maipu 444 was also a bit odd for me. The music was good, the hosts were very friendly but they had the Argentine men on one side, women on the other thing happening. I don’t find that very social at all. It is their way. It is not my way.

What’s the best tango show?

I have only been to two shows so I cannot really comment. I am not that interested in tango shows. I saw the show at El Viejo Almacen which I enjoyed. But the dinner before was awful. The other show was the one by Carlos Copes. Again, I enjoyed the show but the food wasn’t that great. I found the shows to be designed for the tourists. So they were expensive.

Who are your favorite tango performers?

I like Gustavo Naveira and Giselle-Ann, Chicho Frumboli and Juana Sepulveda, Sebastian Arce and Mariana Montes, Pablo Inza, Carlos Gavito, Hugo Patyn, Miriam Larici, Geraldine Rojas, Cecilia Gonzales, Milena Plebs, Mora Godoy…  my list is endless, but those are the top ones for me. I prefer tangueros to tango performers. Tango performances can be pulled off by any good jazz dancer. Tango requires soul and passion and an intimate one on one connection.

I like lots of Apilado style dancers who are not performers. They are not necessarily Milongueros. Milonguero is not a style. It is a way of life. The “Milonguero Style” was something created for the USA market. Most of the Milongueros dance Apilado. Dancers who dance with their heart driven by an emotion created by the music. Puppy Castello, Ricardo Vidort, El Chino Perico, Pepito Avellaneda, Alberto Dasseiu. Lots more. Some here, some passed away.

What’s the best tango school? Who are the best instructors?

I like DNI for more advanced nuevo style tango. The old studio was small and crowded their new studio is great. Run by Pablo Villaraza and Dana Frigoli. Also a great place to buy shoes.

I also like Tango Brujo and Escuela Argentina de Tango. I found that with Escuela Argentina de Tango it is not uncommon that the instructors you hoped to work with who are listed in the schedule are either late or miss their class completely. This is annoying at times.

As for instructors, all of those mentioned above as favorite performers. If you can get them and in no particular order: Natasha Probej, Soledad Larratapia,  (followers techniques), Pablo Villaraza and Dana Frigoli, Martin Gutierrez, Matias Facio.

Where is the best place to buy tango shoes in Buenos Aires?

DNI for good men’s shoes and Neo shoes makes comfortable shoes for tangueras. Also Tango Brujo and Fabio for ladies and mens shoes.

Any other tips for tango dancers planning their first trip to BA?

Not everywhere takes Visa or US$.

You can only take out $100 per time from the ATM’s and have to pay about $3 to $5 each time.

US$ can only be exchanged at approved Money Exchange offices. Some banks will only do it if you are a customer. Of course you can get it on the street but caveat emptor.

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Check out Clarry’s website for more information on the Tango a Media Luz milonga.