Cynthia (Cindy) Martinez Wagner is a Buenos Aires native and the founder and writer of the successful blog Turista en Buenos Aires. A lover of travel herself she realised, as most of us do, she was taking her own city for granted by falling into the routines of life. When we are travelling abroad we make the most of getting out and exploring a city so that’s what Cindy decided to do, but in her own backyard. She documents photos of her beautiful city of Buenos Aires on her Instagram account @turistaenbuenosaires as well as running a bilingual blog (Spanish with English translations) with lots of great tips on exploring and enjoying Buenos Aires that serves both locals and tourists alike.
A fan of the blog, I reached out to Cindy to meet up and learn about Buenos Aires through the eyes of a native who loves her own city so much she writes about it, sharing her passion for Buenos Aires with all.
Did you have to travel abroad to appreciate what you have at home or have you always been in love with this city?
I have always loved to travel and I have had the opportunity to visit many places. The feeling of visiting a new country is a unique experience. When I visited cities like Madrid and Paris, I had moments where I felt as though I was walking through the streets of my own city. In other places I visited, I noticed the pride felt by the locals for their cities and I also met many foreigners who told me how fascinated they were by their experience visiting Buenos Aires. So then I asked myself “ what are they seeing that I am missing? That was when I started to go out wandering (with my camera in hand) to see new things. The funny thing was when I started to make plans to explore my city I realised that I really didn’t know it, and that many of the things that tourists like about it (visiting La Boca, watching a tango show, visiting an iconic café) I had never done myself. The experience from that day till now has exceeded my expectations in every way. More than once I have found myself dazzled and excited to share my experiences with others. The key is to have the same attitude as when you are traveling. I know it’s not the same but it’s the first step to re-ignite a love for your own city.
Can you share some fond memories you have of growing up in Buenos Aires?
The lasting impression that Buenos Aires leaves on anyone who has lived here is one of affection. It’s a city where anyone (whether local or not) can garner friendships. We have certain customs that you don’t encounter in other places. From our manner of greeting (a hug and a kiss) to our extended meal times spent sharing stories with our family or friends. Coffee dates with friends and rounds of mate at work, these are moments that I have always (and still do) enjoyed a lot. These experiences, and nights out dancing till the small hours of the morning are typical for all Porteños. I also remember the excitement of the day I learned that the Pope would be an Argentine. I remember the moment, I was in bed with the TV on in the background.
Tell me about your lifestyle as a young woman living in Buenos Aires.
Always on the go. Buenos Aires is a fast paced city (sometimes too fast). I am 28 and married. I am a graphic designer, I work full time and work out twice a week (swimming). Before I go home at night I pick up some groceries from the shops near home ( being only two we just get what we need). The weekends are when I get to enjoy being a tourist in my own city. In spring and autumn I like to go bike-riding. Dining out with friends or going to the movies with my husband are other things i enjoy (I am a big fan of popcorn). Sundays are for family and we all get together (siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews) at my parent's place, which ends up being a huge table of people and we really enjoy ourselves.
What makes Buenos Aires a unique city in your opinion?
Everything! For starters the people and our customs that I mentioned already. We are the most European city in Latin America, especially the architecture. There’s an amazing cultural scene and in addition to that we are open minded about many issues so anyone who visits can integrate themselves into the culture quickly. Furthermore, you will find Buenos Aires to be a very eclectic city with modern suburbs like Puerto Madero within a short distance of the historic quarter, which is really fascinating, and then not much further there are suburbs like San Telmo and La Boca which are like a time warp. Even the craziness of day to day life here ends up being part of the attraction for visitors. From the honking and the chaos of traffic, to the effusive way that we speak (similar to the Italians) and where patience is not an common attribute; it all adds to the amusement for outsiders looking in.
Let’s talk about food. I believe experiencing the cuisine of a new country is one the best ways to experience its culture, do you agree? Tell me all about the cuisine of Buenos Aires. What do you love? Is there anything you hate? What is the best area for dining? What is the must-try food for visitors? What is the best thing your parents cooked when you were growing up?
I agree 100% with you that while experiencing the food of a place you also experience its culture. Personally I find it really fun to explore supermarkets in other countries, seeing their different products and trying new things. I also try to try the signature dish of any city that I visit. When it comes to my country, it’s common knowledge that Argentina is renowned for its meat, its dulce del leche, mate, schnitzel and empanadas. You can’t visit Buenos aires without trying a classic barbecue. What makes us unique from other places is that we heat our grills with either coal or wood and we serve the bbq in stages. First we serve the “achuras” which includes things like chorizo, blood sausage and sweetbreads(the latter two are my favourites) before moving on to stage two and three which will usually include different cuts of steak, ribs and pork accompanied by salad or grilled veggies. If you are lucky to be invited to a barbecue in someone’s home you’ll be served all of this. In a restaurant you should be able to order a mixed grill so you can try a few different things.
Dulce de leche is my Achilles heel (I love sweets) and although they try to imitate it abroad with caramel, I’m sorry to say it just doesn’t compare. While you can try dulce de leche straight from the spoon I recommend having it within some context. Flan (creme caramel) with dulce de leche is a classic for us. You can also try an alfajor (Havanna and Chachafaz make the best ones) or in the form of a candy. Another delicious way to try dulce de leche is in a slice of chocolate cake or a pancake. Regarding Mate, there’s no particular time of day for having it, it can be at any time. Some people like it sweetened but I prefer it bitter. Usually you drink it in a group, sharing the same mate gourd. In the workplace people sip on it all day. For people new to mate I recommend trying a yerba suave which is milder blend of tea leaves.
It’s worth noting that Buenos Aires has various key areas for dining. Puerto Madero (a modern area with view of the river) Palermo (a young and casual area) are the most busy. There are also some great places to eat in San Telmo and there’s a lot of variety throughout the city from Mexican, Italian, Sushi, Armenian and Arabic to whatever else you can think of. The offerings outweigh the demand.
Vegan and health food deserve their own paragraph. In recent years there has been a boom in health food with increasing numbers in places specialising in this cuisine. In my blog I have many recommendations for good places to eat although I suppose one should be mindful that what I like may not appeal to others.
Regarding my parents, it was my dad who taught me to cook. He taught me how to make flan with dulce de leche and cream. Delicious!
Argentine cuisine has long stuck with stock standard items like bbq, pasta, pizza and pastries but I have noticed a few new trends, especially around the hipster areas in Palermo of gourmet burger joints, vegetarian and vegan, Peruvian cuisine, and Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese and Indian. Do you think young Argentines are becoming more adventurous with their tastes?
Yes and I celebrate it. I’m so glad we are evolving and that there are these kinds of offerings. As I said before, there are many options and the gastronomy of Buenos Aires won’t disappoint.
A visitor only has 3 days to explore Buenos Aires so they can’t see everything. What MUST they see and do?
Day 1: Casco Histórico + San Telmo
- Plaza de Mayo (Casa Rosada, el Cabildo, la Catedral)
- Av. De Mayo (Café Tortoni, Mirador Barolo, the Congreso building)
- Av. 9 de julio and Av. Corrientes (the Obelisco and the Teatro Colón)
- Calle Florida + Galerias Pacífico (shopping)
Night: dine in San Telmo. There is block I love Balcarce (between Belgrano and Venezuela) and the surrounding area. Choose a nice place and if there's a tango show all the better!
Day 2: Recoleta + Palermo
- Have breakfast at Café La Biela + Cementerio Recoleta
- Flor Genérica + Puente Facultad de derecho
- Av. Alvear and Patio Bulrich (shopping)
- Av. Santa Fe (up till Callao) to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the shopping district.
- Bookstore El Ateneo Grand Splendid
- Take the subway to Plaza Italia, explore a Palermo Soho
- Plaza Serrano and Plaza Armenia for artist markets, bars, restaurants, and a lot of street art.
Palermo is always buzzing, you can go there to dine, just for a few drinks or to continue on for a night of dancing.
Day 3: La Boca + Parks + Puerto Madero
- Morning: take a walk through the parks in Palermo (Rosedal and Jardín Japonés)
- Afternoon: La Boca (Caminito + La Bombonera)
- Evening: Dine with a view of the river in Puerto Madero and get a photo of the Puente de la Mujer (the women's bridge)
Of course that's cutting it all a bit short but if you only have a few days I recommend fitting in the above things depending on what you like (museums, shopping, bar hopping).
What have been your favourite travels overseas? What country are you dying to go and visit?
I love New York, it’s a city that constantly reinvents itself and every time I go there is something new to discover. Furthermore I can speak enough of the language which makes it easier to arrange things. On the other hand I am dying to visit Japan and learn about its culture.
There is a lot of street art in Buenos Aires, what is the culture behind this trend?
I love it and every day there is more. I’m actually writing an article about it at the moment. Street art has a long history in our country. It started in the regrettable time of a dictatorship when public spaces were used to denounce the huge number of disappearances that occurred. From there continued a tradition of graffiti of political protests(again in the crisis of 2001) and in more recent years it has moved more towards design, murals and general graffiti. There has been an unprecedented visual explosion of street art to the point where artists are now commissioned to paint murals on buildings. By now you could say that it has become part of our culture and you can see examples all over the city, in the subways, bridges, buildings etc.
River Plate or Boca Juniors?
Besides Bs As, where is your favourite place in Argentina?
Baricloche/Villa la Angostura. The south of our country is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life, I recommend it just as much in summer as in winter.
Is there anything else you would like to share with travellers thinking about visiting Buenos Aires?
That they are more than welcome and that we love to have people come to see not just Buenos Aires but the whole country in general. Regarding safety, while there are always recommendations for travellers in South America, don’t be scared, just enjoy it. You need to take the same precautions as in any cosmopolitan city. Stay in tourist friendly areas and mind your belongings. When you need to exchange your money you’re better to do it at the bank. Finally, people drive very badly in Buenos Aires and it’s not like other countries ( I.e London) where you set foot on the road and everyone breaks (and practically put down a red carpet for you to cross). Here you need to be very mindful when crossing the street.