For this month’s edition of Expanish Spanish School Meets, we speak to Jonathan Evans from Buenos Aires Local Tours a tour company that offers the chance to explore Buenos Aires, travel by collectivo and get tips and advice from a very well informed Buenos Aires expat.
Tell us a bit about Buenos Aires Local Tours?
Buenos Aires Local Tours offers a daily, free, walking and public transport tour of some of the most interesting areas of Buenos Aires. It leaves every day, Monday – Saturday at 11am from Plaza Italia and using colectivos and subway we visit Abasto (Carlos Gardel’s house and street art), Congreso, Avenida de Mayo & Plaza de Mayo.
Tell us a bit about how and why you founded Buenos Aires local tours?
After traveling for 18 months around South America I wanted to find a way to live in Buenos Aires without working in an office – I’d done enough of that in Europe!
I’ve always enjoyed catching a bus here, it’s always felt like an achievement, successfully decoding the system and figuring out where to get on and off. One day it hit me that this was what I could offer visitors to Buenos Aires – give them a way to see the city, but at the same time making public transport the focus, rather than just another walking or organized minibus tour.
I spent a few days planning a route, catching buses around town to become familiar with the lines and areas and sights that could be easily covered. My favourite part of the tour is Abasto because it is an area that most tourists would never visit but it is full of fascinating history, culture and street art.
As the tour has developed I’ve also become aware that it’s not just about the sights. The people that come on the tour are genuinely interested in Argentina and what makes the country tick politically and culturally, so often we’ll end up having a long discussion about the upcoming elections, corruption or the economy – it’s not your average walking tour!
And how on earth you manage to make a living when the tours are free!?
Tips! I decided to go with free tours as I wanted to allow people to pay what they were able, or what they though the tour was worth! A backpacker traveling on a budget won’t be able to afford a USD125 walking tour, but he or she can come on my tour, get a great introduction to the city, and pay what they can.
So far, everybody has been very generous and I’m making the same, if not more than I was working full-time in a office here in Buenos Aires and enjoying it much, much more!
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you end up living in Buenos Aires?
I’m from England and came here on holiday for 2 weeks in 2007. I stayed in a great hostel in Palermo Hollywood for 10 days and did a 4 day trip down to the Peninsula Valdes to see some whales. I absolutely loved it. A year later I had left my job, sold all my stuff and came back to spend more time here and do some traveling round South America.
I spent 18 months doing that, my girlfriend (who is from Colombia) decided that we wanted to give living here a try, so we came back in May 2010 and I started the tours in December.
List your top 5 favorite tourist destinations in BA
In no particular order:
1. Abasto, particularly the filete and Gardel murals near the Carlos Gardel museum. It’s a very unique area with a special place in Buenos Aires history & culture – as a tourist it feels like discovering a secret.
2. La Costanera – walk past the docks of Puerto Madero and there’s this great promenade along the edge of the Ecological Reserve full of great barbecue stands. They say choose the one with the most taxis parked next to it!
3. Plaza Serrano, Palermo Soho – it’s cheesy and not especially ‘authentic’ but it’s a great place to sit on a sunny afternoon, sipping a Quilmes and watching the world go by. It’s where Buenos Aires first got me!
4. Recoleta Cemetery – another obvious one, but it seriously is an incredible place. Amazing architecture, beautiful sculptures – it gives a fascinating insight into Argentinian history and in some cases their overblown sense of importance! Take a camera and snap away.
5. San Telmo – it has a much more gritty feel than Palermo, based in its working-class roots. It’s a great place to explore with lots of classic wood-lined bars to stumble across, some fantastic street art and tons of attitude.
List your top 5 favourite things about Buenos Aires
1. Anything goes – lunch at 5pm? Dinner at 1am? Beer delivered to your house? It’s all possible and nobody cares, they just let you get on with it.
2. Public transport, especially the colectivos (buses). They’re frequent, go everywhere and very cheap – the only way to travel.
3. Spring – the North may be heading into winter but October and November are the perfect months to be in Buenos Aires – the purple jacaranda trees burst into life and everybody is out in the parks and squares
4. The history in the streets, from the Palacio Barolo to the secret house overlooking the Obelisco, Buenos Aires is full of fascinating stories and characters. I love finding out about these places and sharing the stories on the tour.
5. The people, regardless of where they are from, expat or local, almost everyone I’ve met here has been interesting, interested in me, funny and generous – it makes a huge difference.
And your bottom 3…worst!
1. The Subte. I love catching a bus, but the subway system can be a struggle at times. Overcrowding, unexplained delays and people standing on the left of the escalator are the main problems!
2. Inflation – prices are creeping up every time you go to the supermarket – it’s frustrating and can start to limit what you can afford.
3. Political adverts everywhere. 2011 is an election year and the streets are covered with posters, and corners are full of people thrusting leaflets into your hand. It’s a novelty at first, but soon wears off.
If you could give one piece of advice to newcomers to Buenos Aires, what would it be?
Get out there and explore. Coming on my tour will give you some of the tools you’ll need such as understanding the bus system which is very useful. Otherwise just walk around soaking it all up – try a new barrio every day.
And lastly…we have to ask this. How is your Spanish?
Getting better every day! I have a degree in French & Italian so languages are kinda my thing and I’ve not had lessons in Spanish as there are many similarities with French that I’ve been able to pick it up as I go along. I think that learning Spanish is one of the most important things you can do here – your experience will be so much richer if you can just make that little effort.
Jonathan’s Buenos Aires Local Tours run Monday to Saturday from 11am at Plaza Italia.