La Boca: The Balamory of Nightmares

Maradona, a paper mache Pope Francis and Tango dancing.

Caminito in the La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires has got to be the only place on the planet – the galaxy, even – where you’ll find all of the above within a few feet from each other.

Buenos Aires’s most colourful neighbourhood, it is by all means and purposes nothing but one big tourist trap. A very eccentric, interesting and colourful tourist trap, but a trap nonetheless.

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You’ve barely taken a step out of your taxi (or bus, because you just don’t walk to La Boca) when you’re being offered to wear somebody’s hat and take a photo for a small fee. I’m not sure what the hat is for, but if I wanted a picture with a hat I would have no objections in buying my own.

Take a few steps forward and you’re being offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have your photo taken with Maradona. Except it’s not Maradona, but a slightly portly Argentinian man with curly hair and questionable facial hair who has trouble kicking his football in a straight line.

You’re surrounded by stalls full of the regular South American fare – alpaca jumpers and hats, bags of all sizes, shot glasses depicting notable sites, artisanal jewellery etc – with the only difference here being that a lot of what’s on offer doesn’t exactly seem the most authentic. There were a lot of bags, pencil cases, purses etc that were obviously originally  merchandise for Machu Picchu or Cuzco, or some other place in Peru, as you could clearly see the official Peru logo on one side. But for some reason, they had been haphazardly covered up with Argentina flag patches.

Caminito is famous for it’s colourful buildings and paper mache figures. To be completely honest, I don’t understand the relevance of the figures. They’re creepy. Like puppets but worse as there’s no strings holding them down. One of the first figures you see on entering the main street is arguably the greatest person to ever come out of Argentina, Pope Francis.

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Hola creepy Pope

Walking down the main street, you find yourself surrounded by nothing but overpriced restaurants, souvenir shops and random photo ops. There are professional tango dancers entertaining on the corner, and in a few of the cafes, but even they look like they would rather be anywhere else on Earth.

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Some of the many, many restaurants and cafes

Other than the creepy puppet people, Caminito is most famed for its colourful buildings. Originally one of Buenos Aires’s poorest neighbourhoods, the structures are as they are because people used any materials they could get their hands on, and painted them with whatever leftover paint they had. In 1959, Caminito and the few streets surrounding it were declared an open-air museum, and now, according to my nice taxi driver, the owners of the buildings are obliged to slick on a fresh coat of paint every few years to keep the area bright and lively.

Except it’s not bright and lively at all.

It’s sad, faded and a poor representation of what Buenos Aires really is. Sure, the area has a history; it has depth, personality and a story to tell, but I fail to see what a second-class Maradona lookalike and Barack Obama made of paper and paint have to do with that.

The houses are not bright. They look beautiful in the pictures you see online and in guidebooks and advertising, but in real life no combination of Instagram filters could make them look even halfway happy.

laboca2Repeatedly referred to as Buenos Aires’s “must-see” barrio, I was kind of expecting a grown-up version of Balamory, only with more steak and less annoying Scottish accents. What I actually got was kind of how I imagine an extremely bad comedown from crazy strong narcotics would feel. The whole time I was strolling through the streets, it just felt like I was in a dream, and not a particularly pleasant one at that. As ridiculous as it sounds, over time it became more and more difficult to distinguish actual people from the paper mache figures they were posing with.

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Nobody touches Maradona

There were tons and tons of people there who seemed to be having a whale of a time though, so obviously the area must be somewhat appealing to some, but it really, really was not my kind of thing. Maybe if the sky was blue it would have injected some life into the place, but from my experience, if somebody asked me about it I’d tell them to save themselves the taxi fare and not bother.

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17 Comments

  1. 23rd November 2016 / 7:52 pm

    I think this really shows how much the weather can affect your opinion of a place, your photos make this look so grey and dreary haha its so strange to see it from that point of view.
    I remember when we went, we walked all the way there in blazing sunshine and stopped for huge ice creams on the way and when we got there everything seemed so bright and colourful and full of vibrant life, people were buzzing around and there were tango dancers everywhere and I felt so alive haha how strange.
    This makes me wonder about places I didn’t enjoy, maybe I should give some another chance.. possibly during a sunny time!

    • rhiydwi
      29th November 2016 / 12:20 pm

      Yeah definitely give some of them a go again! It happened to me with Christ the Redeemer and the Swing at the End of the World too. And also Swansea which is a little less exotic I know.

  2. 11th March 2017 / 12:16 pm

    I didn’t visit Caminito when I was in Buenos Aires, it does look like it photographs well, I’m sure I could enhance the colours for Instagram! At first glance of your Pope Francis photo I thought he was holding a green lightsaber! Caminito does come across as a unique place with all the paper mache puppets.

  3. 11th March 2017 / 2:11 pm

    Too bad Caminito wasn’t your cup of tea, Rhiannon – I think it looks interesting – going by your pictures! The paper mache puppets are a bit creepy looking though, and the weather doesn’t look so great. On the plus side, being in Argentina – at least you didn’t have to put up with any annoying Scottish accents!

    • rhiydwi
      11th March 2017 / 3:36 pm

      It’s interesting enough on paper but when you’re there it’s a totally different kettle of fish.
      Okay, and so now I realise that my wording comes across like I hate Scottish accents! I really don’t haha, but Miss Hooley and Edie bloody McRedie are easily some of the most annoying people to have ever been on TV!

      • 11th March 2017 / 5:46 pm

        I’m too old to know who they are! No offense taken, Rhiannon – a Welsh accent isn’t exactly music to my ears (only joking). Good luck and safe travels!

  4. 11th March 2017 / 3:19 pm

    I like your honest opinion about a popular tourist destination. I have to say that I am not surprised. I’ve seen too many places that, in my experience, are overhyped but nevertheless still manage to attract droves of visitors. Also, I learned to appreciate any experience. Nowadays, I call it “educational experience” ;). Even if a place fails to impress, I still appreciate an opportunity to observe people who visit it, their habits and the way they behave (either succumbing to local offerings of buying crappy souvenirs (even if they were clearly made somewhere else like the ones you mentioned the came from Peru). Can’t say that it improves my opinion of humanity at large, though ;). Still, wouldn’t trade the ability to travel for anything else.

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 2:32 pm

      Oh absolutely, I’m so blessed to be able to go travel almost anywhere! But with that being said, I most definitely wouldn’t have gone here had my travel partner not been so keen on it.

  5. 12th March 2017 / 8:43 am

    I understand how you feel – bad weather can ruin the experience and how you perceive the place. I think you should give it another chance. By the look of your photos, it seems like such fun. It’s hard not to feel excited with those vibrantly colored buildings!

  6. Jackie Taylor
    12th March 2017 / 8:55 am

    I’m sorry to hear that it wasn’t the kind of experience you were hoping for. I’m definitely not a fan of tourist traps either… Although personally, I’d still be happy to visit Buenos Aires one day!!

  7. 12th March 2017 / 11:29 am

    I agree about those paper mache figures being creepy. The photos you have posted make the place seem like a ghost town, and your comments about the guidebooks and websites showing it to be colourful and vibrant – made me do a bit more research myself. You are correct, the weather might have affected your experience. Other site show Caminito as a very colourful place, but still the streets seem empty of people in most of the images I saw. Is that how it normally is?

    • rhiydwi
      13th March 2017 / 3:01 pm

      I think most of the time it’s buzzing with tourists as it’s a big draw for both foreigners and people from other parts of Argentina! There are a few back streets which are a lot quieter, but the main street is constantly crowded from what I’ve seen and heard. I think most of the photos seen online were taken at opportune times or even early morning before everyone arrives.

  8. 12th March 2017 / 11:22 pm

    Thanks for your honest opinion and take on this, definitely contrary to what the guidebooks say so it’s good to see the other side. We never made it to Caminito and actually, I’m a bit gutted we missed out from your photos. Looks very interesting and strange which can always be a great experience.

  9. 13th March 2017 / 6:32 pm

    This is really interesting, especially after reading Kia’s comment! It’s so interesting to me how people can have such different opinions about places. And like she said, funny how weather can even play a large part in that opinion. I LOVEEEE color so I think I’d be tempted to go check it out anyway 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  10. 22nd March 2017 / 12:15 pm

    Great photos I would love to this! Thank your for sharing Buenos Aires is on my travel list. Love the those vibrantly colored buildings

  11. 28th March 2017 / 10:04 pm

    Sounds very sad, yes if the wether was find it could have been more enjoyable. It does sounds too touristy and a tourist trap but I think would still go are it is apart of Buenos Aires. I have heard that you do need to careful where you go in Buenos Aires but I do hope to travel there one day.

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