La Boca, Buenos Aires has acquired the status as an unmissable barrio on any tour of the capital. Adjacent to popular San Telmo district and easily accessible from Parque Lezama,it is a suburb with a distinctly European flavor and an array of colorful buildings, bohemian artists and a world-famous football stadium to boot.
Born as a gritty, working-class district, it makes no attempt at vying with the elegance of San Telmo, but instead offers an insight into Buenos Aires’ broad cultural and historical roots and is an accessible and interesting location to visit for an afternoon.
The history of La Boca, Buenos Aires
If you’re familiar with Spanish, you’ll know that la boca means “mouth”, which hints at the district’s location at the opening of the Riachuelo river. Indeed, La Boca started its days as a dockyard.
In the 1830s, immigrants from all over the world were lured by the possibilities of jobs in the warehouses and shipyards that surrounded the docks. These new arrivals, many of whom came from Genoa in Italy, as well as Spain and other parts of Europe, flooded the area and constructed their houses from scrap material that they painted in bright colors to liven up the area.
These now legendary house facades were revived by artist Quinquela Martín in the 1950s, who encouraged residents to redecorate their houses and restore the colourful history of this neighborhood. Since then, La Boca has transformed into a lively area inhabited by artists and where open-air theatre and tango dancers are common sights on its streets.
Things to do and see in La Boca, Buenos Aires
Explore La Boca’s most iconic alley
El Caminito, La Boca’s most recognizable street, directly translates as “little walkway” and refers to an alley lined with the restored conventillos or colorfully painted tenements made of wood and corrugated zinc. Although the area has certainly lost some of its authenticity (many say it has transformed into a tourist trap), it’s still worth a wander, as you’ll encounter elegant dancers tangoing to live music against a backdrop of local artists and stall owners hawking their wares.
Join the crowds at Maradona’s old stomping ground
It’s no wonder that La Bombonera, a stadium in La Boca, remains popular amongst tourists and Argentines alike. Home to one of Argentina’s leading football clubs, it’s where legendary player Diego Maradona made his debut for Boca Juniors – at the tender age of 16.
For football fanatics, watching a game is certainly an experience; the 49,000 fans who pack out this stadium are not known for holding back when it comes to supporting their team. But, if you can’t get yourself a ticket to a match, instead check out Museo de la Pasión Boquense. Located under the stands of the stadium, it offers guided tours and a fascinating insight into the club and its history.
Discover La Boca’s bohemian, arty character
Known as one of the principle art districts of Buenos Aires, La Boca is an impressive place to watch a show. One of the most unique locations is Usina del Arte, a venue that started life as an electricity plant and now plays host to dance and theatre performances, as well as art exhibitions.
Opened in 2011, this concert hall is one of Buenos Aires’ top venues and visitors can take a guided tour or enjoy a show. A good rotation of acts performing each week, plus a spacious auditorium that’s perfect for listening to classical or modern music make this a real highlight of La Boca, Buenos Aires.
Teatro del Ribera is another hotspot for those wishing to absorb La Boca’s exceptional artistic history. The land on which the theatre stands was donated to the National Theatre School Board by local artist Quinquela Martín, who also decorated several of the walls with murals. Tango shows and milongas are what brings tourists to this, La Boca’s cultural epicentre, although major photography exhibits held in its dedicated space are also worth checking out.
Advice for visiting La Boca, Buenos Aires
While it has become an important stop on the Buenos Aires’ tourist trail, beware that it remains a less safe district and it’s not advisable to stray from the main tourist streets or even walk around here at nighttime. If visiting La Boca, take a taxi to and from your destination and never carry anything that you don’t want to lose.