La Recoleta Cemetery (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
I had always wanted to visit Buenos Aires, Argentina for one reason–to see Evita’s grave! I have been a fan of the charismatic and infamous first lady since I first saw the movie “Evita”, starring Madonna. As a young kid at the time, her style and her forceful personality struck a chord with me, and I was bound and determined to visit the city she called home, as well as her gravesite, someday in my future.
Eventually, I got my chance, and found myself in Buenos Aires. One of the first stops I made was to visit the La Recoleta cemetery, where she lies buried amongst many other notable members of Argentinian society. Her grave is not well marked, although it is noted on the cemetery map, there are no big signs pointing to it or even so much as a guidepost assisting you in the right direction. I was surprised at how hard to find her grave was, actually, and I spent probably 30 minutes wandering around the general area, trying to find it. I ended up having to ask for assistance from a graveyard keeper, who was washing the mausoleums of other families, several blocks away from where Evita was buried. Her grave was down a narrow alley way between mausoleums and was completely devoid of tourists, which was really wonderful. There were some flowers adoring her grave, and some colored beads and tokens, but besides those items, it was deserted. A lifelong dream of mine was met, utterly alone, and just the way I had hoped it would be.
Besides my Evita fascination, the Recoleta cemetery is also a really magnificent place to visit simply for the artistic merit of the many sculptures that adorn the many tombs of the burial grounds. Most tombs are magnificently decorated in various different artistic styles–anywhere from ultra modern cubist stone boxes to classical angels and gold gilded birds and stone flowers. The cemetery is very similar in style to those found in New Orleans, with all the tombs being above ground either in family mausoleums or in rows of boxes built into the brick wall of the cemetery. Thankfully, La Recoleta cemetery is kept up much better than any of the cemeteries in New Orleans, so it’s much more clean, well organized, and easy to walk through. Upon entering the cemetery, there is a map of all the notable people buried in the cemetery, along with several volunteer tour guides, so you won’t get lost trying to find the grave you’re looking for (unless you’re me and assume you can read a map better than you actually can). The guides there are free, but be sure to tip them well. I believe you can also arrange paid tours of the cemetery through 3rd party tour companies, although it truly is not needed. La Recoleta is best experienced by lazily walking up and down the mausoleum corridors on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It’s a quiet place of reflection and beauty, and the cemetery is laid out in city blocks, in a grid pattern, so it is easy to stroll amongst the graves without getting lost.
After walking around the cemetery, I would recommend a brief tour of the adjacent church, called “Basilica Nuestra Senora del Pilar“, which is absolutely beautiful. It’s a smallish church, but the interior decorations are breathtaking and covered in gold gilt! The views of the Recoleta cemetery from the church’s second floor are worth noting as well, although the bars across the windows prevent any good aerial shots of the graves. There’s also an option to tour the church and to see some religious artifacts, and you must take this tour (which costs nearly nothing) to get up to the second floor room that allows you a view of the Recoleta cemetery from above. Plus, the tour gives you a pretty good idea of the religious feelings of the colonial times, as the church was built as a mission. In fact, those from California will recognize the architectural style of the church as it is very much like the Spanish Mission churches in Southern California.
The Recoleta neighborhood in Buenos Aires is also fun to poke around in, after you’re done with the church and the cemetery. Across the street from the church and the cemetery is a strip of cute Italian and French outdoor cafes, and if you walk a little further, you hit a modern shopping mall and the main road through Recoleta. The neighborhood is full of street-side cafe’s and boutique shops, as well as lots of nightclubs, bars and discos. You can rent apartments in Recoleta (which I did) for much more cheaply than you can rent a hotel room, and since the neighborhood is so walkable, and taxis are so cheap and plentiful, it makes more sense than staying in a hotel. If you rent an apartment, you can spend more time exploring the area and less time ordering room service! Some say that Recoleta is dangerous after dark, but it truly isn’t if you just take general precautions and don’t wear 10 karat diamond rings out after dark. There were some student protesters in the area, who were protesting the government take over of a local theatre, but they were very harmless and mostly drunk on cheap wine and wanting to juggle and sing songs.
Lastly, if you’re into a little crazy with your cemetery, after the dark falls, try out one of Buenos Aires only swingers clubs, Anchorena. It’s spread out over 5 floors and has several pools, a jazcuzzi, and way more than enough hot men and women to satisfy even the most insatiable couples. Along with many rooms (some couples only, some for singles) there are also live sex shows and, of course, a bar. If you’ve come all the way to Argentina, why not have a little fun? Plus, this is not your typical American swinger’s club, replete with fat housewives and ugly old men. No, this club is filled with young, hot, freethinking, bohemian youths, all of them fairly attractive. It’s well worth the 120 peso entry fee for men (and no cover for women). Plus, for 120 pesos, you also get two free drinks. Score!
To see: La Recoleta Cemetery, free entrance; Basilica Nuestra Senora del Pilar, free entrance (small fee for religious icon and history tour)
To stay: TripAdvisor Vacation rentals; I paid 300 USD/per week for a small, 1 bedroom apartment with security in Recoleta.
To party: Anchorena, a swinger’s club, 120 peso entry for men, free for women (includes two free drinks). Dress code required–close toe shoes for men and long pants + collared shirt, dressy casual for women.