In general, and circumstances as well as finances permitting, Portenos (the people of Buenos Aires) like to look their best. Needless to say then, this is a city with a wealth of great shopping options. Sao Paulo Argentina, 127
At the top of Buenos Aires’ hierarchy of shopping houses is the glamourous Patio Bullrich on Avenida del Libertador in the Retiro district. Once an auction house for livestock, its three floors now hold big name boutiques like Versace, Dior and Chanel as well as a food court with elegant eateries and coffee houses. This is the place to make those exquisite and unmentionably priced purchases or, simply to dream and watch others do so.
Much more accessible, slightly more affordable and just as beautiful, is Galerias Pacifico on busy Via Florida in the city centre. Built in 1889, in the French style, the enormous building which occupied an entire block, was to give the Buenos Aires shoppers of the day the ultimate shopping experience. Unfortunately, an economic crisis in 1890 saw Galerias Pacifico sold off for offices to the Ferrocarril Pacifico (Argentina’s railway company) which gave it the name which endures today. In the Peron era, when the railways fell into the hands of the state, so did the Galerias Pacifico. In 1945 the Nuevo realism/ social-activist muralists Antonio Bern, Juan Carlos Castiagnino, Manuel Colmeiro, Lino Spilimbergo and Demetrio Urruchia were commissioned to decorate its vaulted ceilings and cupola. Despite this grand public art project, the building languished without a purpose and was finally abandoned.
Finally, in 1992, Galerias Pacifico was rediscovered and restored by a joint Argentine/ Mexican enterprise. Since then it has lived out its original purpose as one of Buenos Aires’ premier shopping centres. All the big brand names are represented – Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfigger et al – but there are also some great boutiques, homewares and local art and craft boutiques, selling all kinds of unusual treasures. There is a wonderful food court and then, of course, there are those beautiful murals all around and above.
Outside Galerias Pacifico a very different, but absolutely not to be missed Buenos Aires shopping experience awaits. Narrow, crowded and pulsing with noise and colour, the pedestrian precinct of Via Florida offers everything. Both sides of the pedestrian street are lined with shops; global chains, like H & M and local names like the popular Argentine outdoor clothing store Montagne, leading B.A. bookseller Ateneo and the fabulous Darcos, the specialists in tango shoes and costumes . Itinerant street vendors demonstrate all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff – like the tomate loco. Made of some indefinable, horrible to the touch material, it splats, sticks and spreads when thrown at walls or pavements, then assuming a life of its own it reforms as a tomato. Its cousin, the uove loco, is no less ghastly.
The centre of Via Florida is given over, especially on the weekends to street stalls or blankets spread with tango hats, Indian rugs, bags, blankets, jumpers, jewellery, art, ceramics and souvenirs. Any clear space on a weekend is seized by troupes of tango dancers.
It’s hard to look past Via Florida – but do. There’s a wealth of other fascinating shopping to be had in Buenos Aires. Nearby San Telmo offers antiques, vintage and more local crafts by the mile, with equally interesting street life (Travelstripe’s San Telmo blog) If it’s avant-garde Argentine designer gear and chic furniture you’re after, then head down to Palermo. As it’s a mecca for the uber fashion conscious, it’s great for people watching too.