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The city’s oldest barrio, San Telmo is the heart of Buenos Aires.
Evidence of its rich history remains. Cobbled streets are tough on the ankles for those not wearing sensible shoes.
Antique lamp posts still illuminate plazas, spilling their dim light onto couples performing impromptu tango dances.
The crumbling facades of once grand colonial mansions now house antique shops, restaurants and milongas. The rest serve as apartments, hotels and conventillos.
The air is filled with the aromas of Argentinian steaks cooking over hot parrillas and pepperoni from pizza houses run by 3rd generation Italians and the occasional unpleasant scent wafting from one of the neighbourhood’s down and outs.
It all adds up to a unique bohemian atmosphere – one we imagined in our mind’s eye before ever arriving in Argentina, let alone Buenos Aires.
How to get to San Telmo
If you’re staying in San Telmo and arriving by air, you will most likely land at Ezeiza International Airport.
A taxi will cost around US $30 – make sure the driver puts his meter on.
Shuttle buses are cheaper. They tend to run only on weekdays and depending on how much luggage you have, cost around US $8.
If you’re staying in another neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, San Telmo is easily accessed on the public transport network.
Ferries from Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay arrive in Buenos Aires at Terminal de Buquebus in Puerto Madero. It’s a little over 3 kilometres. If you’ve visiting San Telmo on a day trip or have luggage, catching a taxi is the quickest option.
Otherwise, the C metro line has a station nearby at General San Martin.
Metro lines A, B, C, D and E have stations that stop near San Telmo and loads of buses head there too. This interactive map will help you figure out what bus or train you need to catch.
Make sure you buy a SUBE card for the public transport first and check out our definitive guide to getting around Buenos Aires before you go.
Best time to visit San Telmo
If you’re planning on only spending a day here, the best day to visit is Sunday when the markets are at their best and many of the roads are closed to traffic.
Otherwise, evenings are always busy in Plaza Dorrego and weather permitting, street tango shows almost guaranteed.
Safety in San Telmo
We’ve read so many articles about safety concerns in San Telmo so thought it worth stating our views.
Buenos Aires is a massive city. While there’s plenty of wealth here, as in just about every other major city around the world, it has its share of poverty. And with the stumbling Argentinean economy, this is only getting worse.
Aside from the tourist attractions, street performances and restaurants, San Telmo is an inner city suburb. And inner city suburbs aren’t always the safest places to hang out.
During the day, San Telmo is a hive of activity. While we didn’t feel we could walk around the quieter back streets with a camera hanging off our shoulders, we didn’t feel unsafe either.
We carried our cameras in backpacks until we reached the busier areas.
San Telmo by night feels a little more iffy than by day. The side streets become less busy, except an occasional small group of heavy drinkers.
Our Airbnb was in an apartment block on once such side street. We often came back late at night.
There was almost always someone around – not always the most salubrious – so we’d make a beeline for the front door.
Whilst we never had any issues, neither of us would feel totally comfortable walking around the streets of San Telmo alone at night.
Follow these basic tips to help stay safe in San Telmo:
- Stay aware of your surroundings
- Don’t wear flashy jewellery or carry expensive electronics (you’ll make yourself a target)
- Avoid walking the quiet back streets alone at night – take a taxi instead – they’re cheap in Buenos Aires
- Trust your instincts
- Have a good travel insurance policy
If we were to base ourselves in Buenos Aires again, we’d choose the same neighbourhood so don’t let safety concerns put you off.
Where to stay in San Telmo
Tourists love San Telmo but not so many base themselves here. We think this is a massive pity.
The barrio oozes everything we love about the entire city. Basing ourselves here for weeks on end was the best decision we made when planning our trip to Buenos Aires.
It’s a very walkable neighbourhood and you don’t need to use public transport to explore.
Even parts of Puerto Madero and Microcenter are in walking distance. To go further afield, a SUBE card makes catching buses and the subway a breeze.
We’ve been staying in an Airbnb in the heart of San Telmo since we arrived a few weeks ago, and at the time of writing we’re still here. The apartment wasn’t the cheapest option but it’s completely wonderful.
It’s full of character and the balcony overlooks the narrow street – we don’t even have to leave for a photo opportunity.
Hotels in San Telmo
For luxury – Anselmo Buenos Aires | Slap bang on Plaza Dorrego, this luxury hotel in an old colonial mansion ticks lots of boxes. Location doesn’t get much better than this in San Telmo but try to avoid arriving and leaving on a Sunday, when the entire plaza is a market place. For more information and to check availability and prices, click here.
A little romantic – Residencia Esplendida | Think grand old palace complete with period furniture, a shaded patio garden, tall ceilings with modern day amenities like wifi, a kitchenette and jacuzzi. This is a unique accommodation certainly lives up to its name! For more information and to check availability and prices, click here.
Great value – Telmho Hotel Boutique | Sophisticated design and modern facilities but with a boutique feel, this is a perfect spot to watch tango in the plaza from. And it won’t bust the budget either. For more information and to check availability and prices, click here.
Seasoned overlanders won’t be surprised to find no formal campsites in Argentina’s capital city.
Despite this, for those travelling in self contained vehicles there’s a surprising amount of opportunities for free overnight camping.
The most suitable places to park and stay in your vehicle overnight is around the upscale Puerto Madero area. The spaces are a short walk from Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur for when you need to get back into nature to escape the city madness.
To get around the city and see all Buenos Aires has to offer, grab a Sube card and hop on the nearest subway.
You can use the iOverlander app offline to check on the latest updates in respect of overnight parking in Buenos Aires.
If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel or Airbnb while you’re in Buenos Aires, there’s loads of secure parking lots around the city. Just look out for the big blue ‘E’ signs and check for height restrictions before you drive in.