The home of the Tango according to some, La Boca is one of Buenos Aires’ most fascinating neighbourhoods. It is unfortunate then that it is situated in the city’s most dangerous district. Most guidebooks advise tourists visit Caminito, a street consisting of brightly coloured houses, but to approach the rest of the area with extreme caution.
The area’s close proximity to the harbour made it a convenient settlement for Italian immigrants who built the houses from corrugated iron left by the industrial warehouses on the harbour. When the ships came in the settlers used leftover paint to brighten up the houses, creating a rainbow of tin shacks all along Caminito, which means ‘little walkway’.
After reading numerous reports of people who have been mugged in attacks of varying violence whilst visiting the area, we were feeling apprehensive about our visit. Angela, our hostess through Airbnb, told us that the area was well worth a visit and was within walking distance of our accommodation but she advised us that there was only one route in and out that would be safe(r) to take. She told us that we should be very careful not to stray from the route that we were given.
We studied the route in detail before we left as we did not wish to pull out a map on the street and draw unnecessary attention to our tourist-status (unlike a couple who stood on the corner of a street pawing furiously at their map) and set off. I can’t honestly say that I like walking around the streets of Buenos Aires, even in the day and so we walked quickly and barely speaking to one another (I find that speaking English loudly on the street draws too much attention to ourselves). Most of the streets were very busy but near to La Boca we turned down a smaller alley which did not feel so safe. Our journey passed without incident however and before long we were faced with the first technicolour facades that indicated we had arrived.
I felt like we had entered a circus tent. Brightly coloured houses stretched all along the road, hawkers sold their wares—generally paintings of sultry tango dancers and the road thronged with people. I can only imagine that tour buses descend on the area and drop their heavy load of camera-touting tourists as we did not see anybody else walking into the area as we had, and there did not seem to be many taxis. Bizarrely, strange puppet caricatures adorn the balconies of the houses, creating the feeling that you are on a film set, and the constant presence of Tango dancers awaiting a photo opportunity reminds you that you are in a tourist trap. You can even have your picture taken with ‘Diego Maradona’: I didn’t do this as I didn’t know who Maradona is (Nicklas had to warn me not to mention this fact too loudly in Argentina). Sadly, it is hard to get a feel for the bohemian neighbourhood this once was but it is undoubtedly a picturesque street which will delight artists and photography enthusiasts alike.
La Boca is definitely worth a visit but as any local or guidebook will tell you, tourists must approach this area with extreme caution. Do not stray from the tourist roads, these are heavily policed and their job is to direct tourists back onto the main areas.
Here is a selection of my favourite photographs from La Boca.
Do you ever feel unsafe when you travel? Where do you feel most safe/unsafe? Have you got any tips to keep safe on the streets? Please leave a comment.