Why you need a tour guide to fully experience La Boca
La Boca is a renowned destination in Buenos Aires and a tourist hotspot. Pictures of its iconic brightly coloured houses and streets are all over the internet and social media. I have been in Buenos Aires since October 2015, it is now March 2016, and before Friday I still had not been to La Boca. For most people who come to visit BA a trip to La Boca is one of the first things to tick off the list. With plenty of time ahead of me I was in no rush. Another huge factor in my non existent trip was due to the reviews I had heard from many people.
Essentially, I was told: that it’s alright, nothing special, you basically go there and take a few pictures. Followed by a word of warning stating that I should not leave the Caminito as La Boca is not a safe neighbourhood. The same words of warning are in nearly every guide book too. I’m sure you can now see why it wasn’t really sold to me and every weekend I postponed the trip. When I got told about the tour Vamos Spanish Academy were providing to go see La Boca with a tour guide who takes you into the heart of this working class neighbourhood I leapt at the chance. It was the perfect opportunity to finally make my pilgrimage to La Boca and having a tour guide meant I would get more from the trip than just a photo and put me at ease because I knew I was in safe hands.
How to Get to Caminito La Boca
It got to Friday afternoon and 18 of us all assembled in the hall ready to embark on our adventure. I felt like I had been transported back to my school days, before a school trip, with all of us gathered ready and waiting. We left school and all piled into the 152 bus straight to La Boca. The bus journey was not a short one, we’d left an hour to get there but heavy traffic meant we were seriously late to meet our guide. The bus emptied along our journey and in the end it was literally the 18 of us students left. The bus driver pulled up to a deserted street next to the river and called out to us that it was our turn to leave. We had arrived.
What to Do in La Boca
Juan, our tour guide, was waiting on the pavement for us. Despite our lateness, even in Argentine time, Juan gave us a friendly welcome and began the tour almost instantaneously. The best thing about the tour, which Juan made clear to us from the beginning, was that it was for us. He was there to answer our questions. Whilst he had a route planned and various key sights to show us what he wanted us to do was ask questions, observe what was around us and from this reciprocal relationship he worked best. Juan used the surroundings to slowly introduce and build up the complex image of La Boca: how it first started, how it developed and why it is how it is today. Without this context I feel that is hard to fully engage with the many murals, artwork, statues and the architecture. The phrase ‘there’s more than meets the eye’ couldn’t be more relevant with regard to La Boca.
Whilst I don’t want to give too much away, La Boca really is a place you need to experience for yourself, I do want to illustrate why paying $150 ARS for a tour really is worth it. At the beginning of our tour we passed the 152 bus station. All of us, as I suspect most people do to, kept on walking and had to be called back by Juan. ‘Look at this wall,’ he said and we all looked to our right to see a huge mural. ‘Cool,’ I thought, ‘would look fantastic on instagram.’ But Juan urged us to look closer and take in the whole mural. What did we see? What did it mean? I began to study the wall trying to take everything in. Gradually the whole picture came together and I saw the mural was about the problems of sexual exploitation. There was so much more to this mural than first met the eye. Still, Juan pressed further questions to us that hadn’t even crossed my mind. ‘This wall is a private wall owned by the 152 Bus company, why have they wanted this to stay, surely it isn’t good for their company image?’ Furthermore, ‘look at the city, mural’s like this don’t remain untouched for long periods of time. Usually in a year someone has come and created something new over the top. But, this had remained.’ It became clear the mural was the community’s way of speaking out, of voicing a problem and this problem was respected. Clearly by the fact that the mural remained there untouched. It was no longer a piece of graffiti but I saw the importance of artwork in giving the community a voice. I was able to see one of the many problems that they faced. It wasn’t a cool instagram photo but a call for change. It was nearly something that I didn’t even see at all.
Experiencing The Real La Boca
Juan was passionate but direct, he simply laid down the facts and let us build the story for ourselves. Something that can only be done by taking us to various different sights in La Boca that each tell their own tale. One thing that shocked me was that I was expecting to see a stark difference in this neighbourhood compared to the others I had previously been too. Walking around and seeing kids pile out of school screaming and laughing I really found it hard to recognize that i was anywhere different than from the outskirts of Palermo. I’m not advising that you take an afternoon stroll through these streets, Juan new exactly where and where not to go, I was in safe hands. But seeing these streets reminded me that La Boca is a genuine neighbourhood. Sticking to the two main streets, Caminito, makes you question its authenticity. It seems tailored made to attract tourists. Tango dancers stand poised ready for you to take your picture with them. Every Restaurant tries to call you in to charge you an extortionate amount for a coffee. There’s every type of stall trying to sell you the standard souvenirs that you’re never going to use. This all detracts from what La Boca is, how the brightly coloured houses and the famous art work all has a genuine meaning. Having a tour guide means that you don’t come back with an image but a story. I now have more than a couple of photos. I have a better understanding of not only the history of La Boca but Argentina and that’s why I think spending that extra bit of cash is a 100% worth it.