Expect: Cafés, artists and little, cobbled streets.
Pack: A beret, paintbrush and big, fat book you can carry under your arm to look cool (no not your Lonely Planet).
San Telmo is the up-and-coming (many would say up-and-come) barrio of Buenos Aires. ‘Scenish’ art galleries and wineries now vie for space among the traditional parillas and old-style cafes; drawn by the area’s bohemian vibe and influx of tourists. This was not always the case, and for a long time San Telmo’s narrow, cobbled streets were deemed unsafe and the little artistic activity there was as desperate and irrelevant. However, even with the rapid changes this new popularity has brought, San Telmo retains its slow, almost reclusive, feel. Much more down to earth (and cheaper) than Palermo or Recoletta, this friendly barrio absorbs its many visitors effortlessly with an abundance of cafes, galleries and independent fashion stores into which they enthusiastically vanish.
San Telmo is traditionally associated with antique dealers and tango bars. Today this is still the story, if not the whole of it, and porteños prowl the narrow streets on the hunt for interesting bargains. Small shops selling everything from 19th century chandeliers to 60s movie posters clutter the main drag and make for an exciting browse. Tango bars, notably Torquato Tasso and El Querandí, offer some of the finest performances in the city, and generally with a more intimate atmosphere and affordable price tag than elsewhere in Buenos Aires.
San Telmo’s new found popularity has made it a hit with new hostels and the small district is now home to about a dozen places offering a friendly traveller vibe and cheap dorm beds. One place definitely worth checking out is Pax Hostel. The owners, Nico and Cayley, are among the nicest people I met in Buenos Aires and they gave me some great city tips. Ever keen to keep the travel dream alive, they've been known to offer the occasional free bed if you're willing to work a few shifts. Although far from the intensity of the Palermo night-life, San Telmo also has a decent selection of clubs and bars, with Museum in particular attracting a huge crowd.
On Sundays this otherwise tranquil neighbourhood becomes a hub of bustling activity with Plaza Dorrego , the Spanish style central square, packed with market stalls. The adjoining high street (La Defensa) also becomes lined with small-time artists and designers selling their work from ground sheets or wheeled clothing racks. Tourists and porteños from all over the city descend on San Telmo, and for a few hours it can feel overcrowded and touristy. However, even during this time it is easy to vanish back into the quiet of your favourite cafe; El Federal and La Poesía come highly recommended. Return to the square again in the evening when most tourists have gone and you can enjoy a cold quilmes, watch the tango and feel the barrio slowly slide back into its usual shy state around you.