Is La Boca the biggest tourist trap in Buenos Aires?

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

The vibrant pedestrian street El Caminito and the surrounding multicolored houses of La Boca neighborhood have turned into an icon for Buenos Aires, and one of those “must do”-activities in the city.

You have properly already seen a million pictures of La Boca’s colorful houses when scrolling pictures of Buenos Aires on Instagram or Pinterest. 

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

However, when arriving at La Boca you quickly realize that the area has very little to do with everyday life in Buenos Aires. And this might make you wonder whether La Boca is just the biggest tourist trap in town?

In this post, I want to share my opinion about La Boca. Hopefully, I can help you to understand the place better and decide whether you want to visit or not.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

What’s La Boca like to the bare eye?

The first time, I visited La Boca, I was truly disappointed. Maybe it was because I had just spent a month in Colombia visiting the most beautiful colorful villages. Even Bogotá’s colorful historical center, La Candelaria had fascinated me. So, the two blocks of painted houses and crowds of tourist in La Boca didn’t impress me at all. The popular area of La Boca feels most of all like an outdoor museum completely detached to real life.

The second time, I visited La Boca half a year later, I wanted to scream and run away. It was at the peak of the summer season. The area was more than over-crowded with visitors.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

The area of La Boca which everyone wants to visit is only like two blocks. You can walk in like half an hour, where half of that time you use waiting for other tourists to pass by or take their photos.

Most of the old houses in the popular area of La Boca are inhabited by souvenir shops or pricey restaurants trying to sell an “authentic” Argentine asado (e.g. barbeque)… Thus, it is properly one of the least authentic places for asado, and for sure, it will ruin your budget.

I like visiting places where I can wander around adsorbing how people go about with their everyday life… But in La Boca, you are walking around in a big crowd of tourists.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

Side note: In the year and a half that I by now have lived in Buenos Aires, I have only visited La Boca these two times. It is not a place where Argentines hang out for a beer or an asado.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

What is La Boca like underneath?

There is a “La Boca” which you don’t see with the bare eye. You might have noticed that I keep on saying “the popular area of La Boca”. It is completely on purpose. La Boca is assumed to be one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of all Buenos Aires. Thus, when visiting the area around El Caminito, it can be hard to see.

During the 1830s to 1880s, the neighborhood was the place where new immigrants first established themselves when they arrived in Buenos Aires. These were usually poor European immigrants in the search for a better life in Argentina. They are said to have built their humid houses with the left-overs from the ship production in the harbor. And, to have used the left-over painting to decorate their houses – therefore, the colorful houses. Something we might not think that much about when scrolling around for the perfect picture, right?

Read more about the history of La Boca over at Wander Argentina.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

However, today the immigrant heritage of the area still applies, since many immigrants from other Latin American countries have settled down here in the area. Just like the European immigrants in the 1880s, these people also tend to be some of the economically less-fortuned peopleRead more about the real La Boca here, or check out this interview with a local porteña living in La Boca if you feel like an insider’s view.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

Is La Boca safe?

Tourists are usually advised to stick to the popular area around El Caminito due to the risk of being mugged or other low crime activities.

The first time, I visited the guide even told me to watch my camera. Me being annoyed with the overratedness of La Boca told the poor guide that my camera and I had survived a month alone in Colombia. So, I thought I would be fine with an hour’s visit in La Boca.

However, later I have read about tourists being unluckily when leaving the popular area. So, maybe the best idea for you is to join a tour if you want to experience other than the tourist part?

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

What to do in La Boca

Most tourist package tours seem to offer a quick visit to take the obligatory pictures of El Caminito, eat an asado, and see a tango show. This is more or less what there is to do if you stick to the touristic area. Thus, it is completely possible to do on your own.

Nevertheless, as you might have realized by now, I would not recommend you spend your money on food in La Boca.

Boca Junior’s stadium, La Bombonera

For people interested in football, the Boca Junior’s stadium, La Bombonera, will properly be highest on the list of things to do… But since I’m no fan of football, have never visited nor intent on doing, I will instead tell you a little story:

The colors of the famous football club, Boca Junior is today blue and yellow. Thus, it has not always been like that. The story goes that Boca Junior before had the same colors as another local football club. The two teams decided to do a match, and let the best man win. Boca Junior lost and decided that their new colors should be the colors of the flags of the next ship embarking in the port. This ship happened to be a Swedish one!
Soo, “hej då” to my Scandinavian neighbors for playing a part in the colors of Boca Junior!

Lastly, I will mention that there are both tours to see La Boca or to see Boca Junior match. When Boca Junior plays against their all-time enemy, River Plate, the match is called Superclásico – a classic rivalry game!

For my Danish readers, you might remember the Danish movie from some years back, Superclásico (link to the trailer with English subtitles), which takes place in Buenos Aires.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

Walking tours in La Boca

There are also different walking tours offered for La Boca; for example, Free Walks Buenos Aires among others. I have no idea about any of these tours and whether they give you a more in-depth view on La Boca as I never tried one. 

Maybe my mistake when visiting was not sign up for a tour but the information I got at the city tour organized by my university when I visited first was not very full-filling.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad

So, is La Boca just a tourist trap?

If you just stick to the touristic area, then, in my opinion, La Boca is just the biggest tourist trap in Buenos Aires and has nothing at all to do with life here.

However, if you do an effort to get underneath the surface and understand the history of the area, and the importance that the huge floats of immigrants have had on Buenos Aires and Argentina in general, then La Boca might be worth a visit.

Is Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood overrated or worth a visit? Find out more - Becci Abroad
Are you looking for more tips about Buenos Aires? Check out my other posts!
Would you visit a place like La Boca or have you visited La Boca? What did you think? And did you maybe type some recommendable tours? Please share your thoughts in the comments below! I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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Is La Boca the biggest tourist trap in Buenos Aires? Or worth a visit?

7 comments

  1. Agness of e Tramping

    I would love to visit and explore La Boca and your post is so useful, Becci. I’ve learned so much from it!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by Agness! I’m so pleased to hear that you felt you learned something from the post 🙂 Yes, La Boca is an interesting barrio with a lot of history – just a pity it has turned so much into a touristic place.

      Reply

  2. Daniela

    I didn’t go to La Boca when I was in Buenos Aires in September and am not sure whether I will go in December. I’m always reluctant when it comes to visiting these very touristic places. Well, thanks for your honest and authentic article.

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by, Daniela! 🙂 Yes, La Boca really turned into a very touristic place. It is a pity because the history is interesting and relevant for the city, however, it seemed completely forgotten between all the touristic offers. I’m content to know that you enjoyed the post 🙂

      Reply

  3. Andy

    Good post and I agree. La Boca can’t really compare to other old Latin American neighborhoods such as Candelaria in Bogota, the historic center in Quito, San Antonio in Cali etc.
    Thanks for sharing!

    https//www.andytraveler.com/

    Reply

  4. Monica

    How sad that you don’t understand what la boca is.
    This is the place where our ancestors came.
    This is our “statue of liberty”
    It’s never claimed to be an up and coming neighborhood.
    It is a poor part of town, reason why they can only make available a few safe blocks.
    The tenements which are now gift shops give you an idea of how these families lived in such tight quarters, yet they kept coming to Argentina for a new opportunity in life.
    The restaurants won’t give you the best Argentine food experience, but, they’re there as old as time still working and giving work to those who live in the area.
    The tango dancers give you an idea of how it used to be, these are not “tango shows”, you have those in tons of other places in Buenos Aires, the tango dancers are an extra as you enjoy an average meal.
    It is very touristy because it is such a small area, but it’s the ONLY area we have to remember our ancestors. Just a few safe blocks to do so.
    And we do so, every time we go back home to Argentina and wonder how my grandparents felt when they arrived there and we are grateful that the government has kept up these few blocks so we can step back in time as we look at the riachuelo and try to envision their arrival.
    So, Caminito means a lot to us, to past, present and future generations.
    Maybe not to you, as you compare to other places.
    But this is what we as Argentinians have to share with the rest of the world as we welcomed all those ships that brought all our ancestors.
    I urge anyone reading this blog to go to La Boca, enjoy these streets, the tenements turned shops and envision the past in these few blocks.
    You’ll never regret saying you’ve been to Argentine’s entry to thousands upon thousands of immigrants who came looking for a better future and started out in the Americas there. In La Boca. Love it and recommend it over and over!!

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      Hi Monica,
      Thank you so much for dropping by and taking your time to drop this every detailed comment. However, if you had read the post and not just the headline, you would have realized that my main argument is that it is sad that the history of la Boca and its important for Argentina history isn’t clearer for the tourists visiting the area. But thank you for contributing with your story about la Boca.

      Reply

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