Almost more water than land, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires’ newest and glossiest barrio, centres on a defunct port directly to the east of the historical centre. Here four enormous diques, or docks, run along the Río de la Plata, connecting on either side to the Dársena Sur (Southern Harbour), near Boca, and the Dársena Norte (Northern Harbour), near Retiro, from where ferries depart for Uruguay. Lining these docks – which officially number one to four, Dock One being the most southerly – are a series of preserved and restored brick and iron warehouses, originally used to hold grain from the Pampas before it was shipped around the world. By 1898, before the port was even fully finished, it was already insufficient in scale to cope with the volume of maritime traffic, and a new port was constructed to the north. For most of the twentieth century, Puerto Madero sat as an industrial relic, but in the 1990s private money was injected and it began to be converted into a voguish mix of restaurants, luxury apartments and offices. While this dockside development is upmarket and somewhat lacking in colour, it’s nonetheless a pleasant place to stroll, and there are far worse ways to spend a lazy summer afternoon than sitting on a verandah here, sipping a clericó, watching the yachts bob on the water and enjoying the gentle breeze off the river.
Puerto Madero is within easy walking distance from downtown – just head east along Avenida Belgrano, calle Juan Domingo Perón or calle Viamonte – though the train tracks that run their length, sandwiched between Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo and Avenida Eduardo Madero, can be awkward to cross on foot. For the last four decades these lines were used only by freight trains, but in 2007 the Tranvía del Este, a shiny, silent and smooth passenger tram, began operating along these old tracks, connecting Avenida Córdoba with Avenida Independencia (approximately every 10 min; Mon–Sat 8am–11pm, Sun 9am–10pm; $1). With stops where it crosses avenidas Corrientes and Belgrano, it’s an excellent way to give your legs a break if they begin to falter midway along the barrio’s 24-block length; note that you will need change to use the ticket machines.Read More
The Reserva Ecológica is a strange and wonderful place, a fragment of wild and watery grassland stretching for 2km alongside the Costanera. Having self-seeded with grassland after the landfill project was abandoned in 1984, the reserve offers a juxtaposition of urban and natural scenes, whether factory chimneys glimpsed through fronds of pampas or the city skyline over a lake populated by ducks and herons.
Just outside the reserve, it’s worth pausing to see the flamboyant Fuente de las Nereidas, a large and elaborate marble fountain created by Tucumán sculptress Lola Mora in 1902. The fountain depicts a naked Venus perched coquettishly on the edge of a shell supported by two straining sea nymphs. The fountain was originally destined for the Plaza de Mayo, but its seductive display was thought too risqué to be in such proximity to the cathedral.
Inside the reserve, near the entrance, the visitors’ centre displays panels explaining the park’s development and serves as the starting point for ranger-guided walks along the park’s many trails (Sat & Sun 10.30am & 3.30pm). Full-moon nocturnal tours (weather permitting; dates are listed on the website) allow you to spot all manner of creatures, mainly birds, that keep a low daytime profile. There is a surprising diversity of flora and fauna in the park, with over two hundred species of birds visiting during the year. Aquatic species include ducks, herons, elegant black-necked swans, skittish coots, the common gallinule and the snail hawk, a bird of prey that uses its hooked beak to pluck freshwater snails out of their shells. The park is also home to small mammals, such as the easily spotted coypu, an aquatic rodent, and reptiles such as monitor lizards. The reserve’s vegetation includes the bright red ceibo, but the most dominant plant is the cortadera, or pampas grass.