More than any other barrio in Buenos Aires, Boca (or “La Boca”) and its inhabitants seem to flaunt their idiosyncrasies. Located in the capital’s southeastern corner, this working-class riverside neighbourhood has been nicknamed the “República de la Boca” since 1882, when a group of local youths declared the barrio’s secession from the country. Even today, its residents – many new immigrants from other South American countries – have a reputation for playing by their own rules and are most famous for their brightly coloured wooden and corrugated-iron houses. The district was originally the favoured destination for Italian immigrants, and the colours of the houses derive from the Genoese custom of painting homes with the paint left over from boats. Boca’s other most characteristic emblem is its football team, Boca Juniors, the country’s most popular club and probably the most famous one abroad.
Named after the boca, or mouth, of the Río Riachuelo, which snakes along its southern border, Boca is an irregularly shaped barrio, longer than it is wide. Its main thoroughfare is Avenida Almirante Brown, which cuts through the neighbourhood from Parque Lezama to the towering iron Puente Transbordador that straddles the Riachuelo. Apart from some excellent pizzerias, there’s little to detain you along the avenue: the majority of Boca’s attractions are packed into the grids of streets on either side. Even then, there’s not a great deal to see as such, and unless you plan to visit all the museums an hour or two will suffice; morning is the ideal time to go, when the light best captures the district’s bright hues and before the tour buses arrive.
Be warned that Boca remains a poor neighbourhood and has an unfortunate reputation for crime, with muggings a fairly common occurrence. There’s no need to be paranoid, but it is advisable to stick strictly to the main tourist district and follow the advice of the police who patrol the area; keep expensive watches and cameras out of sight.
The true heart of Boca is Boca Juniors’ stadium, La Bombonera. Built in 1940, it was remodelled in the 1990s and the name – literally “the chocolate box” – refers to its compact structure; although Boca has more fans than any other Argentine team, the stadium’s capacity is smaller than that of most of its rivals. This is the place where many of the country’s best young players cut their teeth before heading to Europe on lucrative deals – the Bombonera’s most famous veteran is Diego Maradona, who retains a VIP seat at the stadium. Seeing a game here is an incredible experience, even for non-soccer fans.
Just inside the stadium entrance, there’s a large painting by famous local artist Benito Quinquela Martín entitled Orígen de la bandera de Boca (“the origin of Boca’s flag”), which illustrates one of the club’s most famous anecdotes. Though the exact date and circumstances of the event are disputed, all agree that Boca Juniors chose the colours of its strip from the flag of the next ship to pass through its then busy port. As the boat was Swedish, the distinctive blue and yellow strip was selected.
Around the stadium, a huddle of stalls and shops sell Boca souvenirs while, on the pavement outside the stadium, stars with the names of Boca players past and present, some featuring their footprints, were laid as part of the club’s centenary celebrations in 2005. Some of the neighbouring houses have taken up the blue and yellow theme, too, with facades painted like giant football shirts.