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 that the barrio was seceding 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 to the main tourist district and follow the advice of the police who patrol the area. The barrio is easily reached on foot from Parque Lezama or by bus #86 from Plaza de Mayo or #53 from Constitución; it’s also on the route of the city government’s tour bus.