La Boca is a notoriously dangerous neighbourhood in the South-East of Buenos Aires and after reading reports of violent muggings I was quite honestly shitting myself about going. Never the less, it is recommended as a must see that tons of tourists visit without incident. Guidebooks instruct to only take a small amount of cash and your camera, nothing else. They also specify not to venture out of the tourist area onto any side streets. Now this is all well and good, I thought, but what if we veer off by accident, what if we get lost? And how will we know when it’s safe to get off the bus or where the tourist area actually is? There were supposed to be some great photo opportunities but I really didn't want to have to hand over our spangly new camera to a thief!
A bit of history, La Boca was the first port to be built in Buenos Aires and quite literally means 'the mouth'. Many Italian immigrants settled in the neighbourhood and built houses out of corrugated iron left over from industrial warehouses on the port, decorating them in brightly coloured left over paint from the ships. The port is now unused and is extremely polluted and dirty, it looks more like a swamp than a river in some places with tyres sitting on top of stagnant rubbish. The neighbourhood around it is very poor, hence the high crime rates.
The not-to-be-stepped-out-of tourist area comprises of 3 streets made up of photogenic, rainbow coloured, ramshackle houses and cobbled pedestrian streets with tango dancers performing. These are the well-known images splashed across many a travel brochure. Our Argentine family who were with us commented on how it had grown considerably over the last decade from just a single street. And there were new additions of giant gaudy papier-mache statues of famous figures adorning balconies and street corners.
Of course football fans will know La Boca for being the home of the world-renowned football club, Boca Juniors - another reason it’s a big tourist trap. People piled off several tour buses in the short time we were there but the crowds make it easy to see where it was safe to be and not safe to be. (Top tip: if you ask, the bus drivers will tell you were to get off, so work out how to ask in Spanish beforehand if don’t speak the language). So safety wise it turns out I was catastrophising unnecessarily; every tourist had a camera in their hand happily snapping away. Obviously you need to keep your wits about you as you do anywhere unfamiliar, but in fact the closest we came to any kind of confrontation was the day after back in Palermo when J got called a 'Puta' (whore) by a passing 'River' fan cyclist for wearing his newly purchased 'Boca Juniors' shirt!
So our opinion? La Boca is intriguingly peculiar and definitely worth a visit. Enjoy the sights and the history, stay alert and safe and ignore the tack.
Here's a few more of our favourite snaps! (click left/right at the edges to scroll across)