By Matt Chesterton
October 20, 2014
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Where to Stay in San Telmo, Buenos Aires
Credit: iStockphoto

South of Avenida Rivadavia, Buenos Aires changes. Gone are the wide avenues that curve around patriotic monuments: gone, too, the aristocratic mansions, the trim parks and gardens, the government buildings and (though this is finally changing) the subway stations. As you pass from Monserrat into San Telmo, the streets narrow and darken, the vibe becomes edgier, the buildings shrink and the atmosphere thickens.

Tourists love San Telmo, a neighborhood with inexhaustible reserves of character. But they tend not to stay there. We’ve been hearing for years that San Telmo is the “next hotspot,” ready to be scrubbed down and gentrified. And then it never quite happens and we’re not sure whether to be sad or relieved. In the meantime, there is much to be gained from immersing yourself in this fascinating barrio, as opposed to just parachuting in for the Sunday market. Stubbornly bohemian, begrimed and romantic, the south has a way of getting under your skin.

Hotel Babel

Arty and stylish but also friendly and unpretentious, this mid-range boutique hotel captures the spirit of San Telmo better than most. It’s housed in a handsome old building from the late 19th century, with all nine guestrooms (each equipped with a comfy king bed and tiled bathroom) arranged around the central patio.

Moreno Hotel

With its flawlessly restored stone-and-tile exterior (the building is an Art Deco construction from 1929), the Moreno will have you at the architectural equivalent of hello. Cage-style elevators and original stained-glass windows add character, the terrace enjoys remarkable views across San Telmo, and the staff is sweet and helpful. Some of the guestrooms are so big you may wonder whether your porter took a wrong turn.

Mansión Vitraux

This terrific boutique hotel get its name from its stained-glass skylight, one of several features retained from the original 1898 property which has otherwise been completely modernized. Guestrooms are small but vivid, with cool design features like antique nightstands and 90-inch projector screens. I loved the spa, too, where you can cocoon yourself in a basket chair and swing across a tiny pool.

San Telmo Luxury Suites

The location of this property is just about perfect; a number of top-notch restaurants and bars sit within a one-block radius, and San Telmo Market and Plaza Dorrego are just a short stroll south. That said, the dozen spacious and genuinely luxurious split-level suites may tempt you to stay in, as might the roof terrace. Be sure to walk half a block east to meet Mafalda, Argentina’s most beloved cartoon character (there’s a statue of her sitting on a park bench).

Tiana Boutique Hotel

It won’t win any design awards or get short- or hot- or top-listed by any glossy travel mags, but Tiana is just the ticket if you’re looking for a pleasant, no-drama stay in the heart of San Telmo. The staff is extremely warm and helpful; just tell them what you like to eat, and they’ll direct you to a good restaurant within a three-block radius.