Buenos Aires may be loved by visitors from across the globe, but for most, it is thoughts of tango and steak rather than tofu and Sirsasana (Headstand) that spring to mind when planning a visit to Argentina’s lively capital.
The Buenos Aires stereotypes are only half the story. If you’d prefer your jaunts to local milongas (tango dance parties) to be interspersed with a hefty dose of yoga and delicious vegetarian cuisine, Buenos Aires offers an excellent yoga holiday with a tango twist.
WHERE TO START
Before you arrive in Buenos Aires, the picture you’ll probably have in mind is an image of Eva Perón (known affectionately as Evita) standing on the balcony of the Casa Rosada, the large pink mansion at the eastern end of the Plaza de Mayo.
While it could be that you’re well versed in Argentina’s political history (Perón was officially designated as the Spiritual Leader of the Nation by the Argentine Congress), it’s just as likely this is down to Madonna. The actor made both Casa Rosada and its much-loved former First Lady famous for a new generation with her 1996 film portrayal of the actress and workers’ champion.
While Casa Rosada and the capital’s centre are both worth a visit, try something different; after seeing the Plaza de Mayo’s sights, make time to sample the excellent two-storey vegan restaurant, Picnic (at Florida 102, the centre’s main shopping thoroughfare). Then ditch the centre and spend your holiday in Buenos Aires’ diverse neighbourhoods instead.
Start in San Telmo, a short walk from the Casa Rosada. The cobbled streets of this traditional barrio and tiny walkways of Buenos Aires’ bohemian centre are an excellent place to while away the hours. San Telmo’s bars are busy every night, but visitors flock here every Sunday for the weekly antiques market, which sees the streets around Plaza Dorrego closed off and lined with discoveries from silver spoons to chandeliers.
While Sundays are a great introduction to Buenos Aires’ market culture, it’s worth coming back during the week for a more tranquil San Telmo experience. Start with a meal at the cute and cosy vegetarian restaurant Naturaleza Sabia at Balcarce 958. Once you’ve let the food settle, roll out a mat in a hidden yoga studio at Carlos Calvo 950. This architecturally designed space manages to combine a six-room boutique hotel, tango studio (details for both can be found at www.mariposita. com.ar) and one of the three sites for Buena Onda Yoga (www.buenaondayoga.wordpress.com). There’s no sign, so arrival is somewhat disconcerting, but buzzing and saying “Yoga?” into the intercom generally works. Eventually, a local will arrive and lead you past the tango studio and across the garden to join one of Buena Onda’s flowing hatha classes, in English.
“Buena onda” means good wave or good vibration and, according to yoga teacher and co-founder of Buena Onda Yoga, Meghan Lewis, there’s now plenty of it in Buenos Aires. “The phrase is used widely by people of all ages and walks of life here,” she says. “It can describe a person, a situation or a place. Like ‘I like that restaurant, it has muy buena onda’ or ‘So you’ll come with us? Que buena onda!’ We settled on that name because we want the studio and community to be totally open and welcoming.”
According to Lewis, who lives in San Telmo, the yoga scene in Buenos Aires has grown rapidly over the past few years. “When I first got here, a search for yoga in English yielded nothing at all,” she recalls.
Now, things have changed. As well as Buena Onda’s offerings in San Telmo, Recoleta and Las Cañitas, yogis can head to the Palermo neighbourhood for classes at Valletierra or check out several Ashtanga studios, a Bikram studio and numerous Iyengar classes that are found across the city.
In fact, the city’s diverse yoga offerings are a great excuse for exploring the many different neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. Spend a day enjoying La Boca’s famous colourful houses before jumping in a taxi to visit the local Sivananda yoga centre (Sánchez de Bustamante 2372 in Barrio Norte, www.sivananda.org/ buenosaires). Or, after visiting Recoleta’s famous cemetery, grab a healthy meal at a branch of organic cafe Natural Deli at Laprida 1672 (www.natural-deli.com).
You’ll also want to hang out in Palermo, where the food, fashion and yoga are all top notch. In contrast to the rambling vibe in San Telmo, Palermo is hip, modern and occasionally slick. The region is divided nto three main sections: Palermo Viejo, Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho. Allow time here—you could easily spend a couple of hours at the Eva Perón Museum (Lafinur 2988, www.evitaperon.org), another couple sipping tea in one of the cafes dotting Plaza Serrano, and days immersing yourself in the local fashion trail around Plaza Palermo Viejo.
An alternative to these more commercially minded pursuits is a welcome urban haven in the area at Costa Rica 4562. Here, Palermo Soho’s Valletierra yoga school (www.valletierra. com) offers a rooftop restaurant, natural juice bar and cascading water fountains, as well as yoga classes in Spanish or English.
The studio has deliberately chosen to offer a variety of yoga styles including hatha, Iyengar and Kundalini. Coordinator Mandy Aloi, explains, “In Buenos Aires, many of the yoga studios tended to focus on only one type of yoga, but there has never been just one type of yoga in this world. Valletierra was started from the belief that all types of yoga should be honoured and practiced.”
Although the yoga world is traditionally for early birds, in Buenos Aires the city’s late-night culture is thriving. Buena Onda’s monthly MoonLight Yoga event
starts at 9.30 p.m. and wraps up at around 1.30 a.m. Musicians play during a 90-minute class that is held above a cooking studio off the tourist trail.
“The music really helps to both unite the people in the room and help us each connect more deeply to our own breath, body and sensations as the class flows along,” Lewis says.
Once students rise from the extra-long Savasana (blissed out from both the practice, and the mini-head massages), the group bonds over a vegetarian meal. “The meal always includes some element of spice and the presentation is beautiful,” says Lewis.
With your yogi heart sated, you can’t leave Buenos Aires without a tango fix. To learn the moves, Lewis recommends tango classes at Estudio La Esquina (www.estudiola esquina.blogspot.com.ar). For a wild tango orchestra experience, numerous local yogis recommend Fernandez Fierro in Almagro (www.caff.com.ar).
In a city known by many as one of the world’s meat capitals, it’s surprising just how many healthy alternatives can be found in Buenos Aires. “There are great salads at Territorio [corner of Estados Unidos and Bolívar] or at El Refuerzo [Chacabuco 872]. Avenida Caseros is also getting full of healthy restaurants and sometimes they have an organic market in the street,” says Lewis.
Websites like www.happycow.net also show a surprising number of vegetarian offerings, including many listed here. However, the real local dining happens behind closed doors. Puerta cerradas, literally meaning “closed door”, are a citywide tradition; guests pay to join a communal meal in a local cook’s home. Try Jueves a la Mesa, from the multi-talented Meghan Lewis (juevesalamesa.wordpress.com) or Diego Felix’s Colectivo Felix (www.colectivofelix.com), which has received rave reviews from across the globe.
“I can create a whole menu based on what is available that same day and have the freedom to cook what I want,” Felix says, on the joys of being a home-based chef.
Five-course meals kick off at 9.30 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Booking in advance is essential, as spots fill fast.
Sue White is a Sydney-based freelance writer and author of the smartphone app Yoga Holidays Worldwide.
visit: Eco Yoga Park
While Buenos Aires is a captivating city, at some point you’ll want a break from the traffic and general urban chaos. The answer? Eco Yoga Park (www.ecoyogapark.com), an inspiring yoga retreat centre just 60km out of the city.
Running since 1996, Eco Yoga Park is located in a rural area just outside Buenos Aires. Surrounded by the green lands of La Pampa, Argentina, it is home to a community of diverse people who work together towards a holistic lifestyle. The vibe is warm and relaxed.
Local resident Hari, says: “We aim to live in harmony with the environment, working with projects that focus on self-sustainability. Our hope is to share the ideologies of our form of life: simple, harmonious, ecological, with a high moral and spiritual value.”
Visitors come for the day or longer to enjoy vegetarian and vegan food, the village’s organic gardens and yoga. “Everybody can come here, it’s not necessary to be an expert in yoga,” he adds.
During your stay, expect to dine both healthily and well. “The majority of the food consumed in our vegetarian/vegan restaurant is produced in our very own organic garden,” says Hari.
It’s part of a holistic healing theme that runs through the entire complex. Buildings use eco-construction techniques, there’s a gallery of Conscious Art and a school of yoga and meditation, where daily hatha yoga classes are supplemented by Oriental philosophy courses, mantra and Vedic culture.
“Through these daily practices, one can experience the peace, tranquillity and satisfaction that can be attained through our ancient traditions,” says Hari, noting that the centre is part of an international network of eco villages.