San Telmo, the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, has a storied history of good times and bad. The first industrial area in the city, this southern neighborhood began as a port town, home to sailors and brothels. Yet the early 19th century brought the first wave of gentrification, with wealthy families settling in the neighbohood in beautiful grand mansions, many of which remain today and give the neighborhood its historic vibe (as do the quaint cobblestone streets). However, the yellow fever epidemic in 1877 led these families to flee to La Recoleta, which explains the beautiful late 19th-century buildings there.
Now over a century after the epidemic, San Telmo has experienced another surge of gentrification. Though its not as popular of a destination as its northern neighbors, San Telmo attracts tourists with its tango houses (San Telmo is the birthplace of the Argentinian tango), weekly markets in Plaza Dorrego (the second oldest square in Buenos Aires and the center of San Telmo), and numerous restaurants, art galleries, and antique shops. There are few major sites in the neighborhood -- among the few museums are the National History Museum (with only Spanish captions) and the Museum of Modern Art (MAMBA) -- but the architecture is a real draw. Famous, and architecturally significant, structures in the neighborhood include a freedman's home built in the 1800s, the Ezeiza Mansion, and a system of tunnels under the ruins of an 18th-century mansion. There is also an attractive park with a sculpture garden.
San Telmo can be dangerous at night (especially if you venture off of the main streets), but its romantic and historic vibe make it a great place to visit, even if only for a few hours. Some believe it is the best spot in Buenos Aires to watch the sunset over the grand old buildings.
Though real estate prices have begun to skyrocket in the area, San Telmo is still home to numerous budget hotels and hostels. Stay on the northern edge of the neighborhood to be closest to Microcentro, the heart of the city.
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