The Many Colors of La Boca

Last Thursday, we had a Spanish class field trip to La Boca, the gritty, colorful, formerly bustling port barrio that welcomed waves of Italian (mainly Genoese) immigrants in the 19th century. Those pictures of brightly painted yellow and blue and red wooden and metal houses that you see in brochures advertising Buenos Aires? That’s La Boca – and more specifically, that’s the area around El Caminito, a cool-looking tourist trap that is meant to be a living museum of what La Boca once was. Those poor Genoese dockworkers used leftover paint from the ships to brighten their abodes – thus the rainbow of El Caminito. Most actual houses in La Boca have lost these bright colors as the area became poorer. There are a lot of squatters and a lot of multi-family apartments in La Boca now, part of why guidebooks warn tourists from straying from the area right around El Caminito and the Bombonera soccer stadium.

Tourist trap or not, it was cold and a Thursday, so it wasn’t too crowded. We started off with a quick visit to the museum dedicated to Benito Quinquela Martín, a man who painted the ships of the port of La Boca and was instrumental in creating (recreating?) El Caminito as an homage to La Boca.

Then we froze more and walked along El Caminito and a street parallel. On the weekends, there are tango shows in the restaurants, which have tiny dance platforms so the dancers can attract customers. (I’m sneaking in a photo or two from Saturday, when I went back to La Boca to take a graffiti tour and there were actual dancers out there.)

People have told me that La Boca (by which they mean El Caminito) is over-rated. I’d honestly just say that you need to set appropriate expectations for yourself. There are only three or four blocks to see, but those blocks, especially when there aren’t too many tourists walking around, are bright and vibrant and lovely.

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