Three Ways to Experience Buenos Aires Like a Local

Aah, Buenos Aires. Tour guides call it the "Paris of South America," or the jewel of the south. But Buenos Aires is so much more than Paris' Latin American shadow; the city is full of a unique mix of sights, sounds, and activities that visitors can't find anywhere else. Unfortunately, it can be hard to know how to get started.

Guidebooks have plenty of information on the must-see tourist attractions in "Good Airs." Tourists can visit anything from the improbably pink presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, to the San Telmo market every Sunday, or join one of the many walking tours, bike tours, wine tours ... the list goes on.

But there is another side to Buenos Aires, a less user-friendly but definitely more authentic way to experience the city. If you're spending more than a few days and want to live it up like a porteño — as the people who live in the port city of Buenos Aires are called — check out these common local activities.

1. First Things First--Speak Like a Local
People relaxing at boardwalk cafe, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaDennis Hallinan/Getty

Trying to brush up on your Spanish skills? Buenos Aires can be a difficult place to practice, with all of the slang flying around. But with a few basics, Argentine terms start to make a lot more sense.

When you're speaking to your friends, try using "che!" to grab their attention. You'll feel like Ché Guevara (yes, that's where his nickname comes from) and fit right in.

Once you've mastered "che!" graduate to "che boludo!" which translates to "hey dude!" Be careful who you call a "boludo" though, as it can also be a mild insult. Use only with your friends.

Feeling overwhelmed? You might be experiencing a "quilombo," which means a mess or a problem. If you hear someone say "Que quilombo!" it means things are not going according to plan.

To make everyone feel better after dealing with a quilombo, have a nice cold "birra," or beer.

2. Drink Mate in the Park
Traditional Argentina yerba mate tea beverage in calabash and bombilla in rustic style on vintage wooden backgroundGetty Images/iStockphoto

What are those green lumps of discarded leaves that dot the sidewalks and fill trash bins? No, Buenos Aires doesn't have a drug problem — those are leftovers from drinking mate, an infusion not unlike tea that is popular in Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Chile.

On a sunny day, every park in the city will be full of families and friends enjoying the weather--and drinking mate. If you want to join in, you can find a mate (the receptacle used to drink the infusion) in any larger supermarket, street fair or tourist shop. The yerba (the tea-like herbs that give the infusion its flavor) is available in any supermarket. Simply fill a thermos with hot water, head to the park, and enjoy.

3. Check Out the Museums — at a discount
National Art Museum, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaBruce Clarke/Getty

Buenos Aires has tons of cultural activities available, for those so inclined. But why break the bank? Most museums in Buenos Aires, such as the MALBA (museum of Latin American art) and the Fortabat Collection in Puerto Madero are half-price on Wednesdays. Grab your friends and gear up for a museum marathon.

Bear in mind that some museums, such as the Museo de Bellas Artes (museum of fine arts) are free all week, so you might want to save those for a different day.

There you have it; a few simple ways to feel like a local in Buenos Aires. Remember, porteños are very proud of their city, so don't hesitate to ask questions or explore off the beaten path. There are always more hidden treasures to be discovered.

Sam Harrison is a writer based in Buenos Aires.