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Besos from Buenos Aires: the pride of Latin America.

When it comes to finding the best travel destinations, only a few cities in the world have a true mix of diverse and tolerant cultures embedded in their way of life. One of those cities is Buenos Aires. Its rich cultural heritage stems from the immigrants--from Spain, Italy, France, and Germany--who have made Argentina their home.

The capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires is situated on the Plata River (so vast you could mistake it for an ocean) and embellishes its South American ambience with European flourishes most noticeable in the design and layout of its plazas. parks, and boulevards, and in the quality and variety of its fashion boutiques and galleries. The ornate facades adorning hotels and apartments may have you thinking you've stumbled into 19th-century Paris. Other European qualities include greetings with a kiss (males included), wine with most meals, a penchant for art in everyday life, and the kind of crazy driving you think you'd see only in Rome.

Some time ago, Buenos Aires was labeled the gay mecca of Latin America--after all, it's had civil unions since 2002 and gay marriage countrywide since 2009.

WHERE TO STAY

There are many different accommodation options in BA--from upscale business hotels, to elegant, palatial structures built during the belle epoque, to contemporary, style-centric and gay-friendly hotels. I stayed at the Be Hotel, formerly the super-gay Axel Hotel (its tagline is "hetero friendly.") The Be continues to attract gay and lesbian guests, possibly because of its handy location in the San Telmo area, a short walk from the tango neighborhood, nightlife, cafes, grocery stores, and most of the main sights of BA. Plus, the minimalist decor with furniture by Eames, Mies van der Rohe, and Eileen Gray, the night-clubby bar, and a swimming pool on the terrace don't hurt! The rooms are compact and industrial in their finishes but have everything you need. The showers are open-plan prisms of polished concrete and glass, quite the novelty. Free Wi-Fi and a buffet breakfast will get your day off to a good start.

If you prefer to stay in Palermo, known as the gay district of Buenos Aires and situated 20 minutes from the city center, we were also recommended the BA Sohotel (basohotel.com), a bright and spacious art hotel with deluxe king and corner suites, a pool, and a Jacuzzi, or the chicly decorated Vitrium, where the wallpaper is designed by Isaac Mizrahi! (vitriumhotel.com).

WHAT TO DO

If you're staying at the Be Hotel, a short walk to the end of the street brings you to the Feria de San Telmo in Plaza Dorrego, an antiques and flea market held on weekends. But it's the neighborhood of Palermo that really offers retail attractions for design-savvy gay folk and culinary adventurers who want to get beyond the requisite tango posters, the Argentine beef and empanadas. The businesses in this area are up-to-the-minute in fashion, food, and fine arts, contributing to a very pleasant streetscape.

Buenos Aires has many interesting neighborhoods, so my advice is to walk, walk, and walk. You never know what you'll stumble upon, but it is a big city, so keep your wits about you and always know where your wallet is. La Recoleta Cemetery is a must, whatever your take on the afterlife. This necropolis is home to its most famous resident, Eva Peron--and countless cats. Peruse over 4,000 intricately carved vaults and crypts, and marvel at the wealth this city attracted at the height of its power.

Snap back into life with a tango show at one of the numerous theater restaurants in the city. If the paradigm of male-female dance partners is too straight for your taste, check out Mariana Docampo's Tango Queer (tangoqueer.com) while you're in town. The bold aesthetic of the tango is also found in La Boca, an old port neighborhood with brightly colored buildings, where artists sell their equally vivid, tango-inspired artworks on the street.

For something even more lively, and close to your heart, if your visit is in November, La Marcha del Orgullo is the local version of a Gay Pride parade. Here, gays, lesbians, genderqueer, allies, and exhibitionists gather to celebrate the rainbow community's visible presence in the city.

WHERETO EAT AND DRINK

You'll have no shortage of steak and good, cheap red wine, but there are also many other choices, from sushi to tapas. For a little romance, I can recommend Milion (milion.com.ar), a tempting gem of an establishment in a beautiful colonial building. Begin your evening with a perfectly mixed drink upstairs at the chic yet welcoming bar, where the resident black cat may just be invited by the bartender to lap from a martini glass of water to a bossa nova beat. Downstairs, the modern Latin American cuisine is served al fresco, and the wait staff is sophisticated and friendly. If you want to check out the gay restaurant, Inside (insiderestobar.com) is a cozy, campy choice. Don't go for the food (bland), go for the atmosphere, the plasma screens playing Madonna in concert, and the saucy attitude of the wait staff--you'll possibly be offered freshly ground pepper from a very phallic peppermill.

IF YOU GO

American Airlines (aa.com), with its gay-friendly service and familiar hospitality, is a good choice for a long flight to another hemisphere. More information and ideas for itineraries at argentina.travel.

MEET THE LOCALS

LAETITIA ORSETTI, DIRECTOR, FAB WEDDINGS

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD FOR LESBIANS

Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood, walking distance from the best bars and restaurants and super chill environment. I Have lived here myself for 10 years and still love it like the first day!

YOUR FAVORITE TANGO RESTAURANT

La Marshall Milonga Gay en El Beso-the gay one! (lamarshallmilonga.com.ar) and Rojo Tango en the Faena Hotel-simply beautiful although much more pricy (rojotangoshow.com)

BEST GAY BARS OR NIGHTCLUBS FOR LESBIANS

Fiesta Jolie is the new best party night on Wednesday for girls (located in TAZZ on Armenia Street). Casa Brandon is once a month in Niceto Club and is one of the most inclusive LGBT parties in BA. Pink Just for Us is just for girls and runs downtown. Glam nightclub holds a girls' night called Unna on Fridays. Fiesta Dorothy (once every three months) is surreal! Fiesta Plop (every Friday) is very fun. Fiesta Eyeliner is for those who identify as queer, pop-rocker and underground. Ultimate is a new experience about to be launched especially for foreigners who want to visit all the clubs within a couple of days. Look it up when you arrive to BA! VIP treatment all night long.

YOUR SECRET PLACE YOU'D BE WILLING TO SHARE

II Matterello in La Boca (next to the famous soccer stadium). The lasagna is a must eat platter if visiting this colorful yet a bit sketchy neighborhood. But remember cash only (which with the black market exchange rate is worth the trip.)

BEST TIME FOR LESBIANS TO VISIT BA

Summertime, between the months of November and March. Christmas and New Year's is a nonstop party week with panoramic fireworks across the city on both nights!

To plan a lesbian Argentine wedding, go to: fabulousweddings.com.ar

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Title Annotation:FEATURES/SCENE
Author:Johns, Merryn
Publication:Curve
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Jul 1, 2014
Words:1207
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