Yes, you know about the San Telmo market in Buenos Aires and yes, you’ve been told to get your gifts there – but do you have a plan of action for this massive weekly takeover? No? Well, get your pen ready. I have some notes that can help act as your survival guide on how to navigate this fair like a pro.
The San Telmo fair is by far the best known and popular of the bunch. This is great because it brings artists and vendors offering just about every thing you could want. This is daunting because it brings artists and vendors offering just about every thing you could want. So, we’ll start at the Plaza de Mayo (because it extends all the way up there now) and work our way down. The street you’re looking for is Defensa. Here, you will find vendors lining the 10 blocks all the way to Plaza Dorrego. Let’s just set some ground rules, now. There’s no, “let’s look first and come back for after we’ve seen everything to buy.” You don’t have 10 hours to spare, your legs will fall off before that happens, and you’ll be one of those panicked, crazed eyes shoppers running through the masses trying to collect your souvenirs before the 5 o’clock witching hour hits and the stands shut it down until the next week.
Now, that we have that settled – to the gifts! First up – the very “affordable” trinkets like fridge magnets and tiny tangoing statues. If you like kitsch (and who doesn’t sometimes?) this is where you’ll fill your basket. Next, a great collection of talented painters show off their work atop easels. There’s a style to fit every taste here, so you should find that perfect original piece capturing your favorite representation of BA. The next several blocks will be covered by a lot of stands selling the same mix of standard and popular souvenirs as well as some antiques thrown in for good measure. Feel free to go ahead and make your obligatory mate and alpargata purchases here. There are a few unique gems that offer some items you’ll be pressed to find in the rest of the fair. Two stands sell beautiful, handmade serving trays – one of them wood carved and the other silver cast. The workmanship on the pieces is fantastic and you’ll be commended for bringing back something beautiful and useful as well! As you finally make to home stretch to the last block before the plaza, you’ll start to see all of the performers.
A quintessential tango guitar player, Jack Sparrow, a man that looks like he’s running really fast – they’re all here. Take some great photos, but be sure to contribute to the arts and drop a few pesos into their bucket. Around this area, you’ll see a stand with some beautiful leather pieces. This craftsman creates nice covers for your notebooks, laptops, and tablets. They’re reasonably priced and oh, so soft! At no extra cost, he’ll engrave a name on the front, making it a wonderful personalized prize.
Finally, you’re heading into plaza for the antiques. Let me just warn you now, you may suffer from sticker shock here. Those gorgeous multi-colored syphon bottles? Expect to pay around $30 – $100 for each one. An old poker chip set? That’ll be $200 please. Yes, I’m speaking in U.S. dollars. For the budget minded, a camera might be the best way to remember this part of the fair. But be sure to ask as some vendors don’t take kindly to your lens, and if you see a photo tip bucket, you know the drill – contribute for your shutterbug ways.
Now, all is said and done, you’ve bravely navigated to main thoroughfares, side streets and tiny stores along the way. You clutch your prizes, exhausted but proud of your savvy shopping skills. You deserve a Malbec! Grab one of the balcony tables surrounding the Plaza to watch the square transform from market to dance hall as the sun sets and the dancing begins. The area turns into a tango spot where locals dance and play beautiful music into the night. It’s the perfect end to your productive day in Buenos Aires.
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