Paul Rush feels the beating heart of an electric city of uninhibited charm.
The passionate people of Buenos Aires love to dance. It's a desire embedded deep in their cultural psyche. When portenos (as the locals are called) are not dancing the tango on balmy, sultry Latin nights, they're watching futbol, a game that is followed with religious fervour.
You will also find portenos promenading around their architecturally striking city, immersed in animated conversation and resplendent in the latest chic wear from Italy, France and Spain.
At other times they will be discussing politics while dining on the finest beef in restaurants that are fully booked from midnight until 2am - when the nightclubs start to hum. Buenos Aires is the city that never sleeps. Just arrived from Auckland I'm not about to emulate the fast-paced life of the portenos tonight.
The morning sees me stepping out to experience the elegant, Paris-inspired boulevards, avenues and alleyways of this great city of 14 million. Buenos Aires took its first colonial steps in the barrio (neighbourhood) of Plaza de Mayo, close to the River Plate, so it's appropriate to begin my walking tour here.
From under the gleaming white Pyramid of May, I do a double take. Am I really in South America? I shake my head in wonder, as all the stately buildings appear to be faithful reproductions of Old World edifices that line Rome and Paris.
My city guide says there was a boom time around 1900 when cattle were king and wheat was gold. Architects went to Europe and returned with design ideas that would turn the "Great Village" of good airs into "Paris of the Pampas".
A rosy pink palace catches my eye in the Plaza de Mayo. The Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) was originally painted in a mixture of lime and bovine blood. The door is open on the first floor speech balcony. I can visualise one-time President Juan Domingo Peron and Evita addressing the assembled crowd. It was from here the charismatic Evita wooed her beloved "shirtless ones" with an emotional plea: "Don't cry for me, Argentina."
I'm also drawn to the colonnaded, neoclassical splendour of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Inside is a buzz of activity around the ornate baroque altar. I solemnly approach the statue of Jesus Christ of the Football Players, where the national team and thousands of supporters come to pray for victory each championship year. Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986.
Later, along the Avenida de Mayo, I come to a prominent red sign, "Cafe Tortoni 1858". This was the first French cafe in the city. The pleasant aroma of freshly-brewed coffee leads me into the dark-panelled, generously-mirrored interior to order a cortado (strong espresso) and medialunas (sweet croissant), just as the conoscente did in the 19th century.
Diners are huddled in close conversation and appear to be demonstrative when speaking. It's the porteno way. They are stylishly dressed. I might well be sitting in a cafe in Milan or Madrid. Continuing my walking tour, I stumble over a weird architectural creation festooned with gargoyles and demonic figures. The Palacio Barolo was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. The entry lobby is decorated as the inferno of Hell, the middle floors are Purgatory and the upper floors signify Heaven. I take a bumpy ride in an ancient iron-framed lift, not to enter the pearly gates but for a celestial view.
Catching an inexpensive black and yellow cab (one of 60,000 in the city) I head to Avenue Ninth of July. I stand under the shiny white obelisk that proclaims Argentina's independence from Spain and listen to the throb and thrum of a thousand vehicles traversing the 20 lanes of traffic on the world's widest avenue.
At this point I'm rather overwhelmed. Like Paris, this city has a certain je ne sais quoi that compels attention. The variety of architecture is surprising and the city is at once bewildering and beguiling with a subtle blend of old and new.
I stroll east to the main shopping streets of Sante Fe and Florida. In the Galerias Pacifico shopping complex, I see an impressive range of fashion wear, leather goods, jewellery and books and sample mouthwatering helado (icecream).
My day of promenading has created an appetite. I find an Asado restaurant offering delicious meat cuts from carcasses suspended over an open charcoal fire. With 50 million beef cattle on the pampas and 6000 restaurants in the city, restaurateurs don't skimp on portions. A palatable Malbec wine rounds off the meal.
Day two, I jump on a collectivo (bus) to Recoleta, one of the city's wealthiest districts. Among the designer boutiques, ritzy cafes, tango dancing couples, artists, clowns and human statues is one of Buenos Aires' greatest sights - Recoleta Cemetery.
Instantly I am lost in a marble-walled labyrinth. I find Eva Peron's modest resting place, where fresh flowers attest to the lasting devotion of the portenos.
A taxi ride takes me to Calle Defensa, the main street of San Telmo district. I'm intrigued by the faded grandeur of the buildings and the people's free, bohemian spirit. There's an unpretentious, working-class charm about this barrio with its antique dealers, street entertainment, tango dance demonstrations and cafe culture. For lunch I have a choice of generous portions of pasta, parrilla (barbecued meat) or pizza, which I finally select and it's delicious.
It's fascinating how Buenos Aires is so cosmopolitan and diverse. Some neighbourhoods have been significantly gentrified and are slick and flashy, like San Telmo. Others retain an historic, downtrodden look, like my final destination.
La Boca is the cradle of tango and home to the La Boca Juniors, Argentina's greatest football team. In the Football Museum I meet a larger-than-life statue of Diego Maradona, an idolised national hero. I stroll down the tourist trap of El Caminito, an alleyway with eyecatching murals and corrugated iron-clad buildings decorated in unbelievably garish colours.
Buenos Aires is an exciting destination, a European-style pleasures and sights, laced with loads of Latin verve and energy. For the Kiwi traveller it's inexpensive because of our favourable exchange rate.
After two days on the trot I rate Buenos Aires one of the best walking cities on Earth. The avenues are perfectly flat, there are ample cool, shady resting places in parks and gardens and many relaxing corner cafes. It's a city where you can step out in confidence and see everything. Allow several days to appreciate the elegance and charm. Don't miss any of it.
Getting there: Air New Zealand begins flying three days a week from Auckland to Buenos Aires in December.
Accommodation: The Tanguero Hotel in Suipacha is also an excellent choice being just one block from the central section of Avenue Ninth of July.
Details: A wide range of half and full-day excursions are available through the tour desk at most hotels. Buenos Aires is a city that is easy to walk around. You can take in the Plaza de Mayo precinct with its cathedral and presidential palace, Plaza del Congresso, Plaza de la Republica and Plaza Eva Peron in San Telmo within a comfortable day of hoofing it.
The writer travelled with assistance from Adventure World.