Born amidst 19th-century corruption, modern Puerto Madero is an attempt to reclaim the riverfront, which languished off-limits during the military dictatorship of 1976–1983. Comparable in some ways to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and London’s Docklands, it has recycled the handsome brick depósitos (warehouses) around its four large diques (basins) into stylish lofts, offices, restaurants, bars, and cinemas. The late director Fabián Bielinsky used its promenade for an entertaining chase scene in his con-man film Nine Queens.
Built on landfill east of the river’s barrancas, what is now Puerto Madero expanded during the dictatorship as the military dumped debris from its massive public works projects east and southeast of the diques. Ironically enough, as native plants and animals colonized the rubble and rubbish, it became the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur (Avenida Tristán Achával Rodríguez 1550, tel. 011/4893-1597), now a popular destination for Sunday outings, cyclists, and joggers—not to mention a cruising area for the capital’s gays. Hours are 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday, when reservations can be made by phone; there are guided tours weekends and holidays at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and moonlight tours at 8:30 p.m. on given Fridays—by previous Monday’s reservation only.
Sequentially numbered from south to north, the four rectangular basins include a 450-berth yacht harbor at Dique No. 3; docked here, the Museo Fragata Sarmiento (tel. 011/4334-9386, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$0.60, children under 5 free), an early-20th-century naval training vessel, is a national historical monument.
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s Puente de la Mujer is a modernistic pedestrian suspension bridge whose rotating center section allows vessels to pass between Dique No. 3 and Dique No. 2. At the northernmost Dique No. 4, the Buque Museo A.R.A. Corbeta Uruguay (tel. 011/4314-1090, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$0.60) rescued Norwegian explorers Carl Skottsberg and Otto Nordenskjöld from Antarctica in 1903. Dating from 1874, it’s the oldest Argentine vessel still afloat.
Several original cranes remain in place along the west side of the basins, where British engineers designed the redbrick warehouses. Work on the east-side buildings was slower to progress during the economic crisis, but the riverfront is finally making a contribution to Buenos Aires’s livability.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition