Tango dancers enjoy the Sunday night milonga in San Telmo‘s Plaza Dorrego. There are various milongas that take place on Sunday in San Telmo, but the Milonga del Indio, as the outdoor dance in Plaza Dorrego is known, is the most popular for visitors and locals, amateur and professional dancers alike.
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There is always a lot to see and do in ‘The Republic of San Telmo,’ but the colorful Sunday street fair is the bohemian neighborhood’s biggest attraction.
The Feria de San Telmo began as a 270-stall antiques market in 1971, and has grown into a huge come-as-you-are street bazaar that draws over 12,000 people every week.
The heart of the antique wares are congregated around Plaza Dorrego but the entire outdoor market stretches down 13 blocks of the cobblestone Defensa Street and off onto a few side lanes. From 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Defensa Street is completely pedestrian and packed with entertainers jockeying for attention and an international array of street vendors who display their goods on the pavement. The offerings include antiquities from Argentina’s glory days, original art, funky clothing, homemade snacks, and pretty much whatever else someone can think to slap with a price tag.
Scanning the antiques in Plaza Dorrego can give you a glimpse into Argentina’s heady past, although long gone are the days where one can find bargained-priced historic treasures.
Better deals can be found among the ‘unofficial’ street fair vendors, who today make up the bulk of the market. Since 2005 some local shopkeepers and residents have pushed for the street side hawkers to be removed, claiming that their presence obstructs the sidewalks.
As usual in Argentina, the conflict culminated in protests. Finally city officials reaffirmed that those who sell homemade ‘artisan items’ are entitled to stay, as are the musicians and other entertainers. Black market goods aren’t permitted, but they still make it into the fringes of the market. The San Telmo Fair continues as always and is larger than ever and drawing more enterprising free spirits and tourists every week.
Among the buskers and street merchants along Defensa Street you’ll meet some whimsical characters and can find some unique handmade gifts, often at exceptional prices.
For non-shoppers the street fair offers plenty of free entertainment and some of Buenos Aires’ most interesting people watching.
‘Greatest Hits’ of the San Telmo Street Fair:
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Tango for Export
The corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo, at the very heart of the San Telmo Fair, is the capital of tango as a commodity on Sundays. There is often a tango performance here but once you push past the crowds to see what’s going on, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Although the older couple dancing a typical salon-type tango have certainly earned their stripes, they dance on a very tiny platform and do it for the camera. If you really aren’t interested in tango but are obliged to get a picture to show your tango-crazed aunt, head to this intersection to get your snaps.
All around San Telmo on Sundays you may stumble across ‘tango posses’ staging spontaneous milongas (dance gatherings) in any given public space. Often there is a group of dancers on the corner of Defensa Street and San Juan Avenue.
La Milonga del Indio/ The Milonga of Plaza Dorrego
The best place to catch some tango dancers who can really get across the floor on Sundays in San Telmo is directly in Plaza Dorrego. After the antique vendors have closed up shop, the ‘Milonga of the Indian’ takes place in the plaza. Founded by Pedro Banavente, known around town as ‘El Indio,’ this outdoor dance in the plaza has existed for over 20 years.
Usually there is a performance followed by an open dance where you can join in, if so inclined. Tango is the main feature here and sometimes there is a bit of Chacarera, a northern Argentine folk dance that is fun to give a whirl.
Due to a conflict with surrounding businesses and neighbors, the Plaza Dorrego milonga has been shut down a few times in the last years, but the dancers have succeeded in getting at least moral backing from the city government. The outdoor dance was coined as one of the ‘City’s Best 20 Milongas’ by the city’s Culture Secretary. Organizers are now fighting to receive ‘cultural interest’ status that will further protect it from being shut down.
La Milonga del Indio
Humberto Primo and Defensa Streets
• Time: 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
• Cost: free
To hit a milonga further off the beaten track on a Sunday in San Telmo, head to Tangodromo at the nearby Culture Center of Plaza Defensa. This is considered one of the most important milongas in the city and it is definitely authentic — you won’t bump into many tourists here. This is a good option for beginners and those with kids in tow.
Centro Cultural Plaza Defensa
• Time: Sundays at 7 p.m.-9 p.m.
• Cost: free