One of the San Telmo’s most recognizable characters is ‘Jack Sparrow’ or ‘Jackie’ as he prefers to be called.
The look-alike of the Pirates of the Caribbean star can often be found around Plaza Dorrego or wandering the Sunday San Telmo Fair using his cleverness and wit to extract money from charmed tourists.
An impromptu jam session on the corner of Defensa and Mexico in the ever-expanding San Telmo Fair.
Visitors can also enjoy a wide variety of street performers, and indoor and outdoor milongas. Check out our city tours to explore San Telmo with a local guide, or dive into San Telmo’s tango scene with a milonga tour.
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.
What to buy
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. A battle has been going on for over a decade between local shopkeepers and residents who have pushed for the street side hawkers to be removed, claiming that their presence obstructs the sidewalks.
As usual in Argentina, the conflict has culminated in protests on a number of occasion.
Finally city officials reaffirmed that those who sell homemade ‘artisan items’ are entitled to stay, as are the musicians and other entertainers.
Black market mass-produced 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:
⇒ Check out our San Telmo Walking & Bike Tours
Buenos Aires’ Living Statues
Elaborately costumed human mannequins are ubiquitous around San Telmo when the weekly San Telmo Street Fair takes place. Among the favorites are both of the genteel Carlos Gardels — one works on Humberto Primo and the other works along Defensa.
You also may see the ‘windswept office workers,’ who can also sometimes be seen on Florida Street as well as one of the ‘mirror men.’
Clowns, Crazies and Personalities
Mimes, clowns, scantily-clad drag queens and people who want to be tipped for just being who they are — they come out of the woodwork in San Telmo on Sundays. Especially prevalent are the ‘tango personalities’ who regularly make the rounds and sometimes sign autographs — whether you want one of not.
‘Tango Dancer’ Maleva takes tango back to its early 19th-century roots, with her fishnet stockings and heavy make-up. She doesn’t really dance tango as much as she prances around in her own little tango fantasy. She hasn’t been around lately so she might have taken her show indoors.
It’s difficult not to feel endeared to an elderly woman who supplements her pension playing a makeshift drum set and cracking jokes on the street. It doesn’t matter if you’re the queen of England though– if you want a picture you better give her U.S.-grade cash money beforehand or else you’ll receive an obscene gesture. She’s old, cranky and living on a fixed income. She can do whatever the hell she wants!
Puppetry is an art that is taken to its highest level in Buenos Aires. Delighted crowds always stop to cackle at the antics of ‘The Drunken Puppet,’ who stumbles around a miniature street corner made out of a suitcase — and looks curiously like his puppeteer.