The Biddington's Bentley Takes to the Road
Beach Scene in Mar del Plata

Summer in the City by the Sea
Mar del Plata, Argentina

Editor's Note: Jake Biddington writes this South American seashore installment of The Bentley--with updates published in February 2009.

By New York City standards, Buenos Aires enjoys delightful summer weather. Still, once the New Year comes and the city empties, it is irresistible to decamp to a spot where nature, whether surf or turf, makes her presence more strongly felt. Many travel to the Sierras near Córdoba, but for most Argentines, summer means the beach.

Photo above: View Across Mar del Plata's Rambla Beach Looking South to Punta Piedras
Designed in the manner a Victorian-era seaside resort, the Argentine city of Mar del Plata embraces the southern Atlantic coast with all the elegant amenities of the gilded age: broad promenades with fine views, private beach cabanas and, of course, a grand casino. Even the more contemporary pleasures of jet skis and excursion boats only slightly alter the period ambiance.

In the high season months of January and February, the population spurts dramatically with hundreds of thousands of visitors thronging the beaches to a point that one writer accurately describes as "comically crowded". A sidewalk cafe on Avenida Colon is a good location for witnessing the march to the sea as summer visitors in all shapes, sizes and ages trek to their preferred beach armed with mats, chairs, umbrella posts, umbrellas, sand buckets, lunch and maté gourds. (This is not a "travel light" crowd.) These seasonal visitors plan to spend the day at the beach and want all the required paraphernalia at hand. Food, drink and chair rentals are all readily available from seaside vendors, but habitual users hate paying time-and-place-utility prices when they can haul it themselves.

Villa Victoria Ocampo in Mar del Plata
In the early 20th century, Mar del Plata was called "the Biarritz of South America". Before Juan Peron made the tragically costly error of buying the railway system from the British, a train with private cars ran from Buenos Aires into the most elegant neighborhood of Mar del Plata. Now most visitors reach Mar del Plata by car or first class bus. With nearly 30 miles of beaches, Mar del Plata offers a variety of beach environments. The single crowd generally eschews the center city beaches preferring to travel further down the coast by car, or via the packed 221 bus, beyond the commercial port to Punta Magotes where 24 beach clubs offer ample alternatives of style, activities and peak times. Unlike downtown, the beach at Punta Magotes is not protected by jetties and breakwaters, so the ocean is more open and more dramatic. The monthly or seasonal membership requirements in Punta Magotes makes for more open space. While amenities such as changing rooms and good snack bars at the private clubs are not open to all, the beach itself is public space with marked walkways providing access.

Villa Victoria Ocampo

Nighttime Entertainment

In January and February, many of the major theatre and music concert events normally residing in Buenos Aires move down for a brief summer season in Mar del Plata. Because many visitors stay for at least a month, the performance calendar changes frequently with different events offered daily. The best resource for keeping up with this fluid calendar is the local newspaper La Capital; on weekends, the nationally available newspaper La Nacion lists entertainment events at primary summer destinations.

Villa Victoria Ocampo, Calle Matheu 1851

For a few days in January 2009, the lovely garden of Villa Victoria Ocampo (family home of the writer Silvia Ocampo) is hosting on its ample porch a performance of Mozart's opera L'Oca del Cairo accompanied with selections of food related to the text of the opera. During the daytime, the large Victorian villa makes an interesting visit with changing exhibitions usually pertaining to Argentine literati of the early 20th century.

For a coffee or after dinner drink accompanied by live jazz, the Fonte de Oro Cafe at its downtown location near the Plaza Colon or at its Alem Street location in Playa Grande makes a nice stop. For a jazz scene with a more formal club style setting (with cover charge), Dickens (on Diagonal Pueyreddon) makes an excellent destination. Various dance and music clubs (a demi-monde always in flux) are to be found in the neighborhoods inland and north of the city center.

Shady Day Activities

Municipal Museum of Art Juan Carlos Castagnino, Avenida Colon 1189

Castagnino Drawing of Bandoneon Player Located in the attractive Stella Maris neighborhood, the impressive Villa Ortiz Basualdo exhibits artworks by Mar del Plata's homegrown art star: Juan Carlos Castagnino (1908-1972) while also maintaining much of the interior decor of the original Victorian-style home.

Many Argentineans name Juan Carlos Castagnino as their favorite artist. This is surely due to the fact that Castagnino illustrated a treasured edition of the epic gaucho poem "Martin Fierro". Argentine school children learn parts of this poem by heart. The fictional gaucho Martin Fierro, unjustly treated and hounded by the law and society, is an iconic figure who embodies Argentina's national character of perseverance in adversity and mistrust of authority.

Juan Carlos Castagnino
"Bandoneon Player"
Municipal Museum of Art Juan Carlos Castagnino
Like many Argentine painters, Castagnino traveled to Europe for part of his training, but, perhaps more importantly, he also visited the Far East. The Asian influence in his handling of pen and ink makes Castagnino a vivid and vital draftsman; his drawings dating from the 1950's-1960's are especially engaging.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions by significant mid-career painters working in Mar del Plata. Happily, the curatorial staff appears to espouse no particular style. Past exhibitors have included artists as diverse in style as Daniel Baino who uses simplified, geometric seashore imagery organized in high-color, flattened space as well as the more painterly Eduardo Martin whose retrospective included representational pieces in addition to his more recent abstract paintings.

Besides the museum, visual arts spaces are to be found in nearly all neighborhoods. So, you might also catch Daniel Baino's immediately recognizable paintings at the refurbished La Normandina complex near the yacht club, or Eduardo Martin's newest gestural un-stretched canvases at Casa de Madera or Luis de Luna's exquisitely layered color-pencil or pastel works on paper at Centro de Constructores y Anexos. As with concerts, art exhibitions change frequently with the spaces open limited hours and days, so a newspaper offers the most current and reliable fine arts schedule.

Museum of the Sea, Avenida Colon 1114

For indoor beachcombing, this natural history museum showcases a collection of more than 30,000 seashells. It is located just across Avenida Colon from the Castagnino Museum.

Castagnino Museum on Avendia Colon in Mar del Plata
Villa Ortiz Basualdo
Municipal Museum of Art Juan Carlos Castagnino

Tourism Notes

Traveling to Mar del Plata from Buenos Aires on First Class Bus
To avoid the ongoing disarray and delays at Aerolineas Argentina, consider traveling to Mar del Plata via a first-class bus. The trip takes just over 5 hours from Buenos Aires' Retiro bus terminal. This reliable, cost-effective mode of transportation is what most Argentines choose when traveling within the country. A one-way trip costs about $25 US with service available nearly every hour.

Hotels and Lodging in Mar del Plata
With the exception of the 5-star hotels such as the Hermitage Hotel or the Sheraton, most of the hotels in Mar del Plata (no matter what the price) seem to fall into the modestly acceptable category. Because of the city's huge capacity, rooms seem always to be available--even in high season. Many visitors rent apartments weekly, monthly or for the entire season.

Food and Restaurants in Mar del Plata
To fill the needs of vacationing families in rental apartments, quality take-out food abounds as do amply stocked fruit and vegetable stands.

In season and on weekends, long lines form at popular restaurants. Those wishing to eat at a specific time are best advised to make a reservation for early in the evening.

Lomitón, Rawson 1338, Stella Maris
Serving both parrilla (grilled) and cocida (prepared) dishes, this pretty indoor and outdoor restaurant is strategically located just off Guemes, the most fashionable shopping street in Mar del Plata.

Santa Teresita, Rodríguez Peña 1333, Stella Maris
In the same trendy neighborhood as Lomitón, the exceptionally good pastas and salads make this a favorite with non-carnivores.

Het Zottekot, Falucho 1383 (corner of Olavarria), Stella Maris
The subtle sauces, sophisticated salads and lovely presentation of dishes in this new (August 2008) Belgian restaurant make a welcome contrast to basic parrilla fare.

Moringa, Alsina 2561, Stella Maris
A 1920's half-timber house has been successfully adapted to its new role as a good mid-eastern restaurant and private event location.

Cerveceria y Ristorante Baviera, Rivadavia 2534, Downtown
When a craving for sauerkraut, sausage and a beer strikes, this traditional German-style restaurant is the perfect choice. Dinner is served until 2:00 am.

La Normandina Complex, Playa Grande
A large art deco building on Playa Grande has been refurbished to include three stylish restaurants, the chic Buddha Bar and an art exhibition space.

Seafood Restaurants Commercial Port Center
The group of restaurants making up the horseshoe in the Centro Commercial del Puerto (located next to the active fishing port), all offer good, moderately priced seafood in a brightly-lighted ambiance. In general, this zone is more suited to families or large groups rather than couples. With its reasonable selection of wines and a professional wait staff, Caracol is the best restaurant in this port zone.

More South American Destinations:
Restaurant Guide to Buenos Aires--2008
Touring Córdoba, Argentina
Argentina: Jujuy Province, Humahuaca and Tilcara
Northwest Argentina: Tucumán, Salta & Cafayate
Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile
Tigre, Argentina--Day Trip from Buenos Aires
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina--Weekend Trip from Buenos Aires
Colonia, Uruguay--Overnight Trip near Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires--Basic Guide
Travel Guide to Montevideo, Uruguay

Other Archived Destinations:
Touring Istanbul, Turkey
Visiting New York City 2007
Visiting New York City 2006 (Archive)
New Haven, Connecticut
Cultural Touring along Spain's Costa del Sol
Touring in Lisbon
Touring in Milan
Touring in Antwerp
Touring in Barcelona
I-80 Park City to New York City
Tourism New York City 2003 Update
Tourism New York City 2002
Hudson, New York (Columbia County)
Tourism Rome 2002 Update
Hartford & Wilton, Connecticut
San Francisco Jackson Square
New Hampshire Route 1A
Morris County, New Jersey


Here at BIDDINGTON'S, our work is also our play. When we're not exhibiting and discussing art online, we're learning about wonderful objects in shops, at great shows and in museums--or simply exploring the world's fascinating cultural diversity. In this article, Jake Biddington offers tourist information and descriptions of this interesting destination.

Contact Jake Biddington about His Travels

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