La Boca (Spanish for “mouth”) is situated at the mouth of the Riachuelo, a (polluted) navigable river that flows into the River Plate. Until the first half of the 19th century, the area was a slum. It was then that shipyards, silos, salting houses, tanneries and coal and wool warehouses were established thanks to an increase in the shipping trade.
This economic growth attracted immigrants, who settled in the area. They built their dwellings on stilts using planks of wood and sheets of metal. Stilts were vital to protect their houses from floods. They painted their houses with leftover paint they borrowed from the shipyards. The result was a motley array of multicoloured houses haphazardly laid out. Later on, bohemians, artists and musicians moved in and gave the barrio its distinctive flavour.
The area known as Caminito, named after a tango song, is where most of the action is. Its boundaries are Garibaldi, Araoz and Magallanes streets. There, local artists sell their arts and crafts, paintings and photographs. Look out for street art: paintings and sculptures by well-known local artists attached to the walls. Beware of pushy men dressed as tango dancers who will offer to have their photo taken with you for a fee. If you’re not interested, just walk away.
Also, beware of pickpockets. As in many other places crowded with tourists, pickpockets and muggers are part of the scenery. Simply be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your purse and camera.
Tenements were very common, and living conditions were less than ideal. Nowadays, historical tenements, or conventillos, have been recycled into shops selling mainly tourist tat. Have a wander round one, it’ll give you an idea of what it was like to live in La Boca in the 1880s.