Tourists know it as the home of the one of the most famous footballers in the world — Diego Maradona, of course — and as the Argentinean neighborhood where people tango on the streets and the houses are painted in flashy colors.
Locals believe it is all of that and more.
La Boca, they say, is not just a neighborhood in the southern frontier of Argentina’s capital but a country in its own right. The Republic of La Boca, they call it.
Maybe it is because it was precisely there, back in 1536, that Buenos Aires was founded. Originally home to slaves, salting rooms and factories for the treatment of leather, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that La Boca became one of the most famous landmarks in the South American country.
It was then that Italian immigrants flooded the area and gave it its current flavor. Historians say they moved into what were locally known as conventillos, big houses where entire families would rent one room to live in.
Most of Argentina’s famous tango musicians, artists and writers born at the time lived in one of those at one point in their lives.
Locals say the houses’ owners used to ask sailors at the harbour for paint to brighten up the buildings. Because the paint supply was always short, people would get different colours, which ended up being the neighborhood’s signature mark.
Today, La Boca is a must-see for those eager to experience Argentina’s passion for football, barbecue and tango. And if La Boca is the place to be, Sunday is the time to be there.
To make the most of what the place has to offer, it's best to arrive early, wearing something comfortable. La Boca is made up of dozens of small, cobbled streets and passages with limited car access, so walking is a must.
Tango dancers, artists and crafters flood the narrow roads, offering everything from instant handmade portraits, silver jewelry and mates —wooden cups used to drink the famous local beverage, a kind of hot tea drank with a straw and shared.
Near lunchtime, the smell of meat being roasted and the sound of thousands of football fans walking towards La Bombonera, the most famous stadium in the country, would complete the picture. A football match in La Bombonera is a must-see.