March 12, 2014

Where to Stay in Buenos Aires: Sheraton or Poetry?

Most of my fellow passengers on the Holland America Line (HAL) cruise from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina were older couples. If they stay in hotels before or after their time at sea, they typically choose accommodations at the familiar big international chains, where they feel safer and more comfortable.

In fact, they may end up being less secure, as my recent experience showed. 

I've always preferred locally owned, boutique hotels to the same-old, same-old cookie-cutter places. My stay in Buenos Aires last week certainly showed the benefits of that option.

Like me, many passengers from the ship wanted to linger in Buenos Aires. HAL's crew offered ship-to-hotel transfers for people who chose to stay at the Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel & Convention Center. As luck would have it, I had asked friends of mine -- former residents of the Argentine capital -- for a hotel recommendation. Their answer came right away: the Poetry Building. My friends had owned a unit in the lovely, renovated old apartment building, which now offered brief rentals, like hotels. I'm so glad I solicited their advice.

Here's the Sheraton in the downtown business district:

Here's the Poetry Building in Recoleta, an affluent residential neighborhood and a cultural center of Buenos Aires:

So Much for Sheraton Security
The day after my arrival, I signed up for a private bus tour of city highlights. I was the first passenger picked up. After about an hour of driving through increasingly clogged streets, we arrived in the downtown business center. At the Sheraton, a couple from my HAL cruise boarded the tour bus. As we pulled away from the hotel,, the husband told me he'd been mugged at 8 pm the night before, just two blocks from the Sheraton. The tour guide told me later that assaults often occur around the big hotels, prime prospecting territory for muggers.

Comparing the Sheraton and Poetry Rooms
Here's a room at the BA Sheraton. It has the same standard, comfortable, characterless look and feel here as every other Sheraton accommodation around the world:

Here's my apartment at the Poetry Building, where every unit is different. Even the smallest studio apartments here have much more to offer than the Sheraton. And the Poetry Building had suites larger than mine. Yes, all these pics were taken INSIDE my unit:

What's more, my apartment here cost less than a room at the Sheraton. The Poetry staff also provided warm, friendly, personal service and advice. I doubt I'd have felt the same at one of the behemoths downtown.

Dining at the excellent cafĂ©-like restaurants in this residential area -- and watching the locals going about their regular business -- were highlights of the trip. But it would have felt like a vacation just hanging out in my apartment at the Poetry Building.

I had an 11 pm flight out of BA on the last day of my trip (otherwise known as my endurance contest),  I decided to see if I could negotiate an early evening departure. I was prepared to pay extra for this but, given a history of rejections in situations like this at the chain hotels, I also was prepared to have to abide by the 11 a.m. checkout policy with perhaps the leeway of an extra hour or two. When I started to explain the situation at the Poetry, I was told "No problem, you can checkout whenever you want." No charge.

Later that day, a hand-written thank you note was slipped under my door.

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