Pollution in the city

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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I loved spending time in Buenos Aires but I don’t think I could ever live in the city for an extended period of time. The reason for this is because I think it would be incredibly detrimental to my health. Before arriving in Buenos Aires, I had not even considered that the air pollution might bother me, but upon arrival I quickly learned that the cities I had been living or spending time in were not nearly as polluted or populated with automobiles.

Buenos Aires is a very large city with a city population of 2,776,138, and a population of about13 million in the greater metro area.  This is an extremely large population and this does not even include the extra thousands of people that migrate to the city each day to study work or visit the cities many attractions.  With this incredibly large influx of people into the city on a daily basis it becomes increasingly difficult to keep public transportation up to date (meaning, with the most efficient technology to reduce emissions) and running in a manner that will accommodate the millions of people that need to use it. 

Buenos Aires has an extremely large fleet of buses that navigate the city and while the buses do help to cut down on the number of cars on the roads, I feel like the buses emit more air pollution than anything else. Numerous times I would be standing on the street corner waiting to cross the road and I would be hit in the face by a cloud of dirty black exhaust.  Most mornings I would walk to class and by the time I would arrive at the university I would have a bad headache.  It took me a few days to realize why I was getting headaches, but I soon realized that they were a result of breathing polluted air for an entire hour on my way to class. Everyday my clothes felt filthy dirty and I could almost feel the layer of pollution that had settled on my clothes and skin.

With all of that being said, it is also important to note that Argentina is taking the proper steps to reduce air pollution in their cities. They are now a part of the clean air initiative in Latin America. This program was launched in 1998 and now includes six other cities in Latin America. Its mission is to aide cities in their efforts to improve air quality.  They hope to do this by setting up action plans for the cities, and disseminate information and hold local workshops to discuss pollution. Crucial to their mission is the promotion of clean technologies. I believe that this is the answer to pollution problems in the long run.

After spending time in this city I have become a lot more appreciative of the rules and regulations that have been set in the United States.  I didn’t think about the ways in which I would be affected by the air pollution, but it was incredibly hard for me to adapt to such a dramatic increase in pollution. My body really was shocked.

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I was extremely excited to learn that we would have the chance to visit the US Embassy in Argentina. I didn’t know exactly what to expect out of this visit since I have never had the chance to visit one, but I was ready to finally see what it was like. 

The visit to the Embassy was an interesting one, although the embassy and the officers were not exactly what I had imagined.   I expected high security and they lived up to my expectations in those regards. Security was tight and we were never left unattended. However, high security was the only thing that I really had predicted. Everyone at the embassy was friendly but the depth of their knowledge about Argentina in general seemed a little lacking. Almost everyone told us the same thing about Argentine history and for the most part we had already learned it. It seems to me that since Argentina’s relationship with the US represents the longest bilateral relationship that the U.S. has had with any country in Latin America (over 180 years) they would have a valued interest in keeping up extremely impeccable relations.  Although, maybe the insight that each officer gave us was diluted and they only skimmed the surface of their knowledge, but who will ever know.

We had a very limited view of the actually building; we only entered one room and remained there for the morning. I assume that we were kept in the single room for security purposes but it would have been interesting to see what the offices and inter-workings of the embassy were like. I guess security always takes precedence. 

I have given thought (only a little) to a career in the Foreign Service.  More than one of my professors has told me that if they had it to do over again they would join the Foreign Service.  So that made me realize that it maybe the right thing for me and that I should do a little research.  I had actually planned to take the Foreign Service exam this past April, but then decided I would wait until next year to see if it was really something that I wanted to pursue.  I still don’t know if it is right for me, but I do know I have a different perspective after visiting the US Embassy.  I know that the view I have now is very limited but I only saw one lady in the entire building and from the stories she told I got the impression that she enjoyed her work, but maybe had some regrets about joining the Foreign Service. She never said this outright but it was implied in the stories that she told.  The overall lack of diversity at the embassy was a little discouraging. Almost all of the employees there were middle aged men. But maybe this trend will change since more and more people are becoming interested in international affairs and the potential applicants for these types of jobs are becoming more diverse.


The time has arrived, we all must pack our suitcases and leave the city of Buenos Aires, and for most of us it will be a long time before we get the chance to return. So in the end, reflection begins.  I have been asked by a lot of the Argentina locals what it is that I will miss the most about the city of Buenos Aires.  This is not an easy question for me and so I have been doing a lot of thinking.

First I will say that it is a lot easier to become infatuated with the city, especially when you can enjoy all the great aspects of it and not have to really adjust to living conditions long term. So even though I wouldn’t consider myself a tourist in the city, in almost every sense of the word I was one.

Before I left Virginia to fly to Argentina I came across an interesting newspaper article that was published in my local paper.  The article spoke about the appeal of Argentina and how several different people who had taken vacations to Argentina had fallen in love with the city (and tango) and after retirement had decided to move back down to Buenos Aires. As I was reading the article, I sort of thought about how silly that seemed to up root you house and family and move to a foreign country based solely on the fact that you enjoyed your vacation and liked to dance tango. But after spending time in Argentina, I  now realize that you don’t just fall in love with the city but you fall in love with the lifestyle of an argentine and you begin to acquire their customs as your own.  

There were multiple things about the city that I really connected with and constantly I thought to myself, ‘why don’t we do it like that, it just makes more sense.’  I can’t stop gushing over the ease of public transportation, but Atlanta is just so far behind in those regards that it isn’t a fair comparison.  One thing that I got used to very quickly were the many fruit and vegetable stands. You couldn’t walk more than three blocks without running into one.  Most days during our lunch break, I could easily walk down the street and grab some fresh fruit for lunch very quickly and at a very reasonable price.  This just does not happen in Atlanta. I also liked the idea of corner cafes, they are much superior to the Starbucks that are found on our street corners. You can buy anything from a heavy meal to just a café to a beer and you can spend any amount of time in one, chatting with friends or reading. I spent more time than I should have in these cafés and I enjoyed every second of it. 

Of course there were always a couple of things that I wasn’t able to get used to completely, but I think these dislikes were the result of cultural differences. I had a hard time adjusting to the smoke filled restaurants, bars, or any other public space. I also don’t think I could ever get used to how the Argentines didn’t pick up after their dogs.  Some cultural differences are incredibly interesting and can be a learning experience, while others can just take some time to get used to and are therefore a little aggravating.  But, like or dislike, cultural differences are extremely important to understand and appreciate in our world.  

Buenos Aires experienced a large population growth for most of the 20th century but after the economic crisis their population began to steadily decrease and currently you can find some very reasonable real estate prices (especially in the San Telmo neighborhood)  So maybe I will consider moving to Buenos Aires in the future, that is after I master the language and adjust to the pollution. 

One of the things that I was most appreciative of in Buenos Aires was the convenient and inexpensive public transportation. It seemed as if there were a multitude of options when deciding how to get to a restaurant, bar, club, museum or class. We had the option to take a cab, take the Subte, or take the bus.  All three of which could be accessed very easily and very quickly. And when one didn’t seem to get you there quickly enough, you always had two others to fall back on.

I think we all became spoiled very quickly by how effortless it was to take a taxi. Not to mention that the taxis were, in my opinion, ridiculously inexpensive (even before converting the fair to dollars). I have taken more cabs in Buenos Aires in the past month than I will take in Atlanta in the next 7 years. We usually didn’t have any trouble hailing a taxi, even on the back roads and except for one or two occasions, the taxi drivers were legitimate, meaning they didn’t jip us out of money and time.  The taxi would take you just about anywhere in the city that you wanted to go and I never found myself stuck in traffic for long.

When I wasn’t taking cabs, my next preference would be Subte. The subway system in Argentina, is an extremely easy system to navigate and is the cheapest form of transportation in Buenos Aires.  This subway system was the first underground subway system in Latin America and dates back to 1913.  Unlike, the subway system I am used to in Atlanta, Subte can get you relatively close to anywhere in the city you would want to go (with only a few exceptions).  It has five lines that traverse the city and five more lines are being planned for construction right now.  At rush hour it would get extremely crowed but that still wasn’t enough to discourage me from using it. Most importantly I felt safe on the subway because there were always a myriad of people using it anytime of the day.

Great public transportation, however, is not limited to Buenos Aires, I soon found that I could easily travel hundreds of miles across the country of Argentina with very little difficulty.  Climbing onto a tour bus in Argentina is nothing like climbing onto a greyhound or any other bus line that is found in the United States. The sixteen hours that I spent on a bus traveling from Buenos Aires to Mendoza was not at all unsatisfactory, I would maybe even say it was enjoyable.

As we stepped into the bus terminal in Retiro, someone commented that it sort of felt like an airport and that no bus terminal would ever be this nice or this busy in the United States. But what we had to consider about the discrepancies between the bus stations and the buses in the United States and Argentina, was that traveling by bus was a legitimate and more commonly used form of transportation in Argentina, whereas, today in the US, taking a bus is of one of the last options most people would consider.

Buenos Aires is a large city and therefore has had to continually invest time, money and planning into their public transportation.  There is what seems like a plethora of options for public transportation; including taxis,  buses, subway, trains, ferries, car rentals and even long distance buses.  They are constantly working on improving public transportation, for example, as I mentioned earlier they are planning on adding five new lines to the underground subway network.

Maybe I am in owe of the public transportation in Buenos Aires because of the lack of it in Atlanta, but either way it makes a great deal of sense to have convenient and inexpensive public transportation that the citizens are eager and happy to use.  

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