La Plata, located only 60km south of Buenos Aires, has more to it than meets the eye. My first trip to this apparently sleepy town was uninspiring, and I decided to leave before lunchtime. The next time I visited was on a hot summer afternoon and a friend showed me around the city. When the time came to catch the bus back to Buenos Aires, I didn’t want to leave.
The serene Bosque de La Plata (La Plata Forest) is a large park with eucalyptus trees, plenty of places to relax and winding paths. Farther on there is an impressive natural history museum with life-sized statues of sabertooth tigers guarding the entrance.
La Plata is relatively small, and there is almost no need to take public transportation. What’s more, it’s easy to get around since its streets are logically numbered, in what was one of the first planned cities in Argentina. With the sun down and the colors of the sky fading, my friend took me to the “Faculty of the Arts” of the Universidad de La Plata. Its grim air does not let you forget that in the 1970s it was built as a detention center for the “disappeared” prisoners of the military dictatorship.
There is a strong, left-wing sentiment at “la facultad,” and the students learn in the buildings where people with similar ideologies and values were once detained. In the courtyard between the buildings lies a broken car, covered with planks of wood and encroached upon by grass. “Of course,” says my friend, “that’s the family who lives here in the Facultad”. La Plata is eccentric indeed.
Finally we finished the tour in Plaza Moreno, and this was the most anticipated part of the trip. It is pleasantly expansive and open, with broad views of the sky, city skyline and towering neo-gothic cathedral, which is justifiably the most popular attraction of La Plata. It has a diabolical story behind it that nobody leaves without learning. Several crumbling religious statues are located around the plaza, however, all of them somehow show the sign of the devil with a hand. There is also a kneeling archer in the corner of the plaza, and though the bow-and-arrow are now missing, he is obviously aiming at the central spire of the cathedral. When seen from the air, the statues and the cathedral join to form the a Pentagram. Definitely weird, and like the rest of La Plata, it’s worth making the time to explore it.
From Buenos Aires, you reach La Plata by bus from Retiro, or train, from Constitucion (not recommended at night). The train is cheaper, and passes through some interesting suburbs that are rough around the edges, and the bus is more comfortable and secure.