Buenos Aires: Faded Elegance, High Design

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Phone Number Note: To reach Argentina from the United States, dial 011 54 11 before all phone numbers listed.

San Telmo has few hotels worth staying at (the exception being the Axel Hotel listed below)—most of Buenos Aires’s good digs are about 40 minutes away by cab, so we’ve included several unique options that range from the funky to the opulent, located in San Telmo’s bordering neighborhoods of Constitución and Monserrat. They’re arranged in order of least to most expensive.

Boquitas Pintadas

Estados Unidos 1393, Constitución
4381-6064
$60 to $100 (cash only, includes breakfast, served all day)

A self-proclaimed “pop hotel” in the former red-light neighborhood of Constitución, Boquitas Pintadas (“Painted Mouths”) is a cultural center as well as a cozy little hotel. It has five rooms and one suite decorated by a different local artist every few months (a spray-painted cityscape mural with stars and planets in a night sky dominates one room; red curtains and leather furniture give another a sleek feel). After 8 p.m., a DJ spins in the restaurant until dawn. Air conditioning (a necessity in the sticky summer months of December and January), a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, terraces, and a happenin’ bar add just the right touch of Argentine glamour.

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La Cayetana

Mexico 1330, Monserrat
4383-2230
$120 to $180 (includes breakfast and pickup from the airport)

A huge wooden door decorated with ornate metalwork opens onto this exclusive hotel in the historic neighborhood of Monserrat. It’s a recently remodeled aristocratic home built in 1820 and owned by the same family until the current owners purchased it at the end of 2005. The 11 suites are arranged around two central patios, and wild, barely kempt gardens in those patios make you forget that you’re in the heart of a big city. A breakfast buffet, a communal living room, and handicapped-accessible rooms are other perks.

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Axel Hotel

Venezuela 649, San Telmo
4136-9393
$200 to $350 (includes breakfast)

South America’s first gay-oriented boutique hotel has set up shop in San Telmo, following the enormous success of its predecessor in Barcelona. The 48 soundproof, designer rooms feature LCD TVs, iPod docks, king-size beds, and hydromassage Jacuzzi baths. There’s also a rooftop garden with a heated swimming pool, whose glass bottom makes up the ceiling of the foyer, providing swimmers with a view to the lobby and guests a view of … well, whatever the swimmers are doing. Though designed and marketed with a gay clientele in mind, the hotel prides itself on diversity, and everyone is welcome. At the Axel Hotel in Barcelona, according to one user review on the website TripAdvisor, “there were many heteros who had no idea it was really a gay hotel—until they got to their room and found large artwork of a naked guy on the wall.”

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Faena Hotel + Universe

Martha Salotti 445, Puerto Madero
4010-9000
$400 to $4,000-plus

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The Faena Hotel + Universe is an exercise in absolute decadence. Designed by Philippe Starck, it has crystal water taps shaped like swans in every bathroom and an entirely white dining room in the restaurant filled with unicorn heads. From the “lowliest” room to the modestly named Imperial Suite ($4,000), the 110 dwellings have a towel menu, Egyptian cotton sheets, and flat-screen home theaters. The restaurants, lobby, and lounges branch off an epic red-velvet hallway that runs the length of two city blocks. There’s also a spa with Turkish baths and beauty treatments by La Prairie, and nutritionists and a team of three “experts” are assigned to every guest to research the hottest places to shop, dine, and tango in the ever-changing hip barrios of Buenos Aires. The Faena’s Library Lounge bar has a killer fireplace and more than 500 beautiful books in several languages you can browse, and the theater stages shows each night, ranging from hip music to risqué burlesque. Book the rooms ending in “02”—they’re corner suites with the best views.

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