13 months
Apr 18:
party peeps
stay out late
Apr 20:
the low down
all galleries
next location

tango at Cafe Tortoni
Buenos Aires, Argentina; Apr 20, 2005

dead blinger

It is cheaper to live extravagantly all your life than to be buried in Recoleta.
- common Argentine saying

Susan doesn’t really like graveyards, so we don’t visit them all that often. I don’t usually raise a fuss about it since I’m not a graveyard fanatic, but I do like to wander amidst the bones once in a while. Interestingly, the people you usually see visiting graveyards run an incredible gamut, from intellectual-looking, tweed-wearing types to tattooed kids wearing all black and sporting a variety of painful-looking piercings. But back to the point, there was no way I was going to let us miss the legendary Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

As I sometimes do, I had purposely avoided looking at pictures of the cemetery beforehand (see cambodia: not WAT i expected). So, as we walked towards the gates, I thought to myself, “Hmm, I’ve seen quite a few cemeteries and tombs and mausoleums. I’m sure this one ranks near the top, but it probably won’t blow my socks off.” Um…actually… yes, it will.

one of many magnificent "streets" at Recoleta Cemetery

First off, “cemetery” is an understatement; they should call it something like “city of the dead” or “the Paris of cemeteries.” There are certainly cemeteries that occupy more square feet, but I’ve never seen one as impressive as this. Like a city (of the living), it’s complete with wide thoroughfares and small alleyways running between the ominous-looking tombs. The tombs themselves are actually small buildings, fantastically decorated or imposingly stark. It is at once amazing and spooky, even in direct sunlight (admittedly, the shadows were getting fairly long by the time we arrived).

Susan tended to stay in the middle of the “road” (maximizing the distance between the tombs on either side), but being fascinated, I slinked along the edges, curiously peering in to the “lives” of the dead. One of the first tombs I examined closely revealed a further secret. It was like an iceberg; most of it was actually underground with a skinny spiral staircase leading deep into the dark. The above-ground portion is about 15 feet tall, with glass French doors, slightly ajar and covered with cobwebs, held loosely closed by a chain locked with a big padlock right out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Susan pointed out that the whole set up looks more like it might be more about keeping something IN rather than keeping us out. Nice. As I have my head stuck through the door (where one of the panes is missing) trying to peer down the stairs, I suddenly feel something brush against the back of my legs, raising the hairs on my back. Of course, it’s a jet black cat. No, really, it is.

The cats are actually considered good luck. Relatives of the deceased leave food for them near the graves. Nonetheless, this lends an even spookier air to the whole place.

Susan at a spooky crossroads

Walking around more, and peeking in to many more tombs reveals that they are rarely for a single individual, but instead usually for whole families. Money alone is not enough to get you into Recoleta; you need an important surname (something like Arambura, Avellandeda, Martinez de Hoz, or Sarmiento – none of which sounded all that familiar to us, but obviously they hold considerable weight). Many important Argentines rest here, including Eva Peron (also known as Evita, a famous Argentine political figure – a woman who rose from humble beginnings to become a famous radio personality, and then wife of the Argentine president). On a related note, Argentine national figures are honored on the date of their death (instead of the date of their birth).

A few hours later, finally submitting to the less and less comfortable looks from my wife (she really was being a good sport), we took our leave. Back to our apartment, a good bit smaller than some of these magnificent tombs, but decidely more comfortable.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Love the photo, I went there myself in 2004 and I must have spent hours there, it was an awesome experience, I had never seen anything like it...

--Annette (Queensland, Australia); Aug 30, 2006


How does Recoleta compare with the impressive tombs of the nobles and public figures in churches like Westminister Abbey, or the church of holy cross in Florence?

--Vish (Sunnyvale, California, USA); Nov 27, 2005

Well... I've only seen pictures of the tombs at Westminster and we didn't go inside Sante Croce in Florence, but we have seen lots of tombs in lots of churches, so I think the only fair answer to your question is: They're really different.

--Grace; Dec 1, 2005


Yes - cementarios in South America are wonderful. I make a point of visiting them even though not special attractions. The poor buried with decaying wood crosses and dead flowers in sad jamjars - faded plastic wreathes... strange mauselia - even one in Bolivia where going down to the "condominium" crypt - better class... there was a perpetual electric tape loop of doom-laden music... like a funereal ring tone... It was a cool respite from heat and dust.

--Anonymous; Nov 17, 2005


What a truly amazing cemetery. It looks like something straight out of Tomb Raider... and I'm not trying to be funny. As always, it's fantastic getting your updates and is useful in so many ways. Happy travelling to you both.

--Judi (Sydney, Australia); Oct 30, 2005


Wow, thank you for sharing this. It is AMAZING. I must visit this so call "cemetery" sometime. Once again, happy traveling.

--K; Sep 5, 2005

Thanks so much for looking at our website and for visiting us again! We hope you do get to see this cemetery sometime. We were really blown away and are amazed whenever we look back at the photos. Talk about going out in style... Thanks for the well wishes.

--Susan & Grace; Sep 12, 2005