Which city would be a better starting point for fairly unexperienced international travelers; Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires? Been to Europe, and most major metropolis' in N. America but first timers to S. America. What do you recommend?
I am brazilian and i've been in both cities.... Buenos Aires is nice, cheaper, and u can walk around easily .. Rio de Janeiro is beautiful, with amazing views, friendly people, and u can enjoy the nature around! But if u want my opinion, the best place in South America is Peru!!! Best food, unbelievible views, amazing people!!! Oh, I love Rio, but is not the best place in Brasil.... take a look at Ilha Fernando de Noronha, Canoa Quebrada, Marajó, Bonito, Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros.... Maybe you change your plans if you decide to come to Brasil!!!!! And please, be respectful with our culture!!!
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Buenos Aires. Rio is great, but also much more volatile. For an unexperienced traveler, Buenos Aires is a much easier introduction to the continent.
That's a tough question, Gavin. I've traveled independently throughout Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. In response to your question, I think the answer depends on which challenges you are more willing to accept.
Both cities are very fast-paced- and communication is a different challenge in each.
If you speak Spanish - or if you have even a few phrases of Spanish in your tool belt- then you might find Buenos Aires a better starting point as you will be able to communicate a lot better. In my opinion, you are more likely to run into internationals / foreigners like yourself in Buenos Aires- whether they speak English or not- there's a broader sense of acceptance and patience among people there, in terms of language barrier.
Obviously, in Rio, it's Brazilian Portuguese. I speak Spanish fairly well and took a crash course in Portuguese before I flew down there but it didn't help at all. Carioca's speak super fast and though they're an amazingly friendly and compassionate people- they're not necessarily looking to practice their Spanish. (I think the assumption is that Spanish and Portuguese are really similar - but if you really ask native speakers and non-speakers alike, they'll disagree)
Anyway they're both amazing cities! Buenos Aires has a much more city / business/ international / European vibe and Rio has a more lusty / emotive / busy / domestic-centric vibe. That being said - I don't think you'll go wrong starting in either city. It just depends what you're looking for and how prepared for the language barriers you are!
Buenos Aires has a more relaxed safe European atmosphere. Which for an unexperienced traveler might be more suitable.
Rio de Janeiro is amazing and love the beach vibe there, but a little more edgy there and always felt like I had to be guard. This wasn't the case in BA though of course you have to be careful everywhere.