Buenos Aires is a football fan’s dream. The Argentine capital is home to a great many football teams and offers the chance of catching any number of games with electric atmospheres if you are willing to pay enough to see them. Those in Buenos Aires outside of football season or between games need not worry as two of the country’s biggest teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate, offer stadium tours to any fan who wants to catch a glimpse of what goes on in the background at these two famous clubs.
Both teams offer similar tours with a few minor differences. Entry to Boca’s La Bombonera stadium (capacity 49,000) costs $180 pesos which includes entry to the club’s museum and one of the stands for a panoramic view of the stadium interior. Extra money can be paid for a guided tour of the stadium which includes additional areas such as changing rooms but, as I can’t understand Spanish, I felt this would be a waste as no English option was offered.
River’s Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti (known more simply as El Monumental) is the largest stadium in Argentina with a capacity of 61,000 and frequently hosts national team games. If you wish to take a pitchside view of the stadium here you will pay slightly more at $210 pesos per person. This outlay includes entry to the museum and a tour in Spanish. River once offered a panoramic view similar to Boca for $180 pesos but this option was struck through on the price list and was no longer available at the time of my visit.
La Bombonera (Boca Juniors’ Stadium)
Boca’s stadium is surrounded by club shops that sell Boca memorabilia, trinkets and copy shirts. It surprised me that counterfeit goods could be sold in such close proximity to the stadium but, having seen shirt prices in the official club shop ($1600 pesos as opposed to $200 for the copy) I kind of understood why it was allowed for less well off fans. The stadium exterior is all decked out in the club’s colours of yellow and blue and along the roads outside the entrance are Hollywood stars that showcase the footprints of some of Boca’s biggest stars over the years and sculptures of famous players.
Boca’s museum is slightly smaller than River’s but there are more signs here in English should your Spanish be lacking. Inside the museum you can pose for photos with life-size cut-outs of the current first team, find out about how and why the club were formed and look at the evolution of Boca’s shirt since their formation. There are also screens showing every goal scored from Boca’s many successful campaigns throughout the years and a giant football-shaped auditorium which puts you into the shoes of a youth player making his way through Boca’s ranks although the footage is ancient and I lost interest rather quickly as a result. The museum is rather dimly lit which makes reading certain signs a challenge and taking photographs a little difficult at times.
Upon entering the stadium bowl you can get a look at what it’s actually like to support Boca from the stands. The stadium is quite compact and fans are right on top of the pitch – this is probably conducive of a better atmosphere for home players and a more hostile one for visiting teams. I personally felt that La Bombonera was a slightly better and cleaner stadium than El Monumental but neither are in the most fantastic condition.
El Monumental (River Plate’s Stadium)
River’s museum offers much the same as Boca’s but is substantially larger. There are very few English translations within this museum, however, so don’t expect to take much away from your visit if you can’t read Spanish. Upon entry you walk down a long dark catwalk with doorways leading off both sides that document River’s history decade by decade. Each room has a number of screens showing all the goals from trophy years while also documenting what it was like living in Buenos Aires during the eras of the team’s successes. Beyond this walkway is a large room housing a number of trophies and awards won by the team over the years as well as items collected from high profile friendly games – the trophy commemorating Atletico Madrid’s visit was one of my personal favourites.
In the next room there are computer screens which allow you to pick your all-time greatest River team and metal castings of football boots in homage to some of the team’s most impressive players and highest scorers. My favourite display, however, was a wall showcasing the many different versions of the club’s badge that have been used since River’s formation in 1901. Like Boca, River have a giant football-shaped auditorium but this feature was out of order on the day of my visit. The club shop here is placed right at the exit where you leave after the tour and merchandise was quite a bit cheaper than at Boca’s club shop.
Tours here take place at set times so I had a bit of time to kill before my group set off at 2pm. As already mentioned, the tour is in Spanish only so don’t expect to learn a lot if, like me, you understand little of the language. In addition to this, the tour seemed rushed and the girl leading it looked bored and as if she wanted it to be over as quickly as possible.
In comparison to Boca’s stadium, the River fans are situated much farther away from the pitch which I felt would make for a much less intimate match day experience despite the substantially higher stadium capacity. On the tour you get to see the inner workings of the stadium and, I must confess, El Monumental is showing its age. I peered into the room used to control the floodlights and its ancient tech reminded me of a Communist era nuclear plant instrument panel. The stadium on a whole was very old and rundown and rather unimpressive considering the importance of the ground and the team who play there – it reminded me of the sad and tired old Wembley before it was demolished.
While neither stadium interior was in great condition I must admit to favouring Boca’s as it was in a slightly better state and its layout was far more intimate. As for the museums, River’s wins the day in my opinion despite its lack of English owing to it being quite a bit larger and having the most interesting visual displays. Even if there are signs of neglect and a lack of English at both stadiums I would still recommend any football fan to visit at least one during their trip to Buenos Aires as, for the outlay, it is a good opportunity to glimpse the inner workings of the two biggest clubs in Argentina.
Finding Your Way
Sensibly, owing to the rivalry between the two teams, the stadiums are located at opposite ends of the city. If you only have time to do one tour during your visit and would like to continue sightseeing after your tour then Boca’s stadium would be your best choice as it is situated on the outskirts of the colourful La Boca district and is much closer to the central sights of Buenos Aires. River’s stadium is much farther away from the centre, at the heart of the fancy Núñez area of the city. Chinatown is one tourist spot that isn’t too far away from the ground and there are also many pleasant parks and green areas to relax in nearby.
To walk to River’s El Monumental (the method I chose) takes a good deal of time although there are a number of train stations nearby that can be reached via Retiro. If you decide to take the train be sure to purchase a SUBE card from an underground station or street-side kiosk (costs $25 pesos) and charge it up with a little extra cash. Luckily, one of the only cheap things in Buenos Aires is public transport. A journey by train from Retiro costs $6 pesos per journey and an underground trip costs $7.50 pesos regardless of distance travelled and number of connections made.
Getting Tickets to Boca/River Games
This was something I really looked into during my two week stay in Buenos Aires. Much of the information I found on other blogs and websites was out of date and no longer relevant so I had to ask a lot of questions of locals in person. I found out that due to violent clashes between fans and other such problems both clubs now run ‘social clubs’ for their supporters which seems to be the only way to get tickets at face value. Unfortunately, this makes it extremely difficult for foreign visitors to get tickets for Boca or River games unless you know or can be put in touch with a social club member. Of course, you could chance turning up at the stadiums on a game day and look for a tout but you will pay an absolute fortune and run the risk of purchasing counterfeit tickets.
If you are adamant about catching a Boca or River game, tour agencies do sell tickets at hugely increased prices ranging from $150 to $400 in US dollars depending on opponent. During my inquiries I was repeatedly told that Tangol is one of the better agencies to go through. Tickets can also be purchased via Viagogo if you wish to make your way to the games without a tour although I was warned against this method as attending games alone in Argentina can apparently be dangerous.
Getting tickets for other clubs from the city such as Racing and Argentinos Juniors can be an easier proposition as they often sell tickets from their club shops located in various spots around Buenos Aires. Be sure to purchase in advance to avoid disappointment on the day of the game.