Surrounded by huge and dramatically carved mausoleums, we strolled through the Recoleta Cemetery in wonderment. It’s neither the oldest nor the largest cemetery in Argentina, but it certainly is the most famous.
Intriguing rather than depressing, the intricately decorated, mostly art nouveau above-ground tombs draw you into the Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery.
Its vaults hold the remains of presidents, generals, and former first lady Eva Perón (Evita), plus thousands of others. With about 5,000 mausoleums, it is not surprising that there are eerie legends and fascinating stories.
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Do it yourself, or take a Recoleta Cemetery tour?
The best choice we made was to hire a guide, a knowledgeable historian who could show us details we would never have found on our own. It’s easy to miss something otherwise.
For Spanish speakers, there is a free guided tour at 11 am (daily Tuesday-Sunday), with a second tour at either 2 pm or 3 pm, depending on the day.
We found a guide at the entrance. After a brief chat, we decided his fee for a private tour seemed reasonable, and his English was good. However, we were lucky that there was an available guide at the time. In retrospect, we might have booked a tour in advance.
After taking a look at the options, we are most impressed by this half-day Recoleta and Retiro tour.
Highlights, legends, and ghost stories from Recoleta Cemetery
A visit to the Recoleta Cemetery is like touring an outdoor art exhibition. It is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, with more than 90 of its mausoleums having been declared a national monuments.
We had seen it from our room, watched the sunrise over it, and finally, we walked through the gate with our guide.
As we walked, the frequent loose tiles crackled under our feet, the sound reminiscent of breaking china. A chill ran down my spine, an eerie feeling as if perhaps the dead are trying to tell us to get out and leave them alone. We didn’t listen, we just kept walking.
Here are some of the stories we heard:
Rufina Cambacers: was she buried alive?
The local legend around Rufina Cambacers tells the story of a young woman who collapsed, was declared dead by three doctors, and was then buried. A few days later, the groundskeeper noticed that her coffin had moved and was damaged. When they opened it, they found her body, but now her hands and face were bruised, and there were scratches on the inside of the coffin.
On the mausoleum, her likeness is seen opening the gate to eternity.
General Alvear’s prominent position
One of the first monuments we see as we enter the cemetery is that of General Alvear. It earned this placement when one of General Alvear’s sons commissioned the entrance gates to the cemetery and in doing so, made sure his family had a prime position.
The ghost of Luz Maria Garcia Velloso
Luz Maria Garcia Velloso died and was buried at age 15. Legend tells us that on some nights, her ghost went to bars with unsuspecting men. She would borrow their jacket, get it dirty, take it with her, and the men would find the jacket the following day at her tomb in the Recoleta Cemetery.
The final resting place of Eva Perón
Loved by the working class, first lady Eva Perón died of cancer in 1952 at age 33. While her body ultimately ended up in a secure bunker in her family’s mausoleum at Recoleta Cemetery, it was missing or hidden for nearly 20 years. You can read the entire story here: The 20-year odyssey of Eva Peron’s body. It is certainly not the most ornate, but there is no doubt that Eva Perón’s tomb is the most visited in the Recoleta Cemetery.
Why is this the most photographed angel in Buenos Aires Recoleta Cemetery?
The most photographed angel in the Recoleta Cemetery is seated and looks a bit forlorn. He was made famous not because of who he is or protects but rather because he is on the walking path to the tomb of Eva Perón, the most visited of the mausoleums.
Stone tomb of Thomas Guido
Thomas Guido’s mausoleum is made of stones from the Andes mountains and has never leaked during the rain. Notice the green column to the right of Guido’s tomb. This is the marker for Admiral Guillermo Brown’s mausoleum. He is the Irish-born founder of the Argentina Navy.
Roverano tomb supports immigrants
Roverano, an immigrant himself, owned a successful cafe and represented newly arrived immigrants in Argentina before his death. His family rose to fortune, affording him an elaborate spot in the cemetery.
Upkeep of an old cemetery
The Recoleta Cemetery opened in 1822 and is still used. In fact, there was a funeral the week before we visited. Individual families own each mausoleum and continue to bury family members in them. Families upkeep the crypts, and when they don’t, they deteriorate. Abandoned tombs cannot be sold until a family member is found. Once sold, the bodies must be moved, just like moving furniture out when you sell a house.
Personally, I find the dilapidated tombs fascinating, albeit a bit creepy. They remind me of the derelict Sheraton we visited on Rarotonga Island.
The majority of mausoleums are well-maintained. As we had our morning coffee on our balcony overlooking the cemetery, we frequently saw workers painting, cleaning, or otherwise tending to the various tombs.
A few of the abandoned mausoleums
Pro-tip: Watch children carefully around the abandoned tombs, and do not let them enter any of the abandoned mausoleums as there can be up to a 6-metre drop in the dark.
Things to notice
If you know where and when to look, you can find some lovely surprises by looking through the windows of some of the tombs.
Stained glass viewed through a window
Peering through the cross on the door
There are bodies below your feet
It is not just the mausoleums that are owned by the families. The property underneath them is also family-owned. In fact, the property line can be seen running down the pavement.
Everything has a meaning
While the religious symbols are usually obvious, everything on the mausoleums has a meaning, from the cherub to the direction a hand is facing. If you want to know more, check out: Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography.
Where to stay: Recoleta hotels, Buenos Aires
We opted to stay at Sileo Hotel overlooking the cemetery. It was a perfect choice.
Sileo is an ideal mix of an Argentinean boutique hotel and classic luxury. The incredible view from our balcony (we had the terrace suite) was just the tip of the iceberg. Our room had a bed so comfortable I hardly wanted to get up in the morning, although the delicious breakfast lured me out.
All this is complemented by ever-changing art displays in the lobby and lower level and an ideal Buenos Aires location in the heart of the Recoleta neighbourhood. Reserve your room or suite at Sileo Hotel
⇒ Or, check other Buenos Aires hotels
The moon casts an eeriness over the cemetery at night (it is neither open nor lit up overnight). This was our view from Sileo Hotel. Recoleta is a fun neighbourhood and relatively safe to walk around at night.
The streets are filled with restaurants, many with outdoor seating, and the Recoleta Mall is just outside one corner of the cemetery wall. The neighbourhood is also home to a fascinating bookstore, a fine arts museum, and much more.
Practical information and tips on visiting the Recoleta Cemetery
- Entry to the cemetery is free.
- The cemetery is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
- Just outside the main entrance is a kiosk that sells maps very inexpensively. If you are going in on your own, stop here first and purchase a Recoleta Cemetery map. Evita’s grave is number 26 on the map.
- Go in the afternoon as many mausoleums containing stained glass shine their colours later in the day.
- Take a tour, either in a group or private, or know you will miss a lot.
- Don’t just go in to find Evita’s grave. As you saw here, there are many interesting and hidden things to see in the cemetery.
- There are bathrooms just inside the cemetery entrance.
- For more information, visit the cemetery’s official page on the government website.
- Recoleta Cemetery is just one of many cool things to do in Buenos Aires or the larger South America region.
- First time-visitors to Argentina should start here: Argentina Travel Tips: A Guide for First-Time Visitors
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Do you think the Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery is Artistic or Eerie?
Disclaimer: While in Buenos Aires, we worked alongside Travel Buenos Aires, the local tourism board. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.
I have been to Buenos Aires and visited the Recoleta cemetery. My visit did not afford me the time to go through it as much as you did. Nevertheless, your photos reminded me of a number of mausoleums that I did see, including the one of Evita. Thanks for uploading them. Close inside the entrance to the cemetery is a large mausoleum which has carved into its face, a woman (perhaps an angel) apparently lighting a Jewish 7 day Menorah, above which is a crucifix. On the base is carved the name, Dorreco Ortiz Basualdo. If you saw it, did your Guide give you any input about it? Had the person had a religious conversion? Intriguing.
Sorry, but I didn’t see it.
Amazing photos, Rhonda. It really is a “city of the dead”.
This cemetery reminds me a lot of the cemeteries in New Orleans. Beautiful and just a little bit creepy, but fascinating as well. We usually visit one whenever we find ourselves in NOLA. We have a ghost story like the one you tell here about the woman who borrows the jacket. In fact our tour guide told it to us on my Haunted LA tour. Great post!
I think it’s both artistic and eerie. The abandoned graves look incredible and yes straight from a horror movie. Hoping to visit Buenos Aires one day! Will pin for future reference, thanks for sharing something different off the tourist trail.
This looks so amazing! Thank you for sharing!
Carrie Ann Karstunen
I would love to take a tour of Recoleta cemetery, I find it both eerie and artistic! I’ve spent hours in Père Lachaise in Paris as well as several cemeteries in New Orleans. There’s just something about mausoleums that fascinates me and creeps me out at the same time! You took some great photos – I especially like the tomb of Rufina Cambacers. I love Art Nouveau, and that one is just exquisite! Thanks for the tip to go on a guided tour to show you things you might miss, and to hear all of the stories and legends.
You’ve captured some beautiful images of the artistic parts of the cemetery. I love the stained glass photo… though I was a bit unsettled to learn that there are open spaces with 6 meter drops… that’s terrifying! (Obviously I wouldn’t be walking in – but still… yikes!) I think old cemeteries are so beautiful, but I’m really not a fan of any cemeteries. I do love seeing the photos though.
How could I resist clicking through to read about a cemetery? I never think to visit any, but should. I have quite a sharp memory of one we visited while on a walking tour of New Orleans several years back.
I’m always the first to hire a guide but the husband thinks more in the do-it-yourself way. What a fascinating place to visit and hiring the guide let you in on all the stories. It’s fairly reminiscent of the cemeteries in New Orleans that are also fascinating to walk around – just not as famous.
Oh my goodness, Rhonda, these stories are absolutely fascinating! I really love going to places like this and uncovering all the great myths and facts there. You could set a novel here, couldn’t you?
incredible tombs in cemetery… great shots.
have a wonderful day
Wow, totally fascinating! I find mausoleums and cemetery’s like this beautiful and not creepy (though I wouldn’t want to go to one at night) – i remember touring one in Prague many years ago and was completely fascinated by the architecture and sculpture found in them.
Think going on a tour to hear about the people and families buried there is a great idea, otherwise it is just a case of admiring of the tombs. Love the tomb of Thomas Guido here. Reminds me of good old British dry stone walls!
This is really like a little city. Those are such tall, large resting places. The angel on the way to Eva Peron’s grave is a work of art. The most fascinating for me would be the abandoned graves, with the weeds growing. Those make you stop and ponder life and death, don’t they?!
This looks incredible, I do have a bit of a fascination with cemeteries & graveyards. I can’t pass one without popping in. It’s the history and the intriguing stories that these places hold, that I find amazing.
Love the story of Luz Maria Garcia Velloso and how interesting about Eva Peron, I’m going to have to read more about it.
Grand Adventure Story
Love the apocryphal stories. They really bring the place to life (excuse the pun).
I think visiting cemeteries is interesting (and yes, that probably does make me a bit weird), but I enjoyed Père Lachaise in Paris, the Jewish Cemetary in Prague and the grand cemetery in Havana. How people treat their dead says a lot about their culture.
Handmade Jewelry Haven
Wow, you had a birds eye view on your little metropolis!
May I ask how much you paid for the tour?
Just curious on how much to expect to pay for this.
I believe he wanted about 1200 pesos, which is about $30 US dollars for a private tour for all three of us.
It’s amazing what some cemeteries that we see are like. Your’s is gigantic. While I was on an excursion in Barbados I saw a 17th century church and cemetery. It was very odd because of the sizes. I’ve already arranged for me to be cremated along my wife and daughter and placed in the same mausoleum that my parents are in. Weird talking about this but reality is reality. See ya Rhonda.
A 17th-century cemetery would be much older than the one I wrote about here, as it was opened in the 19th century. As for our arrangements, we have none.
You know me, I love cemeteries not for the dead that live there but for the history and life stories of each person. I think it’s very beautiful.
You would definitely want a knowledgeable guide. There are so many stories. I just touched on a few here.
I’d say both artistic AND eerie. Those the details on those tombs and how tall and wide they are is pretty incredible.
It’s the height and the close proximity to each other that gives it the eerieness.
Hi Rhonda – I can quite see why you’d be fascinated to look around the Cemetery – but am glad you had the guide, while advising us should we visit, get one to tell us what’s going on etc … it must offer so much, if we care to look around and see. Gorgeous photos – and thanks for the stories – cheers Hilary
The guide was the best decision we had made. We had wandered in earlier, and while we could enjoy it from an artistic view, the stories really brought it to life.
I would get a guide if I ever go to a different city for a tour. Even thou it is cemetery it is a very beautiful place and it has so much history.
We don’t often get a guide, as we usually explore on our own. However, some places, like Recoleta Cemetery are just better with a deeper understanding.
Wow, I’ve never seen a cemetery like that before! It definitely does look eery, but if I were to walk around there during the day, I would not mind looking at the different tombs. I believe that it is a part of our history and it should be admired and respected.
Looking into the different tombs was actually quite interesting.
L. Diane Wolfe
It’s beautiful. I don’t think I’d want to explore at night, at least not alone.
I was glad it wasn’t open at night, as we overlooked it so we were close, and we had one of our teens who generally likes things that I find a bit macabre.
I love visiting old cemeteries. This one looks fascinating!
It’s not just an old cemetery, it’s still in use. Families still bury their loved ones in the mausoleums.
Wow! What a fascinating adventure! The mausoleums look amazing and… creepy that the same time lol But they also look like pieces of amazing artwork. I wouldn’t mind visiting there just to see for myself.
I hope you get here someday, it is so much more impressive live than in photos.
This is so awesome – we learn new things every day 🙂 It’s definitely on my travel bucket list 🙂
And it is well worth the visit. It’s fascinating, and quite eerie once you hear some of the stories.
Ryan K Biddulph
The scale of the place looks so epic Rhonda. That alone makes it worth the visit. Plus Eva Peron and other celebs resting there makes it quite fascinating.
Have you not been yet? I am sure you will get to Buenos Aires some day, and the cemetery is a must see.
Thanks for the interesting tour, I actually liked the cemetery photo it LQQKED nice great view afar too but I can see how you thinking it was a bit eerie overlooking it heheh!
Have a tombtastic week Rhonda ➡
I really liked the view. We stayed in Buenos Aires on two separate times on our recent trip, and we enjoyed Recoleta so much that we changed our second hotel to put us back in that neighbourhood, same hotel, same view (different room).
This is so beautiful and eery at the same time. I would love to visit. Although I’m not sure I would be brave enough to go at night.
No worries, it closes at 6 pm, the only way in at night would be illegally.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Don’t go to a bar with a strange woman – check!
It would be fascinating to explore. Would probably take all day.
LOL – Good plan, but if you violate it, don’t give her your jacket!
I don’t think it’s either. It’s just different than what many of us in the states are used too. I like it.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
LOL – I think you would love it. It’s fascinating to walk around and here the stories.
I would say that a cemetery can be both artistic and eerie – at least this one covers the gamut. Beautiful statues and buildings.
You said it, this one sure does cover the gamut.
Lydia C. Lee
I always go to cemetaries when I travel. The old European ones have brilliant statues and in Italy there are little toys or knick knacks regularly put out by the family members tending the grave. It’s an insight into history and cultures. Love that angel.
I agree, and we often visit cemeteries for the same reason. But this one is different. It’s almost like an eerie and classic art museum all jumbled together.