Why you should care
Because here you get busy like the locals — in a hotel designed specifically for sex.
Buenos Aires has a reputation for intense soccer fans, tons of beef and an overabundance of psychoanalysts, but there’s a lot of something else too: telos or sex hotels. As a non-Argentine, you might not even realize the existence of these hotels. But in every neighborhood, people cycle in and out of the small, steel doors on windowless facades of these secret places of pleasure. With more than 130 telos in the city, they’re a highly frequented and highly discreet Buenos Aires staple (I lived one block from one for months before I realized what it was).
A play on the word “hotel” in Argentine lunfardo, telos are institutionally called albergues transitorios or “transitory hotels” — a discreet place couples can rent for blocks of time (called turnos), usually between two and eight hours. And while Argentines have been using these pay-by-the-turnos sex hotels for almost a century, tourists looking to enjoy a hidden side of the city are now being welcomed into their musky embrace. If they can find them, that is.
The telos range from basic to extravagant and over-the-top (want to have sex on a bed modeled after a 1920s Ford? You can).
Telos are typically nondescript on the outside — it’s the inside that conjures sexy time. At first glance, most of the decor has a Hampton Inn feel. But a quick glance uncovers more mirrors, one too many Jacuzzis in the living room, small windows and way too many porn channels for your average free-breakfast-bearing accommodation chain. The telos range from basic to extravagant and over-the-top (want to have sex on a bed modeled after a 1920s Ford? You can), but they are so common — and somewhat normalized — that it’s rare to see one with that “murder in a motel” kind of vibe.
Throughout their nearly century of existence, the popularity of telos has transformed and shifted but still remains a constant — but not always admitted — part of daily Argentine life. When brothels were made illegal in 1936, sex workers needed places to work. Savvy hotel owners, seeing the economic possibilities, began renting rooms by the hour, and, later, other hotels were established for the sole purpose of by-the-hour stays. But guests weren’t only sex workers, and their clients and the popularity of telos increased — there were 779 reported in 1967, according to Telos: un mapa de la sexualidad porteña (Telos: A Map of Buenos Aires Sexuality), by Juan Pablo Casas.
Going to a telo has also been a rite of passage, as Casas points out in his book. From the 1950s to ’70s, while American teens were hooking up in vehicles at lookout points, drive-in theaters and college campuses, the youth of Buenos Aires turned to telos for their sexual awakenings.
Handy for random hookups or discreet affairs, telos also have a lot to do with freedom. “In a world where many feel confused” about acceptable conduct in certain contexts, “telos provide a hideout of sorts, where all consensual sexual activity and all legal deviation is allowed,” says Javier Hasse, best-selling author and Argentine native. So, “Afraid of trying cross-dressing? Telo! Don’t want your neighbors to hear your BDSM experimentation? Telo! Gay but still not out? Telo! Quick meetup with your life partner downtown during lunch hour? Telo! You get it.”
Spaces designated specifically for sexual intimacy aren’t unique to Argentina. Several other countries have versions of telos. But unlike in a country like Japan, foreigners are welcome to the Argentine variety. It takes an adventurous tourist, though, to add this to his Buenos Aires must-do list. Gabriel Liñares, the general manager of General Paz, a luxury, vintage-themed telo, says it’s hard to tell how many foreigners visit the space since they don’t keep track. If you do visit, he says, you shouldn’t forget that you can only be in the space for the turno you’ve paid for — and you can’t come and go.
More than 50 telos have closed in the past decade, but it’s not because Porteños aren’t having sex. Some say it could be the ongoing economic crisis or the fact that more 20- and 30-somethings either live with liberal parents or alone and no longer need a private space for intimacy.
But the decline in usage has spurred a growing movement to find creative solutions. In 2018, legislation was passed to legalize threesomes and swinger couples in telos for the first time. So, the next time you’re in Buenos Aires and you meet a fun couple who wants to “show you around,” take note. A simple request could take on a whole new meaning.
How to Navigate Telos as a Tourist
- Find one: There are telos in every neighborhood of Buenos Aires and chances are, asking anyone on the street will get you in the right direction. Nervous to enquire? The website alberguestransitorios.com (it also has an Android and Google Play app) has a list by name and zone.
- Tips and perks: Like how Starbucks gives you a free drink on your birthday, some telos have discounts if you’re celebrating a birthday, so be sure to head to one where you can take advantage. Others have different deals for every day of the week — don’t be afraid to ask what promoción they have. Some turnos include free breakfast. It’s much more exciting to order a café con leche y medialuna (coffee with milk and croissant) from a sex hotel room service than the corner café, right?
- Costs: Turnos typically range from two to eight hours, and cost typically between $10 and $75. The higher the price, the more elaborate — or eccentric — the space. The rooms at General Paz Hotel cost more than $100 for three hours, but they also look like penthouse suites with hot tubs in the middle of the living room and will deliver sushi and champagne.