Argentina… where to travel now
Spanning nearly three million square miles, Argentina is the world’s eighth largest country. So how do you even start planning a visit? Fortunately, award-winning travel writer Nick Boulos is on hand to guide us around its premier sights.
Argentina isn’t short of wonders, both natural and man-made. Start with a few days in trendy, historic Buenos Aires – that much is easy – but from there…? With an almost overwhelming number of options, planning a trip to a nation as diverse as Argentina takes some thought. North to sprawling cattle ranches, serene vineyards and waterfalls cascading through tropical rainforest, or follow the mighty Andes south via lakes, biblical mountain peaks and country-sized glaciers? And that’s before you’ve even thought about the wine.
There’s an undeniable European feel to South America’s largest and most cosmopolitan capital, with its leafy piazzas, long, wide boulevards and architecture inspired by immigrants who settled here in the late 19th century. These days, Buenos Aires – or BA as it’s commonly known – is home to around 15 million friendly, fun-loving people who know how to have a good time.
Most make a beeline for historic San Telmo, famed for its rows of vibrantly painted houses. And just like in many other areas of the city, there’s music to be heard on the cobbled streets of this arty neighbourhood, courtesy of the alfresco cafes that serve up foot-tapping tango shows to accompany the local dishes.
A healthy appetite for dance as well as food (don’t miss the steak at La Cabrera, arguably the city’s best parrilla, or grill) is a necessity in Buenos Aires. Watch the masters in action or try it for yourself in one of the city’s plentiful tango academies.
Beyond the country’s most famous (and sultry) export, Buenos Aires has much to keep you busy. Tour the famous La Recoleta cemetery, where Eva Peron was laid to rest; browse the weekend fairs and markets; and shop for local labels in the trendy boutiques of Palermo. And don’t forget to take a quick snap of the 67-metre-tall obelisk, the national monument that stands in the middleof Plaza de la Republica.
‘Poor Niagara’. That’s all First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt could muster upon seeing Iguazú, the 300 or so jungle-clad waterfalls straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil. One of the world’s great natural wonders (and twice as tall and three times as wide as its Canadian cousin), the waterfalls of Iguazú have enjoyed starring roles in such Hollywood blockbusters as The Mission, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Roger Moore stopped by as James Bond in Moonraker.
Even more impressive is the wildlife that calls Iguazú National Park home: somersaulting howler monkeys, toucans up in the canopies and jaguars in the dense undergrowth. Sightings are rare but flora and fauna is not what lures people to Argentina’s north-easternmost tip. It’s the water. And, boy, there’s a lot of it. Stand at the edge of the thunderous Devil’s Throat, a gargantuan horseshoe-shaped waterfall located at the end of a drenched elevated walkway, and the beauty, power and scale of Iguazú will become immediately apparent. Time your visit during a full moon and you may even experience the ethereal lunar rainbow, when eerie bands of grey and speckled silver illuminate the falls.
Welcome to Wine Country. Argentina’s finest tipple needs little introduction and there’s no place more synonymous with it than Mendoza.
Nestled in the foothills of South America’s famous mountain range, the chic city was founded in 1561 and is now surrounded by a liberal sprinkling of wineries and vineyards, many of which are open to the public. Some of the estates even offer accommodation. Book into the Entre Cielos, a plush ‘wine resort’ just outside the city with just 16 rooms, a spa featuring wine treatments and its own 3.2-hectare vineyard that produces quaffable malbecs.
First to enjoy a sip in these parts were Jesuit priests who planted the first vines way back in the 1500s, but it took several long centuries for the wine to make an impact internationally. Discover its complex secrets and sample some truly special wines with a tasting at Bodega do Patti, run by Carmelo Patti whose interest was sparked at the age of 10 when he started picking grapes for his winemaker father.
Giddy up, cowboy! Fulfill childhood dreams of being a real life cowboy or girl in the wild plains of the Pampas in central Argentina. Unlike the epic mountain peaks and crunching glaciers found to the south, there’s a subtle beauty to the land up here, where the flat valleys and fertile plains roll on seemingly forever.
The one unmissable experience is staying in an authentic estancia, one of the many sprawling ranches run by true gauchos. In these parts, the local dress code means leather chaps and jingling spurs, but that’s optional for visitors. This is a unique chance to leap into local life: learn how to drive cattle, listen to local folklore tales and get an insight into the day-to-day realities of country living, cowboy style. There’s also plenty of time to relax and unwind, with lazy days on leisurely horseback rides and nights around the campfire. Yeeha!
Salta and the North-West
Set against a backdrop of the Andes, foothills studded with cacti and old adobe houses, and a history dating back to the Incas, Salta and the red-rock valleys around it make up one of Argentina’s most irresistible corners.
The city itself, founded by Spaniards in 1582, is big on colonial charm. Most of the action centres around Plaza 9 de Julio, bustling with cafes during the day and bars after dark that overlook the neoclassical basilica. A short distance from the city is the San Lorenzo Gorge, a stunning nature reserve cloaked in tropical cloud forest and laced with rivers. It provides an easily accessible escape into nature, perfect after a few days exploring the sights and sounds of Salta.
Elsewhere, rail enthusiasts will enjoy a ride on the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), one of the highest railways in the world. It departs from Salta and travels over 29 bridges, across 13 viaducts and reaches heights of 4,220 metres above sea level during its 8-hour journey across the province.
Tierra del Fuego
All roads – in South America at least – lead to Tierra del Fuego, the wild, wind-battered province occupying the southern extremity of the Americas. Imbued with an epic and undeniable ‘final frontier’ atmosphere (the name translates as ‘Land of Fire’), the main settlement is Ushuaia, a small city backed by the rugged Andes and glistening glaciers.
For most, a trip this far south is for well-deserved bragging rights: visiting the southernmost city in the world and the chance to post a card from the southernmost post office in the world. But for the lucky ones, it’s the jumping-off point for the White Continent. During the ‘balmy’ summer months, vessels leave the harbour almost daily to venture along the Beagle Channel, heading south on a once-in-a-lifetime voyage to Antarctica.
Those that remain behind are well compensated with some of the finest landscapes on offer: mountains and beaches, valleys and lakes, forests and bays. Hiking trails criss-cross Tierra del Fuego National Park, plunging you into the thrilling isolation that infuses the rugged land, which split from the rest of Patagonia around 9,000 years ago.
Whales and a little touch of Wales await in the fabled province of Patagonia. Regarded as one of the world’s whale-watching hotspots, the southern right whale can be viewed from close quarters between May and December. The Welsh, meanwhile, can be found here all year round. Groups seeking a new start first settled here in 1865 and clusters of curious communities, such as Trevelin and Trelew, still remain.
Under the larger-than-life Patagonian sky, where Andean condors circle in large swoops, are steeps filled with grazing guanacos. Patagonia also features impossibly high and dramatic snowcapped mountains. Under the larger-than-life Patagonian sky, where Andean condors circle in large swoops, are steeps filled with grazing guanacos. It’s here you’ll find some of the best-protected patches of wilderness. There is Mount Fitz Roy near El Chalten, and the Los Glaciares National Park, whose star attraction – the Perito Moreno glacier, the size of Buenos Aires – will stun you into silence. If luck is on your side, you may see (and hear) it calve as house-sized chunks of ice break away and fall into the still water beneath with an almighty crash. The abundance of natural goodness has propelled Patagonia to the very top of many bucket lists, and with good reason.
Esteros del Iberá and the North-East
South America’s second largest wetland, Esteros del Iberá is an eco and wildlife destination of the highest order. Relatively unknown until recently, tourism here is on the up but it’s a change that’s happening slowly.
Base yourself at a cosy ranch (the Rincón del Socorro gets my vote) and explore a vast area teeming with weird and wonderful creatures. Esteros del Iberá attracts a huge array of birdlife from all over the world, with around 350 species including parrots, hummingbirds and the fabled southern screamer. Mammals are well represented too: keep watch for otters, wolves and monkeys, while caimans sunbathe on the embankments. A boat trip on the waterways, lagoons and lakes is perhaps the most exciting way to get up close to the wildlife and savour the endless wetlands.
Inspired? Explore Cox & Kings holidays to Argentina >