10 Most Important Places To Visit In Argentina
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Argentina is a fascinating country. The Argentinian population is a mix of European immigrants that came here mostly in the last 50 years of the 19th century and the local natives. Unlike its northern neighbor Brazil, there is no African influence here. The big cities like Buenos Aires and Cordoba, still feel very European, but something in the air here is different. Tranquilo is not just a word, it is a way of life, and you can feel it everywhere. It makes people friendlier and warmer, and this is one of the main reasons I love this country. Geography-wise, the country goes from glaciers to deserts, from mountains to waterfalls. There is so much to see and experience here – food, wine, tango, the cities’ streets, and the outdoors. So, here are the best things to do in Argentina:
Explore the city life in Buenos Aires
The capital of Argentina and the largest city is probably the first stop for most visitors, and it is the perfect place to start your journey. In Buenos Aires, you get to know the people and the culture, to enjoy the unique Spanish accent, eat their good food, and party like no place else. Yet, it is quite different from the rest of the country, so before leaving, maximize your time here.
The city is composed of several districts, Barrios, each with its special attractions and sites. Microcentro is where the famous Obelisk is standing and it is the governmental and business center. La Boca is where you find the beautiful colored houses and the home base of the famous soccer team Boca Juniors. San Telmo is a quiet old barrio that comes to life on the weekends with the street market of arts and crafts. Recoleta is the neighborhood of the rich, with the famous Recoleta cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried. Palermo, the biggest barrio, is where you can chill out in the parks during the day, and hang out in restaurants and bars in the evening.
There are a few main avenues that you want to explore. Avenida the Mayo connects the Pink House (the local White House) and the Congress. It’s a short one but busy and worthy. Av. Corrientes hosts the theaters, cinemas, and good pizzas. Av. Santa Fe is the place for shopping and strolling towards Palermo. And last, Av. 9 De Julio, crossing all the abovementioned avenues, is the widest avenue in the world.
For more information about this city, check out my post Top 10 sites in Buenos Aires.
Tip 1: There are many shopping centers in Buenos Aires. Galeria Pacifico is located in a beautiful and impressive building that you don’t want to miss. My favorite shopping mall is Abasto. It is big, fun to walk in, and has a big cinema and attractions for children.
Tip 2: Watching a soccer match in La Bombonera, the stadium of Boca Juniors, is a thrilling experience, even if you are not a soccer fan. The energy, excitement, and the crowd’s passion – are all electrifying. On your way out, it is better to take a taxi back to your hotel for safety reasons.
Chill on the beaches of Mar Del Plata
Mar Del Plata is the beach city of Argentina, and where the Porteños (the people of Buenos Aires) come to spend their summer vacation. Even though the city is 250 miles (400 km) away, the locals love to come here during long weekends and for their summer vacation year after year.
The city has 5 miles (8 km) of beaches and those in the city center are the busier ones. Make your way to the beach early morning to reserve a spot. You can rent a chair or umbrella, or even a private tent if you want more privacy. Some private beaches offer more services like swimming pools, surfing lessons and more.
Right on the beach, where the city center faces the water, two beautiful identical buildings – the Big Casino Central and Hotel Provincial. In between them, there are two big statues of sea lions, the symbol of the city. These adorable animals love Mar Del Plata and can be watched in their reserve near the fishing port.
During the day, spend your time in the city center between shops, cafés, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Upon sunset, make your way to Constitucion Avenue or Alem street for bars and small clubs. If you want to continue partying into the night, head to one of the clubs, but be aware that they open late.
Tip: North to Mar Del Plata, on the shore, there are few small towns that are great for a beach vacation in a quieter environment. A special one to notice is Cariló, a town with no paved roads, that is built in the woods. You can get a hotel room or a house and enjoy a different but special type of vacation.
Adore nature in Valdés Peninsula
If you want to see marine wildlife at its best, the Valdez Peninsula is the place. This the home of Sea lions, elephant seals, penguins, Orcas, and the Southern Right Whale. The whales can be seen in different seasons, and every time they are amazing like the first time. Between August and October the Southern Right whales come to breed here. The Orcas spend time here all year long, but they get on the beaches from February to April and from September to November.
For accommodation go to the nearby town of Puerto Madryn. In recent years the town has developed for the benefit of the many tourists that come here.
Tip: If you want to see the animals of this part of the world, but still to stay indoors, check out the Natural Science Museum in Puerto Madryn. Here you can see a whale’s skeleton, a giant squid, and more.
Visit the End of the World – Ushuaia
Ushuaia is the southernmost city on earth, and this is why it was crowned with the one-of-a-kind title – the “End of the World”. What used to be a penal city and a base for Argentina’s navy, is now a magnet for tourists. The attractions here go between the land and the sea, and in between the lovely streets of the city.
In the sea, the main attraction is the penguin colony in Martillo Island in the Beagle Channel. There are a few types of tours you can book. One option is to take a boat that goes all the way to the shore of the island, where you get close to the penguins, but stay on the boat. Other boat rides combine the island with other attractions like the famous lighthouse and watching the sea lion colony. The most interesting tour, and the priciest one, allows you to get off the boat on the island and walk close to the penguins. This is the closest you can get to these lovely animals and you might see the King penguin if luck is on your side.
On land, there are different trails to explore in the Tierra Del Fuego national park. Here you can see an amazing combination of lakes, lagoons, trees, mountains, and local animals. Nature at its best all around you. Another short hike in the area, and personally my favorite, is Laguna Esmeralda. Three miles of walking will take you to the beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by snowy mountains. It’s mesmerizing. Don’t forget that there are three miles to walk back.
Tip 1: For a unique memory from this place get a new stamp in your passport, saying “end of the world”. Just go to the tourist office near the port, choose your preferred stamp and you got it.
Tip 2: if you want to know the history of the place and to see the mountain views without walking, take the touristic End of the World Train. The old English train is a fun one-hour experience, and you can choose your seat between Tourist Class, First, Premium, and VIP.
Climb on Perito Moreno Glacier
The amazing Perito Moreno glacier is a powerful sight of nature. I saw so many pictures of those enormous ice walls, but none of them transmits the feeling you get when you are there and see them with your own eyes. Seeing a piece of the ice wall falling and splashing into the water, make you admire nature more than ever.
The Perito Moreno glacier, which is named after the 19th-century explorer, is 19 miles (30 km) long, 3 miles (5 km) wide and 200 ft (60 m) high. It’s one of the few glaciers in the world that is still growing, and as mentioned, the break of the ice walls is a standard behavior of a glacier.
You can watch the beautiful glacier in a few ways. Passing the visitor center, you are on the boardwalk that faces the glacier from the other side of the lake. This view is very impressive. If you want to get closer, take a boat ride or even a kayak, and get a better feeling of the glacier’s massive size from down under. The more adventurous travelers can take a trekking tour and hike on the glacier. These tours are one to five hours long and they provide all the equipment you need.
Tip: The closest town to the glacier is El Calafate. It’s a small town with a small main street, but it’s a great spot for those who want to see the glacier. Transportation to the glacier is easy by bus or taxi and you can book hiking tours with hotel pickup from here. Don’t expect fancy hotels here, but they are nice and friendly.
Visit San Carlos de Bariloche
San Carlos de Bariloche, or simply Bariloche, is the fun town of Argentina. When you walk in the streets between the stone and wooden made buildings, you see the mountains around, and you feel in Switzerland. Adding to this the amazing chocolate shops, and you get the full package. While the town, the chocolate, and the restaurants are very enjoyable, the main attractions here are the nature and parks around you.
Bariloche sits on Lake Nahuel Huapi and it is surrounded by mountains with amazing views. Cerro Catedral (Cathedral Hill) is a famous ski resort in the winter, and in the summer you can make your way up by foot. It’s a one-day activity (5-7 hours) and the view is fabulous. Another spot with beautiful views is Cerro Campanario. Here you can take a chairlift and enjoy the views while sitting comfortably on your way up. You can also see the iconic Llao Llao Hotel (Shaow Shaow, this is how Argentinians pronounce it) in the middle of the blue Nahual Huapi lake. I love the beautiful synergy between this building and the nature around it.
Tip: two hours bus ride from Bariloche will take you to El Bolson. This is a laid-back town that attracts hippies and liberal-minded people, who enjoy a quiet lifestyle in an inspiring landscape. There are few short hiking trails around the town, such as Cabeza Del Indio, and Cajón de Azul. Alternatively, you can enjoy the cool vibes of the town, eat in one of the restaurants, have a local beer, or just sit on the grass and relax.
Drink wine in Mendoza
Mendoza is one of the more beautiful cities in Argentina. I am not sure if it’s because it is really beautiful, or because of all the wine that you drink here that makes you smile. Two-thirds of Argentina’s wine is produced in the Mendoza Province, and it’s a great reason to visit here. There are different wine tours you can take, either hopping on and off or biking in one vineyard. The common for all is that you taste good Argentinian wine –Malbec, Cabernet, Syrah and more.
Mendoza is also a place for outdoor activities. The Mendoza River is great for whitewater rafting or kayaking. The water is cold but it’s a really fun experience. If you like hiking, there are some trails around the city, and the biggest attraction here is the Aconcagua mountain. This mountain is the highest in the world outside of Asia, with a summit elevation of 22,841 ft (6960 m). You can choose between 1-day trek, 3 days trek or a full 2.5 weeks trek to climb up to the summit. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, don’t forget your camera!
Explore in and around Córdoba
The second-largest city in Argentina is very different from its bigger sister, Buenos Aires. It is much more laid-back, and this is its charm. On one side, Plaza San Martin and the city center hold historical churches and monuments that date back to the 17th century. The main church, Iglesia Catedral Córdoba, is beautiful inside and outside. On the other side, this city has the most colleges and universities in Argentina, and the young population is here to party.
Art lovers can go to the Evita Fine Arts Museum to see the best pieces by artists from Argentina, and others like Picasso and Goya. For arts and crafts, check out Paseo de las Artes on the weekends.
A 40 minutes bus ride from the city will take to the small town of Carlos Paz on the south shore of Lake San Roque. This is where you connect with nature, in the beautiful valley Punilla. You can take a boat ride in the lake or go up the mountain in the chairlift for an amazing panoramic view. If you want to climb your way up, take the 1.2 miles hike on Cerro de la Cruz.
Tip: If you are in Cordoba in October, make your way to Villa General Belgrano. It is named after the Argentinian General, but it is populated mostly by German descendants. This is why every October they celebrate here Oktoberfest, with lots of beer and German sausages.
Discover the desert in Jujuy Province
The northern province of Jujuy is a unique area in Argentina. There are two big cities here – San Salvador de Jujuy and Salta (de facto it’s in a different province but very close), and they are both great starting points for exploring the province.
The towns in the province are small, some are actually villages, and they feel like a going-back-in-time journey (pre-Hispanic), plus having a new cultural experience. The towns of Purmamarca, and Humahuaca have small handicrafts fairs in the main plaza where you can find woolen goods and souvenirs. In between the towns, you can see some of the most amazing mountains ever. Near Pumamarca – Cerro de Los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors) and going up towards Humauaca you follow an ancient Inca trail along the Rio Grande. In Tilcara there is an archeological site and a beautiful Cactus garden.
West to Pumamarca there is a salt lake, Salinas Grandes. The white fields are amazing. Here you can take the famous perspective photos, so make sure to carry your favorite props and your sunglasses.
All these places are reachable with a car that you can rent in either Salta or Jujuy. If you want to skip the driving, you can take a tour. Some of the tours are for two days and you get to sleep in one of these local towns.
Tip: Another small village to visit here is Iruya. It is located further north in the valley, about 28 miles (46 km) from the main road. What’s interesting about this place is that when it’s raining and the valley fills up, there is no access in and out to the village. You will find here a charming village of indigenous people, with beautiful mountainscapes around it.
Be amazed by the Iguazu falls
The Iguazu Falls are a spectacular piece of nature. They are located on the border of Argentina and Brazil, and they can be seen from both countries. There are 150-300 falls along 2 miles (3 km), varying in height up to 270 ft (82 meters). The biggest and most powerful fall is named the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) and it’s taller than the famous Niagara Falls.
Iguazu National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and is located 25 minutes bus ride from Puerto Iguazu. Once you are in the park, you can explore it on foot, by train, and by boat. There are wonderfully comfortable paths and bridges that take you close to the falls on the lower or higher levels. The views are amazing on both. Boat rides run by private companies and it’s better to book in advance. The train is an ecological train (no pollution) that takes you through the jungle to see the local flora and maybe fauna.
Tip: While the falls on the Argentinian side are much more impressive than the Brazilian side, the nearby cities act the opposite. Puerto Iguazu is a small town, while Foz de Iguazu in Brazil is a bigger city with more city life (restaurants, bars). If you choose to stay in Brazil, know that you would need to cross the border (passport check) every time, and based on the passport you carry you might need a Visa to get into Brazil.
Argentina is famous for different kinds of food and treats, and my two favorites are Empanadas and Alfajores. During your time in Argentina, stop at one empanaderia and get some to go. Mix and match to try as many flavors as possible. Alfajores are a different story, and I am going to be very specific. If you do not eat Alfajores Havanna, it is like you haven’t visited Argentina. Each alfajor is big, so you can share. This is absolutely a must!
The distances between the cities in Argentina are huge, and driving these long distances in two-lane highways is not recommended. Some destinations may be connected by air, but the bus companies are very developed and extremely convenient to use. Even if you need an overnight ride, you can get a half-reclining (semi-cama) or full reclining (cama) seats and get to your destination after a good sleep. Recommended companies are ViaBariloche, Andesmar, Flechabus.
I spent many days and nights in Argentina, and really loved it. It really has so much to offer, and while there are many differences between the south and the north, between the big city of Buenos Aires and country side, or between the cities and the nature around them – Argentina is a one package of warm people, great hospitality and great culture. I just wish politics will not ruin it.
Exploring the entire country can take around 1 month. It is considered one of the expensive countries in South America, but it is still one of the cheapest countries I have traveled to.