Arriving in Argentina can be a widely different experience – the stunning landscapes in Patagonia are about as far away from the dense, modern and chic Buenos Aires as you can get. The far north is wild and has little in common with the rest of the country. In short, Argentina offers a lot, but given it’s massive size, you’ll spend a great deal of time just getting around. Bus travel is about as expensive as it gets in South America, averaging between $4-5 USD per hour, but it’s also quite nice. Lodging prices vary widely, with the most expensive in Patagonia and Buenos Aires ($12-14 dorm, $30-35 private), and the cheapest in Salta and Jujuy provinces ($8 dorm, $20-25 private). Get ready for a lot of parrilla (barbecue), wine, pasta and pizza – with wildly differing quality on those last two – and an absence of quality produce. -November 2014
Buenos Aires is a city that seems to offer something for everyone. The amount of live music, art, performance and night life available is stunning. You’ll have to adjust your daily schedule to make the most of these things, as dinner isn’t usually served until 9 or 10 at night, and most clubs or live music performances can start as late as 2 am. Don’t miss out on attending a milonga for a taste of the porteño tango scene, eat a wonderful steak at La Cabrera’s happy hour (7-8pm daily for half price), and see the epic live show Bomba del Tiempo at the Konex Cultural Center (Mondays).
You might stress out a bit on where to stay in the city. There are a lot of hostels and ex-pats in the San Telmo neighborhood, which has fantastic architecture and is convenient for the Sunday antique fair. But I really think there are better places to stay. Try a hostel in Palermo to be close to some of the best bars, restaurants and parks in the city. Constitucion and Recoleta are also central and convenient places to stay. If you’re looking to get away from tourists, give the birth place of tango a shot – Boedo.
A city of 14 million can sometimes feel suffocating – try a day out to Uruguay (to get some USD) or take the train up the river to Tigre and explore the islands.
Córdoba is Argentina’s second city – it has a similar energy to Buenos Aires and is home to many universities, giving it a younger vibe. However, the real attraction in this part of the country is the small towns that dot the Sierras. Avoid the biggest of these on weekends, and try funky Villa General Belgrano for your German food fix.
We didn’t spend a lot of time in this area, but heard good things about Mina Clavero and La Cumbrecita.
NORTHERN ARGENTINA & IGUAZU FALLS
San Miguel de Tucumán is one of the most important cities in the north of Argentina, in part because it’s the largest, but also as it was the sight of Argentina’s declaration of independence from Spain in 1816. Tucumán won’t win any awards for beauty though, and if you’re there during the summer be prepared for unbearably hot days. A train runs from Buenos Aires direct to Tucumán and could be a good option for getting north quickly in Argentina.
Tafi del Valle and Cafayate lie to the northeast of Tucumán, and offer plenty of access to surrounding nature. Cafayate is the wine capital of the Salta Province, and has many wineries located in and close to the town center. Don’t forget to try the torrontés varietal while visiting!
Salta is one of the more beautiful cities in this part of the country, with great views afforded from the cable car. It’s also the best place to rent a car (~$50/day). Typical tourist routes include 2-3 days in the north (Tilcara, Humahuaca, Sierras del Hornocal, Iruya, Salinas Grandes, Purmamarca) and/or making a 2-3 day loop down south (Cachi, Molinas, Colomé, Quebrada de las Flechas, Cafayate, Quebrada de las Conchas). The James Turrell Museum in Colomé is worth the trouble of visiting whether or not you are familiar with his work.
Iguazú Falls is a must visit if you’re in Argentina, but be prepared for a long haul out there and back. Overnight bus rides from Buenos Aires are comfortable, but are in the neighborhood of 18 hours long. If booked far enough in advance, flights can be reasonable. Don’t forget to see the falls from the Brazilian side as well – offering a completely different vantage point, and one that is much more panoramic.
The main town in the Lakes District is San Carlos de Bariloche, sometimes known as the Switzerland of Argentina (lakes and chocolate), which is both a winter and summer sport destination. Situated within the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the surrounding mountains provide great hiking opportunities (many refugios are available) and snow sports alike.
To the south lies El Bolsón, a popular destination for American hippies in the 70’s. Today you can find many artisanally made goods at the local market, and environmentally conscience lodging choices. There are also great hikes in the surrounding mountains.
To the north lies San Martin de los Andes. Popular tourist activities include the Seven Lakes Drive, and visiting the Lanín National Park.
Patagonia technically encompasses much of southern Argentina, but for our purposes, I’m really talking about southern Patagonia. Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia are the towns that you will likely fly into when coming from Buenos Aires. Ushuaia, known as the southern most city in the world, is in a beautiful location with some good hiking nearby. This is where cruise ships leave for tours to the Argentina Antarctica.
One of the biggest tourist draws is the FitzRoy massif in the Glacier National Park, with day hikes originating from El Chalten. There is plenty to do in this region, from the simple day hike up to see the peak, to more adventurous hikes out to the Southern Ice Field.
A few hours from El Chalten is El Calafate, where groceries, restaurants and lodging is more reasonably priced. Get on a day tour from here to visit the famous Perito Moreno Glacier – one of the few in the world that is still growing.
OTHER PLACES IN ARGENTINA
We didn’t have a chance to visit a few places in Argentina. Here are a couple that we often heard good things about: Puerto Madryn for whale watching (make sure it’s the season), San Rafael & Mendoza (for more wine tasting), and Mar del Plata for beaches south of Buenos Aires.