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Argentina Country Guide: What to Do in Argentina

Many visitors come to Argentina without realizing how vast the country is. It’s the eighth largest in the world by land mass, with about 41 million people — most of them concentrated in the capital, Buenos Aires, and the surrounding suburbs. If you’re short on time or you simply want to linger in one place, the capital provides a vast wealth of museums, cultural choices, nightlife and festivals; this is the place to take a tango lesson or meet gauchos at a rural fair.

It’s worth taking a little extra time, though, to explore the Argentine hinterland and all its natural sights. This might include Patagonia’s Perito Moreno glacier and wall of giant blue ice, or Mendoza’s rich agricultural and wine offerings where you can dine inside of a vineyard as the sun sets. Click through our slideshow for more unique experiences — and then check out our guides to where to stay and how to get around.

Cruise the World’s Edge

Ushuaia feels like the edge of the world, and indeed it nearly is, set at the bottom of Argentina in Tierra del Fuego. A highlight of visiting the town is taking a boat tour through the Beagle Channel, named for the boat Charles Darwin sailed through the region. Board a small boat with Patagonia Adventure Explorer or Canal Fun and pass by Isla Bridges and Isla de los Pajaros (home to albatrosses, petrels and other birds) and Isla de los Lobos (where sea lions lounge).

If Ushuaia is not “edge of the earth” enough for you, the city is also where cruises depart for Antarctica with Quark Expeditions and other companies.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Buenos Aires to Los Angeles by Stephen Goch

“We cruised in close to a bustling rookery of imperial cormorants. This large black and white bird was an impressive sight as it wheeled high in the sky, fished for its supper and then landed on rocky islands to dry its wings in the sun.” Read more!

Tango the Night Away

In 2009, UNESCO declared the dance and music of tango, which developed in both Argentina and Uruguay along the banks of the Rio de la Plata, of importance to world culture. Buenos Aires offers more locations to enjoy tango than anywhere else in the world, from free open-air performances on Sundays in San Telmo’s Plaza Dorrego to sultry milongas, or dance halls.

Consider a visit to Salon Canning, where local tango aficionados meet each other, or to flashy show palaces like Esquina Carlos Gardel or El Querandi. Most show palaces also have pre-dinner lessons if you’re interested in learning the tango yourself. Narrative Tango Tours offers a variety of tango experiences, including dance lessons, milonga outings, lectures and historical walking tours.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina by Minhtrang McCarthy

“To emerge in the Argentinian spirit, we chose to stay at Complejo Tango Boutique Hotel, a very charming place that has only a limited number of rooms, each inspired by a famous tango personality. They have a fabulous Tango Show Dinner with a free tango lesson before dinner. Read more!

Scale a Glacier

If you have just one place in Patagonia to go, Perito Moreno should be it. Visitors hiking through Los Glaciares National Park are suddenly faced with the giant wall of pale blue ice. Climb the glacier with crampons and experience its moonlike landscape.

Most visitors stay in El Calafate, about two hours away. You can drive to Los Glaciares and try to explore on your own, but it’s best to have your travel company arrange your stay. Locally, book a tour with Gigantes Patagones or Los Glaciares Turismo, who provide transportation and bilingual guides, and can also arrange boat tours on Lago Argentino within the park as part of your visit.

Immerse Yourself in German Culture

Argentina has one of the largest German communities in South America. You’ll find the greatest concentration in Villa General Belgrano, a small town an hour from Cordoba in the interior of the country, where much of the architecture has been built in an Alpine style. A variety of beers are brewed here with traditional German methods, like Cerveza Viejo Munich and Brunnen. Many breweries are open for tours.

The town’s annual 10-day Oktoberfest is combined with the National Beer Festival. The event usually takes place in the first half of October and has been a local tradition for over 50 years. You’ll find beauty pageants, which offer a unique Argentine twist to the festival, along with people in traditional Bavarian costumes for dance, music and other competitions. The city sits in the scenic Valle Calamuchita, filled with forests, mountains and rivers. Use Dapa Turismo or Tirol Tur for local excursions if you want to stay longer; the companies Say Hueque and Borello Travel can arrange to include Villa General Belgrano in your Argentine trip.

Explore the Watery Wilds

Tigre, a river island destination an hour from Buenos Aires, was once ruled by jaguars who plied the thousands of sedimentary islands here. The big cats are long gone, and today the area is best known as a great Buenos Aires side trip, whether for one day or a few.

Visitors can stay in the main town of Tigre, which is still part of the mainland, visiting museums like the Museo de Arte Tigre, built in a restored Belle Epoque casino. Or grab a riverboat, the main mode of transportation, at the Estacion Fluvial and head to the remote islands. Here you can get away from it all at the Delta Eco Spa, or try a more adventurous spot like Bonanza Deltaventura, with nature trails, horseback riding and an overnight lodge sleeping up to 12 in a single room. One delight of Tigre is feeling the sway of the islands, which sometimes ripple as the gentle delta currents run through them.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls by cindy murry
“Tigre — Delta Area: This was another rainy day (we had a lot of those) and I had read from a TripAdvisor reviewer not to bother to go on a rainy day but ignored this very good advice.”  Read more!

See Preserved Incan Mummies

Salta, in Argentina’s northwest, is one of the few cities where both early Spanish colonial history and Incan culture are preserved. The area was once the easternmost edge of the Incan Empire, and you can find traces of that civilization along with other native cultures that were conquered by the Incas in pre-Columbian times.

The Museo Arqueologico de Altas Montanas (MAAM), located in the center of the city on its main plaza Nueve de Julio, offers the best glimpse into this past. There you’ll find well-preserved frozen mummies, children who were offered as a sacrifice by the Incas on Mount Llullaillaco, a sacred volcano more than 22,000 feet high. Throughout the city, architecture from the late colonial period (when Spain still ruled the region) is well maintained, especially on Buenos Aires Street.

Explore Wineries and Viticulture

There is nothing like wine tasting and fine dining in one of the world’s greatest wine and culinary capitals, whether in Mendoza itself at hotels like the historic Park Hyatt or at Francis Mallmann’s restaurant 1884, or in the surrounding regions. Vineyard tours take you through areas such as Lujan de Cuyo and the Valle Uco, which feel like the Napa Valley of decades ago. Trout and Wine is one recommended operator, offering both romantic luxury and rough adventure travel options.

If you come during the harvest season in late February and March, time your visit for the Vendimia Harvest Festival celebrating the region’s agricultural bounty with concerts and street festivals. The most interesting highlight is a beauty queen parade in which young women in ball gowns pelt the crowd with grapes as Argentina’s political and celebrity elite watch from the grandstands.

Learn About Argentina’s Dark History

A dark, fascinating destination that’s largely unknown to foreign tourists in Buenos Aires is the site formerly known as Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (the Mechanical School of the Navy) and now called El Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos (the Space of Memory and Human Rights). While today it might remind you of a northern California college campus with its 1920s architecture and luscious canopy of trees, it served as a notorious detention, torture and murder site for as many as 5,000 of the estimated 30,000 victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1982.

The grounds are dotted with memorials and museum spaces, and some of the detention and torture areas are open to visitors. The newest of the museum sites is the Museo de Islas Malvinas, opened in June 2014, which presents the country’s view of the islands known to English speakers as the Falklands, and the ill-fated war which brought down the dictatorship, ushering in democracy.

Watch for Whales

Patagonia meets the ocean in Peninsula Valdes, a land mass jutting out into the Atlantic where visitors can go horseback riding on cliffs or see the migration of the whales, best done from July to December. Thanks to its varied wildlife, ranging from penguins to sea lions, the peninsula has been likened to a cold Atlantic version of the Galapagos. The peninsula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a national park, meaning that there are limited options for staying overnight. Most visitors will stay just off the peninsula in Puerto Madryn.

Most whale watching boats leave from Puerto Piramides, a small town at the neck of the peninsula. (Fun fact: The town also has a sizable Welsh community — you’ll even find traffic signs in the original Welsh language.) Nievemar Tours and Huinca Travel can both help with local excursions in and around Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdes.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Christmas & New Year’s Cruise South America Style by Amelia Hesson
“Onto our next stop, along the way we spot many types of wildlife including guanacos, snakes, ostrich-like birds, a fox and an armadillo! We get to Punta Norte, which is a beautiful spot along a cliff of sandstone; below are many sea lions and elephant seals, all molting (losing their skin fur) and playing with their babies. We see several alpha male fights that are loud and violent as the alpha gets the female harem!”  Read more!

Check Out the Gaucho Life

Imagine a 4H festival put on by the Astors, and you have some sense of this late July event in Buenos Aires, held at the Belle Epoque La Rural stadium. The Exposicion Rural Festival dates from the turn of the last century when wealthy estancia or ranch owners would hold competitions to show off their prize animals and top gauchos.

Competitions include roping cattle, prize bulls and traditional dances like the zamba, an old courting ritual in which men and women dance while holding a handkerchief together in their hands. The event has also grown to include artisanal food displays showing off the vast agricultural bounty of Argentina, from Italian foods made with local ingredients to blueberry preserves, as well as everyone’s favorite — handcrafted dulce de leche,a form of caramel paste made from boiled, sweetened milk.

–written by Michael Luongo

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