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15 Things to do in Argentina

David Pettitt

A vast nation of spectacular natural beauty and vibrant cultural traditions, Argentina is one of South America’s most beguiling destinations. The eighth largest country in the world, there are a whole host of different things to see and do. For those looking to explore the great outdoors, hike the Perito Moreno glacier, view the thunderous Iguazu Falls, travel the wilds of Tierra del Fuego, navigate the Beagle Channel and admire the beauty of Argentina’s Lake District. Wildlife lovers can see penguins, sea lions and whales on Patagonia’s untamed Atlantic Coast or howler monkey and caiman in the wetlands of Esteros del Ibera whilst those interested in Argentine culture and history can learn the tango, understand Inca history and discover Buenos Aires through its unique food culture. Here are 15 of the best things to do in Argentina.

1. Hike the crystal-clear ice of the Perito Moreno glacier

The colossal Perito Moreno glacier forms part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field – the third largest in the world after Antarctica and Greenland. Uniquely, Perito Moreno is also one of the only glaciers that is not receding. Viewing platforms provide spectacular views of the glacier and small boats can travel closer still, however, those with a sense of adventure can slip on crampons and hike the ice. After a safety briefing and lesson, an hour and a half is spent on the ice. Enveloped by walls of shifting ice, some towering upwards of 70 metres, this is an otherworldly landscape of jagged peaks, azure-blue ice caves and yawning crevasses. Memorably, the trek ends with a dram of whiskey over ice taken from the glacier itself.

People trekking on the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina

2. Discover the barrios of Buenos Aires on a food tour

Buenos Aires stretches as far as the eye can see – a vast metropolis and the second largest urban area in South America. It is this size and the numerous districts, known as barrios, that can make it hard for visitors to uncover the diversity of the city. One of the very best ways to get a feel for Buenos Aires is to discover the city’s distinct neighbourhoods through its food. Head to colourful Boca for lunch at a local pizzeria (a nod to the nation’s Italian heritage) then stop for choripan, BBQ chorizo in a crusty roll. In elegant San Telmo try empanadas in a local market whilst exploring the district’s old mansions and in central BA ascend Palacio Barolo, once the city’s tallest building, for spectacular city views accompanied by coffee and cake.

Interior of a pizza restaurant in the Boca district in Buenos Aires

3. Marvel at the power of the mighty Iguazu Falls

Straddling the Argentina-Brazil border, the Iguazu Falls are South America’s answer to those at Niagara. Astonishing in their scale, the waterfalls here are, unbelievably, four times wider than at Niagara – a snaking series of thundering water nearly two miles in length that twists and turns through tropical forest before plummeting to the river below. The deafening sound of the water, brilliance of the rainbows and the billowing clouds of mist and spray are an awesome sight. The Argentinian side of the falls provide the closest views. Footbridges criss-cross the rivers, further routes traverse the top and bottom of the waterfalls whilst the Devil’s Throat, a towering horseshoe-shaped curtain of water, is a highlight.

Panoramic view of the Iguazu Falls on the Argentina-Brazil border

4. Discover a shipwreck in the wilds of Tierra del Fuego

The remote island of Tierra del Fuego sits separated from the rest of Argentina at the southern tip of the South American continent. Appropriately known by locals as ‘the end of the world’, it is only once outside of Ushuaia, the main regional centre, that the true beauty of the island reveals itself. In many ways exploring Tierra del Fuego is an adventure. Empty roads give way to bumpy unmade provincial routes and spectacular jagged peaks, and the highest motorable pass in Tierra del Fuego, lead to the windswept Atlantic coast. Here, at isolated Cabo San Pablo, is the surreal sight of the massive rusting wreck of the Desdemona which ran aground nearly 40 years ago in a substantial storm.

Shipwreck of the Desdemona on a beach in Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina

5. Learn about Inca history at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology

Few realise that Argentina has its own significant Inca history – most of which is centred on Salta in the far north-west of the country and the areas close to the Chilean and Bolivian borders. One of the most fascinating places to visit is the city’s excellent Museum of High Mountain Archaeology. With both permanent and temporary exhibitions, the museum houses artefacts from the Inca civilization including religious, ritual and textile objects. The highlight of the museum is the extraordinarily well-preserved remains of three Inca children. Found frozen at the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano in 1999, they died as a result of religious sacrifice and today provide a unique insight into life of the region over 500 years ago.

The Llullaillaco Volcano, an Inca burial site close to Salta, Argentina

Photo credit: rodoluca88

6. Encounter penguins, whales and sea lions on Patagonia’s Atlantic coast

Patagonia’s untamed Atlantic coast is one of the best places in the world to observe marine, animal and bird life up close. The Peninsula Valdes, in particular, is blessed with an incredible wealth of Patagonian wildlife from rheas and guanacos to shorebirds and birds of prey. However, it is marine life that Peninsula Valdez is synonymous with. Depending on the time of the year, between June and December it should be possible to watch southern right whales from the shoreline and, if lucky, even spot killer whale. Elephant seals can be observed in small groups throughout the year and can be watched quite closely whilst there is also a large Magellan penguin colony which currently numbers close to 5,000.

Magellanic penguins on Argentina's Atlantic Coast in Patagonia

7. Round the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse on a Beagle Channel cruise

The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is one of the world’s most southerly lighthouses and famously associated with the town of Ushuaia. Protecting the formidable waters of the Beagle Channel, the windowless and striped Les Eclaireurs has protected shipping in these parts since the 1920s. The best way to see the lighthouse is on a Beagle Channel cruise which, depending on the weather, lasts around three hours. Cruising the Beagle Channel, named after the ship HMS Beagle that Charles Darwin sailed on as an amateur naturalist with Captain Fitzroy in the early 19th century, is a wonderful experience and it will be possible to see a host of wildlife including sea lion, elephant seal and cormorant.

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the Beagle Channel close to Ushuaia in Argentina

8. Enjoy fine wine in beautiful Mendoza Province

Wine and Mendoza have been linked ever since the Spanish planted the first vines in the region in the middle of the 16th century. However, it was not until European immigration from Italy, Spain and France during the 1800s that the Argentinian wine industry developed. Wine growing regions in Argentina extend the length of the Andean foothills from Cafayate to Neuquen but the key area is centred on Mendoza. This beautiful region produces almost two-thirds of Argentina’s wine and benefits from an almost perfect growing climate with hot days, cool nights and crystal-clear water from the Andes. With a number of excellent bodegas, popular grape varieties include Malbec, Merlot, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Vineyards of Mendoza with Andes in the background in Argentina

9. Learn the tango in Buenos Aires

No visit to Buenos Aires is complete without an evening at the tango. Whether in a traditional milonga, larger theatre or on the streets of Boca or San Telmo, the tango is encountered at almost every turn. No one knows the exact moment when the tango was born but by the 20th century it had spread around the world – hugely popular in London, Paris and New York. For something more special still, and to gain a personal feeling for this special dance, take a tango lesson before sitting down to enjoy one of the city’s excellent shows. Lessons tend to last about an hour and you will be taught a few basic moves usually by two professionals that will later take part in the performance.

Two people doing the tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Photo credit: Ralf Steinberger

10. Stay at the historic Estancia Cristina in Los Glaciares National Park

Estancia Cristina is one of Argentina’s best preserved historic estancias. An original working estancia until 1997 when it reverted to the national park authority where it has been preserved for future generations, the estancia has an excellent museum about the English family that first settled here in the 1800s, a beautiful main lodge (once the original home for the family) and twenty charming rooms with spectacular views down a glacial valley. Estancia Cristina is incredibly remote, a three hour cruise on Lago Argentino links the estancia to a harbour close to El Calafate, and once there a number of different activities can be arranged from hikes and horse riding to 4x4 excursions to view the massive Upsala Glacier.

Panoramic view of the Estancia Cristina in Argentina

11. Marvel at the beauty of Argentina’s Lake District

Situated in the foothills of the Andes, surrounded by lakes and mountains, forest, glaciers and rivers, Argentina’s Lake District is centred on the beautiful Nahuel Huapi National Park. The country’s oldest protected area, the park stretches along the Chilean border and surrounds Lake Nahuel Huapi. For the more adventurous there is excellent hiking, climbing and skiing whilst cougars, guanacos and a number of bird species, including the Magellanic woodpecker, can be seen. The nearest town to Nahuel Huapi National Park is Bariloche, a relaxed alpine town with chalet style buildings influenced by the first German and Swiss settlers and famous throughout Argentina for its chocolate shops and first-class restaurants.

View of Victoria Island set in Lago Nahuel Huapi in Argentina

12. Search for wildlife in the Esteros del Ibera wetlands

The unique ecosystem of the Esteros del Ibera wetlands provides shelter for many of Argentina’s most endangered animals and birds. A series of marshes and swamps, streams, rivers and lagoons, the riverine landscapes of Esteros del Ibera cover a vast area and are located in the far north east of the country. The reserve is home to an abundance of bird and animal life. Search for howler monkey, marsh deer, caiman, coypu, otter, the rare maned wolf and capybara or bird watch in the Paranaense Forest – one of the best places to do so in South America. More than 350 species of bird have been recorded at Esteros del Ibera including jacana, sickle-winged nightjar, stork, heron, kingfisher, hummingbird, eagle and vulture.

Caiman laying in water in the Esteros del Ibera wetlands, Argentina

13. Cross the La Plata River on a day trip to Uruguay

Uruguay, visible from Buenos Aires across the wide expanse of the La Plata River, can be visited on a day trip from the Argentinean capital. Just over an hour by boat from BA is the picturesque town of Colonia del Sacramento which was founded by the Portuguese in 1680 and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pre-dating the structured city plans so favoured by the Spanish, Colonia del Sacramento has a charming, almost haphazard, layout. The old historic centre is rich in history with winding cobbled streets, elegant squares, grand churches and colourful homes with highlights including the 250 year old town walls, Iglesia de la Matriz, the oldest church in Uruguay, and El Faro lighthouse.

Historic homes and cobbled streets of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay

Photo credit: Rod Waddington

14. Take a private boat through the canals of Tigre

Located to the north of Buenos Aires and fed by the sediments of the Parana and Uruguay, the town of Tigre lies within one of the continent’s largest deltas. This labyrinth of islands, channels and streams, all thick with vegetation, are a refuge to a great diversity of birds – many of them rare – with the town itself set around and on a warren of canals and islands. The best way to explore the Tigre Delta and its unique laid-back atmosphere is by boat. Pass island farms and crumbling wooden jetties, cruise through narrow canals lined with tumbledown colourful homes and marvel at the grand historic mansions of the Buenos Aires elite, including that of Argentina’s seventh president, Domingo Sarmiento.

Grand home beside one of the canals of the Tigre Delta in Argentina

15. Explore the atmospheric Recoleta cemetery

Upmarket Recoleta is one of the most beautiful districts of Buenos Aires and its leafy streets, grand architecture, cafes and restaurants are a joy to explore. However, the main highlight of Recoleta is its famous cemetery which is the final resting place of many of Argentina’s most notable people including former presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize recipients, the founder of the Argentinian Navy and Eva Peron. Built around an 18th century convent and church, La Recoleta Cemetery is a warren of narrow lanes, towering statues and numerous elaborate tombs and mausoleums all in a range of different architectural styles. Fascinatingly, the cemetery also has the highest property prices per square metre in the country.

Grand mausoleums of La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

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