Exuberant passion for life is at the very core of Argentina, woven into the florid twirls of Tango and the fierce loyalty of football fans to their local club. Forged from old world European refinement crashing into new world frontiers, Argentina has a rich heritage of art and architecture that is completely its own. Cities may be laid out around European style plazas and grand boulevards, but the streets of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Mendoza have their own distinct beat. From the grasslands and big skies of the Pampas to the soaring peaks of the Andes, from the subtropical heat of Iguazú to the translucent glaciers of El Calafate, Argentina is a land of colossal beauty. And whether it’s a windswept town in Patagonia or a backstreet bar in Buenos Aires, you will find fresh empanadas, great wine, tender grilled steaks, and someone to assure you that they are the best in the world; with thousands of vineyards and renowned beef, you will just have to decide for yourself.
A city that truly never sleeps, Buenos Aires’ streets are lined with neoclassical architecture and feel distinctly European in places, but they pulse with fiery Latin American vitality. A sprawling metropolis with a population of almost 15 million people, Buenos Aires is still a pleasure to explore on foot, or for the intrepid traveler, by bicycle. Wander through the streets of Palermo and La Recoleta and enjoy an abundance of upscale cafés and international cuisine, or head over to the scruffier San Telmo neighborhood for their artisan markets and street performers. A city of flowering parks and beautiful fountains, there is always a stretch of green space to escape the bustle of the streets. Shop the designer stores on Avenida Santa Fe, delve into Latin American art at the Bellas Artes museum, or revisit history on the Plaza de Mayo outside of the Casa Rosada presidential palace. Buenos Aires is a city of non-stop excitement with an edgy style and plenty of quirks to keep you guessing at what the next street will hold in store. And of course, this is the home of Tango, a dance that will stir your soul with its passion and grace. Fantastic restaurants, exuberant nightlife, and vibrant street art make this cosmopolitan city a place you can’t help but love.
Located in the far southwestern edge of Patagonia on the border with Chile, a three hour flight or several days by bus from Buenos Aires, El Calafate is well worth the journey. Argentine Patagonia is a landscape without limits; vast grasslands spill out to the horizon to the east and collide with mountains in the west as the region’s infamous winds coming roaring across the plains. Perched on the edge of the powdery-blue Lago Argentino, El Calafate is a quirky but immediately likeable small town mix of hotels chaotically dotting the hillsides and an attractive mainstreet of wooden storefronts and restaurants. A visit to Perito Moreno Glacier in Parque Nacional los Glaciares is an experience of a lifetime. Take a boat ride next to the towering 240-foot translucent blue-white walls of the glacier, or wander the forested boardwalks for staggering views of this natural treasure.
Only a four hour drive away from El Calafate, a short commute for Patagonia, El Chaltén is an outdoor paradise perched on the banks of the Río de las Vueltas. Sitting in the shadow of one of Patagonia’s most iconic peaks, Mount Fitz Roy, El Chaltén is a charming, essentially one-street little town nestled into the northern end of Parque Nacional los Glaciares. With day hikes throughout the surrounding hills, winding up to the turquoise waters of Laguna de Torre or further up to the Laguna de los Tres at the base of Mount Fitz Roy, there is no shortage of options for all levels of hikers. With an outdoor bounty of mountain biking, bouldering, rafting, boat rides, ice-climbing, and horseback riding, this area is meant for adventure. Back in town you will find cozy restaurants with great food, locally brewed beer, and fantastic sunsets framing the mountain peaks on clear evening. In Patagonia’s autumn, the forests of lenga trees turn crimson and gold, setting this beautiful landscape aflame in color.
Magical, mystical, tempestuously majestic, there are no words to truly capture the roaring beauty of Iguazú Falls. Surrounded by leafy subtropical forest, the Río Iguazú gushes over the edge of the Paraná Plateau, falling more than 250 feet and rising back up in a continuous cloud of rainbow mist. It is not the just the height of Iguazú Falls that is impressive though, it is the titanic quantity of water surging over the horseshoe cliffs, making it one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. Hike the network of paths and boardwalks to experience the falls and their soaking spray from different vantages, or take a boat ride to the thundering base of the Devil’s Throat. Nearby, the city of Puerto Iguazú serves as a pleasant gateway to the falls, with options from backpacker hostels to upscale hotels and plenty of great restaurants.
A laid-back city that is bursting with youthful energy, music and nightlife, Mendoza has cultural sights and incredible landscapes to keep you busy for as long as you can stay. It is a desertous city set in the foothills of the Andes, but a leafy canopy covers the streets and makes walking the city a delight even in the heat of summer. Enjoy shaded cafés and artisan shops along the pedestrian avenue La Alameda, and be sure to check in on Plaza Independencia before you end the evening, where families and young people gather to watch performers late into night. Head out of the city for a biking tour of a few of the local wineries where you can enjoy incredible meals paired with in-house vintages—the region is best known for producing Malbec, a rich, full red wine with hints of fruit. Get a full experience of the region by going rafting on the Mendoza River, or hiking, biking, or winter skiing in the Parque Provincial Aconcagua, the home of the highest peak outside of Asia at 22,837 feet. Mendoza is a city of churches, plazas, a lively football scene, and all the trappings of colonial culture with the easy-going artistic touch of Argentina.
Founded in 1582 by Spanish conquistadors, Salta was one of Argentina’s first colonial cities, intended to serve as a link between Lima, Peru and Buenos Aires. A culturally rich city with indigenous heritage and colonial architecture at its core, there is a relaxed bustle to Salta that feels instantly welcoming. Well-preserved 18th and 19th-century buildings like the Catedral Basilica de Salta and the Iglesia de San Francisco are lit beautifully in the evenings. With a handful of great museums, plazas lined with cafés, a folk music scene, and a youthful vibe, Salta is the perfect gateway to exploring the northwest of Argentina. From here, take a tour of the pastel mountains of the UNESCO-listed Quebrada de Humahuaca, Calchaqui Valley, or head to the wineries of Cafayate.
San Carlos de Bariloche
Surrounded by 6,000-foot-tall mountains, lush forests, and perched on the crystalline waters of Lago Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche is embedded in natural splendor. Located in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, it is an idyllic town of wooden framed alpine-style buildings, open plazas, and incredible views. There are a wealth of outdoor activities at anytime of the year from hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, to skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Bariloche is the largest city in Argentina’s Lake District, but manages to retain a small town atmosphere. Take a relaxing boat tour, sunbathe on the shore of the frigid lake, or trek into these amazing mountains. There is an abundance of upscale lodging and great restaurants, and no matter the season, tranquil beauty awaits in Bariloche.
Pinned between the slopes of the snow-capped Martial Mountains to the north and the Beagle Channel to the South, Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world. This is a hardscrabble port city that has its roots in British surveying expeditions, a naval port, and a prison colony that was responsible for building many of the city’s timbered structures. Ushuaia is a blend of the burgeoning tourism economy and local industry; there are lots of options for quality dining downtown near the water, and a wide range of hotels and guesthouses that tumble up into the hills. Go for a hike to the Martial Glacier straight from town, or head out to the beautiful trails of Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, kayak in the channel or ski the slopes in the winter. Ushuaia is also the port of departure for many of the Antarctic bound cruises.