Argentina: Beyond Tango, Steak, and Malbec

06 MAY 2017
by: Cheryl Peress | posted in: Globetrotting, Travel, Bucket List | comments: 0
Sizzling steaks, free-flowing wine, and the sultry tango are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of Argentina. But there's a lot more to this vast and varied country, the eighth largest on the planet, that extends more than 2,000 miles through the South American continent.

Argentina is divided into multiple distinct regions, each with unique landscape, biodiversity, and native cultures. Desolate desert and salt plains characterize the northwest, while wild jungle and the mystical Iguazu Falls thunders in the northeast. Snow-capped Andes Mountains, countless vineyards, and sparkling lakes proliferate along the western border with Chile, and the central heartland is abundant with wide open savannah and the verdant Pampas grasslands. In Patagonia, which stretches to the far southernmost tip of the earth, rugged steppe and glaciers abound. Top things off with Buenos Aires, one of the most fascinating capital cities in the world, and you have a country that offers the curious traveler a wealth of terrain, exploration, and activity.

In truth, you could spend months in Argentina and still not discover all there is to see, but in one to two weeks you can organize an adventure that combines multiple regions and activities to suit your specific interests. You can either start in Buenos Aires for a few days, then travel to a select destination on your own where you would join a tour, or you can opt for a longer journey that begins in the capital city and ventures to multiple regions.


Tantalizing Buenos Aires

Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, is a sexy, vibrant city with a flavor part European, and part Latin American. Among the many numerous neighborhoods, known as barrios, one senses the grandeur of bygone colonial times as well as the electricity of a contemporary metropolis. Grand palaces and homes in the French and Spanish architectural style are abundant in the expensive enclave of Recoleta, while ancient oil lanterns line cobblestone streets in San Telmo, and chic shops, boutique hotels, and fancy restaurants, bars and clubs thrive in Palermo. In La Boca, homes are painted in bright colors of red, yellow and blue, kids play futbol in the streets, while portenos (locals) and tourists hang out at small outdoor spots for a lazy afternoon beer and empanada nosh.

Throughout the city you’ll find the ubiquitous parrilla (steakhouse), the pride of the Argentine food scene. In every barrio you can sample an authentic asada (barbeque) where you’ll stuff yourself with sizzling cuts of meat and way too many glasses of Malbec.

Prepare to stay up late in Buenos Aires, as the nightlife scene pulsates with bars, clubs and live music venues. And then there’s tango, probably Argentina’s biggest claim to fame. While you’re likely to encounter countless steamy pop-up acts, often right on the street, portenos take their dance very seriously. It’s a real treat to visit a milonga (dance hall) to truly appreciate this sultry dance at its very best.

Experience the city center, walk through neighborhoods and see a tango show on our Classic Buenos Aires tour.

La Boca, Buenos Aires

Thundering Iguazu Falls

One of the most popular places to visit is the mighty, majestical Iguazu Falls, a thundering expanse of waterfalls in the midst of dense rainforest on the border between Argentina and Brazil. With 275 individual drops and almost two miles in length, Iguazu is the largest waterfalls system in the world and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stay at an eco-lodge, enjoy hikes through wild fauna, and learn about the unique culture in the region. Or, opt to stay at an exclusive eco-lodge in the jungle and visit archaeological ruins.

Iguazu Falls

Salta and the Northwest

The Andean northwest is rich in culture and diverse landscapes. Endless white salt flats, glowing red rock formations, and canyons, reminiscent of the US southwest, cover vast expanses of the land bordering the countries of Bolivia and Paraguay. The area is also home to numerous native populations who lived in the valleys well before the Spanish conquest and still thrive to this day.

Salta, the capital of the region, is a charming place with colonial architecture and strong heritage. Everything centers around the beautiful plaza – cafes, museums, churches – which by sunset is lit up and becomes the focal point of life.  Nightlife is also a spectacle, with live folkloric music clubs that showcase the customs and traditions of the generations.

Visit beautiful colonial Salta, tour the stunning Humahuaca Gorge and giant Salt Flats on a Safari to the Cloud adventure, and discover the local culture of the traditional Andean towns with this amazing tour.

Another option is to visit colonial Salta, tour the grand Humahuaca Gorge, taste wines in Cafayate, and hike in the alluring Calchaquí Valley.

Salt Flats

Mendoza and Malbec

Nestled at the base of the Andes Mountains, about 13 hours due east of Buenos Aires, sits Mendoza, Argentina’s wine capital.  Although countless vineyards dot this extensive mountain range, none are as world renown as Malbec, and Mendoza is Malbec country. This is certainly the place to visit if wine tasting is your thing as more than 1,000 vineyards populate the surrounding area.   It’s also a great place to base yourself if you want some adventure. Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, is just nearby with lots of opportunities for climbing, skiing, rafting, and hiking.

Visit three different wineries accompanied by a specialized guide and learn how Malbec grows, wine is produced, as well as how the industry has been developed.

Or you can visit a vineyard, go sightseeing, and hike at Mount Aconcagua.


Bariloche and the Lake District

Picture shimmering glacial lakes surrounded by miles of pine-covered forest and snow-capped mountains. That’s what you’ll find in Argentina’s magnificent Lake District. This postcard perfect region is the place to come for lots of fresh air and outdoor adventure.

Bariloche is the main hub, a small, Alpine-like village that sits just outside Nahuel Huapi, an expansive national park that will keep adventure aficionados endlessly happy. You can ski, fly fish, and hike miles of terrain and also explore volcanoes, lagoons, and hot springs.

Take in the stunning mountain views as you tour Bariloche and its surroundings by chairlift, walk through the Llao Llao Forest, then cruise Lake Nahuel Huapi and visit the traditional island communities.

Hike in Llao-Llao Nature Park and kayak on the lakes of Nahuel Huapi National Park, taking in the beautiful panoramic vistas.

Nahuel Huapi National Park

Glaciers of El Calafate and El Chatlen

Patagonia is a true wilderness covering 400,000 square miles of mostly infinite empty space, vast steppe, isolated dessert, jagged mountain peaks, and towering ice fields. It is also a place of immense silence and wonder.

Most visitors use El Calafate or El Chatlen as a base for exploring this rugged backcountry, both of which sit on one of the largest ice floes on the planet. El Calafate is a sleepy town of 7,000 inhabitants that is the gateway to Perito Moreno glacier, one of the highlights in the region, where you can hike across endless ice fields, and up rough peaks. An even sleepier town, El Chatlen, is a good place to stay for exploration of the Fitz Roy Mountains.

Visit El Calafate, hike the impressive Perito Moreno glacier and take a boat cruise to witness the towering ice walls. Then hop on a bus for some sightseeing of the Patagonia dessert.  You’ll also visit quaint El Chatlen and the beautiful Fitz Roy Mountains, enjoy some horseback riding and a Patagonian asada.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Tierra del Fuego – The End of the World

Isolated and barren, the Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) archipelago is at the southernmost reaches of South America. Consisting of two main islands, this subpolar land was so named by Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who cruised through the strait that now bears his name while enroute from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans.

The main island is shared by both Chile and Argentina, the eastern half belonging to the latter, with its capital in Ushuaia. Here lies the gateway for cruises to Antarctica and Ushuaia welcomes many visitors who come to revel in the great skiing, fishing, the otherworldly landscapes, and diverse wildlife.

Take a tour that will have you hike to uncover native Yamana ruins, canoe on the Lapataia River and cruise along the Beagle Channel in search of fur seals and cormorants.


Combination Trips

Combine a comfortable stay in Buenos Aires with the adventure of Patagonia. Tour the capital city and its tango houses and then hike Patagonia’s incredible mountain trails. Visit Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chalten and tour Torres del Paine National Park before crossing the mythical Strait of Magellan to Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego.

Join this 12-day tour that combines Buenos Aires with a visit north to Salta, the Humahuaca Gorge and the stunning Calchaquí Valley. Then head to Mendoza for some wine tasting and sightseeing at Mount Aconcagua.

Or you can visit Buenos Aires; Iguazu Falls; Mendoza, its wineries, and Mount Aconcagua; Bariloche, the lake district and a cruise to Nahuel Huapi.


Written By: Cheryl Peress

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