Top Destinations 2019: Argentina & Patagonia
Making number 6 in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019 Best Value destinations, Argentina is not only good value for money but a pot pourri of scintillating scenery, wondrous wines and celebrated cities.
Buenos Aires is a merry-go-round of a ride, with sultry tango, gourmet eateries, beautiful parks and bookstores bursting at the seams. But Argentina is more than its capital city: the arid steppes of Patagonia, mighty peaks of the Andes, the thunderous Iguazu Falls in the north and the Glacier Perito Moreno to the south will all seduce in their own ways. Argentina certainly knows how to put on a show.
The capital and largest city in Argentina, Buenos Aires is on the western shore of the Rio de la Plata (Silver River) estuary. It’s a melting pot of European and Latino cultures with some incredible architecture and a nightlife that starts so late, you’ll be one of the early birds if you get to a nightclub at 2am. But for daytime activities, these are our top picks of must-sees.
La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires is a poor working-class area crouched by the Riachuelo River. The most famous part is the street La Caminito with its colourful houses and tango dancers.
It is a big tourist draw, so expect the dancers to ask for money, but it does offer a glimpse of the old BA. If you’re craving a pizza, this is the best area to visit as many of the area’s settlers hailed from Genoa in Italy.
Cementerio de la Recoleta is a cemetery in the Recoleta neighbourhood, containing the graves of many notable people including former Argentine Presidents, one of Napoleon’s granddaughters and possibly the most famous Argentinian after Maradona – Eva Perón, who was immortalised in the musical Evita.
The Casa Rosada was a key stage for the Peróns both in the musical and real life. Eva’s famous pose of arms aloft on the balcony has been recreated by many who have played her on stage and screen. The Casa Rosada, is open to the public on Saturdays (10.00-18.00) for free; get to see the patios, presidential offices and various salons plus the famous balcony.
Behind the Casa Rosada is a museum (open Wednesday to Sunday, 10.00-18.00) which gives an overview of Argentinian history since independence with artefacts, artwork and a restored mural. A truly interesting and insightful museum.
The palace was the brainchild of Luis Barolo, an Italian who arrived in Argentina in 1890 and wanted to preserve the memory of Dante Alighieri.
When it was completed in 1923, Palacio Barolo was the tallest building in South America. Influenced by Dante’s Divine Comedy, its 100 metres reference the 100 ‘songs’ of Dante’s masterpiece, there are quotes engraved throughout and the floors are divided into three sections: Hell (Basement and Ground Floor), Purgatory (1-14), Heaven (15-22).
Architecturally, the building is a mish-mash of styles including neo-Gothic, Renaissance and neo-Romanesque, but that does make it a building worthy of note.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote “without the streets nor dusks of Buenos Aires, a tango cannot be written.” Alongside the more tourist-focused tango clubs and bars there remain a few historic bars that will transport you back to the early days of this passionate dance.
Bar Los Laureles dates back to 1893 and is a “historic site of cultural importance”. Chalk boards advertise the day’s specials, but it’s at the weekend when the tables are cleared that the bar comes to life as a milonga – where locals listen to and dance tango.
Another historic café, but with a slicker, more touristic vibe, is Café de los Angelitos. Professional dancers slide through tango’s history in the place where the godfather of tango music, Carlos Gardel, used to hang out.
If you are a wine aficionado, or just like a glass or two of the good stuff, then you need to head to Mendoza. Situated in the heart of Argentina’s wine country, famous for Malbec and other reds, there’s a plethora of bodegas offering tastings and tours – enjoy them on horseback, with gourmet meals, or simply as a tasting (and if you like your wine with fizz, Moet et Chandon have their Bodega Chandon in the Perdriel area of Mendoza).
The city is an oasis in the desert. Fed by a network of acequias (irrigation channels), Mendoza has wide, leafy avenues lined with art deco and modern buildings. The plazas and parks are adorned with fountains while bars and restaurants give the city a buzz at night when they spill onto the streets. You’d be forgiven for wanting to hang out and chill in this laid-back city.
If you want to be really laid-back head to Termas Cacheuta, on Ruta 82 outside the city. A set of stone pools, all with different temperatures and hydrotherapies, mud therapy and surrounded by the foothills of the Andes offer the perfect place to relax. By all accounts the restaurant’s criollo lunch buffet is the star of the show with plenty of asado (grilled meat) and regional dishes.
Patagonia is twice the size of Spain, so working out just where to visit within the vast region is no easy task. Thankfully, CLC World Travel are on hand with their fantastic travel knowledge to assist if the choices become overwhelming.
Ruta 40 (RN40) runs parallel to the Andes and is one of the world’s ultimate road trips. Other than the hubs of El Calafate – a good place to stop over when visiting Perito Moreno – and El Chaltén – a small mountain village which acts as a great hiking base – you’re venturing deep into Patagonia’s wilderness, experiencing plateaus, arid steppes, mountains, lakes, forests and glaciers.
Make sure to deviate from Ruta 40 to visit Cueva de los Manos famous for the cave paintings of hands. It’s believed that the paintings were made when paint was sprayed through bone pipes against the hand to create a silhouette.
Argentina’s Patagonia region is for those who love the great outdoors and they don’t come much greater than Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and in particular the Glacier Perito Moreno in the southern sector. 30km long, 5km wide and 170m thick, the ice world of Perito Moreno advances by up to 2 metres per day which causes icebergs to calve from its face. A visibly creeping glacier – awe-inspiring!
When in Patagonia Argentina, travel from the land of ice to Tierra del Fuego (land of fire), an archipelago across the Strait of Magellan. The name stems from the sightings of natives’ bonfires by Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition in 1520. The capital, Ushuaia, is the southernmost city in the world and is often known as the ‘End of the World’. Bound by the Martial mountains and the Beagle Channel, it’s where Charles Darwin came as a young naturalist to collect information on flora, fauna and indigenous cultures. The Museo Marítimo y del Presidio de Ushuaia is 4 museums in one: Maritime, Prison, Antarctic and Marine Art, and one of the city’s most popular destinations.
The final words have to go to the End of the World station (because where can you go after that?). A cute little steam train takes you on the last 7kms of the old convict train route. On-board you get to hear the story of the prison and convicts and be delighted by the landscape as you zig zag through the Tierra Fuego National Park.