Top 10 Unmissable Destinations In Argentina
Following in the footsteps of my Top 10 Unmissable Destinations for Chile, I figured I would do one for each of the countries we visited. Argentina was the first destination, where we began our journey in South America over two years ago. It all started in Buenos Aires and after visiting the capital we made our way north to the border with Bolivia. Next, we headed south. Deep south, all the way down to Ushuaia, dubbed ‘el fin del mundo’ (the end of the world). We returned to the country recently this past August revisiting Mendoza followed by the northeastern part of the country, an area we hadn’t explored on our original journey. We’ve spent a total of about four months traveling in Argentina and while that may sound like a lot, to be honest, I would probably need four years (or four lifetimes!) to really spend the time necessary in each place.
Argentina is a gorgeous country filled with lively, friendly people. Asados with some of the best meat in the world, drinking maté, sipping first rate wines (the country boasts 3 different wine regions), dancing tango and of course, football are all integral parts of Argentinian culture.
Buenos Aire is the capital city that bursts with passion, culture and delicious food. Due to the country’s large size coupled with the amount of latitudes it spans, the landscape is teeming with contrasts. From the dry Andes in the northwest, to the wetlands in the northeast. Further down south you have the gorgeous Lakes District which eventually gives way to wild and windswept Patagonia, with its towering glaciers and otherworldly landscape. Argentina wears many faces and one is just as beautiful as the next.
Coming up with this list of 10 unmissable destinations was a challenge. There are so many places to discover and even though we spent a good chunk of our time visiting this country and explored a great deal, I’m sure there are scads of other spots we missed. Thus, planning a trip here can be daunting for the visitor. Argentina is much wider than Chile and many places are located in the Andes mountains, making for countless nature excursions.
The cities in the country are also worth visiting. I mentioned Buenos Aires on this list because I truly feel that it is absolutely unmissable (no trip to Argentina is complete without experiencing it at least once) but both Salta and Mendoza (which didn’t make this list) are deserving of your time too. I didn’t add them because I feel that the nature in Argentina is superior to the cities, most people end up visiting Mendoza anyway and if you check out Iruya & Cafayate (which are both on the list), most likely you’ll end up in Salta at some point too.
As I’ve said before, planning a visit to any country will always depend upon your interests. Some have no desire to be in nature and prefer large cities while all others want to do is hike and see the landscape. Argentina has enough to offer any visitor, no matter where your interests lie. This list naturally represents the interests of Laurent and I, which is always a mixed bag but tends to lean towards exploring nature. We do try to see a variety of things within a country and if you are like that too when you travel, hopefully you can find these suggestions helpful.
Bon viaje and happy planning!
1. El Chalten, Patagonia
Ideal for: hikers, trekkers, nature lovers, those fond of small town life, glacier trekkers, mountain climbers, campers, ice climbing, microbrewed beers, trying delicious Patagonian lamb
El Chalten, is one of my favorite places in all of the Patagonia region. It may be cliche to say, but it’s truly magical here. I know many tourists head to El Calafate in order to see the grand Perito Moreno glacier (the other part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares) and you do have to go through this town to get to El Chalten, but I recommend you spend the bulk of your time in El Chalten. Perito Moreno is indeed a spectacular glacier but it’s set up a bit like a Disney attraction. If you are a rugged nature lover, head straight to El Chalten.
Unless you prefer the rich tourist crowd decked out in expensive gear, overpriced hotels (hostels too for that matter) and sky high entry fees, not to mention the huge tour buses that shuttle cattle…er people…to and from the glacier.. If you prefer your nature free, uncomplicated, accessible on foot and breathtaking, do not pass go, hop a bus directly to El Chalten. It’s a hikers, trekkers and in general, nature-lovers paradise. And if you fancy walking/ice-climbing on a glacier, it’s a way better experience here than in El Calafate (we know because we did both).
Fitz Roy is the main peak here that only a handful of mountain climbers have been able to summit but if you can manage to do it, the reward is huge. If you don’t like large crowds, avoid January and February when organizing your trip here. Those two months are ridiculously crowded. Come in November or the end of March to have a more proper communal with nature and be completely awed by the fantastic scenery here in peace. I love the fact that they don’t charge any entry fee for visiting this part of the park nor for camping. The belief is that nature should be free. How true!
It’s easy to organize your own trekking, the town is well set up for that, with many shops renting out camping equipment if you don’t have any. Beware though and check the gear you are renting before you head out! You can read about how we learned that lesson the hard way in our camping and trekking experience here. In addition to the loop we walked which includes unmissable places such as Laguna Torre and Lago de los Tres, definitely make Loma del Pliegue Tumbado another must-do hike. A trip over to Lago del Desierto is also highly recommended and from here you can walk over the border into Chile and on to a boat connection in the direction of Villa O Higgins (23 km). From Villa O Higgins you can connect to the breathtaking journey via the Carreta Austral.
Whatever you do, don’t miss this very special town in the heart of Patagonia. Tip: On the bus ride from El Calafate to El Chalten the bus will stop at a lonely estancia.
Here, they serve the world’s best lemon meringue pie! It is sky high! I don’t even like lemon meringue pie but I love this version!!
Ideal for: wine lovers, nature lovers, hiking, biking, lovers of small-town life, cheese lovers, road-tripping
Most people have heard of Mendoza by now. It’s Argentina’s most famous wine growing region producing the country’s star grape, Malbec. But did you know the country has two other wine making regions? One small area, down south in the north part of Patagonia and a larger one (but still smaller than Mendoza) in the northwest, Cafayate. We traveled to Cafayate as part of a larger trip to Argentina’s northwest region and it remains one of my favorite towns of this trip.
The landscape is stunning in this area. Dry desert-like red and pink mountains are punctuated by vivid, green fertile wine valleys. Cafayate is located in the province of Salta, Argentina and lies about 100 miles south of Salta city. It has about 12,000 people and it’s really more of a big village than an actual city. But it’s small size and the fact that many of the vineyards are located right in town or very close by, makes it a great place to sample a lot of different bodegas. They have their own star grape here, the Torrontés. The area in and around Cafayate also produces some fine high-altitude Malbecs.
Even if you don’t like wine, there is much to see in and around Cafayate. First, don’t miss the best empanadas in the whole country here. If you like hiking, there are lovely waterfalls within a days hike nearby. And if you like fresh cheese you are in for a treat. Cabras de Cafayate (goat cheese) is readily available all over town and you can even visit their headquarters. For a nominal fee, you get a tour and samples of their delicious goats cheese. For more travel ideas in Cafayate check out this Travel piece here.
3. Parque Nacional Los Alerces
Ideal for: hikers, trekkers, nature lovers, mountain biking, campers
I haven’t figured out why this place is not more popular but I’m glad it isn’t! I’ll admit, access isn’t entirely easy. We had heaps of trouble getting in when we visited the nearby town of Esquel (which serves as the main entry point) but any adversities that you do encounter arriving, will be totally worth it the moment you step foot in . Despite the trouble we had, I recommend renting a car for maximum freedom, especially if you have your own tent/camping equipment.
We visited the park at the end of November and found it practically empty. We had the campgrounds mostly to ourselves. I’m sure this isn’t the case in January and February when Argentinians have their holidays. November is also nice to visit because the arctic lupine flowers will be in full bloom. The different shades of purple will stay in your memory forever. The park is home to some beautiful hiking trails with fantastic vistas. Longer trekking opportunities are also available. If you are a nature-lover and hiker, this place is simply unmissable.
4. El Bolson
Ideal for: flower children, hikers, trekkers, small town life lovers, lovers of fresh organic berries, those seeking the best ice cream in the world
El Bolson is one of my favorite places in Argentina and for good reason. The place is crawling with hippies so beware the Bob Marley blaring but the area also practices eco-friendly tourism, has delicious, fresh food including a bounty of organic fruits (especially the delicious berries), artisanal beers, lots of other arty stuff and an overall laid back vibe, all set amid spectacular mountain scenery. El Bolson is the kind of place that sucks you in and makes you stay way longer than you planned. We were on a pretty tight schedule when we visited this area and we still managed to stay an extra few more days.
We slept at the La Casona de Odile, which we found to be the most perfectly cozy place we slept in all of Argentina. The hiking and trekking around El Bolson is superb with many possibilities for overnights stays in refugios that are dotted around the area. As if all of this wasn’t reason enough to visit, El Bolson also boasts the best ice cream (Jauja) we tasted in Argentina (not an easy feat if you take in top contenders in Buenos Aires and Bariloche). For more about our trip in El Bolson click here.
Ideal for: chocolate lovers, beer lovers, those looking for a slice of Switerland, nature lovers, hikers, bikers, skiers, parasailing, kayaking, road trips
This city is a favorite of Argentines and foreigners alike. It’s a truly stunning area and the scenery from the drive alone will leave your jaw on the floor! When you enter the town, it’s like you’ve stepped onto another continent. You will be fooled into thinking you’ve arrived in Switzerland, complete with a mountain backdrop, wood chalets, world-class chocolates, artisan beers and stunning, azure lakes. They even have fondue restaurants! But the large groups sipping maté, and the occasional gaucho strolling around will remind you that you are indeed in Argentina.
Bariloche is considered by many to be the gateway to Patagonia, part of the grand lakes district. And while it’s technically not in Patagonia (it’s part of the Rio Negro province), the landscape changes dramatically and it’s a good introduction for things to come. The town sits on Lake Nahuel Huapi with dozens of smaller lakes surrounding the area. Roads wind through the lakes, making it a dream for bikers. The Circuito Chico is one of the most visited areas. Tourists swarm Bariloche in both the Argentine summer (Dec, Jan, Feb) and winter (June, July, August) for lake activities including hiking, to skiing and snowshoeing, respectively. Whatever your outdoor pursuits are, the list of activities is endless.
For the food lovers, the town boasts some fine restaurants including authentic fondue, craft beers, tempting ice cream (incidentally the same place as in El Bolsen, Jauja, but while delicious in Bariloche, I feel it’s slightly superior in El Bolsen) and best of all, melt in your mouth, homemade chocolates. My pick goes for Mamuschka (touristy yes but still the best chocolate). I wrote some tips here in my post about Bariloche.
6. Buenos Aires & Tigre
Ideal for: city lovers, tango dancers, fine dining, museum hopping, culture, Spanish lessons
I’ve only made room for one city in Argentina and I had little choice but to include the capital, Buenos Aires. Sophisticated and sprawling, this city has it all. Culture, world-class restaurants,historic cafes, museums, activities galore and of course the usual Argentine suspects like tango dancing, sizzling nightlife, football matches and some of the best steak and wine in the country. Buenos Aires is a dynamic, alive city that will consistently surprise and delight any who visits it. Like many cities, it is divided into distinct neighborhoods, each offering their own character and feel. The ones most favored by tourists, Palmero Soho, Hollywood and Recoleta are all worth checking out but don’t miss the others too.
For us, Buenos Aires was the perfect introduction to the country and even the continent. We started to learn Spanish, sampled countless cafes, learned to make empanadas, attended art exhibits, watched tango, ate a delicious asado, learned how to prepare a maté and even couchsurfed to get to know some locals a bit and that was all in two weeks. Whew! It was a whirwind but very fun and memorable.
At the end of the day, Buenos Aires is still just a city though-noisy and crowded (don’t even get me started on their crazy crowded metro-the Subte). Fortunately, this city is not just a fantastic one to visit, it also boasts an ideal escape. Tigre is just 17 miles north of BA and is reachable by train (takes just under an hour). It’s a relaxing oasis situated on the Paraná Delta. You can explore the area by boat or just relax and poke around the quaint town. If you are looking for the ultimate relaxation, be sure to come during the week (weekends get flooded by Porteños (dwellers of BA) looking to escape the city). You can read more about Tigre here.
7. Colonia Carlos Pellegrini & the Reserva Natural Provincial del Iberá
Ideal for: bird watchers,relaxation, nature lovers, boaters, canoe rides, eco-tourism, horseback riding, small town lovers, wildlife
Our first visit to Argentina seems so long ago, in October 2012. Fortunately, this past August, we had a chance to return to this amazing country. The northeast was an area we didn’t have time to explore on our first go-around. We met an amazing guy on our first visit from Cordoba and he invited us back to his parent’s campo (ranch) just outside of Santa Fe. It was a wonderful weekend of learning how a cattle ranch operates and spending time with his welcoming family. It was so amazing, I would have made their ranch a destination but it’s not open to tourists! After leaving, we were lucky to have a bit more time to explore some surrounding areas.
Colonia Carlos Pellegrini sits outside the small town of Mercedes in the northeast of the country. You can reach it from Buenos Aires but that will cost you a 9 hour bus ride. From Mercedes, it is another approximate 3 hours, along a dusty, unpaved road. If you are a fan of rich bird life, wildlife, gorgeous wetlands and ultimate relaxation, it is well worth the trip getting here. Once you arrive, it’s a spectacular rural setting, where chickens roam freely and you are more likely to encounter cow traffic than cars. Wildlife thrives here. This is a great opportunity to stay with local families in small hospedajes and learn more about the life here. Tours are available to the nearby wetlands, via small boats and canoes. Thanks to the remote location, tourism has not exploded here, keeping large crowds at bay.
For more information about how to arrive please click here.
8. Iruya & San Isidro
Ideal for: road trips, nature lovers, isolated small-town mountain life, hikers, desert landscapes
It was so difficult to come up with just one location from the northwest area in Argentina. I’ve already included the larger Cafayate but it was the smaller towns in this region that really made the trip spectacular. But there was one place that really stood out above the others. Make a right off of Route 9, three hours in over treeless colorful mountains and you will arrive via the precipitous, unpaved journey to Iruya, population 1,070 sitting high at elevation 2,780 m (9,120 ft). It’s literally breathtaking (due in part to the high altitude) mostly because of the jaw dropping scenery. Who could ever imagine this tiny, beautiful town tucked far away into the mountains?
If you visit Iruya, don’t miss San Isidro. It’s a 7 km walk from Iruya. We did it as a day hike, which you could certainly do but it would have been even better to spend the night there. Follow the river on the well trodden trail for about three hours and the last 10 minutes, ascend up to the top of this tranquil, beautiful village. Once up at the top, you will likely be greeted by the friendly villagers. If you arrive hungry, you will be in luck. There are small ‘comedor’s where locals will cook up some fresh lunch for you for a ridiculously nominal fee.
Other towns worth noting in this area are Cachi, Molinos and the spectacular vineyards Colomé.
Check out my post here about unmissable places within this northwest region. I also wrote about the best drives to take here (it’s best to rent a car when visiting this area). And finally, my top tips for exploring the northwest of Argentina. Even if you don’t make it to unmissable Iruya, don’t miss a trip to the Andean northwest.
9. Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego
Ideal for: nature lovers, visiting Antarctica, hikers, visiting the ‘end of the world’, trekkers, glacial walking, boat trips
Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego are appropriately dubbed el fin del mundo (the end of the world). Lying at the extreme southern tip of Argentina, this area made the list for two reasons, aside from the sheer novelty of being at one of the southernmost cities on the continent (the other is Puerto Williams in Chile). First there is the scenery. Tierra del Fuego is actually an archipelago with a unique landscape all its own. Majestic snow topped mountains pierced by glaciers and crystal clear lakes surround the city of Ushuaia on one side. The city sits directly on the Beagle channel and the Straights of Magellan sit to the north. Hanging below this, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans collide, clashing around Cape Horn, the true fin del mundo. Hiking and trekking opportunities abound in places like Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego and its surrounds.
The other reason why I put it on this list, is because Ushuaia serves as the gateway to Antarctica. All boats leaving for the white continent depart from here and all that separates you is the notorious Drake Passage. Originally settled by indigenous and British people, Ushuaia itself is not much to look at. It wasn’t settled by Argentines until the late 1800s. These days, a surplus of tourist shops line the main streets as adventurers clad in brightly colored Goretex bundle up against the bitter winds. There are some decent restaurants and you shouldn’t leave without trying the local seafood (especially the crab-restaurant Kaupé is a sure bet) but other than that, the town itself is not extraordinary.
What is extraordinary is the feeling that is in the air here. The other travelers and those that have made their home here know it. It’s the feeling of being at the end of the continent in some far away place. That you made it this far, that you traveled countless, tired hours to get down here to experience some of the most pristine nature in the world. This electrically charged, magical feeling is what makes Ushuaia and this region, unmissable.
10. Iguazu Falls
Ideal for: nature lovers, majestic waterfall viewing, hikers, travelers entering into Brazil, families
I just had to include these falls on the list. Yes, I know how touristic this area is. It’s like Disneyworld for nature, something that we usually try to avoid. Overpriced and accessible by man-made ramps and bridges, giant groups of tourists descend on this area all year round. To get to some of the viewing platforms, you have to practically ‘wait in line’. But despite all the crowds and artificial railings, it remains an extraordinary place and one of the grandest waterfalls I have ever seen in my life. When Eleanor Roosevelt first laid eyes on Iguazu Falls she is quoted as saying “Poor Niagara”. And it’s very true. Being a New Yorker, I thought Niagara was one of the largest and best falls. That was only because I had never seen Iguazu.
These falls straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil, where the Paraná river dumps out in a most spectacular fashion. The region itself is humid and tropical. Monkeys and exotic birds call this area home. Fortunately, if you are visiting the falls, you have a chance to escape the crowds via the quieter nature trails around the falls. But the falls are the real draw. You can take a thrilling boat ride which gets as close to being under the falls as possible or just walk the myriad of ramps and viewing points. Also worth checking out is the Brazilian side. The Argentine side gets you up close to the individual falls, while the Brazilian side gives you more of a panorama and a chance to see just how wide they are. Despite the cost entailed and the hordes of tourists, Iguazu Falls remains an unmissable destination in Argentina.
If you have anything that you want to add to this list, please add it in the comments section! I’d love to hear about other experiences in this beautiful country. If you have any further questions about planning your trip to Argentina, please don’t hesitate to ask!