Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Backpack or Suitcase? Sights & Delights on Holiday in Argentina

Get Yourself Over to South America for the Holiday of a Lifetime... Yes, a Holiday...

Think of the phrase ‘travelling in South America’ and you’ll most likely conjure up an image of a grubby-looking youth struggling with the weight of a bulging backpack, or even the inhabitants of a hostel tossing and turning in the musty sheets, sweating in the confines of a dingy dormitory... Whether you think this is an accurate description of backpacking or not, it’s time the rest of the world opened its eyes and joined the throngs of backpackers descending on the exciting and inspiring continent of South America. The wonderful and enormous country of Argentina certainly offers immense possibilities for travel, and here's a shocker - you can actually experience the best it has to offer without suffering for it (if that's how you feel about the backpacking option anyway!)

The focus here is on three beautiful and exciting Argentinian destinations: Buenos Aires, Patagonia, and Mendoza. Whilst inevitably attractive to backpackers, these are indeed places which casual holidaymakers can gladly enjoy – no nasty malaria tablets, no yellow fever vaccinations, and no lugging every one of your half-valuable possessions on your back just so you can walk down the street for an empanada...

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires - Argentinian restaurant parrilla purple signWithout confirming any suspicions that Argentina is indeed only a destination for those wanting to arrive home after a year of woeful and dramatic stories of the kind only characterised by backpackers, it has to be said that Buenos Aires can potentially have its dangers - but only if you get caught out in the wrong place at the wrong time, and without common sense. How likely is that? If you want to relax on the beach you can forget it, but there is nothing stopping you enjoying this captivating city in comfort and safety.

Once you relax into the rhythm of Buenos Aires and even grow fond of the inevitable scruffiness of the pavements, the seemingly illogical Latino way of doing things, and the often downright irritating money (coins are gold-dust but that is all they accept on buses for example), Buenos Aires is an extremely exciting and rewarding city. Adorned with the greenest tropical parks, beautiful colonial European architecture and colourful street-art, it is like a more messy, colourful and feisty Barcelona - with a Latin American twist. Its passionate futbol fans, and busy streets with so many knick-knack shopping opportunities are also a joy to behold. The San Telmo district is a wonderful place to visit for this latter delight and its antique market is something quite special. Another sight unique to this city is the colourful working-class district of La Boca with its hubbub of tourists, locals and tango dancers, its mish-mash of brightly painted buildings, and the many shops bursting with equally colourful trinkets.

Buenos Aires - Argentinian fruit market

Plaza de 25 Mayo and the Microcentre are famed for the sights such as the 'pink house' presidential palace and the lovely Cathedral, and a hip young neighbourhood called Las Canitas (in Palermo) is excellent for eating out possibilities. It is also a convenient and safe place to stay, with a Subte (metro) station five minutes away on foot. Boutique 3-4 star hotel 'Finisterra' in Las Canitas is a fantastic option for comfort and style. Its little hot tub and sun deck is a welcome treat after a busy day in the city and the rooms are spotless.

Getting around in Buenos Aires is extremely easy, with a very cheap metro - the 'subte' (you only pay a small fee per journey to get as far as you like), and where the subte doesn't run, taxis are not hard to come by. It is important to pre-order taxis or at least ensure that they are the city's regulated and official 'radio taxis' (there is a certain badge to look for which are displayed on posters at the airport).

As with any big city you should exercise caution about valuables and watch out for petty crime, especially when you are distracted, and especially around subway stations. However without straying into unknown neighborhoods a visit to Buenos Aires should be fun, exciting, and danger-free.

Patagonia - El Chalten and El Calafate

Patagonia Argentina - mountainous wilderness in autumn El Chalten Endless deserted roads, unfathomably long distances which you can't appreciate from looking at a map, and the wildest landscape - shaped solely by nature. This is a place for being awed by nature's immense power, but that doesn't have to mean experiencing it by 'roughing it' on some mountainside.

It is certainly laughable to expect all the comforts of an all inclusive holiday or city break readily available around every Patagonian corner - its rural nature is part of the big appeal. However there are so many beautiful (and luxurious) hotels and estancias, as well as comfy hostel-type accommodation should you choose to catch a real bargain. The amazing five star Hotel Xelena in El Calafate is a delight - right from its spa and indoor thermal pool overlooking the enormous Lago Argentino lake, to its luxury stylish rooms, extremely attentive staff, and free shuttle service into the town centre.

Patagonia Argentina - Perito Moreno GlacierThe town of El Calafate is the gateway to the most famous glacier - the Perito Moreno. Its sheer 60 metre edges plunge straight down into the depths of the turquoise lake and masses of pristine ice can be seen snaking steadily and enormously up through the mountains, hundreds of miles out of sight. The excellent Hielo Aventura ice-trekking tours on this fantastic glacier are a must-do. These extremely professional tours are made up of a boat trip to the glacier and back from a small port in the national park and an easy ice trek with spiky crampons fitted to your shoes. Walking with the friendly guides through towers and peaks of ice, over deep bright blue crevasses and around gleaming pools of clear meltwater is a truly stunning and surreal experience.

The myriad of walking and climbing opportunities in El Chalten (novice and expert alike) include stunning sights of the toothy and sheer Andean Fitz Roy range, graceful waterfalls plunging into pools of milky blue glacier meltwater, enormous turquoise and azure lakes at varying heights in the mountains, and immense glaciers and icebergs with ice so unbeliveably blue its looks like a slush puppy frozen solid.

Car hire is very feasible in Patagonia and the road between El Calafate and El Chalten is a deserted, well-paved road (just watch out for guanacos). It is the best way for getting around, but various tour companies also make excursions very easy.


Mendoza Plazas - fountains and palm trees
Mendoza fine dining - food and wine malbec, wine tastingWhat’s not to love about world-class wine, endless stretches of vines framed by stunning Andean scenery and a city whose streets are adorned with wide canopies of wide leafy trees fountains and plazas, and irrigation channels of clear running water trickling along from the mountains. There is a lot to see in this vibrant city and its popular cafĂ© culture and al fresco dining can be enjoyed well into the evening with lots of busking, singing (and a little inoffensive street selling/begging). You can’t forget this is Latin America, but a polite ‘no gracias’ is enough and they’ll be on their way.

A must-do is a cycle tour through the Maipu region to visit the wineries and artisan workshops producing olive oil and other delicious goods. You can easily catch a bus to the Maipu region and the bus driver will drop you at the area of bike rental shops - there's usually no need to book and most places give you a map of the workshops and wineries you can visit.

A different and far more upmarket way to experience the wineries is to book yourself in for a tasting experience with a large winery which includes lunch. Ruca Malen (and many other wineries) in the nearby area of Lujan De Cuyo offers a fantastic five-star, five-course lunch of extremely fine cuisine, each dish being paired expertly by the winemakers with a different wine produced by the winery. Of course a heavy emphasis in Argentinian dining in Mendoza is placed upon the famous red Malbec wine, and Argentina's famous beef steaks (which do not dissappoint), but also on less obvious choices from the region such as sparkling wine and the world-class Patagonian lamb.

So there you have it... The sights and delights of Argentina really are open to the holiday maker and traveler alike. With a little open-mindedness and a lot willpower not to refuse altogether to get on the place home, anyone can have the holiday of a lifetime in this dramatic, contrasting and beautiful part of the world.

Mendoza views Aconcagua from Lujan De Cuyo (Ruca Malen Bodega)

Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2013
All Rights Reserved


  1. Hi,

    My name is KC Owens, I’m a college student and I love to travel! While cruising the Internet, I found your site and really enjoyed reading your posts. I have been to countries all over Europe with just my backpack and a camera. Since I am a college student and I have significant bills, it can be difficult to find ways to travel the world. However, I have done this several times, with less than ten pounds of luggage and while on a college dime!

    I was hoping that you would allow me to write a post for your site to share my tips and tricks with your readers. I put a lot of time into my traveling, it is my biggest passion and I would love to inspire others by sharing my stories, mistakes and triumphs. I look forward to hearing from you!


    KC Owens

  2. Hi!
    Wow, what an incredible way to travel! I admire you - it is something I would love to do - to experience the world in such a pure sense.
    Yes, I would be more than happy to consider a post from you, I'm sure you have alot of interesting anecdotes and information to share.
    Initially I suggest using the contact form below and we can go from there :)
    Thanks for your interest in my blog!


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