Argentina: Dramatic Sights, Gastronomic Delights

Colourful, passionate, beautiful and disorganised are just some of the ways Argentina and its people can be described, but look a little deeper and you'll find there is even more to it than that. Argentina is an enormous country, spanning many different climates and landscapes.

Of focus here are three main areas of particular interest: The colourful and bustling capital city of Buenos Aires, the extreme wilderness of Patagonia with its vast icecaps, turquoise lakes and sheer mountains, and the blissful Mendoza with its wide, leafy avenues and sun-drenched vineyards with dramatic Andean scenery.

Buenos Aires


Wander around the ample leafy parks, muddle your way through the bustling streets of San Telmo and Tango the night away in one of the city's many Milongas.

You won't get bored in this vibrant city, even if you are just strolling around admiring the colourful street-art and poking about at the many trinket-filled gift shops and stalls, however specific, worthwhile highlights in Buenos Aires include:

Eva Peron Museum


This is well worth a visit, and along with English translations of interesting facts and information about Evita's remarkable life, exquisite memorabilia such as clothing and artefacts of Evita's life are well-displayed. Evita's quotes and anecdotes about her are captured througout the museum. At the time of writing, downstairs is an exhibition of modern art expressing and celebrating feminity. This area changes from time-to-time with relevant, engaging exhibitions being on display.

Palermo and Las Canitas District


Palermo is one of the safer areas, and with lovely big green parks and more upmarket shopping. Las Canitas is the hub of eating out and nightlife. It is a well-cared for district with great parillas, cafes and restaurants. A great 3-4 star boutique hotel in this area is Finisterra with friendly helpful staff, spotless rooms, and a great little hot tub and decking area.

La Boca


Beautiful colourful buildings cluster around the centre of working-class La Boca district. The colour originally comes from the leftover paint used to paint the ships in the port a few blocks away. This is a buzzing, thriving place full of tourists and locals alike. Colourful trinket shops and restaurants spill out onto the street, and there is usually a pair of tango dancers to be found in the busy street or the entrance to cafes.

Take a walk up the streets nearby and you can see local boys playing football, and other very latino sights and sounds. However be careful and stick to the well-trodden areas, as well as avoiding nighttime visits. La Boca is close to some neighbourhoods with high crime rates.

San Telmo


Buzzing with a huge antique market and many trinket shops, San Telmo is great for a stroll around and a spot of people-watching. There are good bargains to be found, as well as an endless array of football shirts to be found all the way up the main street in every alternate shop, especially the traditional Maradonna world cup design.

Microcentre and Plaza 25 de Mayo


Stunning colonial archtecture could fool you that you're thousands of miles away in Europe. The cathedral and presidential palace are reminiscent of buildings in Italy Spain, or even France. The palace is lit up beautifully in the evenings, and the gardens in the Plaza are well-kept.

Patagonia - Santa Cruz


Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia

 
The windswept, dramatic landscapes of Patagonia dwarf the few tiny towns spread across the colossal land. Enormous jagged peaks, turquoise lakes, and snaking glaciers prevail - it is a place for adventure seekers, nature lovers, and anyone who appreciates awe-inspiring natural beauty.

Unimaginably vast, Patagonia is best experienced sticking to one particular area. Travel is possible - and of course part of the excitement - however there are hundreds of miles between each town or village. The two main areas discussed below are more than enough to cope with for a week or two, offering endless opportunities to appreciate the wilds of this unspoilt land. Winter can be great for skiing, and summer for wildlife, however autumn is particularly beautiful with the trees full of colour, weather more stable, and skies most reliably blue.

El Calafate & Perito Moreno Glacier
 
El Calafate is a town built mainly around tourism, but it is nevertheless very charming and full of funky little gift shops. It is named after the local Calafate berry, and you will find many products made with it - but mostly jam!
 
Some of the biggest attractions in Argentinian Patagonia are the enormous glaciers – most famously the Perito Moreno glacier which is the main attraction in the El Calafate vicinity by far. Tour company Hielo Aventura offer fantastic tours to take a boat trip out to see the glacier. You can add a 1 hour 30 minute or 3 hour 'ice trek' element - walking on the glacier (which is a total must-do). With spiky rented crampons strapped to your boots, you’ll climb up onto the shining ice, down steep inclines and past gleaming blue pools of clear melt-water lying in deep crevasses on the ice. The views of the lake and the endless icy peaks is something you will never, ever forget.
 
Hielo Aventura is found in the central part of the small town near the casino. The tour leaves from a remote part of Lago Argentino (around 45 minutes by car from El Calafate, which is ‘on the doorstep’ by Patagonian standards) however you can easily hire a car, or take a tour bus out to the port. The tour guides are such friendly people, full of fun and humour, and extremely knowledgeable.
 

Hotels & Accommodation


Xelena Deluxe Suites Hotel is an exquisite and generally affordable 5 star hotel for a real comfort option whilst you’re residing in the wilds of Patagonia. Their spa service and indoor pool overlooking the lake is something really special, the d├ęcor is tasteful, and the staff are extremely helpful.

El Chalten & Fitz Roy


The tiny town of El Chalten is around 3 hours by car from El Calafate. It maintains a genuine wild west feel about it, and the avid tourism trade consists of mainly independent travellers seeking enjoyment in the great outdoors - as you will find in most places in Patagonia (as opposed to a roaring trade of package deals).

Hikes and Trails


El Chalten is situated at the very foot of the Fitz Roy range with a myriad of exciting hikes and walks to lakes, waterfalls and mountains. The popular and famously jagged Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy peaks are simply stunning to see closer-up after a hike, or from a distance across turquoise Lago Viedma. Most hotels and hostels will provide a simple map of the various trails possible in the area - many of which are possible in just a few hours. Cycle hire is possible also.

Glacier Viedma


Another fantastic glacier boat trip and ice trek (of many) is possible in El Chalten from Tunel Bahia (just before the entrance to El Chalten when coming from El Calafate or the South). Depending on the time of year and the weather, the glacier calves huge chunks of ice into the lake where they float bright blue, reflected serenely in the milky blue lake. It is another experience like no other. Glacier Viedma offers very different scenery to the Perito Moreno glacier and is lesser-known, providing more of an exclusive experience.

Hotels & Accommodation


Cumbres Nevadas is an excellent 3 star hotel with immaculate rooms. The staff are so friendly and the hotel is furnished very comfortably. It is also conveniently located in the town with lovely shops and restaurants just across the road. Internet access is available but forget being able to load anything after the homepage anywhere in El Chalten. Also there is no phone signal.

 

Driving Around

 
It is very possible to drive between El Chalten and El Calafate - the roads are well-paved (and deserted). It takes around 3 hours and there is no phone signal, however there are SOS posts at fairly regular intervals in the vast wilds of the windswept desert. Most of the smaller roads around El Chalten leading to some of the trails are gravel roads, however cycle hire is possible if you don't feel like negotiating narrow wooden bridges and extremely bumpy roads at an exceedingly slow pace. Or you can walk of course, afterall this place is a walker's paradise.

Mendoza


Long after you leave beautiful Malbec-obsessed Mendoza, your memories will remain as clear as the water trickling along the roadside in irrigation ditches designed for bringing water from the Andes to this desert city. Wide, leafy avenues shine with strong, dappled sunlight and wide open plazas are adorned with beautiful fountains and trees - street cleaners hard at work sweeping the plaza floors with enormous palm-tree leaves.

In the City


Mendoza is generally a very safe place to be, just watch out for petty crime when valuables are exposed. However Mendoza is very tourist-conscious and there is a lot more pride in this city than in the capital. Trinket shopping is good on Avenue General Las Heras, running through the centre and in this area there are so many excellent places to eat (with lots of lovely al fresco dining outside of winter). Food is generally to a very high standard, especially the beef of course, and you can't miss out of the world-class wine.

Getting around Mendoza is easy by foot, and the buses are quite easy too. You can buy a travel card in most newsagent type shops, and top it up with credit so you don't have to rely on the all-too-elusive Argentinian coins. The main bus stop just East of the centre (not far from Plaza Espana) has bus routes available to many other places in the area and staff are generally helpful.

Around Mendoza


Maipu


For a cheap and outdoorsy way to experience and sample the local wine production (and other local artisan food products such as olive oil), head to Maipu and rent a bike at one of the many bike hire stores (rental is not normally necessary). You will usually be kitted out with a simple map of the area and the vineyards and workshops you can visit, and some bottled water and a bike helmet. Bike hire is between 35 and 55 pesos for a day (around £5-£7 at the time of writing).

Lujan de Cuyo


Another entirely different way to experience the vineyards of Mendoza province is the take a bus out to Lujan do Cuyo and visit one of the prestigious bodegas with stunning views of the Andes and the famous Aconcagua peak. A tour including a lunch paired with many of the local wines is an unforgettable experience. Winery Ruca Malen is highly recommended for excellent wine, paired with the most delicious seasonal cuisine for lunch, and an interesting tour (free with beautiful uninterrupted views of the Andes). This particular option is around 250 pesos per person.

Termas de Cacheuta


A great excursion for outdoors activities or with children is a trip to Termas de Caheuta. The naturally thermal water tumbles through the red rock to the mountainside resort of Cacheuta. Various pools of different temperatures overlook the valley, with cacti and desert plants sprinkled about the place. Changing facilities are basic (even primitive) but clean. The climate of this particular spot in the mountains is usually sunny and pleasant all-year round, making for an ideal spot to relax. There is also a great shallow kids' area for splashing around, climbing, and playing in the fountains.

Admission is around 50 pesos per person. Lockers are an additional 50, although you get 30 back on return of the key. Buses depart from the main bus stop in Mendoza, there are around 2-3 buses per day there and back and the journey is around an hour each way.

Other Outdoors Excursions


In the centre of the city you will find the tourist office and various tour operators - all helpful and all offering a number of excursions into the nearby mountains. Rafting and horseback riding are popular activities for appreciating the beauty of the Andes in an active way, and cycle hire is also possible as well as hiking trails.  Also a visit to the nearby spring water village of Villavincencio (where most of the Argentinian bottled water comes from) offers a tour of the bottling plant.



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