Many people associate Argentina with Buenos Aires, wine, financial crisis (for the nerds) and of course… Patagonia and the end of the world, Ushuaia! There is however much more to discover.
Argentina is huge, and its size brings both challenges and amazing opportunities for travelers. It’s better to be there for a month (or more) than 10 days but either way, here are a few suggestions on the top things you can experience in Argentina. I won´t only be sharing places but also food and drinks you can discover to live as local a life as can be. For a more general overview of Argentina, check this article.
1. Iguazu Falls
The “Cataratas de Iguazu” sits at the border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina in the north east of Argentina. 2h by plane from Buenos Aires (more expensive) or about 20h by bus (usually cheaper). You can stay in cool hostels in the town of Puerto Iguazu that has regular buses to the Iguazu National Park or even sleep in the much fancier hotel inside the park.
The Argentinian side of the Falls is the one that has the most to offer for the price of the entrance ticket (500 ARS, about 20 euros). There you can easily spend all day hiking through different falls (the park has about 200 of them), taking the little train all the way to the edge of the Garganta del Diablo, the biggest, and very impressive fall. Standing at the edge, on a platform, seeing thousands of liters of water come crashing in front of you, is an experience that you will not forget. Before you know it, you might even find yourself staring at the fall in wonder for a good hour.
Do take the time, the second day to go on the Brazilian side. Buses from the bus station in Puerto Iguazu take you there directly and border control are pretty easy, you just might have to wait for the next bus to come through so take your stuff with you when leaving the bus. The Brazilian side has one main activity for the price of the entrance fee (another15- 20 euros): a one-hour hike to the Garganta del Diablo that gives you a panoramic view from the bottom, equally impressive as the Argentinian side but just different. The enormity of it all strikes you more as you bathe in the perpetual rain that the fall creates around its bottom.
If you are into man-made constructions, Paraguay has one of the biggest dam in the world nearby, the Itaipu Dam and you will also find tours from the Argentinian side to visit it. There is nothing to see on the Paraguayan side of the Falls as far as I know.
2. The region of Salta
The north west of Argentina was a big surprise. It is truly an amazing place. First, it is the cheapest place in Argentina so that’s a big thumbs up. But more importantly, the region has an amazing diversity of mountainous landscapes and valleys that will not let you unmoved. Every 40km or so, you find yourself in a completely different place, leaving a verdoyant valley, where red rock contrasts with green pastures to a desert-like sharp-edge mountain range. Fields of cactuses, multicolor mountains (the most famous being the 7-color and 14-color mountains), and numerous gorges, falls and other natural wonders are all there for the taking. The best way to discover them all is by renting a car in Salta Capital and making your way north and south of it but if you are pressed by time, hostels and tour agencies offer daily tours from Salta Capital to both norht and south so take your pick.
Cafayate in the south is the second wine-region of Argentina after Mendoza. It offers the more greener parts of the region altough you’ll still find colors in some valleys as well as pretty desertic parts. Do make your way to Cachi from Salta Capital if you can, the landscapes that will unfold in front of you will be worth it, even more than the charming, colonial-looking town of Cachi.
The north, towards Purmamarca and Humauaca is where you will find respectively the 7 and 14 color mountains (called Hornacal). Hornacal is a 45min ride up to 4350m to see the mountain range while the 7-color mountain sits right by the lovely village of Purmamarca. There is also a salt flat, Salinas Grandes, that is best enjoyed with the rising sun but you will only be able to do that if you have a car. It was truly marvelous, watching the mountain come to light, perfectly mirrored by the lakes, creating surreal sights in front of our cold but amazed eyes.
3. El Chalten in Patagonia.
This one will be short, I did not actually get to see it this time around but the reports I got makes me want to share this with you.
Patagonia is huge, so choose wisely if you have limited time. It is also both in Argentina and Chile and we can battle to figure out which side is better. Torres del Paine in Chile is apparently one of the greatest place you can go to but requires planning and booking in advance, check it out. When it comes to the Argentinian side, I would recommend, especially if strapped for time, to go to El Chalten/ El Calafate and the massive glacier Perito Moreno that is nearby. It seems to be where you will be most mind-blown, although Ushuaia certainly has a lot to offer as well. More up north, Bariloche in the Lake region is truly beautiful, with also great hiking opportunities but if you have ever been to the Alps, it will not look anything particularly different. It´s like being in Switzerland, chalets and chocolate factories included.
4. Asado with Fernet con coca
Argentinians love meat, like they eat crazy amounts of it. While they have a surprising apetite for “Milanesa” (battered meat) that you can find with beef or chicken usually, the best experience you can have is the “asado”, the Argentinian barbecue. Parillas are the restaurant that will offer it to you but beware, if they advertise a parilla for 2, you can be sure that there is enough to eat for 4. If you want any vegetables with it, you will have to order them as extra. They eat everything in a cow here, so you can try heart, liver, lungs, guts, blood sausages (the delicious morzilla!), etc. The typical parila will not offer you any of that though so do ask for it as extra if you want to try.
The best way to try asado is however to be able to fire up the grill and share a good time with locals and tourists alike. Hostels, especially away from big cities usually have a grill and organise asados regularly so do ask the reception. Grills will usually be advertised by the hostel in their description online. If you get to do that, be patient, the meat is cooked very slowly and you probably won’t eat before midnight. It’s well worth it though.
One of the most traditional thing you can drink while waiting on the meat to be cooked is a cocktail of “Fernet con coca”, an herb-based alcohol diluted in Coca Cola, served with a lot of ice. It might feel bitter at first but it will grow on you, promise! The most Argentinian thing you can do is make a very large glass and pass it around the party, refilling it as guests get more “joyful”. Ice is usually the first thing you run out off so buy a big bag.
Argentina is a big producer of wine, like its neighboor Chile. There are mostly two wine regions: Mendoza and Cafayate. Wine was brought in the country by Spanish and French immigrants. While I don`t recommend visiting Mendoza, if you go to the Salta region, do stop in for a degustation in one of the local wineries near Cafayate. Called “Bodegas”, they will let you try both red, wine and possibly rose and if lucky, you might even get to munch on some delicious goat cheese and lama salami. The local white wine is the Torrontes, either dry or sweet and they have different reds to try.
However, irrelevant of where you are in the country, local shops and restaurants will sell wine so don’t miss out on this opportunity and try them out, with moderation of course!