Argentina is a large country of wildly varying landscapes, from tropical rainforest in the north to arid Patagonian desert and towering glaciers in the south, via wide-open pampas, pristine vineyards and the powerful Andes Mountains. When combined with perhaps the most stylish city in Latin America, a surprising abundance of wildlife and the welcoming nature of its inhabitants, it makes for a highly attractive destination that many will return to for further exploration after their first visit. But where to start? Where are the best places to visit in Argentina?
The natural starting point for any visit to Argentina is the capital Buenos Aires, given that it can be accessed via direct British Airways flights from London. However many travellers actually choose to arrive in Argentina via Rio de Janeiro in neighbouring Brazil. This is because the two countries share between them one of the natural wonders of the world; the Iguazu Falls. A visit here forms a two or three night stop between Rio and Buenos Aires, allowing time to explore either one or both sides of the falls.
From Buenos Aires you can choose to head across to the famed Mendoza wine region or the beautiful Lake District, head south to the huge glaciers and icy channels of Patagonia or travel north to the deserts and salt flats of the area around Salta. Let’s take a look at each region in more detail.
Buenos Aires and the Pampas
Argentina’s capital is located on the banks of the River Plate, just across from Uruguay, on the eastern side of the country. It is noted for its European-style wide avenues and upmarket districts, but the heart of the city lies in the traditional cafes and leafy plazas of the San Telmo barrio. Below that is colourful La Boca, whose brightly-coloured corrugated-iron houses adorn most postcards of the city. Of course, Buenos Aires is best known as the spiritual home of the Argentine tango, a dance as passionate and stylish as the Porteños themselves. Tango can be seen on the streets of Buenos Aires, particularly in San Telmo and in the La Boca region, but to really experience its awesome speed and precision and to truly immerse yourself in the romance of the dance, a night-time visit to one of the city’s tango halls is a must. Another must-see is the Recoleta Cemetery, in which huge cobweb-strewn tombs, statues and mausoleums stand side-by-side to form a labyrinth of interconnecting streets.
Beyond Buenos Aires, the vast, flat and dry landscape of the pampa stretches out westward towards Mendoza and south towards Patagonia. It is here that we find many of the country’s best traditional estancias; working cattle-ranches and country houses situated in expansive grounds. A stay at one of these will give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in an authentic gaucho way of life, transporting you back to a bygone age. Other activities include horse-riding, walks and the chance to watch games of polo and enjoy fabulous Argentine barbecues. Many estancias can be easily reached by road within a couple of hours of Buenos Aires.
Colourful houses of La Boca, Buenos Aires
The natural north-east
Made up of over 250 separates waterfalls, the Iguazu Falls are one of the world’s most extraordinary sights. Set deep in sub-tropical rainforest, the falls are a wonder to behold, confirmed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous “poor Niagara” remark when visiting for the first time. Some of the best panoramic views are available on the Brazilian side, but the Argentine side of the falls allows the best opportunity to get up close to them, including the mighty Devil’s Throat, which soaks visitors which gather on the lookout point to marvel at this awesome sight.
Further south, near the border with Paraguay, are the Iberá Wetlands; a huge nature reserve that is fed only by rainwater and provides an ideal habitat for caiman, capybara, monkeys, mained wolf, marshland deer, otters and a huge variety of bird life. These and more can be be observed on daily wildlife excursions, including horse-riding, boat trips and kayaking through the swamps and lagoons of the largest protected area in Argentina. We reach the wetlands by taking an hour flight from Buenos Aires to Posadas and then driving 35 miles to the historic Puerto Valle Lodge, overlooking the Paraná River on the edge of the wetlands. The area surrounding the wetlands is also noted for its Guarani culture and the many Jesuit churches, built by 17th century missionaries.
Kayaking in the Ibera Wetlands (photo by Puerto Valle Lodge)
The arid north-west
Located 200 miles from the Chilean border, the city of Salta is reached by a two hour flight from Buenos Aires. The area shares much in common with the Atacama Desert, just over the border; magnificent rock formations, sparkling salt flats, rugged desert and a landscape coated in vivid colours. Salta has a few of its own tricks that even the mighty Atacama can’t compete with. Whereas much of the Chilean desert around San Pedro de Atacama is simply too dry to sustain animal life, the Salta region is home to wandering llamas, whilst ancient ruins and colonial era architecture adorns many surrounding cities. The region is also a productive wine growing area, with idyllic vineyards clustered around Cafayate. Other highlights include the multi-coloured hills of Purmamarca and Huamahuaca and the wild-west like scenery of Quebrada de las Conchas.
Colourful hills of Humahuaca, Salta (photo by Jimmy Baikovicius)
Mendoza Wine Country
Our run-down of the best places to visit in Argentina continues with the prized vineyards which surround the city of Mendoza. The region is located below Salta and above the Lake District, with the pampa to the east and the Andes Mountains providing a permanent backdrop in the west. The city itself provides a pleasant base from which to explore, an attractive city of wide tree-lined avenues and relaxed squares, with a burgeoning culinary scene. One of the best ways to experience Mendoza’s wines is to stay on one of the boutique hotels and lodges which sit within picturesque vineyards. Two of our favourites are Finca Adalgisa and Cavas Lodge.
Andean scenery near Cavas Wine Lodge, Mendoza
Patagonia is an immense landmass, shared between Argentina and Chile. It is covered mostly with barren desert, but has a rocky and wildlife-rich coastline to the east and some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes clustered either side of the Andes to the west. The Lake District spreads out across both Chile and Argentina in the north, as does Tierra del Fuego at the very bottom of the continent.
The Argentine Lake District is best accessed from the town of Bariloche, from where you can venture out on a huge range of sightseeing excursions to enjoy the Alpine scenery of this extraordinary area. Charactarised by dense forest, snow-capped peaks, remote estancias and glistening blue lakes, the Lake District can be explored by car, on foot or on horseback. The nearby town of San Martín de los Andes is an ideal base to venture into the nearby Lanín National Park, offering breathtaking views of its towering volcano.
The Lake District is a popular place to cross into Chile, via a memorable series of boat trips through the Andes. But continuing further south into Patagonia, we come to the town of El Calafate, the access point to the immense Perito Moreno Glacier, perhaps the star attraction of Argentine Patagonia. The huge wall of ice is guaranteed to elicit the same response of awe and wonder as the Iguazu Falls do thousands of miles further north. From here it is a scenic three hour drive around Lakes Argentina and Viedma to the small Alpine town of El Chaltén, starting point for long hikes through ever-changing scenery to remote lagoons at the foot of powerful chiseled mountains in the Fitz Roy range.
The mythical region of Tierra del Fuego occupies the foot of Patagonia, the last vestiges of land before Antarctica. Just like the Lake District to the north, this area is split between the two countries, with three or four night cruises through the icy channels taking intrepid travellers between Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. The landscape around here is epic, with powerful glaciers tumbling down mountainsides into pristine fjords and remote islands housing isolated penguin and elephant seal communities. It is also possible to do a three night round trip from Ushuaia, which is also home to the scenic End of the World railway.
Further up the eastern coast of Patagonia is the Peninsula Valdes, where boat trips get you up close to Southern Right whales and where gigantic killer whales can be seen launching themselves spectacularly onto beaches to hunt for sea lion pups. The main towns for the peninsula are Trelew and Puerto Madryn in the heart of Welsh Patagonia.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
Where to combine with Argentina
One of the joys of travelling in South America is the ease in which you can cross borders, often amid spectacular scenery. It’s no different in Argentina, with some of its most popular destinations spreading out into neighbouring countries. As previously mentioned, the Iguazu Falls are a natural crossing point into Brazil, for onward travel to Rio de Janeiro and beyond. Uruguay can be reached within a couple of hours by crossing the River Plate from Buenos Aires, whilst Patagonia offers several scenic crossing points through the Andes into Chile, the highlights being the Lake District, Tierra del Fuego and from El Calafate to Torres del Paine. It is also possible to cross through the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile. We offer several Landmark Tours that combine Argentina with surrounding countries.
When to visit Argentina
Argentina is generally a good year-round destination, though it is perhaps at its best outside the cold and wet winter months between June and August. Spring (September to November) and Autumn (March to May) are probably the best times to visit Buenos Aires, with comfortable temperatures, long days and not too many visitors crowding the streets. The month of November brings the spectacular blooming of the purple Jacaranda trees throughout the city, whilst March features the grape harvest in Mendoza wine region.
In Patagonia, the Southern Right Whales begin to arrive in the Peninsula Valdes around August and stay until the end of the year. El Chalten, El Calafate and Ushuaia are all best visited between October and March, when days are longer and warmer.
Temperatures remain consistently high around the Iguazu Falls, and whilst the summer months bring higher water levels and so more water crashing over the waterfalls, the shoulder months offer more comfortable weather, better access to the jungle trails and an impressive abundance of water.
How to get to Argentina
You can fly direct between London Heathrow and Buenos Aires with British Airways, with a flight time of 13 hours and 30 minutes. Alternatively you can now take advantage of new direct flights between London Heathrow and Santiago, starting your trip in Chile before travelling onwards into Argentina and returning home via Buenos Aires.
Better with experts
Travelling in Argentina can sometimes be a challenging and unpredictable undertaking for even the most well-versed globetrotters. With our vast experience and expertise, Veloso Tours will carefully create the perfect itinerary for you, handling all the tricky logistics, negotiating the best prices, liaising with local suppliers and ensuring everything flows perfectly during your time here. All you have to do is decide where to go! Our collection of local guides will help bring these wonderful places to life, giving you their inside knowledge and offering an authentic and personal perspective, that will leave you both informed and inspired.
The Veloso Tours website has all the ideas and inspiration you'll need to get you started on your Argentinian adventure, including our 14 day Pampa private tour through Argentina. Now that you know where to visit in Argentina, our expert consultants would be delighted to work with you to sort out all the little details and craft an unforgettable journey, full of memories that last a lifetime. Get in touch today and start planning your dream trip to Argentina with Veloso Tours.