A Guide To The Greatest Things To Do In Argentina
With so many things to do in Argentina, it is easy to fall in love with it. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with many of the countries I have visited. For example, I have officially declared my love for Nicaragua. But Argentina holds a special place in my heart, I feel culturally very close to it and my love for it is so deep that I keep thinking I should actually move there. I even bought a one way ticket to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago, and just as I had started looking for a place to rent, I had to change my plans. But I have been back, and I plan to go back for more. Indeed, there are so many places to visit in Argentina, so many things to do in Argentina that I don’t think a lifetime would be enough to experience them all.
Whenever I visit Argentina, I am impressed by its stunning beauty. Whether I explore one of the gorgeous cities or get deep in its incredible nature, I feel captivated by the atmosphere, by the positive vibes I get, and I feel totally charmed by the people. It may be the similarities in our cultures, but as an Italian it is easy for me to connect with Argentinians: I can spend hours deep in conversation with them – talking about anything from their obsession with futból (“It was not off-sight!”) to politics and literature. And there is nothing better than doing this while enjoying a delicious meal and drinking a fantastic glass of Malbec.
Argentina tourist attractions are many. This incredible country has something for just about anybody: cities packed with interesting museums; a fantastic cultural life; tango galore; unique wildlife; mountains and glaciers; infinite possibilities for adventure seekers; friendly people who are always in for fun; incredible food and delicious wines.
Although prices fluctuate as much as the Argentinian economy and the inflation rate is very high, I did not find it expensive to visit Argentina.
Before giving my advice on the things to do in Argentina and stating what the unmissable places to visit in Argentina are, here is a bit of background information on how to prepare for what may well be the trip of a lifetime.
Great things to do in Argentina: a guide for adventure junkies and nature lovers
Deciding when to visit Argentina
Any time is a good time to visit Argentina. But I may be biased! Indeed, most of those who spend their holidays in Argentina opt to travel in the late spring and summer months, between November and March, when it is possible to enjoy the whole country thanks to the favorable weather conditions. The months of January and February are peak season and places will be busy – it is a good idea to make reservations for buses, flights, and even hostels during those months.
One of the best things to do in Argentina during the summer months is enjoying its wildlife, in particular in the area of Peninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo (but keep in mind that the whales and orcas are spotted during the winter months). Patagonia is best visited in the summer, when Perito Moreno is not prohibitively cold; the same can be said for Tierra del Fuego. I should however point out that Buenos Aires does get tremendously hot in the summer months!
Flying to Argentina
Most people who fly into Argentina usually land in Buenos Aires Ezeiza airport (its international airport). Visas aren’t necessary for people who hold passports of European Union countries, United States and Switzerland. Passports are stamped and a tourist visa is given, free of charge, for 90 days from the date of arrival. Citizens of Canada need an online visa (Argentina Reciprocity Fee).
It may be necessary to show proof of onward travel – such as a round trip plane ticket. I also advise to purchase travel insurance prior to traveling.
Crossing the border to and from Argentina
There are several places to cross the border between Argentina and Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay. Crossing the border is usually a rather easy process but keep in mind that no fruits and vegetables can be carried into Chile. Whatever fresh food item one may be carrying, needs to be either discarded before crossing the border or declared in the immigration card. The fines for omitting to do so aren’t high, but the Chilean authorities will take their time in measuring every single item that can’t be carried into Chile, and this may slow down the entire border crossing process!
Currency in Argentina
The Argentinian peso is the most fluctuating currency in South America, if not the world. Inflation rate are very high and prices can change dramatically in the course of a few weeks.
Credit cards are not widely accepted and using them usually imply a surcharge. Dollars are widely accepted and until the recent change in government which has allowed the dollar to peso exchange rate to fluctuate, travelers who carried dollars usually found it better to exchange it in the blue market than in banks and official currency exchange office.
Just to give an idea, last time I was in Argentina $1 USD was officially exchanged at around 8 Argentinian Pesos, but I was able to exchange it at up to 14 (almost double the official rate) in the blue market.
The removal of restrictions on buying and selling dollars and allowing the peso rate to float according to the market means that the peso has been devalued and the blue market for dollars has significantly shrunk.
At the moment of writing, $1 USD is worth about 14 Argentinian Pesos.
I still think that one of the best things to do in Argentina is carrying some dollars, just in case.
Safety in Argentina
I found Argentina to be safe. I am generally oblivious to danger – I have visited what are considered some of the most dangerous cities in the world and I have never encountered a problem. I generally keep a low profile, whereby I use minimum precaution, such as keeping my eyes open, carrying a copy of my passport around and leaving the original one in a safe, keeping my bag strapped around my shoulder and not wearing anything too flashy (but then again, that is my style anyways) and all goes well.
Transportation in Argentina
Some of the distances in this huge country are very large. For example, getting from Puerto Madryn to El Calafate takes a good 20 hours, and from Mendoza to Buenos Aires 15 hours. Unless traveling overland is a matter of principle, I think that flying may well be one of the best things to do in Argentina, and at times it may also save a little money – just make sure to book well in advance.
Having said so, buses in Argentina are usually punctual and comfortable. Seats can be fully reclined and long distance buses even pass around meals (don’t expect anything fancy). Seats usually have a personal screen, headphones and there even is wifi.
Where to stay in Argentina
The range of places to stay in Argentina is incredible: from hostels to hotels, from bed and breakfast to guest houses and even to couch-surfing, there is something for any budget. The standard of hostels is generally good: clean, well equipped, with a nice environment and they even organize nights out, parties and dinners for very good prices.
One of the best things to do in Argentina, however, is staying in an estancia (called finca in some parts of the country), a ranch. Most estancias are located a bit off the beaten path, and staying in one is a great way to get to know in depth some of the most interesting aspects of the culture of Argentina.
Eating in Argentina
Fact: food in Argentina is delicious and one of the top things to do in Argentina is eating. Argentina is a real paradise for meat eaters, and enjoying a good asado (a mix of barbecued meats) is a must. So delicious is asado that there even are online resources that explain how to make a good one at home.
Vegetarians and vegans may have a bit of a hard time, but things are improving and the choice of places to eat for them is anyways quite large, especially in cities such as Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Thanks to its Italian heritage, in Argentina there is a lot of good Italian food and home made pasta and pizza are available in lots of restaurants, making the life of vegetarians and vegans a bit easier.
In the north west regions, empanadas (sort of small calzones with various fillings) are a good option of cheap and tasty food, along with the humitas (sort of tamales, made of corn dough).
Argentinians typically eat a small breakfast consisting of café con leche (coffee with milk) and medialunas, which are small croissants. International hostels and hotels do offer a bigger variety.
Dulce de leche (caramelized milk, almost nauseatingly sweet) is very popular and pretty much spread on anything, or so it seems. A popular snack is alfajores, two rounded dry biscuits joined together by (usually) dulche de leche and often covered in chocolate. I don’t have a very sweet tooth so I didn’t particularly enjoy them.
Drinking in Argentina
Beer in Argentina isn’t really that great. Quilmes is perhaps the best one, followed by Salteña which is more popular in the region of Salta.
Among the recommended things to do in Argentina, there is trying the fantastic wines and taking a wine tour, especially in the region of Mendoza and in Cafayate. Malbec is a fantastic grape that perfectly accompanies meat dishes.
The ritual of Mate
One of the things to do in Argentina is trying mate – a bitter infusion made with chopped yerba mate leaves and hot water. Drinking mate is a huge part of the Argentinian culture, to the point that people in Argentina hardly leave their home without carrying a thermos of hot water, enough yerba mate, a cup (which is usually called calabaza, Spanish for pumpkin, and is indeed a calabash gourd) and a bombilla, the straw used to drink it.
Drinking mate is a national ritual: Buenos Aires parks are packed with people sitting on the grass and drinking mate on Sundays. They pass along the cup and the straw and sip it for hours at end. It is not uncommon to also see mate stations, where people empty their calabaza and fill up on hot water.
Places to visit in Argentina
Buenos Aires is among the unmissable places to visit in Argentina. It is a great (and huge) European-looking city with an fabulous Latin Vibe. Next to state of the art modern buildings there are beautiful examples of colonial architecture. It is packed with parks and interesting museums. Its boulevards are immense, but just around the corner there are tiny cobbled alleys. There is a good reason it is called “The Paris of South America.”
And as if this was not enough already, there are gorgeous little cafés where the porteños (how people living in Buenos Aires are called) like to meet; trendy bars and night clubs; milongas where even the most reluctant ones will be seduced by tango; restaurants that serve delicious local and international food; fantastic shopping opportunities (actually, although I am not a shopaholic, I found shopping is one of the things do to in Buenos Aires).
Not to mention, one thing that can’t be missed when visiting Argentina is watching a futból match and there is hardly a better place to do so than Buenos Aires’ Bombonera stadium. There are so many things to do in Buenos Aires that I truly didn’t know where to start from. It took a few visits for me to be able to see it all. Yet, most of those who spend their holidays in Argentina only visit once and may well try to make the most of it in a few days. So, here is what to do in Buenos Aires in just a few days.
Things to do in Buenos Aires
Touring Buenos Aires iconic attractions
One of the things to do in Buenos Aires is visiting its iconic attractions. In this city, modernity and history mix gracefully. BAires, as the locals call it, is incredibly spread out, but with a little bit of effort, most of the tourist attractions can be visited in a day. I am a good walker, and the excitement of visiting a new city usually helps.
I find Microcentro, the commercial centre of the city, to be a good starting point to begin exploring Buenos Aires. One of the things to do in Buenos Aires is spotting the trendy porteños and Microcentro is just perfect for that: here they can be seen dressed up, rushing to business meetings. Among the places to visit in Argentina, Buenos Aires Plaza de Mayo deserves a special mention. This is where the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo used to meet with pictures and signs of the desaparecidos – the victims of the Argentinian dictatorship – demanding to know where their sons were being held and reporting the human rights violations committed by the authorities. Plaza de Mayo is a place I am particularly drawn to, because of my previous career in international human rights law – for which I still hold a very strong interest.
Right on Plaza de Mayo there are the Catedral Metropolitana and the iconic Casa Rosada, seat of the Argentinian President and the political heart of the city. Not far from it, I find Manzana de las Luces to be another must see, as it is the oldest colonial church in Buenos Aires.
One of the things to do in Buenos Aires which I truly enjoy is going for a walk in Puerto Madero, which used to be a pier once but currently is one of the trendiest barrios of the city, with its luxury apartment buildings and trendy restaurants. Puerto Madero is also home to famous architect Calatrava’s Puente de la Mujer, which I find to be a real work of art. Another part of Buenos Aires I enjoy exploring is Recoleta. This is where the wealthiest families of Buenos Aires moved in the 1870s, when an epidemic of yellow fever hit the neighborhood of San Telmo. One of the best things to do in Buenos Aires is strolling along Avenida Alvear, with its beautiful villas, the lovely shops and the Cementerio de Recoleta, the cemetery where Evita Peron, one of the most important persons in Argentinas history, is buried.
Visiting Buenos Aires fantastic museums
I never have to think too hard about what to do in Buenos Aires if the weather doesn’t allow me to venture outside. It is packed with fantastic museums! My two favorites are the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which has Argentina’s best art collection with pieces of Renoir, Monet, Picasso and Gauguin, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Exploring Buenos Aires most charming barrios
I find San Telmo and La Boca to be the most charming barrios of Buenos Aires, and paying a visit to these two charming neighborhoods is one of the things to do in Buenos Aires. San Telmo used to be an elegant area where the wealthiest families in town lived but, following the yellow fever epidemic, they moved to Recoleta. San Telmo, with its cobbled streets and colonial buildings, is now a favorite of artists and bohémien, famous for its Sunday antiques market and for the lively Feria de San Telmo (the local market).
La Boca is where Italian and Spanish immigrants settled in the 19th century and it is now a popular tourist spot for its colorful Caminito and for the Boca Juniors impressive football stadium, La Bombonera.
Pretending to be a Porteño in Palermo
People tell me I could easily pass for an Argentinian with my looks. I tend to agree – most Argentinians are of Italian descent anyways; besides, the only other Claudia Tavani I know of lives in Buenos Aires, so that must mean something. So, one of the things do to in Buenos Aires which I enjoy the most is mixing with the locals on Sundays, and spending my time in one of the many city parks.
I enjoy the ones in Palermo, where I usually rent a bike to go explore Palermo Viejo, one of the trendiest areas of Buenos Aires, packed with gorgeous buildings, cobbled streets and beautiful boulevards. I think I make quite a good impression of an Argentinian, but I am immediately recognized as a foreigner as soon as I refuse to drink mate. I know that drinking this bitter infusion of yerba is what to do in Buenos Aires to pass for a local, but I can’t bring myself to like it.
Watching a fútbol match at La Bombonera
If there is one thing I realized the minute I landed in Argentina, it is that people take fútbol very seriously there. Diego Armando Maradona is still a national hero and Lionel Messi is a star.
Going to La Bombonera for a fútbol match is definitely one of the things to do in Buenos Aires. I would dare to say, it is a fantastic cultural experience, a great way to get into the local vibe and atmosphere and to meet the locals. Besides, I am Italian and although I am not obsessed with football, I must say that I occasionally like to go to the stadium.
I know what to do in Buenos Aires next time I go: get tickets for a superclásico – Boca Juniors v. River Plate.
Despite having studied ballet a lifetime ago, I am a hopeless dancer. But tango is so sensual, so captivating, that I could not resist the opportunity to watch a tango show in one of the many milongas and then let myself be carried away by its passionate rhythm. Dancing tango is one of the things to do in Buenos Aires, in fact, one of the things to do in Argentina.
Day trips from Buenos Aires
Visiting El Tigre
One of the things to do in Buenos Aires on Sundays is… getting out of the city! At about 35 km from north of Buenos Aires, Tigre and its river delta are a favorite of porteños and they are nice places for a day tour from Buenos Aires. A train ride away from Retiro station, Tigre is a small, quiet city where I love to go to get away from the heat of Buenos Aires during summer days.
I enjoy its Puerto de Frutos, a lovely local market that sells any kind of goods. I also like going for a boat ride that takes me along the delta: the view of the traditional homes and nature are stunning.
Venturing to Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay)
Colonia del Sacramento is among the places to visit in Uruguay, is only one hour away from Buenos Aires by ferry. It is a lovely escape for a day trip from Buenos Aires. One of the things to do in Buenos Aires is thus catching a fast boat across the Rio de la Plata to visit the gorgeous little city of Colonia del Sacramento.
The city was founded by the Portuguese in 1680 and is truly pretty. The main attraction of Colonia del Sacramento is the Barrio Histórico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its old gate, the Portón de Campo; the tiny Calle de los Suspiros; the beautifully kept colonial buildings; Plaza Mayor 25 de Mayo and Plaza de Armas; and the ruins of the Convento de San Francesco. The lighthouse is the perfect spot to admire the views of the Rio de la Plata. Colonia is also packed with perfectly kept vintage cars – I love taking photos of them.
Read more about Colonia del Sacramento and the fantastic things to do in Uruguay on my post “The top seven things to do in Uruguay.”
Where to stay in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is packed with good hotels and hostels. Picking a place to stay is always a matter of personal preferences and interests. I like a bit of local feel and I enjoy walking everywhere, so to me the best places to stay in town are all in San Telmo, which is a charming area packed with lovely restaurants, cafés and bars.
I found America del Sur hostel to be a good choice. There are dorms (all having a private bathroom) as well as private rooms – all of them are cozy, modern and very comfortable. America del Sur organizes nights out as well as tango workshops too.
Where to eat in Buenos Aires
There are plenty of good restaurants in Buenos Aires, spread all over town. Some great international and fusion restaurants are in Palermo, one of the trendiest areas of Buenos Aires. Yet, my pick is Fresh Market, in Puerto Madero. It took me a while to find this, as really the restaurant is no more than a few tables in what really is a grocery store. But the food is incredible (I highly recommend the fresh salmon) and the choice of dessert out of this world!
Puerto Madryn, the Peninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo
Puerto Madryn is definitely one of the places to visit in Argentina. A small port town on the Gulfo Nuevo, it gives easy access to some of Argentina tourist attractions: the beautiful Península Valdés and Punta Tombo. In the summer months, it is is a beach destination to which lots of people who spend their holidays in Argentina travel, as it is the perfect location for one of the most incredible things to do in Argentina: admiring the thriving wildlife. And as a bonus, it also is a nice place to just hang out.
In the winter and spring, between June and December, Puerto Madryn is one of the places to visit in Argentina as it is possible to admire the austral whales directly from the town jetty (although apparently the best place to spot the austral whales is Puerto Pirámides, in the Península Valdés).
One of the best things to do in Argentina is learning more about its incredible wildlife, and Puerto Madryn is an excellent place to do that as it has several interesting museums. One of them, the Ecocentro, is a work of art of interactive exhibits where great artistic sensibility and outstanding scientific research are joined together for superbe results. It also has a fantastic library from which it is possible to admire a beautiful view of the gulf (and spot the marine life).
I visited Puerto Madryn during the summer months (between December and March), which is when the strong Patagonian winds blow almost uninterrupted. For this reason, I was unable to see the austral whales. Yet, like most of those who visit Argentina, I went all the way to Puerto Madryn to further explore the region – and it was a good choice!
One of the activities I enjoyed the most was going out on a boat expedition to admire mammals such as dolphins and sea lions in their natural environment. This was one of the highlights of my trip and the main reason why I find that Puerto Madryn is one of the places to visit in Argentina.
Furthermore, as I am particularly active and I find that one of the things to do in Argentina is being adventurous, I think Puerto Madryn is perfect as it offers great opportunity for hiking, biking, going kayaking or even learning how to windsurf.
Among the things to do in Argentina, there is visiting the Reserva Faunística Península Valdés, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the best places to visit in Argentina to observe the incredible wildlife in its natural habitat. Among others, during my tour of Peninsula Valdes I admired sea elephant and lions, guanacos, nandus, foxes, magellan penguins. Depending on the season, even orcas show up. I even swam in Puerto Pirámides. The Atlantic water wasn’t cold, but the strong wind meant that as soon as I got out I was covered in sand!
Another of the places to visit in Argentina is Punta Tombo, the largest penguin nesting region in South America. Besides a variety of birds which includes cormorants and seagulls, here lives a colony of over half a million magellan penguins who set up their nest and lay their eggs each year between September and April. Taking a tour of Punta Tombo to walk around there is one of the most fun and surreal things to do in Argentina. I surely enjoyed feeling a minority when penguins walked around the site. They look really cute and they are really loud!
Where to stay in Puerto Madryn
I generally prefer staying in hostels rather than hotels, as I find the atmosphere much more friendly. When I visited Puerto Madryn, I stayed at Hi Patagonia, a lovely hostel which, for the way it is set up, looks more like a home. And indeed, it does feel homey, with the common areas where guests can hang out, good dorms and a properly equipped kitchen. Hi Patagonia regularly organizes asado nights (eating asado is one of the things to do in Argentina) for a very convenient price, and nights out for its guests.
Where to eat in Puerto Madryn
Although I mostly ate at the hostel, one of the restaurants I tried in Puerto Madryn is Estela, which is considered the best restaurant in town. It offers a great choice of meat, pasta and fish dishes and the atmosphere is very cozy.
Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego
Among the fantastic things to do in Argentina, there is admiring its unspoiled nature and appreciate its wilderness. Ushuaia is one of the places to visit in Argentina just for that.
What makes Ushuaia one of Argentina tourist attraction is its location, in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. The Martial mountain range is at its north, whereas the Beagle Channel lays at its south. Those who visit Argentina usually travel to Ushuaia in the summer months, when the city (which is the closest point to Antarctica) gets a lot of daylight and the temperatures, despite being cold, are not as prohibitive as in the winter months (May to August).
Ushuaia is a perfect base for some incredible adventures and to embark on some of the most incredible things to do in Argentina, such as hiking, kayaking, dog sledding, wildlife watching and Antarctica cruises. Among the places to visit in Argentina that can be easily accessed from Ushuaia, there are Cerro Martial and its glacier, Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel.
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Argentina, and there are hardly better places than the scented forests of Tierra del Fuego National Park for that.
There are several walking trails, some offering views of the Beagle Channel and of Isla Navarino and Isla Hoste, and on any of them it is possible to admire the flora and wildlife that lives in the area, which includes cormorants, seagulls and even condors.
Furthermore, one of Argentina tourist attractions is the Tren del Fin del Mundo, a fantastic train ride that goes through the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
As I have pointed out already, admiring the incredible wildlife is one of the most amazing things to do in Argentina. Boarding a day cruise across the Beagle Channel is a great way to explore the various islands of Tierra del Fuego, such as those of the Alicia Archipelago.
Bird Islands, Seal Islands and Isla Martillo are among Argentina tourist attractions in terms of wildlife as this is where it is possible to admire colonies of sea lions and seals as well as the Magellan Penguins. Included the places to visit in Argentina that can be explored during a tour of the Beagle Channel is the beautiful Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse.
Where to stay in Ushuaia
Those who visit Argentina generally agree that, even without blowing their budget, it is possible to get some really good accommodation. I generally look for plain cozy rooms with basic comforts as I don’t really need luxury, and occasionally treat myself to nicer places. In Ushuaia, I opted to stay at Posada Fin del Mundo, a wonderful building with huge windows that offer spectacular views. Rooms aren’t really spacious, but they are cozy and comfortable and the breakfast is delicious. The owners are real stars!
Where to eat in Ushuaia
One of the things to do in Argentina is enjoying the excellent food. There’s plenty of good restaurants in Ushuaia. I loved grabbing some quick bits at Almacen Ramos Generales, which has freshly baked bread and good croissants. My favorite restaurant in town is María Lola Restó, which is also very popular among the locals.
El Calafate, Patagonia and the glaciers
Patagonia is without the shadow of a doubt among the places to visit in Argentina, and the small town of El Calafate is the perfect access point to it. El Calafate is located on the southern coast of Lago Argentino, surrounded by the Andean peaks, lakes and glaciers. Although the main feature of El Calafate is its location, I find this small town to be really pretty and a lovely place to relax for a few days, as it is packed with nice cafés, restaurants and shops. Those cafés come in really handy with the sudden weather changes. Even in the summer months, El Calafate can be really cold and it can snow!
Perito Moreno Glacier is among the most famous Argentina tourist attractions. From a distance, the view is that of an enormous river of ice that slowly moves towards the lake, surrounded by mountains. Getting closer, the glacier looks like a wall of ice. One of the most fantastic things to do in Argentina is thus taking a cruise on Lago Argentino, along the Canal de los Témpanos, to get right to the bottom of Perito Moreno and to admire the icebergs that float on the lake.
Yet, visiting the Perito Moreno is not simply a visual experience. One of the best things to do in Argentina is indeed listening to the ridges that, torn away from the glacier, crash loudly onto the lake – the sound this produces is similar to that of a thunder in the distance.
I love hiking and for this reason I am one of the many who visit Argentina to enjoy its fantastic trails. Among the most incredible things to do in Argentina is hiking on the Perito Moreno glacier, apparently. I say ‘apparently’ because I must admit that I chickened out of this one as I thought I would be too cold, and I was right – to me it was cold enough already just seeing the Perito Moreno from the viewpoint.
My advice to anybody who is willing to hike the glacier is to make sure to wear proper great – good hiking boots and socks, a good snow jacket, hat, scarf and gloves and thermal underwear will all be necessary.
As hiking is one of the things to do in Argentina and one of the activities I enjoy the most, I joined a hiking expedition that from Estancia Cristina led me to a viewpoint from which I could admire the Uppsala glacier. It was a very windy day – as any proper summer day in Patagonia, yet the hike wasn’t too strenuous.
During this day tour of Estancia Cristina and Uppsala Glacier, I walked along the Cañadón de los Fósiles, where I was able to observe a large number of marine fossils dating back to an era precedent to the formation of the Andes, and I got to see one of Argentina tourist attractions from the great viewpoint of Lago Guillermo. Finally, not only I saw the stunning Uppsala glacier but I also got to visit Estancia Cristina, which was once a ranch and it has currently been turned into a fabulous boutique hotel where it is great to spend a few nights, and which has a great annexed museum.
One of the other things to do in Argentina in the surrounding areas of El Calafate is kayaking on Lake Argentino. I dare anybody getting on the freezing waters!
Lots of people who visit Argentina and go to El Calafate feel tempted to go on a day trip to Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile. This is a great place to visit, and it is for a good reason that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yet, of all the things to do in Argentina, I would not recommend going to Torres del Paine just for a day. I speak with good reason as I was one of those who made the mistake and wasted a full day (and a good amount of money – but after all, I have always said I am an unsuccessful backpacker) on what turned up to be just a bus trip where stops would consist of no more than 30 minutes for pictures. The park is too gorgeous to just spend a few hours there and deserves at least a few days to explore the various hiking trails.
Read more about my backpacking misadventures on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”
Where to stay in El Calafate
I don’t like having to repeat myself, but it is only fair that I do. One of the best things to do in Argentina is taking in the fantastic view and America del Sur hostel in El Calafate is a great place to do so. It is a bit outside the centre of town, on a hill overlooking Lake Argentino.
One of the fondest memories I have of Argentina is having a very early breakfast before a day trip and seeing the sunrise from the cozy common room of America del Sur hostel. Dorms are cozy and comfortable and they all have private bathrooms. The hostel also offers tours and organizes asado nights. It is a great place to meet other travelers too.
Where to eat in El Calafate
Eating is one of the things to do in Argentina. I tried various restaurants in El Calafate and eventually I made up my mind that the best one is La Tablita, a great parrilla that serves delicious meat and fish dishes, and has a great wine selection. The atmosphere is very cozy and the service excellent.
Adventure sports are among the things to do in Argentina, first and foremost hiking, but also rafting and kayaking. Considered the Argentinian hiking capital, with its iconic Fitzroy mountain range, El Chalten is one of the places to visit in Argentina for adventure sports.
Located in the northern side of the Parque Nacional los Glaciares, El Chalten is just a tiny village. Yet, it is the perfect starting point for many hiking trails and fairly easy to reach even on a day trip from El Calafate. As I was based in El Calafate and had to get a bus back, I opted for the 3 hour trail Laguna Torre, which offers incredible views of the Cerro Torre.
I am completely in love with Mendoza, and I may have biased views about it. It is one of my favorite places to visit in Argentina, so much so that I plan to go back to Mendoza. This nice city full of boulevards and cosmopolitan cafés, yet the pace of life is more relaxed there. Lively during the day, Mendoza becomes fully alive at night when locals and tourists crowd the many restaurants and bars.
The main features of Mendoza are its proximity to the Parque Provincial Cerro Aconcagua – home of the highest peak of the Western hemisphere, the Cerro Aconcagua (6962 meters) – and the fact that the region where Mendoza is located is the most incredible wine producing region of South America. It is thus easy to understand why Mendoza is one of Argentina tourist attractions.
I have insisted that trying the fabulous food is one of the things to do in Argentina. It is now time to mention the fantastic wine too. Lots of people that visit Argentina go to Mendoza specifically to go on wine tasting tours, and I won’t deny that this was my case too. The next time I go to Mendoza I will also take a wine tasting course.
The area of Mendoza is packed with incredible bodegas (vineyards) producing world class Malbec and Merlot wines. Although some travelers may opt for the classic tours, I explored the region on a bike. At a leisurely pace, I biked from bodega to bodega and in each one I had a tour of the vineyards, of the cellar and a (few) sampling of wine at the end. I won’t deny that by the end of the day I was happily tipsy, just as that time I did a wine tasting tour in Slovenia.
Read more about Slovenia on my post “Seven touristy and not so touristy things to do in Slovenia.”
Furthermore, as most people who visit Argentina, I also bought several bottles of wine. They were really cheap and I wanted to take them back home for my family to try. They made my backpack incredibly heavy and almost impossible to carry, but the delicious wine I could enjoy in the comfort of my home was worth every effort!
Where to stay in Mendoza
When traveling on a limited budget, among the best things to do in Argentina there’s sleeping in one of the great hostels that can be easily found in all cities. I opted for Chill Inn and it was an excellent choice. There are several kinds of accommodation to choose from. I opted for a mixed dorm with shared bathroom.
The kitchen is perfectly equipped, though I admit that I hardly cooked as on most nights the managers organized dinner for the guests. They also sell bottles of wine and have a great selection. There’s also a small but lovely pool to hang out in the summer, and a nice garden.
Where to eat in Mendoza
I am not too fussed when it comes to accommodation (within limits!), but I am a picky eater and if I have to spend money for food, I may as well go for quality. That’s how I discovered Siete Fuegos. If eating is one of the things to do in Argentina, and whenever in need of a bid ot pampering, this is the place to do it! A great selection of wines, excellent food, a fabulous setting make this one of the best restaurants in the country.
Salta and the North West
Salta is the biggest city in the North of Argentina, laying on a beautiful valley surrounded by the fantastic Andean peaks. It’s the indigenous heart of the country, and I find that it deserves to be listed among the places to visit in Argentina. The central plaza is a great place to hang out and among the places of interest in town there are the Cathedral and Iglesia San Francisco. I also enjoyed getting the teleférico to the Cerro San Bernardo, which allowed me to have a great view of the city (hint: go right before sunset to take in the incredible light).
One of Argentina tourist attractions are its great museums. Salta is home to a great anthropology museum, the MAAM (Museo de Antropologia de Alta Montaña), considered the most important museum of North Argentina. I love anthropology museums as they allow me to better understand the history and culture of a region and I find MAAM to be excellent, with its fantastic exhibition of Inca artifacts, and 3 mummies found in 1999.
Among the incredible things to do in Argentina there are all sorts of adventure sports. Patagonia is generally considered the best region for hiking, but Salta and its surroundings offer incredible opportunities to adrenaline seekers. One of my most memorable days to date is the one I spent rafting, hiking and zip lining over the Rio Juramento with Salta Rafting, the most reputable operator in the area. So much I enjoyed it that I have resolved that next time I visit Argentina I will go to Salta again to join one of their expeditions.
The day started quite early: at 8 am, together with a bunch of other adventure seekers who were spending their holidays in Argentina, we left Salta. After around two hours drive on a beautiful, scenic road, we reached the base camp on Rio Juramento, where we provided all necessary equipment to raft and we were fully trained.
There were four groups of 6 during the rafting expedition, plus a dog that I had sitting in front of me most of the time, just enjoying the view and the fresh water! Two kayaks went ahead of the group and stopped at key points to take some action shots, so I didn’t even have to worry about having a camera on me.
After two hours of rafting (which by the way went incredibly fast, as they were a lot of fun!) we found a bus waiting for us to get back to the base camp, were we had the chance to take a shower and then were offered a delicious asado – just to remind us that one of the top things to do in Argentina is eating!
Looking for more adventure, some of us then went zip lining on a system of ten cables connecting various parts of the canyon, going above the river. We flew as fast as bullets. It was scary, breathtaking yet a lot of fun and the views were spectacular! By the end of the day, I was exhausted – I fell asleep really early after a quick shower, but I was really happy!
Of all the things to do in Argentina, spending a day filled with adventure is the one I most highly recommend.
Another of the great things to do in Argentina that can be enjoyed while in Salta is taking the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), which goes through the Quebrada del Toro to reach a spectacular viaduct suspended at 64 meters and 224 meters long, and also crosses a desert which is at 4220 meters above sea level.
South west of Salta, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Argentina is the Calchaquíes Valley – a gorgeous combination of dry landscapes, pretty adobe villages, traditional crafts markets and some of the best wines in the country. The good news is that, compared to the rest of the north of Argentina, this region is still not as explored. Among the unmissable Argentina tourist attractions in the area, there are the Devil’s Gorge, the Conchas Gorge and the beautiful Cafayate, a village surrounded by picturesque wineries.
Where to stay in Salta
One of the most charming places to stay in Salta is Bloomers B&B, a fantastic guest house that only has 5 rooms, each one different from the other, yet all beautifully decorated and cozy. The atmosphere is very friendly, and the breakfast menu – which changes daily – delicious.
Where to eat in Salta
My favorite restaurant in Salta is El Viejo Jack. This unpretentious parrilla doesn’t look too charming, but the food is delicious, the service fast and friendly, and the prices more than affordable.
I also enjoyed Pizzeria La Colonial. Sure, this isn’t nearly the best pizza one can have in Argentina (far from it) but almost all customers are locals, the atmosphere is easy going and the prices very cheap. I surely enjoyed it!
Quebrada de Humahuaca
Exploring the incredible Quebrada de Humahuaca is one of the things to do in Argentina: this well deserves to be among the places to visit in Argentina thanks to its breathtaking landscapes. This is a land where blue skies meet the high desert planes, small adobe villages are scattered along with small yet interesting archeological sites. It is a palette of colors, so unique to be included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The people who live in the Quebrada are among the few remaining indigenous groups of Argentina – they are Quechua, much as the indigenous groups that currently live in Cusco and the Sacred Valley of Peru.
Read more about Cusco and the Sacred Valley of Peru on my posts “Things to do in Cusco” and “Places do visit in Peru: The Sacred Valley and Macchu Picchu.”
Among the villages to visit in the Quebrada de Humahuaca there is the tiny yet lovely Purmamarca, which is right at the foot of Cerro de los Siete Colores, and which has a lovely market – one of the things to do in Argentina is haggling for some beautiful crafts in Purmamarca. The village of Maimará looks incredible against the “Paleta del Pintor”.
Tilcara is among the places to visit in Argentina for its colorful and friendly people and its unique carnival, which lasts a few days and where the celebrations are contagious: musical bands walk around the village, incessantly playing their music while others dance and play tricks to passersby, throwing flour or talcum powder at them. The result is messy, yet a lot of fun.
The Pucará de Tilcara, an Inca archeological site just outside the village, is an interesting place to spend a few hours – don’t expect anything as magnificent as Machu Picchu, but it can have its charme.
On the other side of the Trópico de Capricornio, the village of Uquía is located at over 2800 meters above sea level and has a beautiful church built in the 17th century. Humahuaca, at almost 3000 meters above sea level, is the largest village in the area and one of the places to visit in Argentina for it is packed with color, beautiful cobbled streets, lively markets and friendly locals.
West of Purmamarca, one of the most interesting places to visit in Argentina is the beautiful Salinas Grandes, a large salt flat at 3350 meters above sea level. The visual effect of the salt flats is a blinding light, though when the region gets some rain, the area appears like a large lake that beautifully reflects the mountains and the clouds. Visiting Salinas Grandes is one of the things to do in Argentina!
Where to stay in the Quebrada de Humahuaca
Posada El Sol is a good hostel a bit out of the centre of Humahuaca. It is a beautiful building in adobe, with a nice, well kept garden and an equipped kitchen. There are dorms as well as private rooms. Breakfast is included in the price.
A more upper scale and comfortable place to stay is Cielo Arriba Casa, which is closer to the main square and has very few rooms located around a beautiful patio.
Where to eat in the Quebrada de Humahuaca
The Quebrada de Humahuaca is packed with good restaurants for all budgets. The one I enjoyed the most is El Churqui, in Purmamarca, which is in a gorgeous historical building and prepares typical regional dishes, including llama.
Cataratas del Iguazu
Of all the things to do in Argentina, visiting the incredible Cataratas del Iguazu is, to put it simply, a must. Located between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, these incredible waterfalls are among the best Argentina tourist attractions for they are spectacular, a natural wonder and a real show of the mighty power of nature.
The nearest town to the waterfalls is Puerto Iguazu, at the border with Brazil. The town itself is nothing special, but it is a great base for exploring the waterfalls, as several buses per day leave from the bus station in Puerto Iguazu, either going to the Brazilian border and dropping visitors off directly at the park in Brazil, or to the Argentinian park. There are several restaurants and bars to hang out and try the local specialties – which are different from that of the rest of the country.
The climate in this part of the country is tropical, and it is hot and humid throughout the year.
Those who visit Argentina should never skip a visit to the Cataratas del Iguazu. I am glad that when I visited the region, I decided to spend at least 3 days there as I wanted to see the waterfalls from both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side.
My recommendation is to actually visit the Brazilian side first, and leave the Argentinian one as the cherry on the cake. The Brazilian side is indeed very panoramic – the views are incredible and there are endless possibilities to take postcard-like pictures. It is also possible to follow several trails to admire the local wildlife (though the most interesting animals are night creatures!).
The Argentinian side was, to me, way more fun. That was when I was able to see the waterfalls from a distance, and then get close to them, get under them, get above them. I truly lived the waterfalls. I followed the various trails to cross to Isla San Martín; I walked through a 1 km footpath on the forest to reach the famous Garganta del Diablo, where a platform is laid right above the river. And I even got on a zodiac to get all the way under the waterfalls and get completely soaked – it was one of the most incredible things to do in Argentina.
What makes the Iguazu waterfalls one of the places to visit in Argentina is the fact that it is a unique site. It is an all encompassing experience. Visual as much as auditive, as I could hear the roar of the waterfalls long before I could actually see them. But I also felt the water, as the power of the waterfalls is so strong that the water sprinkled all over me.
There are many things to do in Argentina in Iguazu National Park. It is possible to go rafting, hiking on various trails (such as the Black Well Trail and the slippery Sendero Macuco) and even kayaking. One of the most interesting experiences, apparently, is seeing the full moon from the Garganta del Diablo, when the natural light illuminates the waterfalls. I didn’t get to do this as the full moon can only be enjoyed on 5 consecutive nights per month and I wasn’t visiting Iguazu during one of those days.
Where to stay in Puerto Iguazu
When I visited Iguazu I was traveling with a few other people and we decided to stay at Jasy Hotel. It was an excellent choice. We shared a private room and it was really spacious, it even had some basic kitchen facilities like a fridge and a microwave. The garden is beautifully kept, there is a small pool where we could relax after a day of exploration, and a good restaurant.
The bonus was the Caipirinha we were offered upon arrival: it was delicious.
Where to eat in Puerto Iguazu
Aside from the colorful market north of the centre, Puerto Iguazu is packed with good places to eat. El Quincho de Tío Querido is a good option for a typical Argentinian parrilla – the prices are more than reasonable.
Aqva is a fancy restaurant that offers some local specialties such as the surubi fish. It is on the pricey side but may be a good option for a special night out.
Have you ever been to Argentina? What were your favorite things to do in Argentina?
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