A land at once vast and wild, bustling and serene, Argentina goes from dust-choked desert plateaus through rolling Pampas grassland to the icefields of the Patagonian reaches.
It’s a country that’s laced with fascinating Spanish conquistador history and elegant colonial treasures, enthralling native peoples and gorgeous backcountry aplenty. Check out this selection of the top spots that should be on every itinerary through Argentina.
Let’s explore the best places to visit in Argentina:
1. Buenos Aires
The sprawling, seething capital of Argentina rose on the banks of the Rio del Plata when Iberian seafarer Pedro de Mendoza first marked out the colonial streets of what is today San Telmo district; Buenos Aires’ gorgeous Spanish come Francophone-styled historic heart, where Baroque churches rub shoulders with Parisian cafes populated by artists and bohemian types.
The artsy district of La Boca, meanwhile, shimmering with multicolours, draws crowds to its galleries and boutiques, while Palermo pulses with dance shows and aromatic parrillas (casual roadside grills with perfect gaucho meat cuts). And then there’s the night time, ushering in one throbbing scene of tango and Latin jazz, sleepless dub bars and all-night steakhouses.
Yes sir, there’s plenty to fall in love with in uber-passionate BA!
Cordoba’s UNESCO-attested center is a gorgeous patchwork of 17th-century Spanish churches and convents, Jesuit sites and cobblestone alleys, all nestled between the rolling plains of the Argentine Pampas and the half-baked ridges of the Sierras Chicas.
But a fine historical heart is not Cordoba’s only draw.
No sir, students still flock here to the lecture rooms of the National University of Cordoba – the oldest and one of the most prestigious in the nation.
This erudite population breathes life into paleontological museums and the Caraffa Fine Arts Museum alike, theatre productions and public art displays, all whilst fuelling a particularly hedonistic nightlife in the Ex Abasto area.
3. San Antonio de Areco
Set on the cusp of the gaucho heartland, where the rolling plains of the grass-clad Pampas claim the horizon, San Antonio de Areco is one truly handsome Argentine town.
Elegant colonial builds from the 1700s line the streets; their red-tiled roofs slanting in an Andalusian fashion; their Baroque adornments mirroring the palazzos of Madrid.
Swaying palms and ombu trees pepper the squares, where earthy steakhouses mix with leather workshops and weavers’ homes.
This rustic outback town is a great place to get a taste of Argentina’s rich cowboy history, and perfect if you love the sleepy siesta routines of the Pampas hinterland!
Jack of all trades and master of one, Mendoza does nothing better than wine.
Tasters flock from all over the planet to sample the famed Criolla Grande and Malbecs betwixt the city’s cellar doors.
But that isn’t it.
This 100,000-strong cityscape is also one darn charming place to spend a week (or two), edged right up to the Argentine Andes.
Its streets are lined with blooming shade trees, parks ring their way around the bodegas, and Plaza Espana – as the name suggests – oozes Spanish charm.
And as if that’s still not enough, Mendoza has risen as one of Argentina’s prime outdoors bases, rivalling even Patagonia with its offering of soaring Aconcagua, the treeless plateaus of the high plains and ski fields to boot.
Icy and alone at the far reaches of the Argentine south, Ushuaia sits in the shadow of the snow-topped Martial ranges.
Here it can be found cascading down to the chilly waters of the Beagle Channel, its docksides awash with fishing vessels and hardy steel sloops bobbing about the waves.
Today, travelers flock to this remote town – considered the southernmost city in the world – on the meandering tracks of the so-called End of the World Train, which cuts right the way through the main attraction: Tierra del Fuego National Park.
After stocking up on boots and camping gear in the outfitters of Ushuaia, travelers can strike out into this Patagonian wilderness, spying the Martial Glacier, rugged Lapataia Bay and mirror-like Lago Roca on the border with Chile.
6. San Ignacio Mini
Close to the tristate join of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, amidst the red-hued fields and yerba plantations of Misiones Province, travelers will discover the fascinating ruins of San Ignacio Mini.
Tagged by UNESCO back in 1983, this collection of crumbling cloisters and church walls, living quarters and cemeteries is one of the prime examples of what’s come to be known as the Guarani Baroque style.
Fusing together elements of tribal art and craft and regal Spanish architecture, the remains belie the curious meeting of cultures that took place here during the decades of the Conquistadores, and are regular chart toppers on lists of Argentina’s must-see attractions.
7. El Calafate
Standing pearly-white like a peppermint against the deep blues and rugged rock granite ridges of the Los Glaciares National Park, the ice-carved bulwarks of the Perito Moreno Glacier are a real wonder to behold.
Almost singlehandedly have they thrust the far-flung backwater town of El Calafate into the limelight, and today thousands of intrepid travelers make their way to the Patagonian backcountry around the city, eager to seek out bobbing ice bergs and the crags of Onelli Bay alike.
The settlement has grown up in recent decades too, going from a wool trader outpost to a series of paved streets lined with outdoors outfitters, quaint timber homes and the cutting-edge exhibitions of the Glaciarium.
8. Puerto Iguazu
The last little taste of Argentina before crossing the border into Brazil or Paraguay is a friendly enough place, complete with oodles of well-honed hotels and guesthouses, more than its fair share of restaurants, and souvenir shops ten to the penny.
But that’s not why so many people come here.
No sir, they come in droves for the roaring cataracts of the Iguazu Falls, which cascade over the cliffs close by.
Trips to the bucket-list waterfalls are uber-easy to organise, with a tourist train weaving through the jungles and designated walking paths opening up onto the famous Devil’s Throat section of the site, where the waters crash a whopping 82 meters from top to bottom.
Remember the waterproofs!
9. El Chalten
Dramatic broadsides of the mighty Fitz Roy peaks delineate the horizon at El Chalten; a town of low-rise cottages and Austrian-esque guesthouses that’s perched right up on the edge of the Patagonian Andes and the northern icefields of Los Glaciares.
The de facto trekking capital of the nation, the spot is packed with walkers and hikers and mountaineers, all coming in search of trails like the Laguna de los Tres and Condor Mirador, which soar high above the town and close to the towering peaks that encase it.
A spa is at hand for any who want to sooth the muscles post-adventure, while a clutch of breweries and backpacker bars makes for an interesting evening complete with pilsners and black beers.
10. San Carlos de Bariloche
Argentina’s answer to New Zealand’s Queenstown, France’s Chamonix and all the world’s other alpine, outdoorsy gems comes in the form of San Carlos de Bariloche (that’s just Bariloche to the locals and regulars). Hugging the sparkling waters of Nahuel Huapi Lake, the town is encompassed by verdant swathes of lengas and Chilean cedar and bamboo.
Luxurious hotels looking plucked straight out of Geneva meet wooden snow cabins between the city streets, while Swiss chocolatiers belie the town’s long Germanic historical connection – as does the glorious Gothic cathedral! Skiing at Cerro Catedral causes the town to boom during the colder months, as riders come in search of one of the continent’s largest ski areas, complete with 120 kilometers of groomed piste.
11. Mar del Plata
Chock-a-block with sunbathers and fashionistas, volleyball hitters and Atlantic swell swimmers right throughout the summer, Mar del Plata is the Argentinian seaside resort extraordinaire.
The early decades of the 1900s was when the beaches here made their name, giving a golden age that’s still visible in the occasional Art Deco high-rise along the shore.
Today, del Plata pumps to the tune of electric tango each evening, the throbbing cocktail bars of Alem Street drawing the biggest crowds.
Fantastic fish eateries also abound, while Mirador Waikiki offers something a little more secluded than the major sand stretches that line the city.
12. Puerto Madryn
A town of sloping beaches and windswept Atlantic dunes, where the rugged, seal-spotted coves of Chubut Province meld together between the Valdes Peninsula and Punta Ninfas, Puerto Madryn is one part sunbather paradise (great if you fancy leaving behind the booming crowds of Mar del Plata!), one part whale watchers’ mecca.
The great mammals (southern right whales to be precise) flock to the shore during the colder months, and can be seen from the rocky headlands around town, while summertime draws Buenos Aires locals to its less-trodden inlets and the penguin-packed rocks of Punta Tombo alike.
Welsh heritage is very much alive here too, so don’t be shocked if you hear the odd diolch mixed in with the Spanish!
13. Antofagasta de la Sierra
A whopping 3,200 meters above sea level, amidst the coal-coloured cinder cones of the Puna and the colossal caldera tops of Galan, Antofagasta de la Sierra is a whole world away from the ice-caked Patagonian wilds and the grasslands of the Pampas.
Here, dust devils twirl in the air and the sweeping Andean plateaus are interrupted only by the occasional bump of an ancient volcano.
Llama calls are the backing track, and farmers squeeze a living from the wastelands and the high-altitude lakes.
Antofagasta itself is little more than a village, the prime gateway to this truly breathtaking region of Argentina, although increasing annual visitor numbers are slowly beginning to change things.
Trevelin rose in the wake of the fabled Welsh explorer and settler El Baqueano, who used this spot as a base for his intrepid excursions in the Pampas during the 1890s.
Today, this curious little backwater settlement still remembers its Celtic roots with pride, and the Welsh tongue still echoes amidst the pretty, tree-lined streets.
In fact, spots like the Dyffryn y Merthyron pay homage to the fallen heroes of the Welsh frontier caravans, while cakes straight out of Brecon feature heavily on the menus of the quaint tearooms in town.
The setting is beautiful too, as the rising peaks of the Andes dominate to the west and the Chubut lowlands roll out, undulating forever into the east.
Salta can be found spread out along the base of the dust-caked, ochre-hued Lerma Valley, a mass of square-cut blocks and traffic-choked streets that hides one magnificent colonial core at its heart.
Yes sir, expect palm-peppered plazas like Julio Square and Ninth of July Plaza, where al fresco cafes throb with Spanish chatter, curious tango-folk and the smells of yerba mate, theatres twinkle in lights and elegant Baroque frontispieces ooze with tales of the town’s 500 years of history.
Of course, the backcountry is another draw (it always is in Argentina), and after devouring all the empanadas possible, many travelers make a beeline for the wild Valles Calchaquies, or even across the Andes, to the saltpans of southern Bolivia!