One of the more urban and modern cities in Argentina, San Miguel de Tucumán has been called the “Garden of the Republic” due to its role in the country’s fight for independence. The city contains the building where independence from Spain was first declared, and its streets are full of history.
Aside from remnants of those days and a few impressive churches, tourist destinations within the fifth-largest city in Argentina are relatively few. Filled with boutiques, street art, and a distinctly more cosmopolitan feel than other cities in the north of the country, most people venture just outside of Tucumán for their activities. Take a hike through the surrounding yunga forests, visit archaeological ruins, and wander villages filled with indigenous culture. Then return to the city to uncover its museums, parks, cafes, and local cuisine.
Let’s explore the best things to do in San Miguel de Tucumán:
1. Plaza Independencia
Enjoy lots of important historical sites at once from your seat on a bench in the city’s main square, Plaza Independencia.
Constructed during the colonial times, you can sit amongst native flowers and orange trees and maybe catch an occasional protest from residents trying to get the attention of their representatives.
The plaza was originally built for government buildings and the city’s cathedral, so you’ll see La Casa del Gobierno and the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación here as well.
You’ll easily spy the Statue of Liberty in the center, created by artist Lola Mora, and the Casa Padilla, a National Historic Monument.
The square has modernized with the times, and now it’s also filled with bars, restaurants, and museums
2. Casa de Tucumán
The Congress of Tucumán declared Argentina’s independence from the Spanish Crown in this very house in 1816. Painted a bright white, this colonial home was used by the revolutionary government for meetings – they even knocked out an interior wall to make more room for their sessions.
Now visitors can tour this once private house to learn more about the city of Tucumán’s role in the battle for Argentine independence and see the room (kept in its original state) where the declaration was made.
Tours are super helpful and informative, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, and there’s even a light show each night at this historic spot.
3. Try the Local Gastronomy
Home to some of the best empanadas in Argentina, check out Tucumán’s empanada shops and restaurants all over the city and neighboring villages.
Empanadas tucumanas are usually fried and contain fillings of beef, chicken, or tripe.
There’s even an official “Ruta de la Empanada Tucumana” with a map of 27 spots to try empanadas in the city alone (plus more in the nearby towns of Yerba Buena and Famaillá). Every February, Famaillá holds the National Empanada Festival during which thousands of people visit the city to consume more than 400,000 of these delicious treats.
But besides these little packets of goodness, try more regional favorites here like locro, goat, and tamales.
The city is famous for its sugarcane production too so you’ll find lots of local sweets here.
4. Tour the Yungas
Outside of the city the scenery becomes lush and green, so take at least an afternoon to explore it on your own or with a tour company.
The Yungas are a humid tropical and subtropical forest region with tons of biodiversity that you can travel through on the Circuito Chico.
This popular tourist trail features the picturesque town of Yerba Buena, the ravines and grandiose mansions of Villa Nougues, and the hills and statue of San Javier.
You could also include trips to the forests of Raco or the monastery at El Siambon.
There are views for days, photo stops, and detours to trek to a waterfall or visit the Cadillal Dam along the way as well.
5. Parque 9 de Julio
There’s actually so much to do in the city’s largest park, Parque 9 de Julio, that you could spend a whole afternoon here.
Aside from the lake and its many trails for running and walking, you’ll also find statues, a rose garden, a flower clock, and university buildings.
In the center, be sure to visit the Casa del Obispo Colombres, the former beautiful colonial home of a bishop which is now the Museo de la Industria Azucarera, a museum detailing the sugarcane industry of Tucumán.
The park itself is filled with bars, restaurants, and cafes, so you could picnic in the grass or just stop at one of the many establishments already here.
6. Parque Sierra de San Javier
To appreciate the size of Tucumán and just how green the surrounding valleys are, visit Parque Sierra de San Javier.
Known for its impressive statue of Cristo Bendicente with his arm outstretched in blessing, this scenic hill and landmark are located just outside of Yerba Buena and you can take the public bus (colectivo) or drive to get here.
A popular tourist spot, you’ll frequently find vendors selling souvenirs in the area and kiosks with snacks.
Bring a picnic and just chill, or visit the tiny museum beneath the statue.
Stay for sunset if the weather’s nice to see the city light up below! If you’re interested in paragliding, many takeoffs happen from this park, so make arrangements with companies in the city.
7. Dique El Cadillal
For a little breather from the busyness of the city, drive 20 minutes out to this peaceful reservoir surrounded by forests.
The calm waters are created by the Celestino Gelsi Dike set just inside the Medina Mountains and Medici Hill.
An oasis for tourists created in 1965, these shores have nice restaurants and outdoor bars, plus campsites where you can stay the night next to the reservoir.
It’s a hotspot for watersports like windsurfing, kitesurfing, and kayaking, plus you can do plenty of walking, fishing, and mountain biking around the water which reaches up to 220 feet (67 meters) deep.
Tourists can visit the roman-style amphitheater on the banks of the reservoir or check out the Museum of Archeology nearby.
For magnificent views, head up the hills in the aerosillas (chairlifts) of El Cadillal.
8. Make the Trip to Tafí del Valle
One of the cool little towns located in the Calchaquí Valley outside of Tucumán, it’s a must-visit for anybody looking for a bit of nature, history, and gastronomy.
Its name translates to “Town with a Splendid Entrance” and the village attracts tourists who want to see the well-preserved 18th-century Jesuit architecture here.
Visitors can also walk along the mountain trails, ride a horse in the hills, or stroll through the town’s quaint cobblestone streets to purchase handicrafts.
Tafí del Valle is also part of the country’s Ruta del Queso (Route of Cheese), and you’ll find artisanal cheese factories and craft cheese shops in town.
Recipes were said to be brought by the Jesuits long ago, and the village even hosts the National Cheese Festival in February.
9. Visit the City’s Churches
There’s a few magnificent churches in town if you’re a fan of cathedrals, architecture, and religious art.
From the main square, you’ll see the Catedral de San Miguel de Tucumán with its two towers, red domes, sculptures, colonial Baroque details, and painted ceilings.
Two blocks away the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Merced contains murals and stained glass windows that tell the story of Argentine independence.
War hero General Manuel Belgrano famously named the Virgin of la Merced as the patron saint of the Argentine army and you’ll see evidence of this within the church.
The Parroquia San Francisco is a colonial style church that’s passed from the Jesuits to the Dominicans to the Franciscans over the years, and though it’s been neglected a bit in terms of maintenance, it’s still a beautiful historic monument with important relics inside.
10. Visit the Valleys and Archeological Ruins
The many ruins of the Calchaquí and Choromoros valleys surrounding Tucumán are perhaps the most impressive and substantial in Argentina.
Drive yourself or book a tour to make stops for archeology, nature, and history in the villages around the city.
The Quilmes Ruins are remnants of an indigenous village which began in 800 BC and achieved a high level of sophistication, growing to a society of thousands of inhabitants and building a fortress which you can still see parts of today.
You may also visit El Pichao with its archaeological museum and small community of self-sufficient families who are known for producing handmade jams from local ingredients.
El Mollar is a popular stop for its stone monoliths and walls dating back over 2500 years.
11. Visit Amaicha del Valle
You could tack this pleasant village onto your tour of the valleys and ruins, or you could make a day trip to experience it at a leisurely pace.
The town draws tourists who want to immerse themselves in indigenous culture and history as well as the multicolored valleys located here.
Aside from the ruins of Quilmes, Amaicha del Valle boasts native festivals, handicrafts, artwork, and cuisine.
Try the foot-pressed wine (eau de vie or mistela), alfajores, and quesillos, and buy some hand-woven textiles.
There’s a large museum dedicated to Pachamama, or mother earth, where you can see many traditions of the Diaguita and Calchaquí cultures as well as their artwork.
This town holds the annual Festival of Pachamama during February when you can experience singing, dancing, native folklore, and music in the streets.
Nearby El Remate is also great for trekking, swimming, and visiting the waterfall.
12. Feria de Simoca
A true local market, don’t go if you’re squeamish about freshly killed livestock.
This is a fabulous place to sample authentic dishes at cheap prices directly from the hands that made them.
Grab some typical snacks and wander the variety of fresh produce, farm animals, and massive blocks of locally made cheeses on offer while you do some people watching.
There are plenty of plastic tables where you can buy a drink and have a seat with your empanadas, tamales, or platters of grilled, greasy meats.
The market also has handicrafts for sale and llamas all dressed up for photos.
13. Visit Rio Hondo Hot Springs
Take a dip in some of the most famous hot springs in Argentina, located 54 miles (86 km) from Tucumán.
It’s an all day affair but the complex surrounding the thermal baths has plenty to keep you occupied when you’re not soaking.
Test the restorative waters of these 14 mesothermal groundwaters which are thought to relax the body and aid with lung, rheumatic, and digestive issues.
Visit the nearby restaurants for the local speciality – roasted baby goat raised in the local province of Santiago del Estero.
There’s also a shopping mall, revamped waterfront area, and a casino just next to the hot springs.
14. Parque Nacional Campo de Los Alisos
About two hours outside of Tucumán, this relatively new national park is a great destination if you love wildlife and being outdoors (and especially if you’re driving yourself). There’s trekking and climbing, as well as a ton of species of birds like the Andean condor and Peregrine falcon.
Harder to spot are the ocelots, wolves, pumas, and foxes within this transitional Yunga forest landscape.
Free campsites are available as well as a refugio for hikers within the park, but other than that the infrastructure for tourists is pretty limited.
If you’re up for a five to seven day trekking journey, you can arrange a guide to take you in search of La Ciudacita, the ruins of an ancient Inca precinct that can be found within the park.
15 La Cascada del Rio Noque
Bring a bathing suit and do this short, easy walk to a waterfall and clear pools where you can swim.
You can make this trip even without your own car by taking the colectivo (public bus) which goes into Parque Sierra San Javier and past the statue of Christ.
Follow the downhill path through the Yungas to enjoy the forest and arrive at the beautiful waterfall.
There are no cafes or kiosks for food, so bring your own and relax for a while – some locals stay all day.
It’s a popular spot on the weekends, so if you’re looking for peace and tranquility, check it out on a weekday.