Five places to visit in Argentina

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

The eyes of the world will be on Rio next month for the Olympics but right now another South American country is hitting the headlines.
Tomorrow (9 July) Argentina – aka the land of gauchos, glaciers, futbol, tango and beef – will be dressed in blue and white for the bicentennial celebrations of its declaration of independence from Spain on 9 July 1816.
Most of the celebrations will take place in Argentina’s charismatic capital but it’s not all about Buenos Aires… You’ll find fiestas happening across the country. Argentine aficionado, Kaye Holland, has the low-down on five places that first-time visitors to Argentina will want to tick off

Buenos Aires

Back in my beloved Buenos Aires

Back in my beloved Buenos Aires

I touched down at Ezeiza International Airport intending to stay in the Paris of the South for seven days. But one week turned into two and before I knew it a couple of months had drifted by… but then that’s Buenos Aires. It’s the kind of place that, despite its fall from being one of the word’s richest cities to one stuck in a permanent financial crisis, seduces visitors into staying a lot longer than planned… For there are so many things to enjoy in this glamorous yet gritty city from the superfluous steak to infectious football games and the proud, passionate Portenos (BA residents) themselves.
You’ll find the Porteños hanging out in one of Downtown’s historic cafes – the perfect place to sip a Cortado coffee and nibble on a medialuna. Cafe Tortoni is arguably the Rolls Royce of cafes and only a stone’s throw from Plaza de Mayo. On the east side of the always lively square, lies the rosy La Casa Rosada whose pretty pink facade was originally achieved by, erm, mixing pigs’ blood with whitewash.
To the north, lies Palermo – a little corner of perfectly manicured paradise where men carry tiny dogs and immaculately turned out women sweep from chi chi boutiques to buzzy bars and restaurants. Rougher round the edges is the barrio of San Telmo whose ramshackle streets have long been a favourite with Buenos Aires’ artists owing to their (historically) low rents. Close by lies La Boca – another scruffy neighbourhood that’s loaded with charm and colourful corrugated metal buildings. Working class La Boca is also home to the country’s favourite football team: take a bow Boca Juniors. The antithesis of La Boca is Recoleta – an upmarket neighbourhood that’s often compared to New York’s Upper East Side. Recoleta’s biggest draw is the cemetery of same name where Evita was buried, along with generations of Argentina’s elite.
And whichever neighbourhood you find yourself in, tango clubs (milongas) abound. BA is the capital of tango and, as such, the sexy yet melancholy strut attracts a cult like following – young and old alike will dance until dawn and not only at weekends…
What can I say: the Paris of the South has cast a spell on me. I’ve left enamoured, starry eyed and wanting more…

photo 3
Nestled against the Andes, the 110,000 strong city of Mendoza is famed for its Malbec – Argentina’s signature grape which is responsible for the lush, dark red wines we all know and love. Malbec has become the darling of wine critics and drinkers because it is used to make star wines which costs a fraction of what they do back home in Blighty.
Even if you aren’t an oenophile, a visit to one of the region’s 700 stunning wineries  – all are set against a backdrop of the snow capped Andes  – is a Mendoza must do. The cheapest tours are the bike and wine ones offered by companies such as Bikes & Wine and Mr Hugo. Both boast an enviable reputation but if you’d rather focus solely on sipping and not cycling, I’d recommend splurging on a wine tour with an outfit like Ampora or Trout & Wine.
Your guide will pick you up around 8am and take you and your small group to approximately five wineries in either the classic Lujan de Cuyo region or the high-altitude growing region of Valle de Uco, where you’ll get to sample some of the area’s most outstanding wines. Yet while wine is always a great reason to travel, there’s more to the Mendoza region than Malbec. For anyone who loves the great outdoors, few places can match what the area has to offer. The countryside is so beautiful it will make you cry and adventure  – think rafting, mountain biking, kayaking rock climbing and paragliding – is around every corner. Too active? The surrounding region is also the perfect placed to hike, cycle or simply enjoy the quiet of elevated territory.
Furthermore the city itself has tonnes of charm being both compact and chock full of al fresco eateries, picturesque plazas and a plethora of verdant parks. The town’s easy going grace marks it as special so I wasn’t surprised to discover that many Mendoza inhabitants have returned home after escaping abroad for a few formative years: it’s a town so full of character, chances are you’ll want to move here…


Colonial Salta

Colonial Salta

Buenos Aires – Argentina’s loud and proud capital – may get most of the country’s limelight but a trip to colonial Salta in the indigenous north is fully warranted in its own right. Owing to its outstanding museums, grand neo-classical buildings, best in class cafes and popular penas (folk music clubs), this charming city – founded back in 1582 by the Spanish commander Hernando de Lerma – is attractive to pretty much anyone with a heartbeat. It’s not an easy journey (Salta is a 22 hour bus ride away from Buenos Aires) but it is one that will be both fascinating and rewarding and unlike (the province arguably has more in common with its Andean neighbours) any other trip you’re likely to take in Argentina.
San Francisco church (or Iglesia San Francisco as it is known in Spanish) is one of Salta’s most famous landmarks and, as such, pictured on pretty much every postcard. Situated on the corner of Caseros and Cordoba, the striking red and gold church topped by a slender tower is unmissable. Originally built in 1625, the church was rebuilt in 1882 after a fire destroyed the former structure.
For stunning views of Salta and the surrounding area, take the teleférico (cable car) from Parque San Martin to the top of Cerro San Bernardo. The pretty tree-lined Plaza 9 de Julio is the heart and soul of Salta. This is where the locals head to catch up over coffee at one of the elegant cafes that dot the cobbled square.
The Salta region is famed for its peñas – aka traditional folk music halls where locals come together to eat, drink and jam away the night with a guitar. The action typically starts around midnight (Argentina is all about the night) and wraps up around 4am. You’ll find plenty of peñas on Calle Balcarce (Salta’s nightlife mecca) but JAT can vouch for La Vieja Estacion (Balcarce 885). Order a bottle of Quilmes (Argentina’s national beer), sit back and enjoy the atmosphere and live music.

Argentina’s lush Lake District is often called “Little Switzerland” partly due the similarity of its picture perfect scenery (think clean, crisp air, majestic mountains and glittering lakes and rivers) but also because of its architectural style. In the region’s two main centres – San Carlos de Bariloche in the south and San Martin de los Andes in the south – alpine chalets, church steeples and statues of Saint Bernard dogs abound. So much so, that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were back in Europe.
The Swiss inspired architecture is down to the influx of German and Swiss immigrants in the late 19th/early 20th century which meant that new cultures, tastes and styles were rapidly woven into social fabric. And nowhere is the Swiss influence more apparent than in the town’s dining habits: the tight nest of streets thrum with fondue restaurants, beer halls and boutique chocolate shops (they aren’t luxury but a way of life here) on every single street. Both Bariloche and San Carlos de Andes are foodie cities and excel at outdoor eating – most places have al fresco seating.
But the Lake District’s real appeal lies beyond its cities.The region is as generous with its national parks – here’s looking at Lanin and Nahuel Huapi, arguably the grandfather of all Argentina’s national parks – as it is with its chocolate stores (make no mistake if Willy Wonka was looking for somewhere to live, Argentina’s Lake District would be it).
No guidebook could prepare me for my first glimpse of Circuito Chico – one of the region’s most bewildering beautiful sights. (It’s also one of the area’s most popular attractions but for all that, it’s not packed with visitors so you never feel like you’re trudging a well worn path as you lace up your hiking boots and head to the top of the 2076m Cerro Lopez.)
Or as the iconic Argentine revolutionary, Che Guevara, once said: “Perhaps one day, tired of circling the world, I’ll return to Argentina and settle in the Andean lakes, if not indefinitely then at least for a pause while I shift from one understanding of the world to another.

Iguazú Falls
Iguazu Falls 611-6039_

Confession time: I very nearly didn’t make it to the Iguazú Falls – being too busy tangoing up a storm in Buenos Aires0, but boy I’m glad I did.
The Falls – a long 24 hour bus ride or a short two hour flight from Buenos Aires (sit on the left hand side of the plane for the best views), are without a doubt, a sight worth seeing. Make no mistake: the crashing cascades occupying an area more than 80m high and 3km wide have the wow factor and no other water falls in the world can compete. Little wonder then, that Eleanor Roosevelt gasped “Poor little Niagara” when she came up close at Iguacu.
The 275 falls (shared between Argentina and it’s giant neighbour, Brazil) are so bedazzling that it came as no surprise to learn that Hollywood covets them for one blockbuster after another- scenes from Miami Vice, Mr Magoo, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and The River were all shot here.
While you could just drop in and see the Argentinian side in an afternoon, you could spend days here grasping at the wild and wondrous Iguazú Falls. Yet while the Falls are undeniably thrilling, they’re not the only attraction. Not by far. For adrenaline junkies, there’s rock climbing, rappelling and white water rafting. More sedate options include hiking, boating excursions and the chance to get close to all sorts of wonderful creatures: keep your eyes peeled for parrots, parakeets, toucans, tapirs, raccoons, monkeys and more.
All told while the spotlight invariably falls on Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Rio (Brazil),  visitors to either South American country should add the Iguazú Falls to their itinerary. It’s a cliche I know, but miss it and you really will miss out on one of the world’s natural phenomenons.

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