Great Itineraries in Argentina

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Great Itineraries in Argentina

Porteños and Pampas

Day 1: Arrival

Arrive in Buenos Aires and pick up a city map from the tourist office right before you enter the main airport terminal. Get cash at the ATM before taking a taxi to your hotel. Ignore the drivers asking if you need a cab; head straight for the taxi booth, pay up front for your ticket (about 90 pesos) and let staffers assign you a driver, who will take you straight to a car. Spend the first afternoon in La Recoleta, whose famous cemetery contains Eva Perón's tomb. Make your first meal a memorable one at a grill with a bife de chorizo (sirloin strip steak).

Day 2: San Telmo and La Boca

Begin with a taxi ride to La Boca, the old tango neighborhood. The main strip is Caminito, which though colorful and iconic, is too touristy to merit more than an hour or two. Lunch at El Obrero is a classic. So is afternoon coffee (or a beer) at Bar Dorrego on San Telmo's Plaza Dorrego, a short taxi ride away. Spend the afternoon wandering through the antiques and clothes shops of this characteristic old neighborhood. Get up-close to its history with a visit to El Zanjón de Granados. Dinner at an innovative restaurant like La Vinería de Gualterio Bolívar might give you the fortitude to hit the bars. Ring the bell to be let into La Puerta Roja, a favorite late-night hangout for locals and expats.

Day 3: Palermo Viejo

Hop a cab to MALBA and spend the morning viewing Latin American art. Walk or take a short taxi ride to the Jardín Japonés or the Rosedal. From both it's a mere hop to the cutting-edge Palermo Hollywood neighborhood, where you can lunch on sushi, Vietnamese, or far-out fusion. Afterward, wander leisurely over to Palermo Soho, browsing the city's coolest clothing and shoe stores. When night falls, have coffee or a cocktail near Plaza Serrano, and finish with dinner at a modern restaurant, say Casa Cruz. If you're up for a nightcap, you're already where all the action is.

Day 4: El Centro and Puerto Madero

Have your morning coffee and croissants at ultra-traditional Gran Café Tortoni. Stroll down Avenida De Mayo to take in Plaza de Mayo and the nearby Museo Etnográfico. Cross over the old docks into Puerto Madero for a light deli lunch or a full-blown grill affair. Get back to nature only yards from the skyscrapers with a quick ramble in the Reserva Ecológica. Finish with an all-out evening wine experience at the Gran Bar Danzón in Retiro.

Day 5: Buenos Aires to the Pampas

After getting a sense of the city, hit the highway for gaucho country. The town of San Antonio de Areco, in the heart of the pampas, is home to several estancias, country houses where gauchos tend to the horses (and to the guests). Most estancias include three or even four meals per day in the room price. If you don't want to drive yourself, arrange ground transportation through estancias. If you drive, reserve a rental car downtown, not at the airport. After a late breakfast, take the Acceso Norte to the Panamericana (RN9) to Pilar and then RN8, a slower road, to San Antonio. Browse the silversmiths' and artisans' stores before having lunch at the Almacén de Ramos Generales. Then check out the gaucho museum, wander the sleepy streets, and finish with a beer or coffee at La Esquina de Mertí, an old-fashioned corner bar. Head to your estancia, where you'll have time to relax before dinner.

Day 6: San Antonio de Areco

Spend your morning in the pampas on horseback, roaming across the grassland with a resident gaucho. This, like other activities, should be included with the estancia price. Seasoned riders can gallop, while beginners walk, trot, or ride in a buggy. If there's a day-trip group coming in, the midday meal might be accompanied by a musical performance with whooping gauchos—cheesy, but fun. Take an afternoon swim in the pool, and then have dinner at the estancia, perhaps followed by a game of pool or cards with other guests, who by now may be good friends.

Days 7 and 8: To Buenos Aires and Home

Return to Buenos Aires after one last long estancia lunch. Spend the afternoon, revisiting your favorite neighborhood.

You could spend your last day catching up on culture at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes or history at the Museo Evita. Later, try out your footwork with a tango class and a visit to a milonga, or see the pros in action at an evening show.

Sportier alternatives include taking a bike tour with La Bicicleta Naranja or going for a long walk in Parque Tres de Febrero. If you're a soccer fan and Boca Juniors are playing during your stay in Buenos Aires, don't miss it. Getting tickets yourself can be complicated—consider booking with tour company Tangol (11/4312–7276www.tangol.com). A visit to the Museo de la Pasión Boquense is the next-best option. Local fans follow up with pizza at nearby Banchero.

If shopping is your idea of an extreme sport, divide your last day between the chain stores on Avenida Santa Fe, top-end mall Paseo Alcorta, and the boutiques in Palermo. Have a blowout final meal: good splurge restaurants are Tomo I, Le Mistral at the Four Seasons, and La Bourgogne.

On Day 8, allow at least an hour to get to Ezeiza for your flight home. Don't forget to stash some of that superb red wine in your carry-on baggage—it's a sure way to impress your friends at home. If you kept your rental car so that you can drive yourself to the airport, make sure your hotel has a garage, and allow an extra half hour before your flight to return the car.

ALTERNATIVES

You can combine this eight-day itinerary with a trip to Iguazú Falls, in Argentina's northeast corner on the border with Brazil, or go there instead of San Antonio on days 5 and 6. Spend one day on the Argentine side of things, in the Parque Nacional Iguazú, then head into town for dinner at Aqva. Spend the second morning in the Parque Nacional Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil's national park, then return to the Argentine park for a few hours. (Note that to enter Brazil, Americans need a visa, which costs $120. In Puerto Iguazú, the Brazilian consulate is open weekdays 8–12:30, and in Buenos Aires weekdays 10–1.) Aerolíneas Argentinas and LAN have three to five daily flights between Buenos Aires and Iguazú.

Another add-on or replacement side trip is to Uruguay. The port town of Colonia is easily accessible by Colonia Express, a fast ferry, which has connecting buses to Montevideo. In summer, the beach resort of Punta del Este is another option. Spending two or three days in Uruguay isn't just a fun way to get an extra passport stamp—it's a window into a country whose economic and cultural differences from Argentina (their heightened obsession with mate, for instance) are readily apparent.

Tips

In Patagonia

Day 1: Arrival and on to Bariloche

Reaching Patagonia isn't easy. Your flight to Buenos Aires will be followed by a transfer from Ezeiza International to the downtown Aeroparque and a flight to Bariloche. Rent a car at the airport, and drive to your hotel (consider a place on the Circuito Chico outside town).If you could use a beer after all that, there's no better place than the Map Room, a laid-back downtown pub with a deep commitment to local brews.

Day 2: Bariloche and Circuito Chico

Spend the day exploring the Circuito Chico and Peninsula Llao Llao. Start early so you have time for a boat excursion from the dock at Puerto Pañuelo on the peninsula's edge as well as for some late-afternoon shopping back in Bariloche. Spend the evening devouring Patagonian lamb à la cruz (spit-roasted over an open fire) wherever you can find it.

Day 3: Circuito Grande to Villa La Angostura

Villa La Angostura is a tranquil lakeside retreat that marks the beginning of the legendary Circuito Grande. Getting there is a gorgeous experience, as you'll hug the shores of the Lago Nahuel Huapi on R237 and R231. Check into a hotel in Puerto Manzano, a little outside Villa La Angostura, whose hotels aren't as nice. The sparkling Puerto Sur is a good choice, with its endless water views. Or try the even more isolated and wonderful Las Balsas. Neither hotel is more than 10 minutes from town; either one will give you the chance to fully relax.

Day 4: Villa La Angostura

You can spend your second day in Villa La Angostura skiing at Cerro Bayo, if it's winter and that's your thing; exploring the Parque Nacional los Arrayanes, the only forest of these myrtle trees in the world, or simply relaxing by the lake, which, if you're staying at Puerto Sur, might be the most appealing option. Regardless, reserve for dinner at Las Balsas, which has one of Patagonia's best restaurants.

Day 5: Seven Lakes Route to San Martín de los Andes

Head out of Villa La Angostura onto the unbelievable Seven Lakes Route (R234), which branches right and along the way passes Lago Correntoso, Lago Espejo, Lago Villarino, Lago Falkner, and Lago Hermoso. If you leave early, add the hour-long detour to Lago Traful. The drive is today's main event; take the road all the way to San Martín, where you can spend the rest of the afternoon shopping, trying trout and other delicacies at the smoke shops, and enjoying an asado feast. Note that the Seven Lakes Route is closed in winter; you'll have to go through Junín de los Andes to get to San Martín.

Day 6: San Martín de los Andes

If you're here in winter and you're a skier, you will no doubt want to spend one full day in San Martín at Cerro Chapelco. Otherwise, spend the day relaxing on the beach, fishing, horseback riding, rafting, or otherwise outdoors.

Day 7: Flight to El Calafate

Get an extremely early start from San Martín de los Andes for the five-hour drive back to Bariloche, where you'll catch a flight to El Calafate. Be sure to take the longer but faster route through Junín from San Martín to Bariloche (RN234 and RN237). If you follow the only partly paved Seven Lakes Route, you'll have little chance of catching an early afternoon flight.

It's a mere 1¾ hours by plane from Bariloche to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Grab a taxi to your hotel, have dinner, and get some sleep in preparation for glacier-viewing tomorrow. If you're on a no-holds-barred budget, stay at Los Notros, the only hotel within the park and in view of the glacier. It's also a place where all excursions will be taken care of for you. Otherwise, stay at a hotel in El Calafate and book your glacier visits through El Calafate tour operators—preferably before 7 pm today.

Day 8: El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno is one of the world's most impressive glaciers. Spend two days taking it in from different angles. Devote today either to the Upsala Glacier tour, which traverses the lakes in view of an impressive series of glaciers, or the hour-long "Safari Nautico" on a boat that sails as close as possible to the front of the glacier. Enjoy a well-deserved dinner back in El Calafate. Again, remember to arrange tomorrow's activities by 7 pm. Tonight, this means organizing an ice trek.

Day 9: El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier

It's all about one of Argentina's unique and most memorable activities: ice trekking. You'll don crampons and actually walk across Perito Moreno's surface. The trip is expensive, but worth every penny. (Note that ice treks are included in the rates if you stay at Los Notros.) You'll crawl through ice tunnels and hike across ice ridges that seem to glow bright blue. After all this, dinner—and everything else—will seem insignificant.

Day 10: Departure

Board a bus or taxi for El Calafate's gleaming new airport, and take a flight back through Buenos Aires and home. You'll be dreaming of glaciers for weeks to come. Note that if you are not connecting to another Aerolíneas flight home, you may have to spend an additional night in Buenos Aires on the way back.

Tips

ALTERNATIVES

Sports and outdoors enthusiasts can really customize this itinerary. Skiers, for example, can skip southern Patagonia, spending a day or two in Cerro Catedral, near Bariloche, and a day at Cerro Chapelco. Rafters can work with Bariloche operators to create trips that range from floats down the Río Manso—an eight-hour outing with easy rapids through a unique ecosystem—to 13-hour excursions to the Chilean border. Serious hikers can boat across Masacardi Lake to Pampa Linda, then hike to the black glaciers of Tronador, continuing up above timberline to Refugio Otto Meiling, spending the night, walking along the crest of the Andes with glacier views, then returning to Pampa Linda. Day hikes to the foot of Tronador leave more time for a mountain-bike or horseback ride in the same area.

The most adventurous travelers drive from Bariloche to El Calafate instead of flying. It adds, oh, about a week to the itinerary, but it involves an unforgettable trip down the largely unpaved RN40. Don't attempt this route without a four-wheel-drive vehicle that has two spares. And pack plenty of extra food and water as well as camping gear. Getting stuck in a place where cars and trucks pass only once every day or two is dangerous.

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