From the glaciers and the waterfalls to football and tango, Argentina is so much more than wineries and steak (though it's that, too).
Argentina is the land of giants—giant mountains, giant glaciers, giants steaks. Stretching from the Andean altiplano down to the icy lakes of Patagonia, with jungle, wetlands, Pampa, and cosmopolitan cities in-between, Argentina is a once-in-a-lifetime destination. Art lovers will delight in discovering the museums, street art, and architecture of Buenos Aires. There are myriad things to do in the mountains of Argentina, from wine tasting in Mendoza to trekking in Patagonia. There’s no lack of natural wonders and cultural experiences to add to your bucket list, but here are 25 you just can’t miss while you are in Argentina.
Listen to Glaciar Perito Moreno Crackle
This creeping glacier is one of the world’s most accessible and exciting to visit. You feel within arm’s reach from the viewing platforms as this advancing glacier groans and crackles, audibly moving forward with large chunks of ice intermittently breaking off and plunging to the milky blue waters below. For the ultimate up-close-and-personal experience, you can go trekking with crampons over the ice.
Get Soaked by Iguazu Falls
These tremendous waterfalls, which separate Argentina from Brazil and Paraguay, make the world’s most spectacular border crossing. You can view the largest waterfall system in the world from all three countries, however, the experience from Argentina’s turf is certainly the wildest and wettest. Here, you can walk over wooden platforms to the Garganta del Diablo, the “devil’s throat”, and peer into this enormous cascade, which effectively feels like an open-air shower. Not wet enough? Get on one of the speedboat rides, which take you on a tour from the much wetter perspective at the bottom of the falls.
Watch a Football Match in La Boca
Football (soccer) is no small deal in Argentina. The very mention of the beautiful game is enough to bring tears of joy to a victorious fan or rile a defeated fan into fits of rage. There is no greater football rivalry than between two teams of Buenos Aires: La Boca and River Plate. Seeing any football match is a right of passage in Argentina, but if you manage to see La Boca and River Plate in the sanctuary grounds of La Bombonera in the football-mad neighborhood of La Boca, you’ve reached the holy grail.
Go Winery Hopping
As one of the biggest wine producing countries in the world, Argentina is home to over 800 wineries. Hopping between these wineries and tasting the local juice is one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy Argentine culture and hospitality, and the ultimate place to do it is in the heart of Argentine wine country: Mendoza. Not far from the city center, you can reach Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, and the Uco Valley to explore the past, present, and future of Argentine wine. Make sure to book yourself in for at least one slap-up wine lunch where different courses are artfully paired with local wines, including plenty of Malbec, of course. Great lunch dates include include the trendy Casa El Enemigo in Maipu, the historic Lagarde in Lujan, and the futuristic Bodega Monteviejo in the Uco Valley.
Spot a Whale in Peninsula Valdes
One of Argentina’s most diverse wildlife spots is actually better known for the mammals in the water rather than the land. Peninsula Valdes is one of the best locations to get a close view at a Southern Right Whale, which migrates here from June through November. While the Southern Right Whale is the big ticket, other local residents that regularly make an appearance in this nature reserve include orcas, penguins, seals, and sea lions.
Dance the Tango in San Telmo
San Telmo is one of the oldest and most charming parts of Buenos Aires, lined with cobbled streets, antique shops, and artistic cafes. But this bohemian barrio is also home to several tango parlors (try classics such as El Viejo Almacen, Bar Sur, and the Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso) and is one of the best places to catch Argentina’s infamously seductive dance. During the day (especially on Sundays) you’ll see outdoor tango performances in the main square, Plaza Dorrego.
Induce Yourself into a Steak Coma
The quantity of steak you’ll eat in Argentina isn’t to be underestimated, nor under-appreciated. Reputed as having the best beef in the world, Argentineans take their meat very seriously and a meal without meat is rarely considered a meal at all. This is a country where the annual average beef consumption is 120 pounds per capita. Whether you are stepping lightly into your first steak experience or immersing yourself in your first full-blown Argentine asado, the steak coma is bound to overcome you soon enough. Steak houses you just can’t miss include Don Julio, La Brigada, and Cabaña Las Lilas.
Ride With the Gauchos (and Get the Paraphernalia)
The gaucho is Argentina’s answer to a cowboy—a rider of horses, a worker of cattle, and a free spirit. Throughout Argentina, you’ll find gauchos riding on horseback through the estancias and farmland, from the flat Pampa to the high elevation Andes Mountains, and the rivers and plains between. Getting into the saddle with a few gauchos is the best way to experience Argentina’s national connection with horse riding and afterward, you’ll find it hard not to don a beret, a poncho, and a pair of alpargatas. Mendoza, Salta, Cordoba, Patagonia, and San Antonio de Areca are classic riding regions.
See the Mummies in Salta’s MAAM
Salta is rich in Andean culture and history, and the High Mountain Archaeological Museum (MAAM) gives you one of the best insights into the Inca civilization that walked these lands centuries ago. The most memorable part of any visit to the museum is seeing the mummies of three Inca children who were left as a sacrifice on the Llullaillaco volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. At the chilly heights of over 21,980 feet, the children’s bodies were preserved in an exceptional state for over 500 years. One of the mummies, a six-year-old girl, was struck by lightning while on the volcano, leaving a scar down half of her face and upper body. It’s gruesome but fascinating.
Get Your Passport Stamped at the ‘End of the World’ (and Navigate the Beagle Channel While You’re At It)
One of the southernmost settlements in the world, Ushuaia is not easy to reach. When you get there, don’t miss the opportunity to get your official “end of the world” stamp in your passport from Ushuaia’s tourism office. If you want even more travel cred, hop on one of the boats at the port in order to navigate the Beagle Channel. There are islands of penguins, solitary estancias, lonely lighthouses, and the intrepid—and usually dangerous—Cape Horn to circle.
Get Lost in the Maze of Recoleta Cemetery
Recoleta has been one of Buenos Aires’ most upmarket neighborhoods for centuries and there’s no better testimony to this barrio’s wealth than the 6,400 magnificent mausoleums in Recoleta cemetery. These graves are much more than just tombstones; several crypts feel larger than nearby city apartments, with multiple chambers, elaborate sculptures, and palatial copulas. Famous cemetery residents include Argentine boxer Luis Ángel Firpo with his life-size statue; the seventh Argentine president Sarmiento; and the most-visited, but sadly one of the least impressive tombs, is that of Eva Perón (better known as Evita).
Climb Aconcagua (Or At Least Part Of It)
Towering 22,837 feet above sea level, Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas and is one of the great Seven Summits. Over 3,000 climbers make a pilgrimage to Aconcagua every year to attempt to summit this Andean giant. Technically, it is a relatively easy climb (the youngest climber to summit was just 9 years old, the oldest was 87 years old, and the record-holder scaled Aconcagua and returned within 12 hours). However, each year this peak claims several lives, as the icy graves on the mountainside will testify. It all depends on the unpredictable weather and the route you take. For those who aren’t a fan of altitude sickness, there are hundreds of excellent day hikes to be made at the foothills of Aconcagua or elsewhere in the Andes mountain range near Mendoza, where spotting guanacos and condors is commonplace.
Read a Book in a Literary Cafe Retracing the Steps of Borges
Buenos Aires is a cultural capital of the world largely because it has attracted the great literati of the last century. In the 19th century, Buenos Aires bred influential Argentine authors including Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Adolfo Bioy Casares, who each spent considerable time in cafes and bars in the city. Retrace the steps of the great writers of Argentina by visiting the cafes and literary haunts of the golden era of Argentine culture. Unmissable stops include Cafe Tortoni and Florida Garden Cafe.
Gaze at the Colors of Humahuaca (and the Depths of Pozuelos)
Jujuy in northwest Argentina is best known for its colorful mountain valley, the Quebrada de Humahuaca. This UNESCO Heritage Site is 95 miles long and presents all the colors of the rainbow with its changing mineral deposits, from creamy white and burnished gold to flaming red and dusky purple. Small indigenous villages along this Andean highland route add to the charm, and when you’ve tired of looking at rocks, you can make your way to the Pozuelos lake, where colorful birds (including pink flamingos) adorn the reflective waters.
Dust Off Dinosaur Fossils in Patagonia
Some of the world’s largest dinosaur fossils have been discovered in southern Argentina, in the dusty and uninhabited lands of Patagonia. Ginormous fossils of carnivores and herbivores continue breaking records in Patagonia, and the nuclei of these discoveries are in El Chocón near Neuquén. If you want to see some of these discoveries impressively hung in the presumed shape and stature of a dinosaur, head to Museo Ernest Bachmann and Museo Carmen Funes.
Visit a Speakeasy in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires’ bar scene has been picking up the pace for the last decade and the hottest spots are behind closed doors. Whether you are stepping through the front door of a florist at Floreria Atlantico, a cake shop at Victoria Brown or through an old railway carriage at JW Bradley, there’s a host of speakeasy bars in Buenos Aires that are worth their cocktail salt. And the good news about bar-hopping in Buenos Aires is that the party goes on well into the mid-morning.
Wade into the Wetlands
Argentina’s newest national park, the Iberá wetlands, has some of the most diverse flora and fauna in the country alongside an exciting reintroduction program for jaguars, tapirs, and the green-winged macaw. Whether you explore this freshwater reserve by horseback, motorboat, or canoe, make sure to wade into the wetlands from the water’s edge where caimans float, capybaras bathe, and over 350 species of birds chirp. It is Argentina’s equivalent of Brazil’s Pantanal.
Watch a Polo or Pato Match
You might think that polo is Argentina’s national game… it’s not, it’s pato (the gaucho version of polo). Nevertheless, polo is the game that steals the headlines and earns the big pesos. Try to catch a game of both while you are in Argentina: polo is the well-heeled sporty version played and run by the richest families of Argentina, and pato is the most physically demanding, least rewarded, and most adrenaline-fueled version played by the gauchos.
Join the Porteños Weekending in Uruguay
One of the continent’s smallest countries but also one of the wealthiest, Uruguay is considered the Switzerland of South America. A haven of democracy, liberalism, and legal cannabis consumption, Uruguay is a popular weekend destination for well-heeled Porteños who catch the boat over from Buenos Aires to enjoy the beaches, bars, and nightlife. In the summer, the population of the beach resort city Punta del Este swells by 200% as Argentines and other Latin American tourists take up residence on the white sands. If you want to get a bit more off the beaten track, visit nearby Punta del Diablo or head to the beautiful colonial town of Colonia.
Cycle Around the Seven Lakes
The seven lakes route of Argentina is one of the most beautiful destinations on the continent—sparkling blue waters, lush green forests, and snowcapped volcanoes make it picture perfect around every corner. And what better way to wind around the voluptuous verges of the seven lakes than by the peaceful pace of a bicycle? Spend a few days exploring the route, which is 110 miles of paved and dirt paths from which you can dip into secluded lakes and delve into hidden forests.
Drink Fernet in Cordoba
When you aren’t drinking Malbec in Argentina, you’re most likely drinking Fernet, the other alcoholic Achilles heel of Argentines. The city of Cordoba is a highlight on any cultural trip into Argentina and, as a big university city, it is also a highlight in experiencing the nightlife of Argentina. So popular is the pastime of drinking Fernet with cola in Cordoba that this city has been named the “world capital of Fernet” and almost a third of the country’s national Fernet consumption is drunk here.
Waddle With Penguins
Compared to the condor, the whale, or even the guanaco, the penguin is not the most majestic of Argentina’s creatures. It is, however, one of the most sought after. With Magellanic, Humboldt, Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni, and King penguins, there is no shortage of small tuxedoed amigos on Argentina’s coast. The best spots to waddle with a penguin in Argentina are Martillo Island and Punta Tombo. If you want to spot fuzzy little penguin chicks, the best time to arrive is December to January.
Master Porteño Slang
People from Buenos Aires don’t speak Spanish, they speak Porteño. Monikered after the port-side location, Porteño slang is the ultimate way to ingratiate yourself into Buenos Aires society. Linguistic jewels to be found within the dialect include: “boludo/a” meaning “stupid idiot” and usually used on friendly terms; “que quilombo” which literally translates to “what a whore house” and means “what a mess”; and “che” which means “dude”, and is such common street-slang that the famous Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Guevara was renamed Che in the history books.
Experience a Peña
Tango might be more famous internationally, but Argentine folkloric music is far more common locally and the best way to experience it is in a peña, an informal meet-up between musicians and friends. Particularly popular in the northern province of Salta, but present all over the country, you can either make your way to an established peña (usually held at the weekends in a local watering hole, such as La Vieja Estacion or La Casona del Molino) or happen across one by chance. Expect traditional guitar music, some folk dancing, and plenty of wine.
Gaze at Mount Fitz Roy
The mountains of Patagonia are not the highest in Argentina, but they are certainly some of the most spectacular and Mount Fitz Roy is right up there as the most iconic. In the heart of the glacier park, the peak is surrounded by ice fields and glacier lakes, adding to its photogeneity. In the native dialect, this peak is called Chaltén, which means smoking mountain, a namesake easy to understand as the infamous Patagonian winds whip up a white frenzy of ice and cloud around it most hours of the day.