One of the fun aspects of meeting other overlanders (travelers) is to exchange favorite destinations. After having traveled in Argentina for a year or so – crossing the border some 14 times – we have a long list. Here’s part 1: the obvious highlights and the lesser-known regions.
It’s not very convenient considering the size of the country, but fact is that Argentina’s tourist highlights are located in the country’s remotest corners: Buenos Aires, Península Valdés, Ushuaia, Salta and Iguazu Falls. In case you’re not familiar with the eighth largest country in the world yet, here’s why:
1. The Capital – Buenos Aires
Argentina’s capital is the place to take tango lessons or to visit historic landmarks such as the Plaza de Mayo (check out mosaic flour in the cathedral). Buenos Aires is divided into barrios, neighborhoods and we spent hours just strolling up and down the streets, looking up a lot to check out the architecture, in some parts just the lovely balconies.
The main attractions are in La Boca (football stadium of Maradona), San Telmo (tango) and Palermo (botanical garden). Our favorite (we visited it twice): Recoleta Cemetery. For us, Buenos Aires was also a convenient city to ship our Land Cruiser to.
2. Whale Watching – Península Valdés
Whale watching is the foremost reason to visit Península Valdés. Every year the Southern Right Whales come to mate and give birth in its waters. The peninsula is a National Park with wildlife such as guanacos (family of llamas) and rheas (type of ostrich). Sea lions, penguins and elephant seals are some of the marine mammals inhabiting the warm waters around Península Valdés and you can see most of them all year round.
For overlanders there’s the great advantage of being able to camp at Punta Pardelas along Golfo Nuevo, right along the shore. Here’s more on whale watching on Península Valdés.
3. The End of the World – Ushuaia
Ushuaia is South America’s top travel destination for the many cruises that sail to Antarctica. You can make reservations in advance through a travel agency, but some try their luck booking in Ushuaia itself at a cheap last-minute rate.
While we didn’t care much for the town itself, we found the surrounding areas of Ushuaia stunning. Most visited is Tierra del Fuego National Park, but truth be said that if you have your own transportation, Estancia Haberton is much more beautiful and a fantastic place to rough camp.
4. Colonial Architecture – Salta
Salta is a pleasant town to amble around with pedestrian streets and a center that still has a distinctly Hispanic character – check out the architecture of houses and churches.
The surroundings of Salta are dominated by Salteñan gauchos. They are renowned for their typical attire consisting of a red and black poncho, leather boots and sombrero, loose trousers called bombachas and a jacket embroidered by hand. The gauchos often parade downtown during celebrations, such as on September 15, when the town’s patron saints are honored with colorful and noisy fervor.
Salta is on the overlander’s trail. We enjoyed staying at the cheap and huge Municipal Campground, with supposedly South America’s largest swimming pool. Great place to meet, exchange info, share a BBQ or make pizzas together as a grill and an oven are available for food parties.
5. Waterfalls – Iguazu Falls
In Argentina’s most northeastern tip lie Iguazu Falls, a natural phenomenon shared with Brazil. I don’t know how they count them, but apparently there are 275 waterfalls. We visited the falls both from the Brazilian as the Argentinean side – both have their charms.
Having said that, driving in the Provinces of Misisones and Entre Rios (both south of the waterfalls) is not without nuisances. Traffic police is corrupt here, contrary to the rest of the country where they’ve always been friendly and welcoming. On the other hand, Carnival in Gualaguaychu was more than enough reason to drive up there.
New to driving in Argentina? Here’s a bit more on traffic rules and conduct.
Lesser-Known Travel Destinations in Argentina
So that’s all great, fabulous, stunning and I’d say: go and see at all. But those who follow our travels know there we search for more than highlights: The hidden corners, the lesser-known sites, the surprises on the road. Here are a couple of them.
1. Córdoba and Surroundings
The center of Córdoba has old, well-maintained Jesuit buildings, and in the surrounding areas are several Jesuit Estancias. No, they are not all the same. Each estancia has its own history, its own details, its interesting elements and aspects featuring in its museum.
Less known is that Argentina’s largest festival is celebrated in the nearby town of Jesús Maria. Every year cowboys try their luck on wild horses during the Folklore y Doma Festival. Driving west from Jesús María one comes to the ecological restaurant of Candonga and farther west, on the other side of the Sierras Chicas, lies La Cumbre. The latter is a well-known place for paragliders. The Sierras Chicas are also famous for UFO spotting, such as in Uritorco, but also the Dakar Rally has passed through here.
We spent months here and in fact, Córdoba region has become our favorite place to stay in Argentina.
2. Surprises in the Southern Andes Mountains
The Perito Moreno Glacier and the Fitz Roy Mountain near El Chaltén are famous sights in the southern part of the Andes Mountains.
Two other locations are less known but deserve a visit by those who love solitude and awe-inspiring landscapes:
- Estancia Helsingfors, located in Los Glaciares National Park along Lago Viedma, appears to be the end of the world. This hotel is a perfect base for adventure tours, such as hikes deep into the Andes, to go horseback riding or enjoy a boat ride on the lake.
- Perito Moreno National Park (not to be confused with the glacier) offers another end-of-the-world experience, located as it is at a dead-end road ninety kilometers west of Ruta 40. It offers free camping and is a paradise for hikers and wildlife spotters.
3. Highlights along the Atlantic Ocean
Punto Tombo is home to about half a million Magellan Penguins. We were allowed to sleep in the parking lot and so had the early morning hours to ourselves before the buses with tourists arrived. Puerto Deseado is the place to organize a boat tour for yes, more penguins. The nearby islands are home to the funky-looking rockhopper penguins, which are quite a unique sight.
For those interested in more flora and fauna, check out Monte León National Park. It is the place for hiking, watching penguins, guanacos and armadillos or walking along the coast in search of shells and fossils.
4. Hidden Corners in West Argentina
The province of San Juan is best known for the Difunta Correa Shrine, one of Argentina’s major pilgrimage sites and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ischigualasto. San Juan is also province for lovers of adventure sports, such as windsurfing at Rodeo or land sailing on the Pampas of Barreal.
Argentina is one of the world’s large exporters of wine. Most foreign tourists interested in wine are familiar with the wines from Mendoza or El Calafate. However, within Argentina San Juan is also well known for its vintage wines and has quite a few bodegas, or wineries worth a visit as well. Or, great with kids, check out the dinosaur museums in Neuquen.
What are your favorite destinations in Argentina? Feel free to share below in the comment section.