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Things to Do in Argentina

From the desert plains of the north, through the Andes Mountains and green pampas, and to the icy frontier of Patagonia, Argentina lures travelers with its diverse geography. The obvious starting point is Buenos Aires, Argentina’s free-spirited capital, where the old-school romance of the tango is offset by an electric nightlife scene, a passion for fútbol (soccer), and the meat-mad feast offered at parrillas (grill houses). From the capital, long distances and big landscapes divide Argentina, so tours can help visitors cover more ground in one trip. Many visitors go west into the Pampas to ride horses with gauchos (cowboys), enjoy Malbec wine tasting amid the vineyards of Mendoza—650 miles (1,046 kilometers) from Buenos Aires—or head north, where boats dot the water under the UNESCO-listed Iguazú Falls, a good 15-hour drive away. Journeying south, travelers snake through Argentina’s natural wonders in the lake district of Bariloche and along the Andean border with Chile, before hitting the wilderness of Patagonia. Stretching to Ushuaia, 2,000 miles (3,218 kilometers) south of Buenos Aires at South America’s southern tip, it’s a region of ice-capped mountains and shimmering glaciers, where penguins abound and touring ships glide beneath the gigantic icebergs of the Perito Moreno Glacier. In stark contrast, arid desert, red rock canyons, and sweeping highlands hem in the northwestern cities of Salta and Jujuy. Still somewhat off the beaten track, travelers here walk past gigantic cacti in Los Cardones National Park, marvel at Salta’s glistening salt flats, and discover otherworldly rock formations at Ischigualasto Provincial Park.
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Tierra del Fuego National Park
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Running north from the Beagle Channel, the Tierra del Fuego National Park offers visitors the chance to follow easy walking trails along scenic rivers and bays. The park’s forests of beech are home to coastal birds such as cormorants and albatross. Argentina’s only coastal national park protects the southernmost stretch of Andean-Patagonian forest, ideal for hiking, climbing and outdoor water sports. Bring a kayak to sail from remote beaches, and your binoculars to spot otters, beavers, petrels and condors. Walking trails lead to the park’s beaver dam, a lookout over the stunning coastal scenery of Lapataia Bay, and around Lago Roca. A seaside trail connects Ensenada and Lapataia for more lovely views of the coast. Campers can stay overnight in the park at campsites at Pipo, Ensenada and Lago Roca.
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Estancia Harberton
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Overlooking the icy waters of the Beagle Channel, Estancia Harberton offers a glimpse into the history and wildlife of Argentina’s far-flung Tierra del Fuego. The oldest estancia (farm) in this part of the world, the still-working property dates back to 1887 and was established by English missionary Thomas Bridges. Bridges founded the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia in 1870.

Today, the estancia remains in the hands of Bridges’ descendants, and it was declared an Argentine National Historical Monument in 1999. A visit reveals the original buildings of wood and corrugated iron, and terraced gardens. The sheep have long gone but the cattle remain. While you’re here you can also walk amongst a penguin colony at the estancia’s Yecapasela Reserve.

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Argentino Lake (Lago Argentino)
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If you’re visiting El Calafate, there’s no way to miss the vast Lago Argentino. The city sits on the shore of this massive lake, the largest freshwater source in Argentina. It covers 566 square miles and is a result of glacial meltwater, which causes its milky blue color. The lake is part of Argentina’s Glacier National Park and is home to one of the area’s only advancing glaciers, Perito Moreno, which calves into Lago Argentino.

But Perito Moreno is not the only thing to see at Lago Argentino, and many visitors choose a full day of sightseeing on the lake, starting from El Calafate. Visits up the north arm to Upsala usually give visitors a chance to see calving glaciers up close, and the Spegazzini Glacier is the tallest one in the area, at almost 450 feet. Most visits also include the Onelli Glacier, and visitors are sometimes allowed to disembark along the shores and hike among native beech forest and red-blooming firebush.

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Beagle Channel
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The frigid Beagle Channel provides a watery highway for the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia, en route to the icy Antarctic. The strait separates Argentina’s Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, to the north, from remote Chilean islands like Nueva, Picton and Navarino to the south of the channel. Boat cruises cast off from Ushuaia to visit the lighthouse and islands that are home to penguin and sea lion colonies in the strait. In summer, boats sail across the Channel to Puerto Williams in Chile. Intrepid visitors take to the waters in canoes, and cruises sail off for nature walks on the Bridges Islands to spot fur seals and sea lions.
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La Leona Petrified Forest
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Before Patagonia was peppered with glaciers and jagged, snow-capped peaks, it was a vast plain of lush forests where dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Granted, that was 100 million years ago, and Patagonia today is vastly different from those early days of its founding. At La Leona Petrified Forest, however, visitors have the chance to literally walk through prehistoric Patagonia. This 2,000-acre depression in the Earth is amazingly frozen in time, where massive trees and dinosaur bones still lie on the dusty Earth. There’s an enveloping silence in the desert plains, and only the wind and crunch of your boots seem to break the eerie silence. Nearby, at La Leona Hotel, even more mystique is added to the visit by viewing a place where legendary outlaws hid to escape the law. The towering peak of Mt. Fitzroy can often be seen in the distance, and from walking past fossilized dinosaur dung to hiking in a lunar landscape, this easy daytrip from El Calafate can seem like another world.

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Andeluna Cellars
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The name Andeluna comes from a combination of the words Andes, in the foothills of which these grapes are grown, and luna (moon), which the winemakers say impart magic and inspiration to their winemaking. Andeluna harvests Argentine grapes from vineyards originally planted 125 years ago by early Italian immigrants. These are brought to a 48,000 square foot winemaking facility for the de-stemming, crush and fermentation. Andeluna was started in 2003 under the tutelage of one Argentine and one American investor, H. Ward Lay, of the Lays potato chip fortune.

The winery is located in Tupungato, Argentina, near Mendoza, and here they grow Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, all at altitude, in this case at up to 4300 feet above sea level. The winery features classic architecture with views of the Andes Mountains, over some of the area’s prime grape vines.

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Plaza de Mayo
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Plaza de Mayo is Buenos Aires’ political heart, first mapped out in 1580. Today, the grassy, treed plaza attracts visitors with cameras and relaxing locals, and is also the venue for rallies and gatherings.

The center of the plaza features an obelisk called the Pirámide de Mayo, erected to commemorate independence from Spain. Grand 19th century buildings line the plaza, but the colonial arches that once circled the plaza are long gone. Nearby are the city council buildings known as the Cabildo, the Casa Rosada government buildings and fine bank buildings.

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Los Glaciares National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares)
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Parque Nacional Los Glaciares protects Argentina’s wild Patagonian expanses of icy glaciers and mountain lakes. With a massive 47 glaciers, the Andean ice cap is the largest expanse of ice outside Antarctica and Greenland.

Created by millennia of ice flows from the Andean snowfields, the ice feeds huge Lake Argentino, Lake Viedma and the Rio Santa Cruz. The national park’s most famous glacier is the Perito Moreno Glacier, safely viewed via lookout platforms and renowned for its dynamic movement and dramatic ice falls.

Climbers target Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, and fly-fishers praise the trout fishing on Lake Argentino. Wildlife spotters might see condor, guanaco and pumas in the park.

El Calafate is the national park’s main hub, the base for sailing cruises to spot icebergs on the lakes, hiking expeditions and mountain climbing.

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More Things to Do in Argentina

Recoleta

Recoleta

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The ritzy Recoleta neighborhood draws visitors in the numbers for a wander through Buenos Aires’ up-market residential streets and public parks.

For most visitors, the main attraction is the Recoleta Cemetery, an ornate necropolis so large it’s like a mini city of states and marble sarcophagi. One of the most famous tombs is that of Eva Peron (Evita).

The enclave also attracts thousands of people for its weekend crafts market, held on Plaza Francia outside the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.

Museums and art galleries, lovely plazas and parklands are another feature of Recoleta.

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Recoleta Cemetery (Cemiterio de Recoleta)

Recoleta Cemetery (Cemiterio de Recoleta)

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While it may seem odd that one of Buenos Aires’ principal tourist attractions is a cemetery, the Recoleta Cemetery is no ordinary graveyard. Encircled by a towering perimeter wall and entered via a striking columned portico, Recoleta Cemetery is one of the world’s most exquisite necropolises; a glorious ‘City of the Dead’ that houses some of the country’s most prominent political, military and artistic icons.

Over 6,400 tombs are found in the Cemetery, laid out in formal tree-lined avenues and punctuated with beautifully sculpted monuments, poignant marble statutes and grand, bronze-cast mausoleums. Notable burial plots include the vivid white stone tomb of newspaper founder José C. Paz, flanked by a pair of dazzling Rubenesque angels; the ostentatious tomb of former Argentine president Carlos Pellegrini, featuring an elaborate statue of the controversial leader atop the coffin; and the evocative statues of crying widows kneeling beside the tomb of Colonel Falcon.

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Colon Theatre (Teatro Colón)

Colon Theatre (Teatro Colón)

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Since 1908, the Colon Theatre (or Teatro Colón) has set the benchmark for gilded magnificence and the ultimate theater experience.

One of the world’s top five opera houses, the luxurious seven-story building seats 2,500 theater-goers on plush red velvet chairs on tiers of gilded balconies rising to giddying heights.

Guided tours highlight the gilt interior, chandeliers, illuminated dome and ceremonial staircases.

See what’s coming up on the theater’s schedule of performances, from opera and ballet to classical concerts.

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Palermo

Palermo

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Buenos Aires’ largest barrio, the northern district of Palermo encompasses a number of city hotspots, favored by the city’s most cosmopolitan and fashionable residents. The ever-trendy Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood make up the old quarter of Palermo Viejo where grand residential buildings jostle for space with quirky boutiques and some of the city’s finest bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Palermo is also renowned for its parks and there are plenty of idyllic green spaces to choose from. The tree-lined Bosques of Palermo is a hugely popular picnic spot centered around a glistening lake and the family-friendly Zoological Gardens are surrounded by the lush Botanical gardens, Japanese gardens, the Evita Museum and the Galileo Galilei planetarium. Close by, the Palermo Hippodrome is situated next door to the legendary Campo de Polo sports ground, and the iconic Floralis Genérica art installation stands proud over the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas.

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Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada

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The eye-catching salmon-pink façade of Argentina’s presidential palace is one of the capital’s most iconic sights, standing proud over the city’s historic Plaza de Mayo public square. The aptly named Casa Rosada, or the ‘Pink House’, is the secondary mansion and office of the Argentine President, housing the government offices and providing the striking backdrop to Buenos Aires’ often-turbulent political history.

Erected in 1862, the Renaissance-style palace was initially to be painted white and theories abound as to hoe it got its rosy makeover, from ox blood being mixed into the paint to the then-President blending the red and white colors of opposing political rallyists. Designated a National Historic Monument of Argentina, the pink palace is perhaps most legendary for its lower balcony, from which the beloved Evita rallied the working class crowds back in 1949 – a moment that was famously recreated by Madonna in the 1996 movie Evita.

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9 de Julio Avenue (Avenida 9 De Julio)

9 de Julio Avenue (Avenida 9 De Julio)

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Porteños often boast about Avenida 9 De Julio as the world’s widest boulevard, and with a width of 460 feet (140 meters) with 12 lanes of traffic, they might just be right. Construction on the avenue began in 1937, modeled after the Champs Elysees but twice as wide, and built to commemorate Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816. It wasn’t fully completed until 1980.

Neo-classical and Beaux Arts buildings line the monumental street, but it’s most recognizable feature is the iconic Obelisco that towers over a small park at the intersection of Avenida 9 De Julio and Avenida Corrientes.

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Obelisk (Obelisco de Buenos Aires)

Obelisk (Obelisco de Buenos Aires)

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Buenos Aires’ most iconic landmark, the Obelisk, or El Obelisco, towers over the intersection of the city’s two main thoroughfares, Corrientes Avenue and the ‘widest avenue in the world’ -9 de Julio. Erected in 1936 to commemorate the nation’s 400th anniversary, the pencil-like column marks the spot where the nation’s flag was first flown – a striking 220-foot tall monument that has become a memorable feature on the city skyline. Fashioned from 1,360 square meters of Cordoba white stone, the Obelisk was designed by Tucaman architect Alberto Prebisch and features poignant inscriptions on each of its 4 faces, referencing key moments in the city’s history. Not only an important navigational landmark, the Obelisk also finds itself at the center of city celebrations and rallies, a common backdrop for sporting celebrations, political demonstrations, candlelit vigils and religious congregations.

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Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

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Located in the neighborhood of San Nicolas near the center of Buenos Aires, the Catedral Metrepolitana has a history that’s nearly as long as winding as the capital city itself. The land for the cathedral was set aside beginning in 1580, although over the next two centuries the building would collapse at least a half dozen times. Constant construction and reconstruction seemed to plague the central cathedral, and it wasn’t until the middle of the 1820s that French architects were brought in to design a solid cathedral. When visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral today, you’ll find the cathedral is pieced together by segments of its various eras—a historical tour within itself that tells the city’s story. Structurally, the cathedral involves elements of Spanish design as well as Greek revival, in addition to a mosaic tile floor in classically Venetian style.

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Cabildo de Buenos Aires

Cabildo de Buenos Aires

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El Cabildo, a modest, two-story colonial building along the edge of Plaza de Mayo, once served as Buenos Aires’s original city hall. Within the white facade, meetings were held about Argentina’s declaration of independence in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the Uruguayan constitution was signed within the building in 1830, and it housed the National Court of Justice during the late 1800s.

Today, Cabildo is one of the few colonial structures still standing in Buenos Aires. The facade now houses a small museum showcasing paintings, furniture, antiques and costumes from the colonial period. The windows of the building offer some of the best views of the historic plaza just outside.

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Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

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Though the Brazilians boast of their outstanding views over the falls, Argentina is blessed with about 80% of Iguazu, lovingly threaded by several kilometers of paved trails and catwalks that could keep you occupied for three days. A free "jungle train" connects several trailheads.

The Upper Circuit Trail offers outstanding views over Mbigua Falls and the undulating Iguazu River, before dropping toward misty Bernabe Mendez Falls. The Lower Circuit Trail has more views, as well as access to motorboat trips under the falls, whitewater rafting, and a free ferry to Isla San Martin, with even more to explore. Whatever you do, don't miss the vistas over Garganta del Diablo. No matter where you trek, you will get soaking wet. And that's not a bad thing on a hot summer day in Argentina. Though Puerto Iguazu, 17km (10mi) from the park, is the smallest of the three cities here at the triple border between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, it has a great deal to offer tourists.

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Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo)

Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo)

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The highlight of any trip to Iguazu Falls is this massive complex of cascades that form a narrow chasm some 150m (500ft) long and 80m (262ft) high. The roaring falls and veils of spray create an awesome, full-sensory experience, which can be enjoyed from any number of vantage points.

The postcard-perfect view is from the Brazilian side, at the top of a 2km (1.2mi) trail ending in an elevator trip to the top of this natural wonder. To explore the falls up close, however, you'll need to take the Devil's Throat catwalks skipping across the deceptively calm waters atop the roaring falls. From there, you can watch as millions of liters of water drain violently into the river below.

Serious fans can splash out on a helicopter ride above the falls, available next to the visitors center on the Brazilian side.

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Lapataia Bay

Lapataia Bay

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Lapataia Bay is where Argentina’s RN 3 road ends, a road that is a continuation of the Pan-American Highway, which stretches all the way to Alaska. Roadies are always stopping to pose next to the sign here in Lapataia Bay, and it’s worth thinking about how far they’ve come to get there! According to the sign, the distance between this spot and Alaska is a whopping 11,090 miles (17,848 kilometers).

Most visitors don’t take the land route to Lapataia Bay, however, and instead fly into Argentina. The bay is within Parque National Tierra del Fuego, a popular day trip from Ushuaia, which sits only 10 miles away. The park offers a chance to get out into nature, overlook azure lakes and bays, walk through native beech forests and in season, catch both the firebush, which blooms bright red, and the spooky-looking orange “pan de indio,” golf ball-sized mushrooms that grow on some of the trees.

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San Telmo

San Telmo

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Like La Boca, the central barrio of San Telmo is one of Buenos Aires’ tango haunts.

Formerly an up-market residential area, the area’s crumbling mansions and atmosphere of faded glory form the perfect backdrop for the city’s artists and musicians who now call this inner-city enclave home. Visit on Sundays to browse the enormous Plaza Dorrego antiques fair, clap along to the tango buskers and relax with a drink at one of the surrounding cafes. The streets here are picturesquely cobbled, and the fascinating little shops are well worth a browse. Visit San Telmo at night to take in a tango show in one of the area’s many clubs.

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La Boca

La Boca

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South of downtown Buenos Aires, by the port, the working-class enclave of La Boca has a strong Italian flavor and plenty of artistic flair. The barrio is strongly linked to the history of the tango, and it’s also home to one of the world’s major football teams, the Boca Juniors. The essence of La Boca can be found in Caminito, the brightly colored pedestrian street lined with painted tin houses and flaunting locally created art at every turn.
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