Vacations in Argentina
This huge country, second only to Brazil in South America, contains climates ranging from tropical jungle thru desert and snow-capped Andes to barren Patagonia and the end of the world, containing some of the world’s most stunning natural wonders and a wide selection of activities during which to enjoy them.
Argentina has a down-at-heel but relatively sophisticated, energetic capital buzzing with people of south European stock, excellent soccer and rugby and fine dining – which you can afford thanks to incredibly low prices.
• local culture is hardly exotic.
• city traffic is hectic, noisy and polluting.
• city pavements (sidewalks) sport ankle-snapping potholes, dog doo, or often both.
• widespread poverty is common, restrained begging too. Unusually, we recommend giving beggars a few centavos(cents), most really are hard up.
Length of stay
Minimum worthwhile trip not including flights, 2 weeks (bearing in mind that this is a looong flight for most English speaking folk).
4 days in Buenos Aires, 5 days (via flight) in Patagonia for glaciers and mountain hikes, 2 days (flight) to Iguazu Falls, and a few days northwest around Salta for Andean culture (flight), deserts and canyons, or skip that and hydrofoil into Uruguay for a quick look at Colonia, the beaches or Montevideo, the capital.
The capital is terrific for urban spacemen but a bit short on wow! sights. There is the touristy but quaint Caminito district, evocative cafés and restaurants, fantastic tombs in Cementario de la Recoleta, including Evita’s, the ‘Pink Palace‘, grand architecture and not much else unless you head for the suburban playground of Tigre or take a quick trip to Colonia, Uruguay.
Perito Moreno Glacier, central Patagonia.
Bariloche ‘Lake District’ and National Park in north Patagonia.
Sadly overdeveloped but gateway to activities galore in the spectacular surroundings of Argentina’s Lake District. The Seven Lakes Scenic Route is recommended. Hiking, riding, climbing, fishing, skiing, eating chocolate or heading for Patagonia or Chile, Bariloche gets you there.
Iguazu Falls for sights, short hikes and crossings into Brazil and Paraguay, north Argentina. Photo by Martin St Amant.
In northeast Argentina Iguaçu’s massive waterfalls are stunning. It’s a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and a good place to head for a neighbouring South American country – Brazil or Paraguay.
Sea Lions enjoying a cuddle near Ushuaia.
The world’s most southerly town (3, 580 kms from BA), offers terrific scenery, hiking, fishing, scenic boat trips, marine wildlife, dog-sledding and skiing (in winter) from a pleasant, if over-touristy town but does not welcome tourists with names of Clarkson, May or Hammond.
Ushuaia is also a port for tour ships to the Antarctic.
The country’s lively second city has friendly people and a better collection of colonial architecture than BA; partly a World Cultural Heritage Site.
Mar del Plata is overbuilt and tacky but has picturesque surroundings and monster beaches that go into overdrive December-February. There’s fishing and horse riding as well as beach activities; 400kms (250 miles) from the capital.
On both sides are prettier, more peaceful or exclusive resorts, such as Pinamar (up-market), Miramar (families), Mar de las Pampas (horses) and Mar Azul.
Rio de la Plata aerial shot from NASA.
A one hour boat trip via the sea or the Rio Plata gets you to the pretty, laid back old town of Colonia. Return to BA or head off to Montevideo or the posh beaches of Punta del Este.
A fantastically complex and sensual dance, enjoyed by Argentinians as much as tourists, it’s visible all over BA in clubs, in the street and around Plaza Dorrego at weekends. Try to learn it by all means, but it’ll be a long job.
Most famously visible around the barren cliffs of Peninsula Valdés – seals, elephant seals, killer whales, penguins, guanacos (llamas), but especially southern right whales. Puerto Madryn is the base from which to find a tour or rent a car.
Wildlife is also found in Iguazu Park alongside the waterfalls, Ushuaia and in swampy Ibera Nature Reserve (wetlands) for cayman, capybaras, monkeys and birds.
Activities below are best mainly in the Patagonian Andes, particularly from Los Glaciers National Park in the southwest to Mendoza in the centre-west. Bariloche, El Calafate and El Chalten are the three best activity centres, though Ushuaia is pretty wild too.
Spectacular hikes, well signposted, long and short, particularly around Bariloche and El Chalten.
Nationals of the USA, Canada, Western European, Australia and New Zealand are granted 90 day tourist visas on arrival (assuming the passport is valid for 6 months and has free pages) but US citizens arriving at airports must pay a substantial entry fee of US$ 160 which is valid for ten years and allows for multiple visits to the country. What a rip-off!
Argentina is a massive country and the best attractions are widely spaced so get ready for seriously long distance bus rides on seriously comfortable buses with hot meals, wine and lay-flat seats! But book well in advance or domestic flights will be necessary. These are efficient and reasonably priced but buy an airpass to get the best deals. Chile is a natural additional destination for many travellers in South America and Bariloche one direct route to get there.
Best weather in northern Argentina
Spring (September-November) or autumn (March-May) strike a fine balance between warmth and clouds.
Worst: January-February. Summertime is hot, humid, expensive and everything’s booked up, but this is the best time for beaches and tank tops.
Winter (May-September) is driest in most areas, but also coolest, between 7C-15C (45F-60F) in Buenos Aires, so this time would be best if holidays mean skiing, the north country and/or general sightseeing, but don’t think beaches, tank tops or Patagonia.
Best weather in Patagonia (southern region)
The best time to visit Patagonia is October – March, spring and summer months in Argentina when it’s great for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, rafting, hunting and golfing.
June – October are Patagonia’s wintersports months with the best month being January and the best location being Bariloche.
This is the eighth largest country in the world so summarizing weather conditions is tricky, but one thing we should point out, this is mostly not a hot country, with temperatures rarely over 30C (85F) except in the far north.
Argentina holidays are around January, Easter and July, so transport and accommodation become a problem then.