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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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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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Upsala Glacier
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The Upsala Glacier upstages even Perito Moreno in scale.

South America’s largest glacier, Upsala measures 50km long and 10km wide (31 miles long, 6 miles wide). It’s only from the water of Lake Argentino that you can really appreciate the glacier’s magnitude and crystalline beauty.

Forests surround the glacier and lake, and icebergs that have tumbled from the glacier’s peaks fill the water.

From the glacier, you can hike to the iceberg-dotted waters of Lago Onelli and take in vistas of blue-white ice floes, jagged mountains and pristine waterways stretching to the horizon.

Travel here by horseback, boat, hiking or 4WD, before taking the boat to the glacier’s towering walls fronting the lake.

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Nahuel Huapi National Park
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Nahuel Huapi National Park, which surrounds the lake of the same name, and within which San Carlos de Bariloche is located, is an expansive park of nearly 1.8 million acres, and Argentina’s oldest national park.

The park actually contains another park, Parque nacional Los Arrayanes, which is where the much-visited Quetrihué peninsula is. This peninsula is home to a large tract of 300-650 year old red-to-light-brown-barked Arrayan trees.

The larger park covers a large range of altitude, from 700 to 3400 meters, and contains four distinct ecosystems, from high Andean peaks (above 1600 meters), including the imposing Cerro Tronador, Andean forests, Valdivian rainforests and (mostly treeless) windblown Patagonian steppe.

With four different ecosystems, there is a great variety of different types of vegetation, including several types of Patagonian beech.

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Tronador Hill (Cerro Tronador)
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Cerro Tronador is the standout attraction among many day-trip and hiking options in Bariloche. It is named for the thunderous sound the volcano made before it went extinct, but the name (Thundering Mountain) is still apt, for the rumbling icefalls as giant pieces of ice shed from the glacier, which are audible at a safe distance. The main attraction is the Ventisquero Negro (also called El Manso), which means black glacier, and it’s easy to see why. It is mainly covered in darkish soil and moraine, and small pieces that have broken off float in a milky lake at its foot.

The glacier is the source of one of the nearby rivers, called Río Manso (tame river), which you can also see, and there are waterfalls, including the impressive Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), where several waterfalls come together.

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Victoria Island (Isla Victoria)
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Isla Victoria is a small island located in Nahuel Huapi lake, which is part of the park by the same name. The lake is one of the main defining features of this part of Patagonia, with the city of Bariloche on the south shore, and smaller town of Villa La Angostura on the north side.

Victoria Island is located in the middle of the northernmost branch of the lake and is accessed from Puerto Pañuelo, a 30-minute drive from Bariloche. There are a couple of sailings daily, some of which continue to Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes, specifically, to the Quetrihué peninsula, which is home to the rare protected arrayán (Chilean myrtle) forest, with slender, cinnamon-barked trees which grow in a dense grove, and some examples of which are up to 650 years old. Isla Victoria has varied foliage, including the arctic beech, and some easy hiking trails, and if you spend time wandering, you can find some solitary beaches on which to sit and contemplate the lake, or take a chilly dip.

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Otto Hill (Cerro Otto)
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Cerro Otto is a hill just barely on the outskirts of the town of Bariloche which has turned what was formerly just a lookout point into a tourist center. It has several activities and attractions in addition to the cable car ride up, the sweeping vistas and the 360 degree rotating restaurant on top.

The summit is at 1400 meters, and you can either opt to walk or bike a steep 8 km up, or do as most do, and go up in one of the hanging red gondolas up the the top. Once on top, the views, either outside or while inside enjoying a warm drink (it’s nearly always chilly up here, and there’s always a breeze blowing) are expansive, and include lake Nahuel Huapi (and Isla Victoria) as well as a few of the other nearby peaks, such as Cerro Catedral, Cerro Tronador and Cerro Campanario. The restaurant turns slowly, completing a rotation in 20 minutes.

Activities at the top include sledding on groomed trails in the winter, or a kind of tubing in the spring, summer and fall.

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Esquina Homero Manzi
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Few tango venues have as illustrious a history as the Esquina Homero Manzi, built in 1917 and earning a reputation as an important cultural hub in the 1940s, where local tango musicians, dancers and poets would gather to drink, talk and perform. Today, the protected building has been beautifully restored in period style and named after one of its most famous former visitors – legendary tango lyricist Homero Manzi, who wrote his famous tango 'Sur' within its walls.

The atmospheric 300-seat restaurant now hosts one of the city’s best tango dinner shows, where guests can dine on Argentine cuisine and wine, and watch a nostalgic show of iconic tango songs and dances by talented local performers.

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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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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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Floralis Generica
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The dramatic centerpiece of the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas, the Floralis Generica is a giant 18-ton aluminum flower sculpture that has become one of Buenos Aires’ most instantly recognizable landmarks. The quirky art installation was erected in 2002 in the parkland that bridges the city’s Palermo and Recoleta districts and features a striking mirrored finish that dazzles under the sun and glows red in the evening hours. Designed by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano, the futuristic monument was envisioned in homage to his home city and was gifted to the public by him.

Most uniquely, the remote controlled sculpture is programmed to open and close its six petals with the sun, so that the flower is in bloom during daylight hours before closing up at sunset. Each morning (the petals open at 8am) and night crowds of locals and tourists gather in the park to watch the 20-minute spectacle, as the 66-foot-high flower changes color.

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More Things to Do in Argentina

Puente de la Mujer

Puente de la Mujer

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Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge, is a footbridge in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. It was designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and modeled after very similar bridges spanning the rivers in Seville, Spain and Redding, California. The prominent feature that all three bridges share is the big steel needle jutting at a sharp angle into the sky. The needle functions as an anchor for the suspension cables and holds up the entire span. According to the creator, the whole structure is supposed to show a couple dancing the tango, with the needle representing the man and the curved body of the bridge embodying the woman being lowered to the ground. Additionally, many of the streets in this Buenos Aires district have women’s names, a fact that Calatrava wanted to honor when he named Puente de la Mujer.

An interesting function of the bridge is its rotating feature to let water traffic pass through.

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Beagle Channel

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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Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse

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The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse marks the dangerous rocks at the entrance to Ushuaia Bay in the Beagle Channel. Locals often wrongfully call this the Lighthouse at the End of the World, which is technically incorrect because the lighthouse Jules Verne made famous in his novel lies further east, but it’s oddly accurate, too; it’s the last mainland reference most sailors see on their way to Antarctica.

Located just five miles from Ushuaia, Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is a common destination for short tourist sailing trips. The waters surrounding the lighthouse are a sea-goers dream, as penguins and both South American and fur sea lions are spotted regularly. Bird life is abundant, too, with black eyebrow albatrosses, steamer ducks and upland geese often seen on the nearby islands. Many tours also include landing on Karelo Island.

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Lake Moreno

Lake Moreno

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Lake Moreno is a glacial lake in the providence of Rio Negro near Bariloche, Argentina. The lake covers an area of more than 4,000 acres, and mountains, such as Lopez, Capilla, and Catedral, are the predominant feature of the surrounding landscape. The lake is divided into two sections, Western Lake Moreno and Eastern Lake Moreno. The western section is connected to Lake Nahuel Huapi by a narrow channel. The water in Lake Moreno is generally mild since most of its water does not come from ice melt. This makes it a popular destination for water sports and swimming. There is also a small circuit track that goes around the lake, and it is one of the most popular tracks in the area. The northern end of Western Lake Moreno is part of Nahuel Huapi National Park. The rest of Lake Moreno has seen more development and human interaction than other lakes in the Bariloche area.

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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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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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Puerto Madero

Puerto Madero

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Once a lackluster cargo port, the waterfront area of Puerto Madero is now one of Buenos Aires’ most fashionable districts, teeming with upmarket restaurants and glitzy nightclubs. Marooned from the mainland by the Rio de la Plata estuary, the largely pedestrianized island is celebrated for housing some of the city’s most architecturally stunning buildings. Luxury apartments, plush hotels and high-rise office towers dominate the area, encircling a stylish waterfront plaza and backed by an expanse of naturally preserved parkland.

The barrio’s pièce de résistance is the iconic Puente de la Mujer, or the Woman’s Bridge, an artistic swing-bridge that connects Puerto Madero to the mainland hub of Plaza de Mayo. The futuristic design by Spanish sculpture Santiago Calatrava, is said to symbolize an abstract tango dance and casts a striking silhouette on the city skyline.

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Caminito

Caminito

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With its brightly painted houses and funky atmosphere, Caminito is one of the most famous streets in Buenos Aires.

It may not be a grand boulevard, but Caminito is a historic walkway that grabs your attention from the moment you enter. Founded by Italian immigrants from Genoa, the street is lined with haphazardly built homes constructed from corrugated metal and wood, painted in a plethora of gaudy colors. You’ll probably hear the dramatic foot-stomping strains of the tango as you stroll down this pedestrian walkway, and as you look around you’ll see works by local artists on the walls of this outdoor living gallery.
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Alberto J. Armando Stadium (La Bombonera Stadium)

Alberto J. Armando Stadium (La Bombonera Stadium)

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The beloved Boca Juniors soccer team plays its games at Alberto J Armando stadium, affectionately known as La Bombonera (Spanish for “the Chocolate Box”). It has a capacity of 49,000 and is known for vibrating when fans start getting too antsy – either from happiness or disgust – and start jumping in rhythm.

A behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium is a fascinating look at the sport that that most Argentines live and die by and the Buenos Aires soccer team that was founded in 1905 by five boys living in La Boca neighborhood. Visit the interactive Museo de la Pasión Boquense, the first soccer museum in the Americas, and walk out on to the famous soccer field pitch, where you can close your eyes and imagine the roar of the passionate crowd.

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Plaza San Martin

Plaza San Martin

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One of Buenos Aires’ oldest public squares, Plaza San Martin is a pocket of greenery sandwiched between the central Retiro train and bus station and the lively shopping hub of Florida Av. A popular spot for picnicking locals and fatigued shoppers, the majority of the plaza is parkland shaded by ancient jacaranda and magnolia trees and including a small dog park frequented by the city’s ubiquitous dog walkers (often seen on the city streets handling a dozen or more dogs). The focal points of the park are its many monumental statues, including the Torre de Los Ingleses (English Tower), gifted to Argentina by the British in celebration of the 1810 revolution; the grand Monument to General Jose San Martín, after whom the park was named; and a poignant monument to those who lost their lives in the notorious Malvinas (Falklands) War.

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Parque Lezama

Parque Lezama

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While everyone else is walking around the antiques fair in San Telmo and picking up items that are too big to take home, head to Parque Lezama, a public park in the same district. The city of Buenos Aires was first founded here by Pedro de Mendoza (see his statue in the park) in 1536. In 1857 it was sold to Gregorio Lezama whose widow ultimately gave it to the municipality of Buenos Aires in 1894.

The park borders a part of what used to be the Rio de La Plata, before its course was redirected and the neighborhood of Puerto Madero was created. And while Buenos Aires is almost completely flat, this park, along with the Plaza Francia and Barrancas del Begrano are on a rise that sets them higher than the rest of the city. There are rustic paths for walking and biking and a few lookout points over where the river used to be. Also in the park is the National Historical Museum of Argentina, established in 1897. It holds a collection of some 50,000 pieces.

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Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (Museo de Arte Lationoamericano de Buenos Aires, MALBA)

Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (Museo de Arte Lationoamericano de Buenos Aires, MALBA)

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With its vast collection of Latin American art, the MALBA (Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires) is Buenos Aires’ leading modern art museum, located in the city’s trendy Palermo district. Since opening its doors in 2001, the museum has amassed a varied collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and installation works, by artists from all corners of Latin America. Founder Eduardo Constantini's collection is at its heart – a series of over 220 19th- and 20th-century pieces spread throughout a series of chronological first floor galleries. Not only a historic portfolio of the modern art movement, the collection also portrays a strong sense of geographical identity, with a number of evocative political and cultural works on display. Highlights include works by Argentines Xul Solar and Antonio Berni, Chilean Roberto Matta, a Frida Kahlo self-portrait, Brazilian Tarsila Do Amaral’s much-celebrated Abaporu and a series of innovative Julio Le Parc art installations.
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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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Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

140 Tours and Activities

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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