First-timers in Argentina will cover a lot of ground with this 13-day itinerary. Starting in Buenos Aires, you'll fly to Patagonia for a series of outdoor activities that capitalize on the views. Then, venture to Medoza's famous Malbec vineyards for wine tastings. Next is the colonial city of Salta—jumping off point for rugged gorges, giant salt flats, and colorful deserts in the country's far north. Spend your last night in a historic estancia and live the life of a real gaucho.

Highlights

  • Enjoy a free-flowing wine and tango show in Buenos Aires
  • Choose between hiking trails with stunning views of Nahuel Huapi Lake
  • Visit several vineyards in Mendoza and take part in a cooking class
  • Take a spin on Salta's scenic gondola for a birds-eye view 
  • Ride horses in the Pampas and look for unique wildlife

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Buenos Aires City Tour - Dinner & Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 3 Fly from Buenos Aires to Bariloche Bariloche
Day 4 Hiking in Bariloche Bariloche
Day 5 Bariloche Free-Day Adventure Bariloche
Day 6 Fly from Bariloche to Mendoza Chacras de Coria
Day 7 Mendoza Full-Day Wine Tour & Cooking Class Chacras de Coria
Day 8 Mendoza & Chacras de Coria Free Day Chacras de Coria
Day 9 Fly from Mendoza to Salta Salta
Day 10 Explore the Salt Flats & Quebrada de Humahuaca Purmamarca
Day 11 Winery Tour - Return to Salta Salta
Day 12 Fly to Buenos Aires - Explore the Pampas San Antonio de Areco
Day 13 Farewell, Argentina!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City

The Obelisco, a central monument in Buenos Aires
The Obelisco, a central monument in Buenos Aires

Welcome to Argentina! Renowned as the "Paris of South America," and the "Queen of El Plata," the capital city of Buenos Aires is defined by passion. This is exemplified in the rich tango heritage and its citizens' limitless enthusiasm for fútbol (soccer), which is far and away the country's most popular sport. 

When you arrive at the airport, your driver will be waiting to take you in a private car to your hotel where you can relax after a long flight. But make no mistake: the city will beckon you. So after a quick recharge, be sure to venture out into the welcoming arms of Buenos Aires and explore. The best starting point would be the city center.

Suggested activities include:

  • Visit the Obelisco, which might be the most famous icon of the city. This obelisk (which even Argentines admit is a little too reminiscent of the Washington Monument) is worth a visit for its location alone. It sits right in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio, which boasts a whopping 16 lanes, making it the widest city street in the world.

  • Stop by the Teatro Colon, one of South America's premier opera houses. The horseshoe-shaped gallery features 2,487 seats and incredible acoustics. Even if you plan on taking a tour or catching a show here on another day, it's always breathtaking to pass by its exterior. The Colon's neoclassical facade has been the face of one of the most handsome buildings in Buenos Aires since its opening in 1908.

  • Stroll Puerto Madero, an upscale waterfront neighborhood adjacent to downtown. Puerto Madero may be the "new money" finance center of Buenos Aires, but it's also one of the most pleasant walks in a city famous for its walking areas. A romantic stroll involves walking over the canal on the Puente de Mujer ("Woman's Bridge") at sunset. 

  • Dine at an Argentine steakhouse or parilla. When night falls and dinnertime arrives, do like the locals and enjoy a thick, juicy steak (Argentina has some of the best beef in the world) drizzled with the nation's famous chimichurri (a garlic, herb, and vinegar sauce). Know that Buenos Aires is a culture that thrives after dark, and it's not uncommon for locals to have dinner well past nine in the evening, especially on weekends. 

Day 2: Buenos Aires City Tour - Dinner & Tango Show

Dorrego Square in San Telmo
Dorrego Square in San Telmo

After breakfast, you'll join a fascinating tour for an overview of Buenos Aires as well as a better understanding of Argentina’s history and culture. During this three-hour tour, you will visit Retiro as well as Avenida 9 de Julio, South America’s widest avenue. Along this street, you'll see the Teatro Colon, the continent's most opulent opera house, and the iconic Obelisco monument.

You will also pass through the historic and architecturally impressive city center, home to the Congress Building, Plaza de Mayo, Avenida de Mayo, and the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace). Then, walk along the upscale waterfront promenades of Puerto Madero before heading to the oldest neighborhood in the city, San Telmo. Afterward, you'll stop by La Boca, the city's original port.

In the evening, enjoy a scrumptious meal accompanied by free-flowing wine and tango show, one of Argentina's most iconic cultural highlights. After this memorable experience, you'll head back to your hotel to relax for the night.

Day 3: Fly from Buenos Aires to Bariloche

The beautiful shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi
The beautiful shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi

This morning, after breakfast in Buenos Aires, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to Aeroparque Airport, located in the city. You will then catch a flight to San Carlos de Bariloche, located southwest in Argentina's Lake District

San Carlos de Bariloche was founded in 1902 on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, which itself is part of the larger Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. If you detect some native influence in that name, you're correct. It comes from the Mapuche indigenous people who once inhabited the area, and it means "jaguar island." The lake straddles the Chilean border, with the city of Bariloche located on the southeast shore. This region is beautiful and you'll be able to experience its majesty on nature hikes and excursions.

Upon arrival at Bariloche's airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. Even though you may be tired from your flight, try to get out and explore the city. The charming chalet-style buildings and alpine architecture can be seen and enjoyed on a brisk walk around, and the city center abounds with waterfront plazas, chocolate shops, and upscale restaurants. 

Some suggested activities in and around Bariloche include: 

  • Stroll Mitre Street, the main drag that runs through downtown. Here you'll experience all the buzzing commerce of the city, including souvenir shops, clothing stores, and confectioners. It also runs near the waterfront, which only enhances the pleasantness of the walk.

  • Visit the five-star Hotel Llao Llao, the nicest hotel in Bariloche, and quite possibly the nicest in all of Argentina. This expansive chalet-style hotel sits on a small peninsula overlooking the lake and is the embodiment of mountain luxury. Even if you're not staying here, you can stop in for a full afternoon tea service complete with decadent desserts like brownies and chocolate mousse. 

  • Ride a cable car to the top of Cerro Campanario. Located just a couple of kilometers outside town, the view from atop this 1,050-meter (3,444-foot) high mountain is nothing short of breathtaking as you're treated to panoramic views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the snow-covered mountains that surround it. There's also a restaurant and lounge at the top.

When dinnertime comes around, be sure to sample the local cuisine. You'll find that it differs considerably than what's typically found in Buenos Aires. Here regional fare like wild boar and lake trout is popular and delicious, as is the fondue (a culinary addition first introduced by the city's Swiss immigrants).

Day 4: Hiking in Bariloche

The view from atop Cerro Llao Llao
The view from atop Cerro Llao Llao

Today, it's time to partake in a healthy Lake District experience, and you don't have to travel far from Bariloche in order to do it. A car will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to Llao Llao Municipal Park, located just a few miles northwest of the city. This protected area is situated on the lakeshore and takes up a relatively small area of Nahuel Huapi (just 3,000 acres). Still, here you'll find some of the most stunning scenery in the region as well as a network of well-maintained hiking paths.

The hike you'll embark on is a moderate one that follows old trails and covers many of the area's natural highlights. One of these, Cerro Llao Llao, is the largest mountain within the park boundaries, standing 3,363 feet (1,025 m) high. You can hike up to the top of it where you'll be treated to postcard-worthy views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Other points of interest you'll pass on this half-day excursion include the sandy beaches of Villa Tacúl, the ancient Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), and the little-visited Hidden Lake. Throughout the trip, you'll be making your way through Patagonian forest with towering Arrayán and lenga trees flanking the pathways. You'll also stop at vantage points that offer panoramic views of Lake Nahuel Huapi, Lake Moreno, Puerto Blest, the Brazo Tristeza fjord, Mount López and Mount Capilla, before returning to Bariloche for the night.

Day 5: Bariloche Free-Day Adventure

Perhaps you'll choose the mountain-biking excursion
Perhaps you'll choose the mountain-biking excursion

This morning, after breakfast, you will get to choose between two exciting excursions around Bariloche—either kayaking or mountain biking—detailed below.

1) Kayaking Lago Mascardi. This V-shaped lake lies about  18 miles (30 km) south of Bariloche and is a popular spot due to its tranquil, glassy waters and pebble beaches. In the morning, a pickup from your hotel will take you south along National Route 40, where you'll enter Nahuel Huapi National Park (entrance fee not included). On the drive down you'll be treated to a number of beautiful sights, including Lake Gutierrez and Cerro Catedral (Argentina's premier ski destination in winter). You will also cross the Continental Divide, which separates the watersheds of the Andes Mountains between those that drain into the Pacific Ocean and those that drain into the Atlantic. Eventually, you will arrive on the shores of Lake Mascardi where it meets the Manso River.

This is your starting point from which you will embark on a moderate 2-3-hour kayak excursion. First, you'll navigate through the Tronador (east-west) branch of Mascardi, paddling over turquoise waters and flanked by evergreen forest surrounded by the dramatic mountains of Nahuel Huapi. You’ll stop in at a remote beach to have lunch and relax before paddling back.

2) Off-road mountain biking. This excursion follows backroads and dirt tracks through the suburbs of Bariloche and into the Andes foothills. It's a moderate excursion comprised of mostly backroads and dirt tracks, many flat but some with uphill ascents (and one long downhill stretch). Starting from the hotel, you'll transfer to the base of Cerro Catedral to begin the 2-3-hour bike ride.

Along the way, you will enjoy beautiful panoramic views featuring Lake Gutierrez, Lake Moreno, and the surrounding mountains. Highlights include riding across creeks and visiting Colonia Suiza, a traditional village dotted with chalets that was founded by Swiss pioneers in the late 19th century. The ride finishes with a refreshing beer tasting at a traditional microbrewery.

Day 6: Fly from Bariloche to Mendoza

Mendoza's charming skyline
Mendoza's charming skyline

This morning you'll transfer by private car to the airport, where you'll catch a flight north to the city of Mendoza, located near the border with Chile. This relatively sleepy city of about a million people is more than the sum of its parts, as it sits in the heart of Argentina's world-famous wine region. This is ground zero for viticulture in the nation, and it's home to Argentina's flagship wine: Malbec. There's also impressive landscapes and interesting sights all around the city, from the high peak of Aconcagua to the Mendoza River to the little villages that dot the countryside, like Uspallata, and which date back to pre-hispanic times.

Upon arrival at the airport, a private car will transport you to your hotel in the traditional town of Chacras de Coria, located just south of the city. But there's no rest for the wicked as you'll immediately be whisked off on a sunset horseback-riding tour that will allow you to experience Mendoza's beautiful countryside first-hand. This excursion occurs about 35 minutes outside the city in both the foothills and all the way up to higher mountains (some reaching 4,593-feet). From this epic vantage point, you'll watch the sunset over the valley below. 

Tonight you'll get to indulge in the local cuisine and, of course, its famed wines. After the horseback ride, you'll enjoy a traditional mendocino bbq of sizzling grilled meats (vegetarian options available) paired with some robust local vino. Yes, Malbec will be on hand.

Day 7: Mendoza Full-Day Wine Tour & Cooking Class

See how the grapes are cultivated
See how the grapes are cultivated

Today you will dive headfirst in the Argentine wine experience. On a full-day tour of local vineyards and their facilities, you will learn much of what there is to know, including how the industry has developed over time, which grapes are grown in the region, and how the wines made from these berries are produced. But that's not all—of course, you will be able to taste the famous varietals of Mendoza and decide for yourself which ones are the best!

In the morning a semi-private car service will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to the region of Luján de Cuyo, which is known as the cradle of Malbec due to its centuries-old vineyards located at the base of the towering Andes Mountains. Over the course of a few hours, you will visit three different wineries accompanied by an expert guide. Note that the wineries on the itinerary change according to the season, as not all of them are open to the public year-round.

At lunchtime, you will stop at one of the best restaurants in one of the area's wineries. Here you'll enjoy a delicious three-course menu that perfectly pairs the food on your plate with the most extraordinary wines in their bodega. And you'll enjoy it all amid scenic view of the Andes.

In the evening, don your chef's hat as you learn how to prepare asado, Argentina'a traditional bbq. The process is a time-honored one, as it dates back to the earliest days of the gaucho cowboys grilling meat over an open flame. It's nothing short of an art form, as Argentine grilling relies on striking that perfect, delicate balance between temperature and space, between the proximity of the fiery coals to the sizzling meat and vegetables.

During this class, the cook/instructor will teach you these secrets as you prepare a traditional recipe that will serve as your dinner for the evening. Needless to say, you'll pair your culinary creation with different blends produced in the region.

Day 8: Mendoza & Chacras de Coria Free Day

Relaxation in Chacras de Coria
Relaxation in Chacras de Coria

Today is a free day to enjoy Mendoza and Chacras de Coria at your leisure. Perhaps you'll want to stroll around the surrounding vineyards and enjoy the region at an easy pace, or simply relax at your hotel and enjoy the amenities.

You might also consider getting out and exploring more of Mendoza. The city features expansive plazas and wide boulevards shaded by canopies of bushy green sycamore leaves, which makes for a pleasant stroll. You'll note the difference in energy between the capital of Buenos Aires and Mendoza, as here people move at a much more relaxed pace.

Some suggested activities around town include: 

  • Stroll one of Mendoza's famous parks. One of the most popular meeting spots for locals is Plaza Independencia. It features impressive fountains and is dotted with elegant acacia and tall plane trees. Parque General San Martín is the most impressive park in the city, as its well-manicured grounds dotted with palm trees were designed by the famous Argentine landscape architect Charles Thays (who also designed the most famous parks in Buenos Aires). 

  • Visit a museum. There are a few in Mendoza. One recommended option is the Museo del Pasado Cuyano, which features many exhibits on the history of Mendoza as well as collections of weapons from the independence era.

  • Enjoy some local cuisine. As you've likely learned by now, the fare in Mendoza tends to be rustic. That said, in the city, you'll find a wide variety of eateries and many high-end options too. There's none more famous and revered than 1884, the flagship restaurant of legendary Argentine chef Francis Mallman, who revolutionized the technique of cooking over an open flame. The food here is heavy on grilled meat and can best be described as "haute country." This is one of the most popular restaurants in Argentina, so be prepared to splurge.

Day 9: Fly from Mendoza to Salta

A charming corner in Salta
A charming corner in Salta

This morning, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport. You'll then hop a flight bound for Salta. This well-preserved colonial city has been a traveler's favorite for years and has recently come into its own as a popular tourist destination. It's easy to see why—Salta offers fascinating museums, great nightlife, and an expansive plaza lined with patio cafes that make great people-watching spots. 

Upon arrival, a shared car service will transfer you to your hotel, whereupon you'll have the rest of the afternoon to explore the town. Some recommended activities include:

  • Stroll the city center. Salta was founded in the year 1582 and its downtown area is impressively well preserved. You'll see this in the colonial mansions and 18th-century buildings around the city center. On the central Plaza 9 de Julio, you'll find the rose-hued Salta Cathedral, which was completed in 1882. 

  • Visit a museum. And there are many fine ones in this city. Salta has a rich indigenous history that informs much of its culture even today. You can glean a history of this culture in the Museo Historico del Norte, located on the south side of the plaza. For more indigenous history (particularly of the Incan variety), visit the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, which is also located on the plaza. 

  • Take a cable car up to Cerro San Bernardo. The most famous lookout point in the area is located on the outskirts of the city. Once at the top you'll find waterfalls, lookout points featuring panoramic views of the city, and a cafe serving delicious snacks. You can also hike up the hill if you're game for a bit of exercise.

  • Sample the local cuisine. Salteño cuisine differs greatly from that found in the capital of Buenos Aires. Here there's a heavy indigenous influence and ingredients like maize are prominent, and you'll find them in the humitas and tamales notable in this region. Argentina is famous for its empanadas, and the best come from Salta—best paired with a dash of hot sauce.  

  • Enjoy a night out at Calle Balcarce. From Thursday through Saturday this area, located about 10 blocks north of Plaza 9 de Julio, is ground zero for nightlife in Salta. Come and enjoy the discos and peñas (local bars that feature live folk music and traditional food). This area is also the site of an outdoor artisan market on Sundays.  

Day 10: Explore the Salt Flats & Quebrada de Humahuaca

Spend time exploring this natural phenomenon
Spend time exploring this natural phenomenon

Today you will leave Salta and tour the natural highlights of the region on a full-day excursion (10 hours). This is an overnight trip in a private vehicle that travels mostly around Jujuy Province, just north of the city. Since you'll be returning to Salta the next day, it's best to leave your main luggage at the hotel in favor of daypacks.  

Your excursion begins early in the morning. Initially, you'll travel along the same route as the famous Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), a tourist train that connects the Argentine northwest to southern Chile via the Andes Mountains. This route zigzags between lonely mountain roads and the seemingly endless expanses of high desert plains, with nothing around you except the great blue sky. Sporadically breaking up the vast emptiness will be the sight of the occasional humble home or tiny mountain village. Along the way, you'll even have the opportunity to stop and visit pre-hispanic ruins!

Your first stop will be the small town of Campo Quijano and later the impressive Quebrada del Toro, a gorge through which the Tren a las Nubes also passes. Here you'll stop for a coffee break as well as to enjoy some stunning viewpoints. Then you'll visit Santa Rosa de Tastil, a pre-Incan settlement dating back to the XIII century. After a visit to one of the smallest villages in the region, San Antonio de los Cobres, you'll arrive at the Salinas Grandes Salt Flats. The natural light conditions here are so optimal that you're guaranteed to take amazing photos even if it's your first time picking up a camera. 

Finally, later in the afternoon, you'll arrive at your comfortable hotel in Purmamarca. This popular village, filled with adobe houses and craft markets, is located at the base of Jujuy's iconic Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors) in the historic valley of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. 

Day 11: Winery Tour - Return to Salta

Take a drive through the Quebrada de las Cochas
Take a drive through the Quebrada de las Cochas

After breakfast at your hotel, you will begin the return trip to Salta. But first, you will first stop at another winery. Even in the desert north of Argentina you'll find bodegas producing delicious Malbec and Syrah varietals, so enjoy a tour and tasting along the way.  

Continue your trip to Salta by driving along the bright red mountains of Quebrada de las Conchas. In this gorge, wind and rain erosion of the topography has resulted in some fascinating natural rock formations. Many of these protrusions are so wildly shaped that they've earned colorful nicknames, like Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat). There's also a natural amphitheater here which has excellent acoustics.

When you arrive in Salta, spend the rest of the evening exploring on your own.

Day 12: Fly to Buenos Aires - Explore the Pampas

Estancia El Ombú de Areco
Estancia El Ombú de Areco

Get ready for an exciting day of travel and culture. First, you'll transfer to the airport and hop a flight to Buenos Aires. Upon arrival in the capital, a driver will meet you and transport you to a historic estancia (country home) located on the Pampas, central Argentina's famed prairie, near the town of San Antonio de Areco.

This charming town is located about an hour from downtown Buenos Aires and is notable as being ground zero for Argentine gaucho tradition. San Antonio de Areco abounds with folk history, so much so that it inspired famed Argentine author José Hernández's epic poem, Martín Fierro. The fictional narrative is told not unlike a ballad as it recounts the exploits of its eponymous hero as he endures life on the frontier. The poem is a national treasure and represents the spirit of rural Argentina, which you'll feel all around you in San Antonio.

As for your residence during your time here, El Ombú de Areco is a late-colonial-style mansion built in 1880. It sits on expansive green grounds and offers visitors a magnificent setting for an unforgettable stay in the Argentine countryside. Today you have a variety of options for activities: you can go horseback riding, hiking, or sightseeing in an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage. This estancia is also a working farm, and you can observe typical ranch-style activities such as herding animals, branding cattle, and milking cows.

In the evening, you will enjoy a typical Argentine asado as well as musical performances and folkloric dance.

Day 13: Farewell, Argentina!

Goodbye, Argentina!
Goodbye, Argentina!

It's time to say goodbye to Argentina! This morning, you'll transfer back to Buenos Aires from the countryside. This is where you started your journey and it's also where everything comes full circle. If there's time to spare, explore more of the city before your transfer to Ezeiza International Airport for the flight home.

Despite the bittersweet goodbye, rest assured that South America will be waiting for you with open arms should you ever decide to return!

Map

Map of Classic Argentina: Patagonia, Mendoza, & Salta - 13 Days
Map of Classic Argentina: Patagonia, Mendoza, & Salta - 13 Days