Argentina contains dozens of national parks within its borders, and visiting at least a few of them (there are 33 in total) is a must. This list of favorites spans the country, from the massive cacti of Los Cardones in the north to the trekker's paradise of Tierra del Fuego in the south. It also encompasses a wide variety of landscapes—glaciers and ice fields, lakes and river valleys, iconic Iguazú Falls, and beyond.

Los Glaciares 

The spectacle that is Perito Moreno
The spectacle that is Perito Moreno

Los Glaciares National Park was created in 1945 and is located in the Austral Andes of Argentina. Lying just southwest of Santa Cruz Province, this region features an abundance of Prussian-blue lakes like Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma, wild rivers, and mammoth glaciers. The western part of the park (almost half its total area) is largely hidden under a blanket of ice and snow, while to the east you'll find another extreme in the form of the vast expanses of Patagonian steppe.

The name Los Glaciers refers to the masses of ice that make up portions of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field—the largest continental ice extension after Antarctica. Within this area, there are 47 big glaciers and more than 200 smaller glaciers, each one impressive in its own right. By far the most popular is Perito Moreno Glacier, a 250 square-km mass of ice and one of the few advancing glaciers in the region. The pressure generated by this occurrence results in great chunks of it periodically breaking off and crashing to the surface of Lago Argentino below, a phenomenon called "calving." Come for a visit and you're sure to see it with your own two eyes. 

The park is home to plenty of plant life, including green lenga, ñira, and guindo forests, and the aforementioned Patagonian steppe. Animals here include condors, black-chested buzzard eagles, rheas (a type of ostrich), guanacos (a type of llama), and pumas. The closest city is El Calafate, which is the principal hub and center for all activities and excursions into the park.

Try this one-week itinerary that begins with Buenos Aires, before heading to Los Glaciares where you'll hike across Perito Moreno. Finish the trip with hiking excursions around the famous Mt. Fitz Roy.

Aconcagua

Hiking through Aconcagua's valleys
Hiking through Aconcagua's valleys

Aconcagua Provincial Park is located in the Andes Mountains about 185 km (114 miles) from the city of Mendoza, near the border with Chile. It covers nearly 200,000 acres and boasts some impressive mountain peaks, none more so than the behemoth of the same name, Mt. Aconcagua. At 6,980 meters (22,900 feet) in altitude, Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. 

Ultimately this is a park for thrill-seekers, as it draws mountain climbers, skiers, hikers and more, all eager for some high-altitude adventure. Those who do wish to ascend Aconcagua have two ways to approach it, via the pass at the Quebrada de Horcones, or up the Quebrada de las Vacas. This mountain also has different routes depending on the climber's skill level. 

But there's more to Parque Aconcagua than a single mountain. There's also various glaciers, rivers, watersheds, and various species of high Andean fauna such as condors and pumas. There are even ancient Incan archeological sites, like the Puente del Inca (Inca Bridge), a natural geological formation that once arched over hot springs that the Incas bathed in during Pre-Hispanic times.

Want to see the park, but not interested in trekking? Take a 10-day tour of wine regions in Chile and Argentina, which includes a day of scenic driving through beautiful Aconcagua. 

Nahuel Huapi & Los Arrayanes

Nahuel Huapi National Park
Nahuel Huapi National Park

Founded in 1934, Nahuel Huapi is the oldest national park in Argentina. The park surrounds Nahuel Huapi Lake in the foothills of the Patagonian Andes, falling squarely in the north Patagonian Andean Zone, which consists of three types of landscapes: Altoandino (with perpetual snow above 1,600 meters/5,249 feet), Andino-Patagónico (in the lower hills), and Patagonian steppe. It also includes small parts of Valdivian rainforest.

All around the park are seemingly endless lakes, waterfalls, snow-clad peaks, and native forests. Common fauna include river otters, huemuls (south Andean deer), cougars, and Magellanic woodpeckers. Bariloche, a city on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, is considered the “gateway to Patagonia"—and it's also the chocolate and honeymoon capital of Argentina due to its Swiss-immigrant heritage and picture-perfect setting. 

Los Arrayanes National Park used to be part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park but was created in 1971 to protect the native forest of Arrayanes (Luma Apiculata), a rare 300-year-old tree with cinnamon-colored bark. You can hike on a special trail built to protect the soil and roots of these fragile trees—it's located one mile away from the lakeside village of Villa La Angostura, in Neuquén Province, and can be reached by boat from different points around Nahuel Huapi Lake. 

Combine visits to Nahuel Huapi and Los Arrayanes with Los Glaciares and more on this 9-day tour from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. And families can visit Nahuel Huapi as part of a 7-day kayaking, hiking, and rafting adventure.

Tierra del Fuego

The Tren del Fin del Mundo (Train at the End of the World)
The Tren del Fin del Mundo (Train at the End of the World)

Tierra del Fuego translates to “Land of Fire,” which comes from the time when the first European explorers passed by this southern region by boat and saw native bonfires shining on the shores. The earliest human settlements go back to 8,000 BCE; Europeans arrived in 1520 with Magellan’s expedition, and the Strait of Magellan is still one of the most vital waterways in the region. Local populations were displaced in the second half of the 19th century, and the area saw a boom in sheep farming and a gold rush. Today, the main industries are petroleum, tourism, and manufacturing.

The national park only caters to tourism, and it's part of an archipelago that covers a healthy amount of space—some 48,100 square km. The biggest island here is Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, which is divided between Argentina and Chile, as well as smaller islands all the way down to Cape Horn. Argentina's National Route 3 connects this region from the city of Ushuaia along the Pipo River Valley. This is also the destination of the End of the World Train, famous as the "world's southernmost train." It runs a grand total of four miles and serves mostly as a nature sightseeing excursion from outside Ushuaia and passing briefly into the park. 

Among the most notable animals in this archipelago are austral parakeets, seagulls, guanacos, foxes, kingfishers, condors, king penguins, owls, and fire crown hummingbirds. Only 30% of these islands have forests, which are classified as Magellanic subpolar. The northeast is made up of steppe and cool semi-desert. Tierra del Fuego is also an embarkation point for cruises to Antarctica and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Trekkers can get inspired by this adventurous 16-day itinerary through jaw-dropping scenery in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, hiking into the backcountry on routes along the spine of Chile and Argentina.

Punta Tombo

Walk with Magellanic penguins in Punta Tombo
Walk with Magellanic penguins in Punta Tombo

The Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve is home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins outside Antarctica (estimates place their numbers at around one million). It’s located on a peninsula about an hour south of the city of Puerto Madryn, on Argentina's Atlantic coast. This reserve has been protected since 1979 and is part of the new marine national park at the Gulf of San Jorge.

In September, thousands of penguins start arriving on this Patagonian coast from Brazil. They stay until mid-March but the best time to see them is after November once the babies are born. The highlight of this reserve is that you can walk right alongside the penguins and view them up close in their natural environment. There's a network of trails and boardwalks across this arid, gravelly coastline, which is full of small shrubs and burrows where the penguins make their nests. Other fauna here includes Patagonian hares, foxes, and cormorants. It's also common to spot whales and dolphins swimming offshore.

You can experience Argentina's animal kingdom on a wildlife-centric trip like this 6-day option based in Puerto Madryn—or add a cultural element with a few extra days in Buenos Aires

Esteros del Iberá

Iberá Wetlands
Iberá Wetlands

The Iberá Wetlands is located in northern Argentina's Corrientes Province and covers about 3.2 million acres. It's one of the most important freshwater reservoirs on the continent and the second-largest wetland in the world after Brazil's Pantanal. Iberá is just now in the process of becoming a protected area, and there are ongoing plans to upgrade its status to a national park.

The word "Iberá" comes from the indigenous Guaraní ý berá, which means “bright water.” It's comprised of a mix of bogs, swamps, lakes, lagoons, and waterways within a subtropical and tropical ecosystem that boasts huge biodiversity. It's the natural home of an abundance of wildlife including alligators, marsh deer, and hundreds of bird species.

This destination is recommended for conservation tourism. You can access it from the nearby city of Posadas. And for more off-the-beaten-path spots in Argentina, check out this article.

Los Cardones

Field of Cardon Grande Cacti
Field of Cardon Grande Cacti

Cardones National Park was created in 1996 and is located in Salta Province. Its 659 square km protect four regions of ecological diversity: Altos Andes, Puna, Monte de Sierras, and Bolsones and Yungas, which has mountain peaks that reach up to 5,000 meters (16,404 feet). The name comes from the Cardon Grande Cactus, which grow in abundance here and evoke images of the American West.

The park’s arid desert and mountain landscapes offer a diverse amount of painted hills and unique flora. There are rivers, and a fun excursion is exploring the caves around the Calchaquí River. In this region, dinosaur fossils have also been found as have dinosaur tracks. The park runs from Salta to the Calchaquí Valley and towns like Cachi and Cachi Adentro. Visiting these villages offers great insight into the traditional lifestyle of the locals as well as an opportunity to sample some of the province’s delicious wines. 

Drive through Los Cardones on a 14-day Northern Argentina tour with stops in the vast plain of Salinas Grandes, the colorful landscapes of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, and more.

Los Alerces

Looking at the Menendez River, in Los Alerces National Park
Looking at the Menendez River, in Los Alerces National Park

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andean region of Chubut Province in Argentine Patagonia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017, it was created in 1937 to protect the Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) tree, a deciduous evergreen that's also known as "lahuán" by the native Mapuche people. The park covers 2,360 square km and features several different ecosystems. These include Valdivian temperate rainforest, Andean-Patagonia forest, high-Andean Steppe, and Patagonian steppe.

One principle reason to visit is to commune with nature and marvel at the towering Alerces, which can grow up to 50 meters (164-feet) tall. These trees also live long lives, with some specimens found that are 3,600 years old. That makes them the oldest tree in Argentina and one of the oldest on earth. That said, they grow extremely slowly, around just 1 mm per year. The name "Alerce” comes from a mistake made by the Spanish who thought it was the same tree as the European Alerce (larch), which is why it's also referred to as “False Patagonian Cypress." The tree is known by the indigenous as having anti-inflammatory properties, and indeed the Mapuche name of "Lahuán" means “cure” or “remedy.”

Los Alerces is also home to a network of many lakes and rivers. These include Futalaufquen Lake and Kruger Lake, as well as rivers Arrayanes, Futaleufú, and Menendez. It's a great national park to visit for hiking, camping, fishing, and rafting/kayak excursions.

This 16-day road trip includes a drive through Los Alceres, along with a number of other great Argentine national parks—including multiple days in Los Glaciares with a visit to Perito Moreno.

Iguazú

Iguazú Falls, one of the most impressive networks of waterfalls in the world
Iguazú Falls, one of the most impressive networks of waterfalls in the world

Iguazu National Park is 672 square kilometers located in Argentina's northern Misiones Province that boasts one of the New Seven Wonders in the World: Iguazú Falls. This network of 275 waterfalls is second in size only to the massive Victoria Falls in southern Africa.  Created in 1934, Iguazú Falls was christened a UNESCO World Heritage Site and receives a whopping two million visitors each year. Argentina shares a portion of the falls with Brazil, and the Paraguayan border is close by as well.

The word "Iguazu" comes from indigenous Guaraní and Tupi tribes and means “big” and “water," which is as straightforward a description as you'll find. The Paraná River (South America’s second largest river after the Amazon) feeds these waterfalls, all of which reach varying heights. According to indigenous legend, the falls were created when a furious god divided the river into two levels to stop the escape attempts of a beautiful woman who was betrothed to marry him.

For the most awe-inspiring example of Iguazú Falls' almost unbelievable size, one must visit the site called Garganta del Diablo ("Devil's Throat"). A wooden boardwalk leads visitors out to a viewing platform at the edge of the falls' upper plateau that affords views of the thundering waters plunging 80 meters (262 feet) straight down. There are few sites in the world that reveal Mother Nature's awesome power more effectively than the Devil's Throat. Fun fact: when the waters of the river are at their highest, Iguzú becomes the largest waterfall on the planet with a maximum-recorded water flow of 452,000 cubic feet per second, even beating out Niagara Falls.

Iguazú National Park is also home to a wide array of exotic flora and fauna, many of which are common and easily viewed from the park's trails. Some birds and mammals that you can spot here include jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, giant anteaters, tufted capuchin monkeys, coatis, black-fronted pipping guans, solitary tinamou, harpy eagles, toucans, and caimans. There are also more than 2000 species of plants in the park.

Honeymooners should consider a romantic two-week journey from Argentine wine country to Iguazú, ending in Brazil. And everyone can enjoy this 7-day excursion combining a Buenos Aires tour with three days in Iguazú.

Map

Map of 9 Best National Parks to Visit in Argentina
Map of 9 Best National Parks to Visit in Argentina