Independent travelers can experience the beauty of two of Argentina's most beautiful and distinct regions on this adventure that will take you from grand glaciers to painted deserts. Start your trip with tango, art, and culture in Buenos Aires, then head to Patagonia for hiking and boat tours before relaxing in the Lake District. For the final portion of your trip, you'll pick up a rental car for a self-guided trip through the Salta deserts.

Highlights

  • Take a walking tour of Buenos Aires and see a tango show
  • See massive glaciers in Patagonia
  • Hike through the scenic Lake District
  • See fossils in Los Cardones National Park
  • Explore northern Argentina's deserts and colonial towns

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Buenos Aires Buenos Aires
Day 2 Walking Tour - Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 3 Boat Excursion to Tigre Buenos Aires
Day 4 Flight to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 5 Explore Los Glaciares National Park El Calafate
Day 6 Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour El Calafate
Day 7 Transfer to Bariloche Bariloche
Day 8 Guided Tour of Bariloche Bariloche
Day 9 Boat Tour of Tristeza Sound - Nature Hike Bariloche
Day 10 Flight to Salta - Pick Up Rental Car Salta
Day 11 Drive to Cafayate Cafayate
Day 12 Drive to Cachi Cachi
Day 13 Drive to Salta Salta
Day 14 Drive to Purmamarca Purmamarca
Day 15 Drive to Salta Salta
Day 16 Departure via Buenos Aires  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires' colorful La Boca neighborhood
Colorful La Boca neighborhood 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 Colón, 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 walking areas 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 has 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: Walking Tour - Tango Show

Views of Teatro Colon
The Teatro Colón

After breakfast, you'll join a fascinating tour for an overview of the city of Buenos Aires and Argentina’s history and culture. During this three-hour tour, you'll visit the neighborhood of Retiro and Avenida 9 de Julio, South America’s widest avenue. Along this street, you'll see the Teatro Colón, 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 BuildingPlaza de MayoAvenida 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 a tango performance, which is 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: Boat Excursion to Tigre

The canals of Tigre
The canals of Tigre

Today you will travel up the Río de la Plata to the point where it converges with the Paraña River Delta, which is comprised of a series of islands about an hour north of Buenos Aires. During the boat ride, take time to enjoy views of the city skyline from the deck. You will then enter the network of freshwater canals and sail among the many islands that make up this unique region. 

The main port on these canals is in Tigre, a Venetian-style village whose relaxed nature and small-town charm stand in stark contrast to Buenos Aires' bustling energy and expansive metropolis. This is where you'll spend the better part of the day. Enjoy free time to stroll the waterfront, stop in at the cafes and bistros, visit the museums, and experience this riverside gem any way you see fit. 

Suggested activities include:

  • Browse Puerto de Frutos. Right on the water, you'll find the "Port of Fruits," a mazelike network of craft markets, produce stalls, artisanal goods, and even garden centers. You're sure to find the perfect snack or souvenir to appeal to your tastes and suit your interests.
  • See the town on a tour bus. The Bus Turistico is a hop-on/hop-off tour bus that covers the basic highlights of Tigre as it drives along the waterfront. The total circuit lasts about an hour and is a quick and relaxing way to get to know this town.
  • Visit Tigre's museums. Some of the town's museums are covered on the Bus Turistico. However, if you opt to explore Tigre on foot, you can see them at your own pace. The Museo de Arte is the most popular, as it's housed in the Belle Epoch-inspired Tigre Club for an impressive collection of Argentine artworks that span two centuries. Other highlights include the \Naval Museum and the Museo de Maté. The latter is a fun little museum that offers an overview of maté (a herb cultivated in the Paraná region of the country for tea) with tastings at their maté bar.

After a day discovering this evocative town, hop on a train back to Buenos Aires. Your tour officially ends at the Retiro station, where you'll have the rest of the evening to explore on your own.

Day 4: Flight to El Calafate

Sunset in El Calafate
Sunset in El Calafate

In the morning, a driver will meet you at your hotel and take you to the airport for your flight to El Calafate. This city is located on the shores of Lago Argentino and is known as the gateway to Argentina's glaciers. If you can, choose a window seat to enjoy the stunning views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field as you fly over it. 

Upon arrival at El Calafate, another transfer will take you to your hotel. You can spend the rest of the day relaxing or venture out to enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. You can also learn about nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium, a multi-media center that has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. It even has a bar made totally of ice.

Day 5: Explore Los Glaciares National Park

Come up close to Perito Moreno by boat
A boat cruise to Perito Moreno

After breakfast at your hotel, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of the majestic Perito Moreno. This expansive ice mass flows down from the Andes into the turquoise waters of Lago Argentino, ending abruptly in a great wall that curves around the lake. Wait a bit and you'll witness "calving," the awe-inspiring sight of ice breaking off the facade and crashing into the tranquil waters below. Every time ice hits the water, a thundering crash echoes around the lake. 

Perito Moreno is not the only glacier in the area, but it is the most famous one in the park. It is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, which is what causes the calving of ice. After arriving, you can admire Perito Moreno from a number of different vantage points thanks to the network of wooden walkways around the glacier. You will also get the chance to see the massive ice wall up close on a boat tour. 

After a day spent viewing the glacier and wandering the numerous trails, you can head back to El Calafate to enjoy the evening at your leisure.

Day 6: Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour

Get up-close views of the glaciers by boat
Get up-close views of the glaciers by boat

Aside from Perito Moreno, there are a number of other incredible masses of ice in Los Glaciares National Park. You'll get a chance to visit a few of these on a full-day boat excursion around Lago Argentino. In fact, you will get so close to the glaciers' walls that you'll practically be able to reach out and touch them.

The morning starts with a transfer to Punta Bandera Harbor where you'll hear a quick speech about safety. You'll then board a modern catamaran in the mid-morning and embark on your journey. As you travel north along the frozen waters of Lago Argentino, you'll weave between icebergs as you make your way towards the first site: Upsala Glacier. After crossing the Boca del Diablo (the narrowest part of the lake), you'll enter the Upsala Channel and shortly afterward reach the glacier.

The next destination is the towering Spegazzini Glacier. However, as you enter the Spegazzini Channel you'll first catch a glimpse of the Seco Glacier, a retreating wall of ice that is perpetually moving inland from the lakeshore. Finally, you'll reach Spegazzini. With ice walls 442 feet (135 m) tall, just being near this towering behemoth will be enough to make you shiver.  

The tour ends with the boat's return to Punta Bandera where you'll transfer back to your hotel.

Day 7: Transfer to Bariloche

Aerial view of Bariloche
Aerial view of Bariloche

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the airport. There, you'll catch a flight from El Calafate to San Carlos de Bariloche, the main city in Argentina's Lake District. Bariloche is home to some of the most impressive scenery in the entire country. San Carlos de Bariloche was founded in 1902 on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, or January Island, which itself is part of the larger Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. The lake straddles the Chilean border, with the city of Bariloche located on the southeast shore.

Once you arrive, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own.

Some suggested activities in and around Bariloche include: 

  • Stroll Mitre Street, the main drag that runs through downtown and near the waterfront. Here you'll experience all the buzzing commerce of the city, including souvenir shops, clothing stores, and confectioners.
  • 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, which differs considerably from Buenos Aires. Wild boar and lake trout are regional fare and are popular and delicious, as is the fondue—a culinary addition first introduced by the city's Swiss immigrants.

Day 8: Guided Tour of Bariloche

Take a ride up to the top of Cerro Campanario
Take a ride up to the top of Cerro Campanario

Today, you'll embark on a guided tour of San Carlos de Bariloche and learn about its rich history. It began as a small mountain village but grew relatively quickly into one of the most attractive and popular cities in Argentina. As you experience the natural beauty of the region and stroll around Bariloche's chalet-like buildings and lovely waterfront, you'll understand why it's so popular with travelers.

At the end of the tour, you'll visit a local microbrewery for lunch and a beer tasting.

Day 9: Boat Tour of Tristeza Sound - Nature Hike

View of Lopez Bay
A view of López Bay

After breakfast, you'll transfer by car northwest along the lakeshore from Bariloche to López Bay, where you'll start the day's scenic boat trip. The excursion travels along a lesser-visited branch of Nahuel Huapi Lake called Tristeza Sound, which is a glacial fjord. Expect to see beautiful mountains and waterfalls on the ride, and if the weather conditions are good, you'll be treated to incredible views of Tronador Mountain.

After some time on the water, you'll disembark the boat on a remote shore and enjoy a nature hike. The trail here cuts through a forest abounding with exotic tree species like coihues and alerces (larch trees). The route then ascends to a group of waterfalls cascading down from the Frey River.

Upon returning to the boat, you'll enjoy lunch on board as you make your way back to López Bay.

Day 10: Flight to Salta - Pick Up Rental Car

Colonial architecture in Salta
Colonial architecture in Salta

From Bariloche, you'll catch a flight to Salta (5 hours). Upon arrival, you'll pick up a 4x4 rental car for a self-drive adventure. The city is often referred to as "Salta La Linda" (meaning Salta, the beautiful) due to its well-preserved 16th-century colonial architecture, and year-round summer. In the afternoon, you can ride a scenic gondola for a birds-eye view of the city.

In the evening, enjoy a traditional Argentine dinner at a cozy local restaurant and then head for the vibrant and authentic peñas—where locals grab a table to watch and dance along to their favorite musicians.

Day 11: Drive to Cafayate

Calchaquí Valley
Calchaquí Valley

It's time to leave Salta and drive 121 miles (196 km) to Cafayate in the Calchaquí Valley along Route 68. During the ride, you'll stop at a famous gorge where erosion has carved interesting shapes into the rocks, and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage site for its colorful hills and unique geological formations. Each of the hills has distinctly shaped features with names like the Devil’s Throat, the Amphitheater, the Frog, the Obelisk and the Castles.

In Cafayate, you'll arrive in one of Argentina's most noteworthy wine-producing regions where the most popular varietal is Torrontés, which you can taste at a local winery.

Day 12: Drive to Cachi

The town square, church, and museum in Cachi
The town square, church, and museum in Cachi

This morning, you'll leave Cafayate and drive along the famous Route 40 headed 97 miles (157 km) north for Cachi. Along this enchanting road, you will discover towns like Angastaco, Molinos, and Seclantás. In Cachi, you'll find architecture that beautifully combines indigenous and Spanish traditions with adobe houses and white colonial buildings. You can visit the nearby Museo Arqueológico de Cachi Pío Pablo Díaz—a collection of locally-excavated artifacts, some dating back 10,000 years.

Day 13: Drive to Salta

Los Cardones National Park
Los Cardones National Park

The road trip continues today as you take Route 40 from Payogasta about 100 miles (161 km) to Salta. As you pass stunning landscapes and vineyards, you will then take Route 33 and drive along the Lerma Valley, where you can spot the Laureles and Escoipe gorges. The scenery slowly changes as you climb the majestic Cuesta del Obispo mountain road up to its highest point at 9,842 feet (3,000 meters).

Later, you'll travel down to the low hills and flatlands of Los Cardones National Park, which is comprised of arid landscapes and even a few dinosaur fossils. From here, you'll continue to Salta where you'll stop at a hotel for the night before continuing north.

Day 14: Drive to Purmamarca

"Train to the Clouds"

Today, you'll drive 116 miles (187 km) to Puramarca. Your route follows the "Train to the Clouds" railway. You'll cross high desert plains, historic ruins, scattered houses, small villages, and more amazing landscapes on your journey. Along the way, you'll be able to make stops at Campo Quijano and Quebrada del Toro. If you'd like, you can also see Santa Rosa de Tastil, a pre-Incan city from the 14th century, and San Antonio de Los Cobres—one of the smallest villages in the region—as you continue to the Great Salt Flats.

At Purmamarca, you'll arrive at the base of Jujuy's famed seven-colored mountain. Once you get to your hotel and check in, you'll have the rest of the evening free.

Day 15: Drive to Salta

Pucara de Tilcara Ruins
Pucara de Tilcara Ruins

From Purmamarca, you'll drive 116 miles (187 km) through the Humahuaca Gorge—another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This major cultural route traces the spectacular valley of the Rio Grande and shows substantial evidence of its use as a major trade route during the past 10,000 years, with visible traces of prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities of the Inca Empire (15th to 16th centuries). Along the route, you'll visit MaimaráPaleta del PintorTilcara and its famous Pucará de TilcaraTrópico de CapricornioUquía (Pinturas Cuzqueñas), and the town of Humahuaca. Once you arrive back in Salta, you'll have a final night to enjoy in Argentina.

Day 16: Departure via Buenos Aires

Goodbye, Salta
Goodbye, Salta

After breakfast, you'll catch a flight from Martín Miguel de Güemes International Airport (SLA) to Buenos Aires, about 2 hours, and then head to the international terminal for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Classic Argentina Road Trip: Buenos Aires, Patagonia, & Salta - 16 Days
Map of Classic Argentina Road Trip: Buenos Aires, Patagonia, & Salta - 16 Days