Travelers with an independent streak and an itch for the open road will enjoy this jaunt around Argentina's grand glaciers and painted deserts. The trip begins with tango and culture in Buenos Aires, after which you'll fly south for hiking in the Lake District and glacier tours in Patagonia. The final adventure is a memorable self-drive excursion around the gorges, valleys, and colonial towns in the Salta deserts.


  • Tour the highlights of Buenos Aires and see a tango show
  • Take boat trips to massive glaciers in Patagonia
  • Hike through the scenic Lake District and tour Bariloche
  • See dinosaur fossils in Los Cardones National Park
  • Explore northern Argentina's deserts and towns by car

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Buenos Aires, Self-Guided Tour Buenos Aires
Day 2 BA Walking Tour & Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 3 Boat Excursion to Tigre Buenos Aires
Day 4 Fly to El Calafate, Optional Activities El Calafate
Day 5 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 6 Full-Day Glacier Boat Tour El Calafate
Day 7 Fly to Bariloche, Optional Activities Bariloche
Day 8 Bariloche History & Nature Tour Bariloche
Day 9 Tristeza Sound Boat Tour & Nature Hike Bariloche
Day 10 Fly to Salta, Pick Up Rental Car Salta
Day 11 Drive to Cafayate via Quebrada de las Conchas Cafayate
Day 12 Drive to Cachi via Colonial Towns Cachi
Day 13 Drive to Salta via Lerma Valley Salta
Day 14 Drive to Purmamarca via Quebrada del Toro Purmamarca
Day 15 Drive to Salta via Tilcara Ruins Salta
Day 16 Fly to Buenos Aires, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Buenos Aires, Self-Guided Tour

Take a walk around Buenos Aires and see landmarks like the Obelisco

Welcome to Argentina! The second-largest country in South America boasts some of the most incredible natural wonders on the continent, from massive glaciers to painted northern deserts. It's also home to one of the world's most romantic and electric capital cities: Buenos Aires. You'll experience all of the above on this trip, beginning with your arrival in the capital. At the airport terminal, a driver will be waiting to whisk you off to your hotel in the city. After checking in, you can head out and stretch your legs on a self-guided tour of BA.

You can start in Centro (downtown) and marvel at the impressive Baroque and neoclassical architecture. Highlight landmarks include 9 de Julio (the widest avenue in the world), the soaring Obelisco monument, and the Teatro Colón, which has consistently been ranked one of the great opera houses in the world since its opening in 1908. Later, when dinnertime arrives, head to a parrilla (steakhouse) and order a thick, juicy steak (Argentina has some of the best beef in the world) drizzled with chimichurri (a garlic, herb, and vinegar sauce).

Day 2: BA Walking Tour & Tango Show

A city tour will take you down the cobbled streets of historic San Telmo

After breakfast, meet a local guide for a highlights tour of Buenos Aires. During this three-hour excursion, you'll walk amid the historic architecture of the Retiro neighborhood and Avenida 9 de Julio. Highlights include the Congress Building and Plaza de Mayo, home to the pink-hued Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace). Then walk along the upscale waterfront promenades of Puerto Madero to the oldest neighborhood in the city, San Telmo. Afterward, stop by working-class La Boca, the city's original port.

In the evening, you'll return to San Telmo. Here, in the late 19th century, a new style of music was born that merged the country dances of rural Spain with other influences from newly arriving immigrants. The music was called "tango," and by the early 20th century, it had become famous worldwide. You'll see the magic of this genre live when you sit down for dinner, wine, and a live performance with musicians and dancers at one of the premier tango venues in the city.

Day 3: Boat Trip to Tigre

The river passing through Tigre is lined with historical manor homes

In the morning, you'll leave Buenos Aires on a boat ride up the famous Río de la Plata. Relax on deck and enjoy the views of BA's skyline for about an hour until the waterway converges with the Paraña River Delta. Here, you'll enter a network of freshwater canals amid a series of islands. Eventually, you'll arrive at the port in Tigre, a Venetian-style village whose relaxed vibe and small-town charm starkly contrast with Buenos Aires' bustling energy.

Spend the better part of the day here enjoying the sights. Highlights include Puerto de Frutos (a maze of craft markets, produce stalls, and artisanal goods) and the Museo de Arte, which features a grand collection of Argentine art spanning two centuries. The Naval Museum and the Museo de Maté are also worth a visit. The latter offers an overview and tasting of maté, an herb cultivated in the Paraná region of the country and used for tea.

Day 4: Fly to El Calafate, Optional Activities

El Calafate is a hub in Patagonia and the gateway to Argentina's glaciers

It's your first big travel day in Argentina because, in the morning, a driver will transfer you to the airport for the three-hour flight south to El Calafate. Known as the gateway to Argentina's glaciers, the city is located on the shores of Lago Argentino, the nation's biggest freshwater lake. Select a window seat to enjoy 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 wander around and enjoy the quaint cafés and souvenir shops around town. If you want, learn about the nearby glaciers on a visit to the Glaciarium, a multimedia center that has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. Don a coat, boots, and gloves to enjoy a drink at the museum's Glaciobar BrancaIt, Argentina's first ice bar.

Day 5: Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour

Come up close to Perito Moreno by boat
Get up close and personal with Perito Moreno's ice walls on a boat cruise

Meet your driver after breakfast and head out on a tour of Los Glaciares National Park. The ride there takes about an hour, and as you enter the park, you'll catch your first glimpse of the majestic Perito Moreno. This expansive glacier flows down from the Andes over the turquoise waters of Lago Argentino, ending 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.

While not the only glacier in the area, Perito Moreno is the star. It's unique in that it is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, which results in the calving mentioned above. Upon arrival, you can admire Perito Moreno from several different vantage points via the network of wooden walkways strategically situated in front of it. Even better, you'll hop on a boat and get up close to its massive ice walls, which reach heights of 198 feet (60 m). After a day on the water and wandering the boardwalks around Perito Moreno, you'll transfer back to El Calafate.

Day 6: Full-Day Glacier Boat Tour

Travel up channels by boat and see massive glaciers, like Upsala

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

It begins in the morning with a transfer east to Punta Bandera Harbor, where you'll board a catamaran and embark on your journey. As you travel north along the frozen waters of Lago Argentino, you'll weave between icebergs on your way to 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 stop is the towering Spegazzini Glacier. However, as you enter the Spegazzini Channel, you'll first see Seco Glacier, a wall of ice perpetually retreating from the lakeshore. Finally, you'll reach Spegazzini. With ice walls 442 feet (135 m) tall, just being near this towering behemoth is enough to make you shiver. The tour ends with the return to Punta Bandera and the ride back to your hotel.

Plan your trip to Argentina
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Fly to Bariloche, Optional Activities

Bariloche is the main city in the Lake District and is famous for its Swiss roots

After breakfast at the hotel, a driver will pick you up for the ride to the airport in El Calafate. There, you'll catch a two-hour flight to San Carlos de Bariloche, the main city in Argentina's Lake District. Sitting on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi near the border with Chile, Bariloche lies in the larger Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. If you detect some Indigenous influence in that name, you're correct. Meaning "jaguar island," it comes from the Mapuche native people who once inhabited the area.

Upon arrival in Bariloche, a driver will transfer you to your hotel. Then feel free to head out and explore. On a brisk walk, you can admire the charming chalet-style buildings and alpine architecture, and the city center abounds with waterfront plazas, chocolate shops, and upscale restaurants. Specifically, you'll want to take a stroll down Mitre Street, the main drag running through downtown. Passing near the waterfront, it's lined with souvenir shops, clothing stores, and confectioners.

When dinnertime comes around, sample the local cuisine. You'll find that it differs considerably from 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 introduced by the city's Swiss immigrants).

Day 8: Bariloche History & Nature Tour

Take a ride up to the top of Cerro Campanario
Take a ride up to the top of Cerro Campanario and enjoy incredible views of the lake

This morning, you'll partake in an active history lesson on a guided tour of Bariloche. Along the way, your local expert guide will explain the legacy of the city and its surrounding locales. The tour comprises a classic circuit that will take you to natural wonders and some of the best viewpoints around Bariloche.

One highlight is a cable car ride up to the summit of Cerro Campanario. The view from atop this 3,444-foot (1,050 m) high mountain is breathtaking as you're treated to panoramic views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the snow-covered mountains surrounding it. You'll also visit the Llao Llao Peninsula, a scenic headland overlooking the water and the site of the most impressive hotel in the country, Hotel Llao Llao.

Throughout the tour, your guide will explain how San Carlos de Bariloche evolved relatively quickly from a small mountain village into one of Argentina's most attractive and famous cities. As you experience the region's natural beauty and hike around its terrain, you'll begin to understand why Bariloche was voted Argentina's national capital of adventure tourism. You'll cap the tour with a visit to a local microbrewery for lunch and a beer tasting.

Day 9: Tristeza Sound Boat Tour & Nature Hike

View of Lopez Bay
A view of López Bay, where you'll board a boat for a full-day tour

Wake up early and hop in a vehicle for a transfer east along the lakeshore to the tranquil López Bay. Here, you'll board a boat for a scenic ride to a remote, lesser-visited corner of Nahuel Huapi called Tristeza Sound. Expect to see mountains and waterfalls fringing the lakeshore, and if the weather is clear, you can admire stunning views of snowcapped Cerro Tronador looming overhead. 

Eventually, the boat will arrive in a secluded part of the sound. This will be your embarking point for a nature hike through virgin forests comprised of native coihue and alerce trees. The trail climbs up to a group of waterfalls cascading down the Río Frey, making for a great photo opportunity. Later you'll return to the boat and enjoy lunch on board as you return to the port at López Bay. 

Day 10: Fly to Salta, Pick Up Rental Car

Colonial architecture in Salta
The Salta Cathedral is the most iconic colonial landmark in Salta

This morning, you'll transfer to the airport in Bariloche for the 2.5-hour flight north to Salta. Officially founded in 1582, this metropolis has a well-preserved colonial center defined by landmarks like the 19th-century Salta Cathedral, which overlooks Plaza 9 de Julio, the main square. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll pick up your rental car, officially kicking off this itinerary's self-drive portion through the scenic northern Argentina deserts.

First, you can take the rest of the day to settle in and enjoy the city. Easy to explore on foot, Salta's historic downtown is lined with gorgeous neoclassical buildings, lively cafés, and bars teeming with a young crowd. You can also head to the city's eastern edge and ride the cable car eight minutes to the top of Cerro San Bernardo. The panoramic views atop this 853-foot (260 m) hill are the best in the city. In the evening, consider visiting an authentic peña. These watering holes and restaurants are places where locals come to enjoy traditional Argentine folk music. 

Day 11: Drive to Cafayate via Quebrada de las Conchas

Calchaquí Valley
The Calchaquí Valley is the premier wine-growing region in northern Argentina

Today you'll get behind the wheel and leave Salta, heading south on Route 68 for about three hours (121 mi/ 196 km) until you reach the town of Cafayate. To say this is a scenic drive would be an understatement. You'll pass some of northern Argentina's most beautiful landmarks throughout the ride.

One highlight is the Quebrada de las Conchas, a deep valley of red canyons characterized by intense colors and unique rock formations. The names of these geological wonders reflect their characteristics, like the Devil's Throat, the Amphitheater, the Frog, and the Obelisk. Because you're in the driver's seat, you can stop wherever and whenever you like to take a walk around and snap photos.

Then, continue to Cafayate. This tourist town is nestled in the Calchaquí Valley of Salta province and is renowned for its vineyards. In fact, this is the premier wine-growing region of northern Argentina, famous for producing the torrontés varietal, an aromatic white wine. Upon arrival, you'll check into your accommodation and can then visit a winery to sample the famous torrontés. In the evening, perhaps enjoy a sundowner in the main square, or try a malbec-flavored ice cream at the nearby gelato shop.

Day 12: Drive to Cachi via Colonial Towns

The town square, church, and museum in Cachi
The town square, church, and museum in Cachi, a historical town in northern Argentina

Leave Cafayate this morning and enjoy a leisurely drive northwest along Ruta 40. This famous route runs thousands of miles along the Andes from Patagonia in the south all the way up through northern Argentina. Along this enchanting road, you'll discover charming mountain towns dating to the colonial period, like Angastaco, Molinos, and Seclantas. In each one, you can marvel at Spanish-colonial churches and shop for artisanal items like handwoven textiles, leather goods, ceramics, silverwork, and more.

After about four hours, you'll arrive at Cachi, a well-preserved historical town known for architecture combining Indigenous and Spanish influences. After checking into your hotel, you can stroll around town and admire the adobe houses and whitewashed colonial buildings, like Cachi's iconic 16th-century church. Also, visit the Museo Arqueológico de Cachi, a museum showcasing locally excavated artifacts, some dating back 10,000 years.

Day 13: Drive to Salta via Lerma Valley

Drive through the Escoipe Gorge, a scenic highlight of the Lerma Valley

Get back in the car this morning and head north out of Cachi for about 15 minutes until you'll reach the town of Payogasta. You'll then turn onto Route 33 and drive along the Lerma Valley, which is filled with more mesmerizing northern scenery, especially as you enter the Laureles and Escoipe gorges.

This route also includes a section on the Cuesta del Obispo, a road that snakes up a scenic mountain slope carpeted with lush vegetation. In this area, you'll likely spot plenty of native wildlife, including vicuñas, pumas, and falcons. From there, continue driving north a couple of hours back to Salta, where you'll check into your hotel.

Day 14: Drive to Purmamarca via Quebrada del Toro

Hit the road and follow a similar route as the "Train to the Clouds"

No time to rest because early in the morning, you'll leave Salta once again, this time heading north. Part of the epic drive follows the same path 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. The route zigzags between lonely mountain roads and vast expanses of high desert plains home to 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 and to enjoy the views. Then you'll visit Santa Rosa de Tastil, a pre-Inca settlement dating back to the eighth century. After visiting the village of San Antonio de los Cobres, you'll arrive at the Salinas Grandes salt flats. Be sure to take plenty of photos.

Finally, later in the afternoon, you'll arrive at your comfortable hotel in Purmamarca. This popular village in Jujuy province, which is filled with adobe houses and craft markets, sits at the base of the iconic Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors) in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow mountain valley and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 15: Drive to Salta via Tilcara Ruins

Pucara de Tilcara Ruins
The pre-Inca fortification of Pucará de Tilcara dates to the 12th century

Today marks the last leg of your northern Argentina road trip. Leave Purmamarca in the morning for the three-hour drive back to Salta, which will take you through the dramatic hills and rock formations of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. The drive is filled with culture and history, as along the way, you can stop at towns and landmarks like Maimará and Tilcara, the latter of which is home to the famous pre-Inca fortress Pucará de Tilcara, which dates to the 12th century. You should arrive back in Salta with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening in town.

Day 16: Fly to Buenos Aires, Depart

The open road awaits your return

It's time bid farewell to Argentina and its wide-open roads. After breakfast, you'll drive yourself to the airport, drop off the rental car and board a flight to Buenos Aires, where you'll catch your flight home. ¡Adiós!

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