This exciting two-week trip includes the best natural attractions in Argentina's north and south. The first half takes place in Patagonia where you'll experience spectacular glaciers and lakes near El Calafate and Bariloche, respectively. The latter half takes place in the colonial city of Salta—your starting point for a self-guided road trip through rugged gorges, giant salt flats, and colorful deserts in the country's far north.

Highlights

  • Kick of the trip with a day in Argentina's cosmopolitan capital
  • Explore massive glaciers near El Calafate, including Perito Moreno
  • Choose between a range of scenic hiking trails in the Lake District
  • Hang with the locals in Salta's peñas (bars) for live folk music and empanadas
  • Drive through wineries, historic ruins, and salt flats at your own pace

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 3 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 4 Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour El Calafate
Day 5 From El Calafate to Bariloche Bariloche
Day 6 Bariloche History & Nature Tour Bariloche
Day 7 Boat Tour of Tristeza Sound Bariloche
Day 8 Fly from Bariloche to Salta - Pick-Up Rental Car Salta
Day 9 Self-Drive from Salta to Cafayate Cafayate
Day 10 Self-Drive from Cafayate to Cachi Cachi
Day 11 Self-Drive from Cachi to Salta Salta
Day 12 Self-Drive from Salta to Purmamarca Purmamarca
Day 13 Self-Drive from Purmamarca to Salta Salta
Day 14 Fly from Salta to Buenos Aires - Departure  

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: Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate

Lago Argentino
Lago Argentino

This morning, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight to El Calafate, a city that sits on the shores of Lago Argentino and is known as the gateway to Argentina's glaciers. If you can, get a window seat so you can take in 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 and enjoy the quaint cafes and shops around town. Maybe prime yourself with information on the nearby glaciers by visiting the Glaciarium. This multi-media center has an ice museum, various interactive displays, and educational information regarding glaciers. For fun, it even has a bar made totally of ice.

Day 3: Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour

Enjoy the views of Perito Moreno
Enjoy the views of Perito Moreno

Today, you're in for an exciting full-day excursion. It starts with a pick up from your hotel in El Calafate, followed by a one-hour transfer to Los Glaciares National Park. As you enter the park you'll catch your first glimpse of majestic Perito Moreno. This expansive ice mass flows down from the Andes out over 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 reverberates in the ears. 

While not the only glacier in the area, Perito Moreno is indeed the star of the show. It's also unique in that it is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, a factor that results in the calving mentioned above. Upon arrival, you'll be able to admire Perito Moreno from a number of different vantage points via the network of wooden walkways strategically situated in front of the glacier. Even better, you'll also get up close and personal with its massive ice wall on a boat tour. 

After a day spent discovering the glacier and wandering the numerous trails, you'll head back to El Calafate to enjoy the evening as you please.

Day 4: Punta Bandera Harbor - Glacier Boat Tour

Tour the glaciers by boat
Tour 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 5: From El Calafate to Bariloche

Aerial view of Bariloche
Aerial view of Bariloche

After breakfast, a driver will meet you and transfer you to the local airport in El Calafate. You'll then catch a flight to San Carlos de Bariloche, the main city in Argentina's Lake District, which 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, which itself is part of the larger Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. If you detect some indigenous influence in that name, you're correct. It comes from the Mapuche native 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. 

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, do 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 alpine 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 get out and 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 6: Bariloche History & Nature Tour

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

This morning, you'll partake in an active history lesson with a guided tour in and around Bariloche. Along the way, he or she will explain the legacy of the city and its surrounding locales. This tour comprises a classic circuit that covers the city as well as some of the most famous viewpoints outside of it, like Cerro Campanario and the Llao Llao Peninsula. The former offers panoramic views of Lago Nahuel Huapi from its summit, while the latter is the site of the most impressive hotel in the country, Hotel Llao Llao

Over the course of this tour, your guide will explain how San Carlos de Bariloche evolved relatively quickly from a small mountain village into one of the most attractive and popular cities in Argentina. As you experience the natural beauty of the region and hike around its terrain, you'll begin to understand why Bariloche was voted Argentina's national capital of adventure tourism. At the end of the tour, you'll visit a local microbrewery for lunch and a beer tasting—a fun way to end the excursion!

Day 7: Boat Tour of Tristeza Sound

Tronador Mountain

After breakfast in Bariloche, you'll take a scenic boat excursion that starts in López Bay, where you'll navigate along a remote, lesser-visited branch of Nahuel Huapi Lake called Tristeza Sound. Expect to see beautiful mountains and waterfalls surrounding this part of the lake, and if the weather conditions are good, you can appreciate a beautiful view of the Tronador Mountain.

Once you reach the shore, you will start a hike in the forest among amazing unique tree species like coihues and alerces (larch trees). The trail climbs all the way up to a group of waterfalls coming down from the Frey River for great photo ops. When you return to your boat, you'll enjoy lunch on board as you make your way back to the starting point. 

Day 8: Fly from Bariloche to Salta - Pick-Up Rental Car

A charming corner in Salta
A charming corner in Salta

This morning, you'll transfer to the airport Bariloche for your flight to Salta. Upon arrival, you'll pick up a 4x4 rental car for your upcoming self-drive adventure. The city is often referred to as Salta 'La Linda' (meaning Salta, the beautiful) due to its well-preserved colonial architecture, circa 16th century, and year-round warm climate. In the afternoon, you will have free time to stroll around the craft market and pick up traditional products ranging from rugs to pottery. You can also ride the 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—places where locals grab a table to watch and dance along to their favorite folkloric singers.

Day 9: Self-Drive from Salta to Cafayate

Calchaqui Valley
Calchaqui Valley

Today you will leave Salta and drive to the town of Cafayate in the Calchaqui Valley along Route 68. During the ride, you'll stop at a famous gorge where erosion has carved interesting shapes into the rocks. In fact, this area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its colorful hills and unique natural formations. Each of the hills has distinctly shaped features including the Devil’s Throat, the Amphitheater, the Frog, the Obelisk and the Castles. You'll have the freedom to stop, walk around, and appreciate the impressive natural wonders. Keep an eye to appreciate the colors, the dry and dramatic landscape.

Then, continue along the National Route 68, arriving in the village of Cafayate, which is internationally recognized for its wine production. The most popular varietal grown here is Torrontés, which you'll get a chance to taste when you visit a regional winery. In the evening, enjoy the local ambiance with a sunset drink in the tranquil main square or by ordering a Malbec ice-cream at the traditional gelato shop a couple of blocks away.

Day 10: Self-Drive from Cafayate to Cachi

Check out the church in Angastaco
Check out the church in Angastaco

Today, after breakfast, you will depart Cafayate and drive along the famous Route 40 at your own pace. Along this enchanting road, you will have to chance to discover small little towns like Angastaco, Molinos, and Seclantas. Be sure to stop in each town center to see their churches and local artisans.

When you arrive to Cachi, you'll stop for the night. This typical town is known for architecture, which beautifully combines indigenous and Spanish traditions. Check out the adobe houses and white colonial buildings. Also, make sure to visit the nearby Museo Arqueológico de Cachi Pío Pablo Díaz—a museum of locally excavated artifacts, some dating back 10,000 years.

Day 11: Self-Drive from Cachi to Salta

Drive through the Escoipe Gorge
Drive through the Escoipe Gorge

Today, you'll get back on the road and head towards Payogasta on Route 40, surrounded by more stunning landscapes, including vineyards. You will then take Route 33 and drive along the Lerma Valley to enjoy more of the gems in this area, especially as you enter the Laureles and Escoipe gorges. 

The scenery slowly changes its shape and color as you climb the majestic Cuesta del Obispo up to its highest point at 9842 feet (3000 m). Later, go down to Los Cardones National Park, where you will visit a magical place surrounded by multicolored landscapes and fresh, unpolluted air. Feel the silence and get close to nature in this isolated spot!

From here, you'll continue to Salta where you'll stop for the night before continuing north. 

Day 12: Self-Drive from Salta to Purmamarca

Follow a similar route as the
Follow a similar route as the "Train to the Clouds"

Early in the morning, you will depart Salta again—this time headed north along the same route as the famous railway called "Train to the Clouds".  You'll zigzag on lonely roads between the blue sky and the high desert plains visiting historic ruins, scattered houses, small villages, and amazing landscapes.

Your first destination is the small town of Campo Quijano and later the impressive Quebrada del Toro, where you will stop for a refreshing coffee break after some stunning viewpoints.

From here, you will also visit Santa Rosa de Tastil, a pre-Incan city of the XIII century, and then San Antonio de Los Cobres, one of the smallest villages in the region, as you make your way to the Great Salt Flats. This site is perfect for amateur and professional photographers alike, where the natural light and reflections provide ample opportunities to test your creativity to the fullest.  

Finally, later in the afternoon, you will arrive in our comfortable hotel in Purmamarca, located at the base of Jujuy's famed seven-colored mountain.

Day 13: Self-Drive from Purmamarca to Salta

Pucara de Tilcara Ruins
Pucara de Tilcara Ruins

Today you will depart the village of Purmamarca and drive through the Humahuaca Gorge—declared a 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 over the past 10,000 years. In fact, there are visible traces of prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities of the Inca Empire (15th to 16th centuries).

During the route, you'll visit places such as Maimará, Paleta del Pintor, Tilcara (and its famous Pucará de Tilcara), Trópico de Capricornio, Uquía (Pinturas Cuzqueñas) and finally, the small town of Humahuaca.

You will arrive back to Salta with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening in town. Take advantage of any sites, restaurants, or peñas you may have missed at the beginning of the road trip and celebrate your last night of the trip.

Day 14: Fly from Salta to Buenos Aires - Departure

Goodbye, Salta!
Goodbye, Salta!

After breakfast, say goodbye to the city of Salta and transfer to the airport for your flight to Buenos Aires. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, transfer to the international terminal for your return flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Classic Argentina: El Calafate, Bariloche & Salta - 14 Days
Map of Classic Argentina: El Calafate, Bariloche & Salta - 14 Days