This exciting 12-day itinerary combines the best culture and scenery in Argentina and Brazil for a real South American adventure. After a taste of Buenos Aires with a tour and tango performance, you'll fly south to Patagonia to experience massive glaciers. Then, fly to the Brazilian border to hike around hundreds of waterfalls before finishing in Rio de Janeiro for its iconic views and nearby tropical islands.

Highlights

  • Ride horses with gauchos at a working farm near Buenos Aires
  • Get up close to massive glaciers in Patagonia including Perito Moreno
  • Explore hundreds of thundering waterfalls in both Argentina and Brazil
  • Capture Rio's most jaw-dropping panoramic views with a guided tour
  • Spend your last night in a colonial seaside town with cobbled streets

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Half-Day City Tour - Dinner & Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 3 Gaucho Experience at Estancia Santa Susana Buenos Aires
Day 4 Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate El Calafate
Day 5 Perito Moreno Boat & Walking Tour El Calafate
Day 6 Ice Rivers Express Boat Tour El Calafate
Day 7 Fly from El Calafate to Iguazú Falls Iguazu Falls
Day 8 Explore Iguazú Falls (Argentine Side) Iguazu Falls
Day 9 Explore Iguazú Falls (Brazilian Side) - Fly to Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro
Day 10 Corcovado Hill & Sugarloaf Mountain Tour Rio de Janeiro
Day 11 Angra dos Reis Islands Boat Trip Paraty
Day 12 Goodbye, Rio!  

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: Half-Day City Tour - Dinner & Tango Show

The Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace)
The Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace)

One great way to experience Buenos Aires is to do so on foot. So after a fortifying breakfast prepare yourself for some walking and sightseeing throughout this European-inspired metropolis with the aid of an English-speaking guide. 

Some highlights of a walking tour around Buenos Aires include: 

  • Plaza San Martín, located at the end of downtown's commercial pedestrian thruway, Florida Street. This leafy plaza, anchored by a majestic ombú tree, is named after one of the heroes of Argentina's independence movement, General José de San Martín. 

  • Plaza de Mayo, which is Buenos Aires' main square and home to Argentina's Presidential Palace. The plaza is the site of some famous events, including the May Revolution of 1810 that kicked off this former Spanish colony's quest for independence. The famous Casa Rosada (or "Pink House," as the Presidential Palace is known), is also rife with history. It's on the front balcony that dictator Juan Perón made some of his most famous speeches with his glamorous wife, Evita, at his side. Ultimately it was she who won the hearts and minds of the  Argentine people.

  • Metropolitan Cathedral, is the principal Catholic church in the city and another historic building that also faces the Plaza de Mayo. It was consecrated in 1791 but its earliest origins date back to the late 16th century when a humble chapel first sat on the current site.

  • Puerto Madero, whose shimmering office towers and central canal make this one of the most elegant neighborhoods in the city. Some upscale restaurants can be found here, as can the Puente de la Mujer, a bridge whose sleek and sensual lines define its title of "Woman's Bridge."

  • Barrio San Telmo, which is BA’s oldest neighborhood and boasts a vibrant tango and arts scene. Its antique markets, cobbled streets dotted with faroles (French streetlamps), and old brick buildings with wooden balconies all add to the uniquely bohemian atmosphere. Sundays are especially abuzz with activity as the main street market comes alive around Plaza Dorrego.

  • Barrio La Boca is a well-preserved historic neighborhood that's nearly as old as San Telmo. The area is known for La Bombonera, the home stadium of one of two principal soccer teams in the city: Boca Juniors. It's also home to colorful Caminito Street, a pedestrian zone teeming with old restaurants and tanguerías.

In the evening, it's time for "dinner and a show" of the highest order. You'll savor the hallmark dishes of Argentina while enjoying the most spectacular tango show in Buenos Aires. As the deft performers move to the music of love, sorrow, and passion, you'll dine on flaky empanadas, succulent steak, and decadent dulce de leche (vegetarian options available).

But the night doesn't end with the meal. After dinner, more professional dancers will take part in a show-stopping performance of traditional Argentine folkloric music.

Day 3: Gaucho Experience at Estancia Santa Susana

Argentinian gauchos in colorful garb
Argentinian gauchos in colorful garb

Just as North Americans have their cowboys, Argentines have their gauchos. This frontier culture is strongest in the pampas (prairies) immediately surrounding the capital since this is where the country was first settled. Gauchos are national symbols in Argentina, whether it's the real-life horsemen who still exist today, or the folk heroes of epic Argentine poems, like Martín Fierro, whose stories are passed down over generations.

Today you'll get a real gaucho experience. You'll be picked up in the morning and whisked off to Santa Susana, a working Argentine estancia (ranch). Here you'll enjoy a welcome reception that includes wine, soft drinks, and empanadas. After a guided tour of the property, you'll do some horseback riding (or perhaps a carriage ride) before settling in for a traditional folkloric music performance—and everyone's invited to get up and dance.

Lunch will be an Argentine asado (mixed grill) paired with even more of the country's fantastic wine. Real gauchos will then showcase their prowess with the bolas—traditional throwing weapons comprised of round weights connected by cords. Their displays will demonstrate how these deceptively simple weapons, when used in the right hands, can be effective at bringing down horses, cows, and even people. 

After lunch, you'll be treated to more entertainment. The gauchos will continue to showcase their abilities, this time as they perform a series of feats known as carreras de sortijas (ring races). These are typical in gaucho equine competition and showcase the cowboys' great skills on horseback. You will end the day at the estancia with a late-afternoon serving of mate, the popular tea-like infusion that is an indispensable part of Argentine culture. 

By the time you transfer back to your hotel in the evening, you can be happy in the knowledge that you've enjoyed a traditional Argentine frontier experience.

Day 4: 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 5: 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 6: Ice Rivers Express Boat Tour

The main attraction of Los Glaciares National Park is not only Perito Moreno. In fact, there are other massive glaciers to get to know while here, especially Spegazzini and Upsala.

With this boat tour, you will get close enough to the glacier walls that you will actually feel them on your fingertips. After a quick safety session, you and your group will set sail on a catamaran and start navigating between icebergs in the frozen waters of Lake Argentino, all the way to Upsala Glacier. 

The most impressive occasion happens when you arrive at Spegazzini's striking height of 442 feet (135 m)—nearly double the height of the obelisk in Buenos Aires. From here, you will then sail towards the other channels for more spectacular scenery and glaciers. 

Once the tour is complete, you'll return to El Calafate for the night.

Day 7: Fly from El Calafate to Iguazú Falls

Iguazú Falls in the afternoon light
Iguazú Falls in the afternoon light

This morning a driver will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to the airport in El Calafate. A domestic flight will take you from the rugged forests and icy peaks of southern Patagonia to the mango trees and rainforest jungles of northern Argentina's Misiones Province. Here you'll find the jewel in the crown: Iguazú Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world.

Upon arrival to the city of Puerto Iguazú, you'll have the rest of the day free to relax, visit the Three Borders Landmark in the tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, and enjoy a panoramic view of Iguazu Falls from the walking paths surrounding the cascades.

You also have the option for a half-day tour of the Brazilian side of Iguazú Falls (as opposed to the Argentine side) beginning in the afternoon. (Depending on your itinerary, this tour may be included later in your trip). This is a good introduction to the falls, as the Brazilian side offers what amounts to a couple of easily accessible viewpoints. That means you'll be able to enjoy the majesty of this natural wonder without the extensive walking that accompanies a visit to the Argentine side. 

In any case, enjoy the falls as you acclimate to the warmer weather (temperatures here can top 90°F in the summer months). Also, be on the lookout for exotic animals that call the area home, such as monkeys and coatis.

Day 8: Explore Iguazú Falls (Argentine Side)

Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side
Touring Iguazú from the Argentine side

After breakfast at your hotel, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to the entrance of Iguazú National Park, on the Argentine side of the falls. This is where you will begin the day's adventure. It's a full-day excursion that involves traversing three circuit routes around the falls, each offering exceptional vantage points from which to view this magnificent natural wonder. 

The three circuit routes include:

  • The upper circuit (1 hour) features 2,624 feet (800 m) of catwalks. These walkways are elevated from the jungle surface so as not to disrupt the natural pathways used by the indigenous fauna. The circuit affords views of the upper portion of Iguazú, which means you'll be treated to countless panoramic vistas of the surrounding falls.

  • The lower circuit (2 hours) makes up 5,250 feet (1,600 m). These paths are also elevated and offer views from directly below and around Iguazú falls. This circuit takes you near the base of the falls and provides a unique experience where you'll be up close with the natural surroundings, feeling the magnitude of the falls from up close. 

  • Devil's Gorge (2 hours) is the star of the show. A small tourist train leaves from within the park at the Cataratas Station and travels 18 minutes to Garganta Station, where you'll find restrooms, a snack bar, and the start of the wooden pathway. Then a walk of about 3,937 feet (1200 m) will take you over the river, culminating at a viewpoint. Just hearing the plunging falls reverberating in your ears is a one-of-a-kind experience. Actually peering 269 feet (82 m) down into the cavernous abyss as the highest of Iguazu's falls thunders all around you is downright unforgettable. 

At the end of the tour, the driver will pick you up and transfer you back to the hotel.

Day 9: Explore Iguazú Falls (Brazilian Side) - Fly to Rio de Janeiro

Make your way to the Brazilian side of the falls
Make your way to the Brazilian side of the falls

After seeing the Iguazu Falls from the Argentine side, it's time to enter the Brazilian side and see the falls from a panoramic perspective.

This area of Iguazú may lack the number of hiking routes found on the Argentine side, but it makes up for it with a wealth of amenities in the form of conveniences and restaurants with terraces overlooking the falls. Upon arrival at the Visitors Center, you'll board a double-decker bus that embarks on a 30-minute ride into the park.

After you jump off the bus, your first stop is a balcony that offers panoramic views of the Argentine side of the falls (be sure to keep your camera at the ready). You'll then hike 3,116 feet (950 m) along the Iguazú River until you reach the falls on the Brazilian side. The walkway passes over the river to the Salto Floriano (Floriano Falls). This magnificent wall of plunging water makes quite an impression, as do the vistas of the lower Iguazú River and the Devil’s Throat Canyon.

After visiting the falls you will be taken to the airport for your flight to Rio de Janeiro!  When you have arrived, a private transfer will take you to your hotel.

Day 10: Corcovado Hill & Sugarloaf Mountain Tour

View from Corcovado Hill
View from Corcovado Hill

Today, after breakfast at your hotel, you'll embark on a city tour that includes two of Rio de Janeiro's most famous attractions. The trip starts with a visit to the iconic statue named Christ the Redeemer, which is located at the top of Corcovado Hill just west of the city. From this granite peak in the Tijuca Forest, you'll get a panoramic view of Rio's city center as well as the ocean and surrounding mountains that will take your breath away. You'll also have the opportunity to climb to the statue's viewing platform with the historic train, which will make this an even more special experience.

From here, the excursion continues with a tour of the city center and its main historical attractions, where you'll get familiar with the best sites that Rio has to offer.

The tour finishes with one of Rio's top landmarks: the famous Sugarloaf Mountain.  —a peak situated at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean above the harbor. From its summit, you will get another unforgettable view. This one includes the bay, the beaches of Botafogo, Flamengo and Copacabana, Niterói, the Urca neighborhood, among other places.

Once your guided tour is complete, you'll be transferred back to your hotel where you'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore the city at your leisure. 

Day 11: Angra dos Reis Islands Boat Trip

Tropical island surroundings in Angra dos Reis
Tropical island surroundings in Angra dos Reis

After enjoying the highlights of Rio de Janeiro, you'll now experience the natural beauty and luxury of Angra dos Reis, a municipality comprised of a network of hundreds of islands located a three-hour drive west of Rio. To arrive here, a driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the small port that acts as the jumping-off point for this tropical paradise. 

You'll then board a ship and embark on a four-hour sailing tour. During the trip, the boat stops at different isles so that you have the time to relax on the beach and swim in the sea. You will also enjoy a full lunch featuring some of the exotic and delicious tropical fruits for which Brazil is deservedly famous. 

The largest and most famous of all the isles you'll visit is Ilha Grande. This island is home to a number of wide and inviting beaches, like Lopes Mendes, Dois Rios, and Longa. It's also home to a small, laidback beach community. There are no roads here, just sand pathways leading to funky little cafes and restaurants. The order of the day on Ilha Grande is relaxing in a hammock with a cold beer and enjoying the sounds of light reggae music and the waves gently lapping at the shore. 

After the boat trip, you will be taken to your hotel, which is located in the seaside town of Paraty. This is one of the most well-preserved Portuguese colonial towns in the entire nation. Once a shipping port for gold extracted from nearby mines, it is now a popular tourist destination and you'll have free time to explore on your own. 

Suggested activities include:

  • Strolling the historic city center. Walk along Paraty's cobblestone streets of the historic center, amid the whitewashed houses, and relax under the shade of the palms in Matriz Square. Also, don't miss the Capela de Santa Rita chapel, located on the waterfront. 

  • Sampling the local cachaca. Cachaca aniseed cane liquor popular throughout Brazil. It's particularly popular in Paraty because there are a number of distilleries in the area. So come and sample the various cachacas available from purveyors in town. Just don't overdo it—this stuff is potent.

  • Go for a swim at a waterfall. In the mountains around Paraty are a number of waterfalls including Tarzan, Tobogã (which acts as fun natural waterslide), Pocos do Penha, and Poco das Andorinhas. All of these offer nice swimming opportunities. 

  • Visit Praia Grande and Prainha. Praia Grande is a tranquil fishing village just north of Paraty that is home to a fresh fish market. Here you'll also find Prainha, a lovely and equally peaceful beach perfect for relaxing. 

Day 12: Goodbye, Rio!

Godbye Rio!
Godbye Rio!

It's time to transfer back to Rio de Janeiro and begin your journey home! Not to worry—South America will be waiting for you with open arms when you come back for another adventure of a lifetime.

Map

Map of Highlights of Argentina & Rio de Janeiro - 12 Days
Map of Highlights of Argentina & Rio de Janeiro - 12 Days