Planning Your Trip to Argentina
Argentina is big. It encompasses an impressive more than 2.7 million square miles, and the nation isn't densely populated either. It's home to 45 million people, most of whom live in the major cities scattered throughout the country. That means there's a lot of wide open spaces in which to explore.
Obviously, the more time you have, the more you can see in this ruggedly beautiful country. You could go from the boliches and steakhouses of Buenos Aires down to the glaciers of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields and even up to the painted mountains and high-altitude deserts of Salta Province. But even if you only have a short time, you can still get the most out of single locations. The below timelines showcase how to do exactly that.
Argentina in 3 days
Argentina is so large, and its major cities and landmarks so spread out, that if you only have three days to spare, it will basically restrict you to one location. However, Buenos Aires is the perfect city in which to spend a long weekend. This European inspired metropolis is one of the great cities of the world, and there's more than enough culture and fun activities to keep you occupied for a full 72 hours. Also, Argentina's major air hub, Ezeiza International Airport, is located just 13 miles southwest of the capital.
Depending on when you arrive, if it's early enough you can embark on a brisk walking tour of the city center. The best place to start would be Plaza San Martín, in the north of B.A., and then follow the pedestrian street Calle Florida south for a few blocks. Then walk over to Ave. 9 de Julio (with 16 lanes, it's the widest city street in the world), and follow it to Ave. Corrientes, passing the famous Teatro Colon opera house and iconic Obelisco monument. From here it's a short walk to Plaza de Mayo, the government quarter where the famous Casa Rosada (Pink House) presidential palace is located.
During the remainder of your time, consider visiting the famous Cementario Recoleta, in the old-money Recoleta neighborhood, to see the grand mausoleums (Eva Peron is even interred here). You should also dine out in the modern and upscale Puerto Madero neighborhood, in the east, as well as the trendy Palermo district, located in the west. And don't miss the historic neighborhoods of La Boca and San Telmo. The former is where the tango was born, and the latter is B.A.'s oldest neighborhood, featuring cobbled streets, 1800s buildings with wooden balconies, and must-visit weekend street markets.
Argentina in 5-7 days
In a week (or even a little less), you can experience not just Buenos Aires but some of the provincial enclaves found in the Pampas (prairie) and the country towns located just outside the city. Spend the first two or three days enjoying some of the sites and activities mentioned above, such as taking a walking tour of Buenos Aires. You could also put on your dancing shoes and give the tango a shot with a lesson from a local teacher. If you're too shy to hit the dancefloor, you can always enjoy the tango from a spectator's point of view. Head out on the town for "dinner and a show" Argentine style, first with a steak and a glass of Malbec at one of the city's famous parillas (steakhouses), followed by a trip to the theater for a sultry tango performance.
After two or three days of city life, you could then head out to a working Argentine estancia (cattle farm), of which there are many nestled in the Pampas. This rural area just outside of Buenos Aires was where the country was first settled by wealthy landowners as well as their gaucho (cowboy) ranch hands. That gaucho tradition is alive and well even today; you need only head a couple of hours outside Buenos Aires to the well-preserved frontier town of San Antonio de Areco and you can witness it firsthand. Visit one of the estancias in the area and you'll be treated to an enormous parilla (bbq), copious cups of wine, and performances by real-life gauchos displaying their prowess on horseback. For more info on a combined city/gaucho tour of Argentina, see this five-day trip idea.
If horseback riding and cowboy culture isn't your thing, you could always forgo the Pampas and head to the singularly beautiful river town of Tigre. Located a mere 30 minutes north of B.A. by train, Tigre is a throwback town located on the doorstep to the wetlands of the Río Parana Delta (perfect for a visit in the hotter summer months). Wide canals cut through this fertile green town, with grand estates lining the banks.
Strolling the romantic waterfront promenade here is a simple but vital pleasure, as is visiting the crown jewel of Tigre's architecture: the Museo de Arte de Tigre. Set in an opulent French neo-classical building, it was once a private club for well-heeled Argentines in the first half of the 20th century, and it still retains its aura of glamor. Also here is the Puerto de Frutos, an enormous municipal market on the waterfront where you can find all manner of items, including artisanal goods, handicrafts, souvenirs, and more.
Argentina in 9-11 days
With 9-11 days you could easily spend time in different regions of the country while having a little leftover for the capital, too. Start by spending the first two or three days in Buenos Aires and enjoying the activities mentioned above. Then you could travel west to Mendoza and do some wine tasting in the fertile Maipu Valley.
Afterward, we recommend hopping a plane and heading straight for the star of the show: Patagonia. It's about a three-hour flight south to the city of El Calafate, which sits on the southern shore of Lago Argentino and is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park. You can make this your base for three or four days of excursions to the nearby glaciers, particularly Perito Moreno. This 250 square-km mass of ice is the most awe-inspiring glacier in the region, what with its massive 74-meter (240-foot) ice walls. You can marvel at the sight of Perito Moreno from a network of boardwalks across the lake, or book a "glacier hike" and traverse its frozen surface.
You can then head further north to El Chalten, located at the border with Chile. It's a small town that is nevertheless abounding with tourists in the high season (from around October through April) due to its location at the foot of the 3,359-meter (11,020-foot) Mount Fitz Roy, which is famous for its sharp granite peaks. This whole area is a haven for long-distance trekkers, but there are many shorter day hikes for folks who have limited time. Climbing Mt. Fitz Roy is an altogether different prospect, as it takes more time, is relatively dangerous, and it can often be closed due to weather conditions. This 11-day itinerary covers some of the highlights of Mendoza and El Calafate.
From Patagonia, you can travel to the north of Argentina. If you want totally opposite scenery from the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields you'll want to head to sub-tropical Misiones Province, home to the famous Iguazú Falls. Located near the tri-borders of Argentina/Brazil/Paraguay, this mammoth network of 275 falls along the Iguazú River is the second largest in the world after Victoria Falls in Zambia.
There are two sides to these falls: the Argentine side encompasses Iguazú Falls National Park and features a network of boardwalks and hiking trails around the falls, while the Brazilian side has some nice viewpoints. Two or three days spent here will allow you to fully enjoy the park and the falls, and you can even visit the highlight: the Garganta del Diablo ("Devil's Throat"). This U-shaped confluence of falls plunges 82 meters (269 feet) straight down and a viewing platform right down into this abyss.
Argentina in 14 days
With two weeks you can plan a comprehensive Argentina holiday that allows time for city life, wine tours, nature treks, and national parks. After some time spent in the capital, you can head south for a few days to Patagonia and the highlights mentioned above. If you want to add a couple of days in this region you can also travel east to Argentina's southern Atlantic coast and do some marine wildlife spotting. The best place to see the widest variety of such animals is around the coastal city of Puerto Madryn. At the edge of this town lies Peninsula Valdes, which is home to an abundance of sea lions, elephant seals, penguins, guanacos (a relative of the llama) and bird species like swallows, flamingos, and cormorants. You can also do whale watching offshore and spot orcas and southern right whales.
Then it's off to Mendoza, in western Argentina near the border with Chile. This laid-back city sits at the foot of the Andes and makes a great spot to spend a few days enjoying some rustic food and great wine. As for the wine, you can embark on a number of day tours to the nearby Maipu valley and tour the various bodegas (wineries) and vineyards. Of course, these bodegas offer tasting tours that pair tasty wines, like Argentina's flagship Malbec varietal, with delicious local cheeses and fresh olives. You can even stroll the vineyards and eat Malbec grapes right off the vine.
After some days imbibing in Mendoza, head further north to the city of Salta, located in the province of the same name. This well-preserved colonial city is famous for its food (try the regional empanadas) and folkloric music and dance. You can even catch a performance at a local peña (restaurant/live-music venue). For a bit of exercise, go to the edge of town and hike up the 853-foot Cerro San Bernardo for incredible panoramic vistas of the city. Also, Salta is a great base to make some excursions to the far north deserts near the border with Bolivia and see incredible natural landmarks like grand salt flats and the painted hills of the Quebrada de Humahuaca mountain valley.
From Salta, fly east to Misiones Province and pay a visit to Iguazú Falls. After a day or two spend here, it will be time to return to Buenos Aires for the end of the trip. This 14-day itinerary offers more insight into these locations.
Argentina in 21 days
With three weeks you can fully traverse the length and breadth of Argentina. After enjoying the long nights out in Buenos Aires, follow the previous recommendations and head south to El Calafate and Los Glaciers National Park. But after three or four days here you won't be heading back north; rather, you'll be continuing down, to the far south of the country and the region known as Tierra del Fuego.
Tierra del Fuego is actually an archipelago of large islands at the end of the continent, and you'll be traveling to its southernmost city: Ushuaia. It's a pleasant port city, but most folks make it a base for excursions into nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park. That's exactly what you'll be doing as you visit the turquoise waters of Laguna Esmerelda and hike up to the Martial Glacier, which sits on the side of the hill of the same name and affords fantastic views overlooking Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel just beyond.
After enjoying the wilderness at the "end of the world," you can head back towards the sun and spend a couple of days in the wine region of Mendoza. Then venture north to Argentina's other famous wine-producing region, the area around the town of Cafayate, located in the fertile Calchaqui Valley. This region is famous for its Torrontés varietal, and like in Mendoza, you can indulge on tasting tours of local bodegas.
From Cafayate, it's only about three hours further north to Salta, where you can enjoy the aforementioned culture and excursions. After a brief sojourn to Iguazú Falls, head back to Buenos Aires and enjoy the remainder of your time in the city. Or head out to the nearby provinces and visit a real gaucho town like San Antonio de Areco, or the pleasant river town of Tigre.