By Urte Zableckas
Perhaps when you think of Argentina, you think of steak, tango, and wine. Perhaps you think of endless alpaca-filled plains and flamingo-covered lakes. Whatever images your imagination might formulate, there is no denying that Argentina is packed with diversity and ample entertainment. However, it is Argentina’s endless offerings that make it a challenging place to see if you’re short on time. Luckily, bus travel throughout the country is easy and comfortable, and flights connect all major sights frequently. Nevertheless, if you only have a few weeks to work with, consider the following places in your route:
The way we stumbled upon Salta was rather serendipitous; after spending several days upon uncomfortable and confusing Bolivian buses, we found ourselves accidentally at the north Argentinean border instead of our intended destination. Rather than turning the eight hours or so back, we decided to go with the turn of events and therefore settled in Salta for a while. Almost immediately, the city charmed us into submission to its slow-paced stillness and soothing atmosphere.
A Sunday in Salta is enough to remove you from time and place entirely – you might as well be in colonial Spain. You’d be uncommonly lucky to find more than the occasional restaurant open on this day of rest, but the town is most pleasant to stroll. Full of pretty colonial architecture, leafy plazas, and innumerable cobblestone streets, there is no shortage of serenity here. For a particularly calm activity, travelers can enjoy a few hours in the main plaza, where the enormous peach-colored cathedral stands quietly over the gelato eaters and people watchers. Here stands the Teatro Provincial de Salta, which is often showing free or economical performances. Particularly stunning among the dozens of nearby cathedrals is the hauntingly striking, ox-blood red Iglesia y Convento San Francisco. Not to mention, the surrounding nature is eerily beautiful and can provide one with plenty of options for day-trips outside the city.
To see Perito Moreno is, for lack of a better word, otherworldly. No picture can describe how overwhelmingly vast and ethereal this heap of ice appears in person. If Salta illustrates Argentine culture, then Perito Moreno reveals the magnificence of Argentina’s landscape – it is assuredly worth the trip. While the south face can only be approached by boat (which is quite enjoyable), the larger north face can be visited from a new series of elevated walkways that bring you as close as 150 meters from the façade along multiple viewpoints. In the afternoon, the glacier is more active and calving can often be seen after the deep rumble of the giant as it groans under its own weight. As expected, this causes massive screams as large ice chunks crack violently free of the body and hit the cold waters below. Like an explosion, ice shrapnel flies this way and that and as the children jump up and down, it’s hard to resist joining in. Eventually, Perito Moreno returns to its quiet, glimmering elegance – until the next thunderous roar.
Naturally, many flock to Argentina for her fruity offerings (i.e. wine), but we found Mendoza to be a tad chaotic for wine tasting. Far more pleasant is the secluded town of Cafayate, which is nestled in the most scenic of wine country. As far as peaceful Argentine getaways, this tiny town may just take the cake – whether you are exploring the nearby vineyards, dining at the numerous parrillas and restaurants, or just enjoying the ambiance, Cafayate is a splendid surprise. There is also a popular wine museum in town, though this was under construction at the time of our visit. Instead, we took to biking to the plentiful vineyards, each with their own unique variations of the regional Torrontés and Malbec wines. To break up the wine tastings, I suggest organizing an outing to Cabras de Cafayate, a petite goat cheese factory that hosts visitors for tours and tastings of the diverse cheeses produced here. Even if you are not a cheese aficionado, the community feel of the place is sure to win you over, even if the chèvre and dulce de leche somehow haven’t.
A wonderful break from the heat is the small but bustling Casa de las Empanadas, which has become a solid locals’ and tourists’ favorite, providing cold drinks, friendly service, and delicious meals. Don’t forget to examine the impressive collection of signatures, comments, jokes, and empanada caricatures on the walls. If you are bored of relaxing, Cafayate is stuffed full of the most affordable and charming boutiques imaginable. Not to mention, the open-air markets offer tables covered in unique, enviable goods, all handcrafted by locals. One can stock up on everything from dried cactus lamps to piles of creative knitwear. This was some of the best shopping that I encountered in all of Argentina; I left the town with a bag that barely zipped!
Obviously, no visit to Argentina is complete without a visit to the grande ol’ capital. With its Parisian-style boulevards and diverse neighbourhoods, BA houses over 13 million of Argentina’s citizens and is, perhaps, one of the most modern places in South America. Since the city has such an incredible amount of things to do, it’s rather difficult to know where to start. Thus, I would highly suggest a theme to your exploration, for fear of wandering and walking through the avenues aimlessly. We went for the cosmopolitan theme of tourism and ended up sampling a bit of each neighborhood. For example, La Boca’s new and modern PROA museum boasts a wrap-around balcony perfect for enjoying some cold drinks after investigating the exhibit. Palermo Chico, on the other hand, is stuffed full of interesting sights, including the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo and Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), which is a contemporary structure of glass and beams, even housing a movie theatre showing artsy selections. Alternatively, the Cemetario de la Recoleta of Recoleta, the resting place of Evita herself, is a fascinating must-see, labyrinthine collection of mausoleums and graves. Whatever neighborhoods you choose to explore, don’t forget to enjoy the nightlife, which includes wining, dining, and, of course, dancing.
If you’re set on exploring Patagonia, then you might as well hop over to Ushuaia so you can lay claim to having explored Tierra del Fuego. A windy little city of tiny museums and cafés, Ushuaia is colorful and attractive, with an endearing population of locals. On the downside, this is quite a cold place, even come summer. However, this means that there is lots of neat wildlife, and one of the most popular attractions is a visit to the nearby Beagle Channel islands, where you can ogle sea lions, penguins, orcas, and other varied species of bird. Our tour was particularly memorable due to the long and amusing visit to a penguin-covered island, where one could spend hours just watching the playful creatures dive in and out of the water. Aside from wildlife spotting, the boat tours visit the famous Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and give you an appreciation for the dramatic, mountainous panorama that is Ushuaia. Do pop by Chocolates of Ushuaia to warm up with their delicious chocolate crêpes and hot cocoa.