Buenos Aires is home to cobblestone boulevards, sensual tango halls, century-old cafes, and designer boutiques. If you venture to the east, the Atlantic Ocean offers surfing and the chance to see whales, and penguins. To the north, explore mountains, cactus forests, and lunar landscapes that give way to subtropical jungle, wetlands, and waterfalls. And in the south, Patagonia is filled with the adventure of snow-capped peaks and turquoise glacial lakes. Including both city and countryside, these are the top 15 places to experience Argentina in all of its richness.
A cosmopolitan hub that’s both gritty and glamorous, Buenos Aires is a huge city the size of four Chicagos and is composed of many manageable barrios (neighborhoods). San Telmo is the bohemian historical district filled with cobblestone streets, picturesque old bars such as El Federal, and a tango scene with clubs like El Viejo Almacen. Palermo is filled with cute cafes, some lovely vegetarian restaurants (not easily found elsewhere in this red-meat-loving country), shopping, and an abundance of charming boutique hotels such as Fierro and Home Hotel. Recoleta is a refined old-money neighborhood with upscale shops and the ultra-luxury hotels Alvear Palace, Palacio Duhau, and the Four Seasons.
Museums in Buenos Aires are inexpensive or free—art lovers should not miss MALBA, the contemporary art museum. Buenos Aires comes alive at night, with dinners beginning around 9 p.m. and drinks lasting until the early hours of morning. Hit up iLatina restaurant in Chacarita for an exquisite Latin American food experience and follow it up at a speakeasy such as The Harrison or Floreria Altantico.
At the very southern tip of Argentina, Ushuaia is a starting point for most Antarctica trips. A rugged land filled with glaciers and towering mountains, the best of this destination lies outside of the city center. Tierra Turismo is the most reputable guiding company for trips into the National Park, to kayak or to off-road, and for visiting nearby Harberton to see the penguins. Foodies should make a reservation at Kalma, where chef Jorge Monopoli celebrates the native wild foods of the region, or stop into the casual and quirky Volver for local king crab or other fresh seafoods. For even more perspective, travelers can scuba dive the chilly Beagle Channel with Ushuaia Divers or get an aerial view with Heli Ushuaia.
In what feels like another world from nearby bustling cruise-hub Puerto Madryn, wildlife lovers will appreciate this tranquil haven set on a jutting peninsula where southern right whales, orcas, and penguins can be seen in abundance. Oceano is the go-to hotel in Puerto Piramides, set right on the beach so at certain times of the year guests can laze in bed with coffee and watch whales breaching in the morning. There is a small sandboarding hill, incredible mountain biking through the dunes and along the beach, and scuba diving with sea lions (this is the scuba diving capital of Argentina, after all).
Giving Napa Valley and the wine regions of Italy and France a run for their money, Mendoza is known for its sunny skies, highly Instagrammable vineyards right at the foot of the Andes, and Malbec, Argentina’s national varietal. Horseback ride with Nino Masi from El Viejo Manzano, fly fish with Trout and Wine, or raft the nearby Mendoza River. There’s even hot springs nearby en-route to Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak.
Vineyard tasting rooms range from tiny and cute (Carinae), eclectic and poetic (El Enemigo), homey (Matervini), to large and modern (anything in the Clos de los Siete complex). If budget permits, a stay in a villa at the Vines of Mendoza with dinner at Francis Mallmann’s onsite open-fire restaurant Siete Fuegos is the ultimate Mendoza experience.
Looking more like the Swiss Alps than Latin America, Bariloche is a town in northern Patagonia set on the coast of Lago Nahuel Huapi and bordered by the Andes that are dotted with wildflowers. It is known for its chocolate (here’s looking at you, Mamushka and Rapa Nui!) and its microbreweries (Blest is a local favorite). It’s an outdoor paradise with some great day hikes and multi-day treks, kitesurfing, and Cerro Cathedral for skiing in the winter months of July to September. Bariloche gets crowded with tourism in the middle of summer and winter, so a visit in spring when the wildflowers bloom or in autumn when the leaf colors begin to change is recommended.
Still relatively unknown outside of serious rock-climbing circles, Piedra Parada is about an hour and a half from Esquel and a few hours south of El Bolson. It’s Argentina’s sport climbing paradise in the desert of rural Chubut Province and has some of the continent’s best single pitch sport routes going all the way up to 5.14d (very difficult). Nearby climbing hotspots include Cochamo in Chile or Frey in Bariloche, but Piedra Parada has much easier access. There’s a campground, or for more comfort, there is Hosteria Mirador Huancanche in the nearby town of Gualjaina run by a wonderful couple who can not only recommend routes, but can teach about the history, wildlife, indigenous culture, and unique geology that makes this place so special.
El Bolson has one of the most spectacular artist markets in South America (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and around half-capacity on Sundays). Drink the local microbrew (the raspberry beer from Cerveceria El Bolson is delicious), or devour Argentina’s most revered gelato at Jauja, where everything is organic and all-natural, with no artificial flavors or colors. Hike the Cajon de Azul, ski the super relaxed and family-friendly Cerro Perito Moreno, or grab a bus or hitch to nearby Lago Puelo where locals flock in the summer to swim in the gorgeous yet chilly lake.
Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata is a modern and developed resort city on Argentina’s Atlantic coast. It is the second most visited city in the country after Buenos Aires, due mostly to its 10 miles of sandy beaches like the wide Punta Mogotes and the popular Playa Grande with its surf breaks. It is a cross between a seaside escape and a bustling city, with museums, an aquarium, and a vibrant nightlife. While Argentina is famous for its red meat, seafood fresh from the ocean rules here. Right around the port there are a ton of reasonably priced restaurants to try the day’s catch. Mar del Plata is family-friendly but also home to a raucous party vibe that enjoys clubbing and drinking until the wee hours of morning, so it definitely has a little something for everyone.
Just an hour by train from the center of Buenos Aires, Tigre is the ideal day trip to get out of the city. This town is home to its delta of hundreds of islands and waterways. There is even a museum of yerba mate, the herbal drink that Argentines are crazy about. The best way to experience Tigre is by small boat or kayak (recommended is Sudeste Paseos), as these can go down the smaller, less traveled waterways where there is a better chance to spot wildlife.
Villa La Angostura
In the picturesque Lakes Region, this is a main town along the Siete Lagos drive. Most activities revolve around the lake, as Lago Nahuel Huapi is a center point here. There’s sunset sailing, fly fishing in Correntoso (the world’s shortest river), and gorgeous hiking in myrtle (arrayan) forests. It is local legend that Walt Disney was so inspired by the magic of the forests in the region that he based the scenery of Bambi on them.
This place is like Avatar, if only the land in the movie Avatar was overrun by tourists with cameras. But no matter how many tourists crowd the walkways, it’s still worth a visit. Iguazu National Park has some of the most stunning waterfalls on this planet, and these are accessible from both the Argentine side and the Brazilian side of the border. There are around 275 falls in total, ranging from gentle trickles to full-on powerhouses like Devil’s Throat. Walk the trails, explore up close and personal from a boat tour, or if there is cash to spare, do a fly-over in a helicopter.
If Argentina has some of the world’s best waterfalls, mountains, and deserts, why shouldn’t it also get a huge glacier that puts on a show every time it calves in thunderous breaks? While the town of El Calafate is overpriced and not that interesting (nearby El Chalten is much more charming), it happens to have the draw of the National Park that has one of the country’s most visited attractions, Perito Moreno glacier. For those really into that sort of thing, there are multi-day boat tours that get to lesser-known and even more stunning glaciers. But for those with the time or budget to just see one, an adventurous trek atop Perito Moreno with crampons is the way to go.
In the northwest of the country, this is the place to unwind and experience live folkloric music, some of the best empanadas in the country, and local varietals of wine, such as Torrontes, in droves. Salta city is colonial and cultured—take time to see the world’s most well-preserved mummies, the Children of Llullaillaco, on exhibit at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology. Heading just north of town are laid-back pueblos such as Tilcara and Purmamarca, where the famous seven-colored mountains can be hiked and photographed in all their glory.
Bahia Bustamante is a private sheep farm in Patagonia sprawling over about 210,000 acres. It welcomes up to 18 guests at a time from August through May, who mostly come for the unique wildlife experience. It's a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and an IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area) due to its diversity of both seabirds and marine mammals.
In full transparency, the town itself is congested and leaves much to be desired. But it makes the list for one strong reason: dinosaurs. The Ernesto Bachmann Municipal Museum exhibits the remains of Giganotosaurus carolinii (the name means “great lizard of the south”), considered to be the largest carnivorous dinosaur of all times. And the Argentino Urquiza Palaeontological Museum has the most complete Titanosaur in the world. In San Patricio del Chañar, an Aeolosaurus (wind lizard) was discovered during the building of Familia Schroeder Winery. It's currently on display in one of its rooms.