From the tango halls of Buenos Aires to the ice fields of Patagonia, Argentina is one big adventure. Home to the Andes mountains and misty forests, it’s a country of prime beefsteaks and world-class wine, where you can hear the roar of Iguassu Falls and the thunder of glaciers, or go horse-riding with gauchos and set sail for Antarctica.
The old world elegance of Argentina’s capital commands respect, while its cosmopolitan culture gives the city a 21st century edge. Walk through the wide streets to experience colonial churches, cobblestone lanes and the former slave market street in San Telmo. Continue to the football stadium and colourful streets of La Boca, and visit the elaborate cemetery in affluent Recoleta.
The urge to people-watch is irresistible, so pull up a stool at a pavement café, find a seat in a smoky bar or relax in a park and let the locals tango past. Gourmet cuisine is another highlight, so leave plenty of room for sizzling steak before heading out for an evening of dancing or opera. For a break from the city, take a train to the working cattle ranches just beyond the suburbs and meet authentic Argentine gauchos.
Putting every other waterfall to shame, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer size and awesome power of Iguassu. Straddling the border with Brazil, 3km of waterfalls thunder over sheer cliffs, with most of the water roaring over an 82-metre drop that’s aptly named the Devil’s Throat.
Prepare to get drenched as you stroll along the walkways. View the falls from every angle or, even better, take a breathtaking boat ride to experience the canyons, islands and caimans of the Iguassu River. Surrounding the falls is a steamy national park of dense tropical forest – venture in to discover vascular plants and hundreds of birds, as well as tapirs, howler monkeys and jaguars.
One of the world’s great wine capitals, leafy Mendoza sits east of the Andes Mountains. When you’ve finished gaping at the awesome backdrop, sip coffee beneath the sycamores or visit an authentic bodega and work your way through the wine list. For action and adventure, use the city as a base for hiking and rafting trips in the Andes, or visit in winter to ski alongside South America’s elite.
Further inland at the foot of the Central Sierras, the city of Cordoba has six universities and a vibrant student scene. Get a cultural fix in the theatres, art cafes and galleries, or take time to appreciate the colonial architecture and Jesuit ruins. After dark, chow down on empanadas, then join the locals for live music and electro-tango.
Northwest Argentina is a lesser-visited area of pink-tinged mountains and smoky volcanoes, deep red canyons and misty forests. The provincial capital of Salta makes a great base, with its colonial buildings and folk-music bars. From here, venture out of the city to trek through the jungle, climb a volcano or go horse-riding with gauchos.
Exit Salta and follow the Valles Calchaquies driving route, which winds past tobacco farms and cloud forest. Pass surreal rock formations and visit adobe brick villages, take a four-wheel drive through dry mountain valleys or continue to Cafayate and christen your arrival with the local white wine.
Southwest of Buenos Aires, snow-capped volcanoes jut into the sky, glacial lakes are trimmed by green forest, and alpine-style towns pepper the valleys. Come here for the excellent wine, local breweries and breathtaking national parks, which are a hub for hiking and biking in summer, and a magnet for skiers in winter.
Ringed by soaring peaks and brimming with chocolate shops, the riverside town of Bariloche makes an excellent base, while laidback El Bolson is popular with backpackers, and Villa La Angostura is a top spot for trout fishing. If you’re looking for more adventure, take a road trip along the Seven Lakes Route and camp in the great outdoors, or ride through the mountains on horseback and spend the night in a log cabin.
Argentina’s southern frontier is a vast wilderness punctuated by sparkling glaciers, serrated mountains and crystal lakes. Stay in El Calafete and explore the spectacular Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, where you can hike to the jagged peaks of Monte Fitz Roy and listen to the roar of the Perito Moreno glacier, as house-sized ice blocks tumble into Lake Argentino.
At South America’s southern extremity, the Tierra Del Fuego archipelago gazes across the Strait of Magellan towards the distant Antarctic ice sheet. Remote yet bursting with character, the town of Ushuaia makes a welcoming base, whether you plan on bird-watching in the Beagle Channel, touring the cells of the former prison or hopping on an ice-breaker and cruising to the Antarctic Peninsula.