Argentina’s vivacious personality might overshadow its stunning natural beauty but look beyond the sizzle to discover unique and diverse landscapes and things to do in Argentina that capture the essence of the elements: water, fire, earth and air.
Argentina is flamboyant and showy (think Evita and Maradona).
Its capital, Buenos Aires pulses with tango passion and hypnotic music.
Beyond the glamour is a land of spectacular extremes, which you can see while on an Argentina road trip, from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the grassy Pampas plains to vineyards and desert.
You could be searching for toucans in the lush north-eastern rainforest around Iguazu Falls one day and find yourself watching the Antarctic ships sail past Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, 24 hours later.
Nothing could be a world apart from Patagonia’s frozen icy Perito Moreno Glacier as the earthy hues of the Quebrada de Humahuaca canyon.
You can while away time at historic landmarks and have fun in lively restaurant precincts.
Favourable exchange rates mean there are shopping bargains to be found so here are a few things to do and places to visit in Argentina.
- 20 things to do in Argentina
- Things to do in Argentina – Buenos Aires
- Things to do in Argentina – Iguazu Falls
- Things to do in Argentina – Patagonia
- Things to do in Argentina – Northwest
- Things to do in Argentina – Mendoza
- Where to stay in Argentina
20 things to do in Argentina
Things to do in Argentina – Buenos Aires
1- Learn the Argentine tango
Pedro de Mendoza might have founded the city in the tango neighbourhood of San Telmo but it is said that Buenos Aires didn’t truly find itself until tango musician Carlos Gardel sang the first tango hit song, “Mi Noche Triste”, in 1917.
There’s no other city in the world where the tango’s influence has embraced the very core of its character.
This is a city where the tango is part of the culture and a way of life.
Here are some tips on how to experience the Argentine tango, even if you’re not keen on dancing.
- In the colourful barrio of La Boca, you can stroll through the open-air mall admiring tango art and tapping your feet as tango dancers twirl energetically on the pavement.
- Academia Nacional del Tango (Avenida de Mayo 833) has classes for all levels during weekdays at 6 pm.
- An upmarket dinner tango show costs around US$80. Some tango shows to see are Rojo Tango, Esquina Carlos Gardel or El Viejo Almacen. Check out a range of tango shows here.
2- Visit Recoleta Cemetery
The 48 barrios in Buenos Aires (which means “good air” or “fair winds”) range from stylishly sophisticated to beguilingly bohemian.
To channel your inner Evita, book a room in the heart of fashionable Recoleta where boutiques housed within grand neoclassical buildings display this season’s European fashions.
Nearby, in the Recoleta cemetery, crowds gather around the Duarte family mausoleum, offering flowers to acknowledge Argentina’s most celebrated lady, Eva Peron.
Although most people visit the cemetery to see her grave, a walk through the graveyard is an eye-opener to the level of riches enjoyed by the Argentine elite.
Grand art nouveau, art deco and modernist-style mausoleums are the final resting places of presidents, scientists and prominent Argentine families.
You can visit the Recoleta cemetery on your own and if you choose to join an organised tour of Buenos Aires, most city tours include some time at the cemetery.
3- Explore Plaza Mayo
Plaza Mayo, the city’s main square, is filled with European architecture including the pink house of Casa Rosada where Juan and Eva Peron once waved at crowds from the balcony (Madonna also sang from here in the movie Evita).
The square’s most famous landmark is the baroque Cathedral Metropolitana, which contains the tomb of Argentina’s most revered hero, General Jose de San Martin.
Pedro de Mendoza founded the city in 1536 on a personally financed expedition from Spain but even after Argentina severed ties with Spain in 1810, waves of Spanish and Italian migrants continued to roll in.
The Europeans were followed by mestizos of mixed Indian and Spanish descent from other Latin American countries, infusing the city with a multicultural atmosphere.
A great way to learn more about the history of Buenos Aires is to choose one of these city tours.
4- Go horse riding with the Gauchos
Further south, on the fertile Pampas plains, a young gaucho trots beside us in silence as we watch three riders gallop ahead.
This is our fourth time in two days on a horse and although the gaucho speaks no English, the language of horse riding is universal.
I settle into the rhythm of the earth with crumpled clothes and boots muddy from stomping around the plains at Estancia El Ombu de Areco.
The 1880s colonial mansion was built by the country’s former war minister Lieutenant General Pablo Riccheri near the rural town of San Antonio de Areco.
The Gauchos we meet live up to the image of the romantic cowboy figure dressed in baggy trousers with long-bladed knives hanging from leather silver-studded belts.
These sons of the earth eke their living from the rich pastures of the pampas.
The estancia is cosy and rustic; by gaucho standards it’s luxurious but for us, the real luxury is the chance to experience the culture of the Gauchos.
evening, after dinner, an elderly gaucho pulls out a guitar and breaks into a spontaneous and soulful tune.
The melancholy allure of the music tugs at my heart and I’m reluctant to go leave for our next destination.
Things to do in Argentina – Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls is a world wonder that is shared between two countries, stretching across the Misiones Province in Argentina and Parana in Brazil.
5- Take a thrilling speedboat ride to Iguazu Falls
Our Argentine odyssey continues in a speedboat at Iguazu Falls (Iguazu means big water), at the Brazilian border.
At first, we’re lightly damp from the spray of the falls but the boat soon speeds up and disappears into the swirling mist.
I shut my eyes and hold my breath as the waterfall engulfs me.
Seconds feel like minutes, and then relief comes as the speedboat emerges safely from beneath the edge of the waterfall.
“Free shower!” shouts our grinning guide.
Getting sopping wet under one of Iguazu Falls’ many waterfalls is a memorable way to soak up the atmosphere of Argentina’s most famous natural asset.
Located in the World Heritage-listed Iguazu National Park, Iguazu Falls is astounding.
During the rainy season, there are as many as 260 individual waterfalls spread in a horseshoe across the Iguazu River.
The most cost-effective way to see Iguazu Falls is to fly to Puerto Iguazu and explore the national park on your own or join one of the many different kinds of sightseeing tours to the falls.
Most visitors will need two or three days to explore Iguazu Falls but if you’re short on time, it’s possible to see Iguazu as a day trip from Buenos Aires on a private tour but if you can spend longer here’s a guide to visiting Iguazu Falls from Brazil as well.
6- Explore Iguazu National Park
We walk along the park’s extensive timber walkways, stopping frequently to admire picturesque vistas of waterfalls framed by virgin rainforest.
The ultimate viewing spot is Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat, perched on a lookout 80 metres above the river with water gushing on three sides.
The roar is deafening and clouds of water vapour soar high into the air.
It’s not difficult to see why the Guarani Indians believed these falls were created by the wrath of the forest god.
7- Drink Caipirinha Cocktails in the rainforest
The next best view is from the balcony of our room at the Gran Melia Iguazu (which is in the national park) while sipping Caipirinha cocktails.
The Caipirinha cocktail is the national drink of Brazil, the other South American country straddled by Iguazu Falls.
Made from sugarcane liquor, sugar and lime, it’s a refreshing cocktail to get into the spirit of the region while gazing at the colourful Macaws flitting in the virgin rainforest.
Things to do in Argentina – Patagonia
A land in the southern part of South America that is shared by Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is a stunning white wonderland with snow-covered peaks that jut towards the sky, glaciers as big and tall as skyscrapers and vast wide open plains.
8- Cruise to the Perito Moreno Glacier
78km from El Calafate is the Perito Moreno Glacier in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Los Glaciares National Park.
The glacier is one of the most stunning natural attractions in Argentina, so there are a variety of day trips and experiences in and around the glacier.
A full-day trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier on a boat takes you almost right up to the ice.
It’s truly impressive to get up close to this enormous 30km (18.6 miles) long block of ice and even more amazing to learn that its the third largest freshwater reserve on earth!
Another way to explore Perito Moreno Glacier is to take a leisurely stroll across the network of boardwalks, which has vantage points of the glacier.
9- Hike Mount Fitzroy
Of all the mountains around the town of El Chalten, the one to climb is Mount Fitzroy.
Hiking this mountain is a bucket list experience that offers stunning views of glaciers, Laguna de Los Tres and the lovely Fitz Roy Valley.
The hike takes you through campsites, forests, across rivers and up and down slopes.
Some paths can be fairly steep and you do need to be reasonably fit to attempt this hike.
Unless you’re an experienced hiker, it’s advisable to go with a hiking guide who knows the area. Check out these Mt Fitzroy hiking tours.
10- Explore the southernmost city in the world
From Buenos Aires, we fly to the end of the world.
On the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego (land of fire), facing the Beagle Channel with a picturesque backdrop of soaring glacial peaks, is Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city.
The landscape is windswept and rugged but you’d be surprised at how many interesting things to do in Ushuaia you’ll find.
Even though it’s remote, our hotel offers all the ingredients for a luxurious stay: a restaurant with an extensive wine list and superb chef, a spa and a room with a view.
Oh, what a view!
Sipping a glass of Argentine wine while watching the ships sail through the Beagle Channel is something to talk about.
Next stop Antarctica.
11- Ride the train to Tierra del Fuego
At the train station in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, we squeeze into a carriage of the park’s steam locomotive.
El Tren del Fin del Mundo is a replica of a train that once shuttled prisoners to the forest to gather wood.
The park was formed in 1960 to protect 63,000 hectares of wilderness and is the only Argentine national park with a maritime coast.
The wilderness reveals vistas of soaring peaks, rivers, black-water swamps and sub-Antarctic forests.
Condors, cormorants and albatrosses swoop and glide above us.
Wild horses graze along the mountainside.
At the end of the train line, we continue our tour by car to Lago Roca where tranquil views of the lake are framed by a backdrop of snow-covered peaks.
We stroll along the walkways at Bahia Lapataia, where a sign tells us we’re 17,848 kilometres from Alaska.
12- See the penguins on Martillo Island
If you’re not planning to go to Antarctica, visit the Magellanic and Gentoo penguin rookery on Martillo island.
Martillo Island is an attraction that is perfect for nature lovers and an opportunity to observe the antics of South American birdlife.
The rookery has more than 1000 nests with penguins, South American terns, skúas, petrels, cormorants and vultures.
The historic Estancia Harberton is one the way and most tour companies will include a visit to this station, which has lovely gardens and buildings that are full of history.
Things to do in Argentina – Northwest
13- Explore the Salinas Grandes salt flats
Argentina’s Salinas Grandes Salt Flats may not be as well-known as the salt flats of Bolivia but they are every bit as amazing.
On the way, pay a visit to the picturesque town of Purmamarca, with its 17th-century church, and lovely backdrop of Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors).
The combination of shimmering salt flats and cute villages makes this part of Argentina an interesting place to visit.
14- See UNESCO World Heritage Quebrada Humahuaca
The dramatic Quebrada de Humahuaca canyon is a stunning landmark in Argentina for its multicoloured rocks formed millions of years ago by mineral deposits.
The town was once a stop on a major trading route and the region has been inhabited for over 10,000 years.
Most travellers join a tour from Salta but if you have a sense of adventure, taking a public bus from Salta or Jujuy is an authentic way to explore the region as Quebrada de Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Humahuaca are on the local bus route.
15- Hike to Quebrada de las Conchas
A road trip from Salta to Cafayate through the Lerma Valley is a journey through stunning scenery.
The carved rock formations of the Quebrada de las Conchas is an amazing sight on the road (think Arizona or Ayers Rock!).
A great way to explore is to hike from Calafate to Quebrada de las Conchas.
It’s easy hiking with plenty of scenic viewpoints with intriguing names, such as Garganta del Diablo and the Amphitheatre.
If you’re looking for an adventure, rent a bicycle and try cycling the Quebrada de las Conchas.
Besides stunning desert-like scenery, Cafayate is an excellent wine region famous for Torrontes, which is a white wine that is unique to Argentina.
Things to do in Argentina – Mendoza
16- Drink Malbec on a winery tour in Mendoza
Argentina’s Mendoza wine region is famous for its Malbec and a tour of a few wineries is a great way to get your palate accustomed to this wine varietal.
While there are a number of other wine regions in Argentina, Mendoza is the best to visit if you’re serious about wine.
While travelling around you’ll also be rewarded by the spectacular landscape of the Andes.
Mendoza has a range of wine and food-based attractions, from simple family-run eateries to restaurants run by celebrity chefs and luxury hotels.
The winemaking scene is also diverse, with garagistas (garage winemakers) and well-known brands both making some of the best wine in South America.
If you’re keen on an English-speaking guide, try this tour to learn about the winemaking process in Argentina and drink wine in the Luján de Cuyo region.
17- Get an adrenaline rush on a river rafting adventure
Shoot the rapids on the Mendoza River and enjoy the scenery as you shoot through the Potrerillos Valley (rapids are Class II to Class IV).
Whitewater rafting is a fun adventure that will give you a workout and an adrenaline rush.
If you’re visiting Argentina with the family, children over 10 years of age can take part in this activity too.
Check out these river rafting adventures for an experience you won’t forget!
18- Soak in a spa at Termas de Cachueta
Termas de Cachueta is a grotto sauna with natural thermal spas and mud baths, both indoors and outside.
If you just need some downtime you can visit the spa as a day trip but an excellent way to recover from drinking all that Malbec is to book into the resort for a
Here are some spa experiences in Mendoza to put on your to-do list.
19- Go horseback riding through the Mendoza vineyards
Riding with the Argentine Gauchos through the fields and vineyards of the Uco Valley.
These traditional Argentine cowboys are experts on horseback and will take you riding through the Andes and vineyards.
Here are some horseback riding tours through the vineyards in Mendoza.
20- Eat and drink like a local
Dining out in Argentina is tasty and inexpensive.
A country where the locals live life to its fullest, the three things to taste when visiting Argentina are steak, wine (how about a wine-based cocktail?) and empanadas.
Empanadas are petite sized calzones with various fillings and are cheap and tasty.
It’s a good idea to brush up on your Spanish (or at least learn a few useful phrases) as the staff in most places, even in Buenos Aires, don’t speak much English.
After a couple of days in Argentina, we quickly learned to order cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and submarino (the Argentine version of hot chocolate).
Pointing at the food menu works pretty well if you’re a meat lover as there’s a high chance you might be ordering a fine Argentinean steak.
If you don’t want the hassle, just book one of these food and wine tours where all the ordering is done for you.
Where to stay in Argentina
Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt
Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt, Buenos Aires is a sleek hotel in upscale Recoleta.
As our car pulls up in front of an elegant imperial building with soaring marble columns, I survey our crumpled clothes in dismay.
A smartly dressed doorman opens the car door with his white-gloved hand and ushers us into one of the city’s most glamorous hotels, the sleek Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt.
It’s a former historic mansion, once the home of a wealthy family, recently revamped and extended to incorporate a gleaming new limestone tower.
The hotel is worth visiting just to peruse the significant array of art hanging in its public spaces; there’s an underground art gallery as well as lobbies and restaurants which showcase original South American paintings and sculptures.
Faena Hotel & Universe
Faena Hotel & Universe, Buenos Aires is a historic red brick granary transformed with Phillip Starck’s bold designs. Rooms from US$455.
Mansion Dandi Royal
Mansion Dandi Royal, Buenos Aires is a boutique tango hotel in eclectic San Telmo.
Estancia El Ombu
Estancia El Ombu, San Antonio de Areco is a historic estancia where you can ride a horse alongside a gaucho. US$150 per person per night (twin share) includes meals and horse riding.
Gran Melia Iguazu
Gran Melia Iguazu has an enviable position in the national park with views of Iguazu Falls.