18 reasons to visit Argentina – including a secret German village and the world’s most beautiful bookshop.
1. You can ride with gauchos
Argentinian cowboys wear actual chaps, drink Mate tea so bitter it makes you gurn, raise and wrestle cattle, and at night sing folk songs about love and loss. Gauchos traditionally were seen as nomads and outlaws but grew to be respected as freedom fighters in the mid-16th century. Traditions vary in pampas in different parts of the country, with Salta’s gauchos some of the most revered.
Gauchos: revered when a week-long Fiesta Nacional de la Tradición is staged, which sees gauchos from all over Argentina ride into town, grill whole cows for dinner and show off their dressage.
2. See giant guinea pigs
Capybaras are a squeaking, loveable feature of the Argentinian wetlands. Take a trip to the Ibera Wetlands, rgentina’s answer to the Pantanal, to see them. In a motor boat out they are easy to find – loud splashing often signifies that one has just hauled its fat bottom into the water, while alarmed grunts mean you’ve just disturbed one in the undergrowth. The babies make a plaintive high-pitched squeak to call their mothers, just as their smaller cousins do.
Capybaras: cute Credit: copyright supervliegzus 2010/shot by supervliegzus
3. Take one of the world’s best drives
A drive through the multi-coloured valley of the Quebrada de Humahuaca is one of the world’s most spectacular. Aside from views of rainbow-striped and wind-shaped rock formations, sights along the route, which has been used over the past 10,000 years as a crucial passage for the transport of people and ideas from the high Andean lands to the plains, include a cave cathedral with impressive acoustics where local musicians play.
4. And drink world-beating wine
Mendoza is Argentina’s main wine region, set picturesquely at the foot of the Andes. Malbec grapes made the area internationally renowned but shiraz and cabernet sauvignon have also been making great gains.
Lesser-visited but just as pretty is Cafayate, a small town in Torrontes wine country. This Argentinian variety makes fruity, aromatic whites, similar to a crisp viognier, that are perfect for washing down a lunch of empanadas.
5. It’s a beguiling wilderness
Vast and empty, wind-swept and barren, Patagonia is an archetypal landscape of the imagination, writes Chris Moss, in an article for our Trip of a Lifetime series. “Where the pampas run out around the Rio Negro, the land becomes unfriendly to human settlement, and if you drive down the great highways you’ll see mainly sheep, flightless rhea and llama-like guanacos. Eventually you come to the Andes, where ice-fields break through to form glaciers on the lakesides, or to the lonely island of Tierra del Fuego.
“It continues to beguile intrepid travellers, and in the past two decades smart hotels have opened across the region to provide comfort and luxury, and the dining options have improved immeasurably.”
6. It’s got a little piece of Switzerland, Germany – and Wales
Argentina’s Lake District is a stunner, with mountain after craggy mountain sliding serenely into ice-blue lakes. To see it, you would do well to make Swiss-themed Bariloche your base. The town has improbable wooden chalets, chocolate shops and even St Bernard dogs to give it an Alpine feel.
Set in the hills a couple of hours from Córdoba, meanwhile, La Cumbrecita is a meticulously recreated German village. Tourists come from across Argentina, and farther afield, to experience this bizarre vision of little Germany. They have apple strudel at the café and buy trinkets from the gift stores. There’s even a huge cuckoo clock that greets you as you enter the village.
Cumbrecita Credit: GETTY
Even more unusually, the nod to Europe continues via a Welsh settlement on Patagonia’s coast. “The Welsh first landed in the other great and green land – that of Patagonia – back in July 1865,” explained Michael Kerr, after visiting Puerto Madryn last year to mark its 150th anniversary.
“More than 150 Welsh-speaking men, women and children had sailed in May from Liverpool on the Mimosa, a converted tea clipper, with the intention of establishing a community where they could practise their language and faith free from the dictates of English government.”
7. You can visit a deserted town
Epecuén is an abandoned spa town in Argentina that provided the backdrop for a new film starring the stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill in 2014. Watch what he gets up to below.
8. Or one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops
This astounding shop interior has to be one of the world’s most glamorous, especially considering it sells books rather than designer clothing. The El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Barrio Norte, Buenos Aires is a bookshop set in a former theatre, the Teatro Gran Splendid, which originally opened in May 1919.
If you can get your head out of one of its thousands of books (and we’re sure that you can) red velvet curtains hang over a stage at one end, while the ornate stalls on the upper levels contain elaborately-lit shelves.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
9. The Metro is really rather quaint
The Buenos Aires subway system adds an element of travel glamour to the busy Argentinian capital. It was launched in 1913 – the first underground railway in Latin America.
10. You can have a more glamorous coffee break
There are a handful of grand coffee houses along the wide boulevards of Buenos Aires but Cafe Tortoni is one of the best, dating from 1858. It has perfect pastries and a cavernous interior with marvellous decorative glass ceilings.
11. Climb South America’s highest peak
The highest mountain outside of Asia, at 22,841 feet, Aconcagua is the second highest of the Seven Summits and can be climbed by those with know-how, even without roped mountaineering experience.
Aconcagua Credit: Gustavo Cherro
12. Join the crowd
Watching local team Boca Juniors play football at the La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires will undoubtedly involve blazing flares, bitter rivalries, chants you don’t understand and general mayhem.
13. Walk among angels
Romantic, ageing, Recoleta Cemetery in one of Buenos Aires’ most middle-class suburbs is where Eva Perón is buried, but is an atmospheric place for a stroll in any event. Free guided tours in English, Tuesday and Thursday at 11am.
14. Remember a leading lady
First peasant, leader, then legend, Buenos Aires’s Evita Museum is where you can find out about the life of Eva Perón. The city’s main square, the Plaza de Mayo, is where you will find the Casa Rosada – as pink in colour as its name suggests – the office of the president. Eva Perón made her carefully choreographed speeches from its balconies.
15. Feast on grilled meat
Argentina is famous for its high-quality, doorstop-sized steaks and there is nowhere better to try one than in a parrillada restaurant where you select a slab of meat still sizzling off a parrilla grill set at your table in front of you. As well as familiar steak cuts like lomo and bife de chorizo, locals like to load up their grills with “vaccio” (juicy flank) and “morcilla” (fat black pudding sausages) – while delving into impossibly chewy plates of melted provolone cheese. Delicious.
Tango: can your relationship stand up to the test?
16. Test your relationship
Tango is one of Portenos’ biggest passions and tourists are encouraged to book themselves into one of many classes held in Buenos Aires. Be warned though, the “dance of love” is tricky to master and it is said a couple’s aptitude at getting in sync with each other is a microcosm of the relationship.
17. Set foot in the world’s southernmost city
Ushuaia is the launch point for (small) cruises to Patagonia and Antarctica. They can visit South Georgia, where is possible to make contact with local whalers, and set off to retrieve his men and occasionally land on Elephant Island, from where the 22 remaining sailors were picked up on August 30 1916 – as well as the Antarctic Peninsula.
18. And try the world’s oldest team sport
Argentinians are known as some of the world’s best polo players. Just ask Jilly Cooper. Polo is a celebration of tradition, skill and family – and Argentina celebrates it like no other polo nation. Even novices can enjoy on neat lawns in the grounds of estancias around the country.
Best of the rest
Also worth mentioning are the artistic wonders on display at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires; the steam train Argentines affectionately call La Trochita; the show-stopping Iguassu Falls, on the border with Brazil, but closer and louder on the Argentinian side; Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, a Unesco World Heritage Site and home to the immense, ever-expanding (until it collapses) Perito Moreno Glacier; and the Thermal Baths of Villavicencio, which it is thought possess theraputic properties.