As attractive a city as Buenos Aires is, you may wish to escape the urban mêlée for a few days. Stretching for hundreds of kilometres south and west of the capital, the flat expanse of Buenos Aires province is the country’s agricultural heartland. Less visited than some of the country’s big-ticket destinations further afield, the Pampas (plains) offer a fascinating window into traditional gaucho culture and small-town life. The country’s beaches are less renowned, but some thirty resorts fringe the Atlantic coast of the province, stretching from San Clemente in the north to Bahía Blanca, nearly 700km south of the capital. They are generally characterized by wide, sandy beaches edged by dunes, and little else, although Mar del Plata has some interesting historical buildings and is a thriving city in its own right. In January and February much of the capital pulls down its shutters and heads en masse for the coast; if crowds and 24-hour parties aren’t your thing, head out of season when hotel prices can drop by half. Mostly visited by domestic tourists, the beaches are not, in truth, the continent’s most fabulous – if it’s white sands and warm seas you’re after, you’d be better off heading north to Brazil.
The coastal route south starts after La Plata, often visited as a day-trip from Buenos Aires. Another 260km southwest, the Río de la Plata flows out into the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and the resorts that line the coast – all popular with local families in the summer – begin. Pinamar and Villa Gesell are the younger destinations, while Mar del Plata is the liveliest, with crowds that pack its beaches by day, then move to the city’s numerous clubs and restaurants at night. If you hanker after peace and quiet, there are more isolated spots, though, such as exclusive Cariló, forested Mar de las Pampas or sleepy Mar del Sud.
Moving inland, the landscape is dominated by grain and cattle farmland – the source of much of the country’s exports – and pretty gaucho settlements. San Antonio de Areco, lying just over 100km west of the capital, is a charmingly old-fashioned town of cobbled streets and well-preserved nineteenth-century architecture and a must if you’re interested in the Pampas’ distinctive culture; Tandil, further south, is another noted centre of pampas culture, with some great little cafés and museums, and is a worthwhile detour if you’re headed to Patagonia overland. The quiet and attractive town of Mercedes is less visited but has an authentic pulpería (a traditional bar-cum-store) that also offers a glimpse into Argentina’s gaucho past. On the way to Mercedes, the small city of Luján exposes the country’s spiritual heart, with a mass display of religious devotion in honour of Argentina’s patron saint, the Virgin of Luján. And throughout the province, you’ll find some of Argentina’s most traditional and luxurious estancias – great places to spend a night or two.
To reach anything approaching a mountain, you will need to head for the west of the province, where you’ll find the Pampas’ most dramatic, the Sierra de la Ventana range, 580km southwest of Buenos Aires and offering a welcome change of scenery from the surrounding flat farmlands.
Buenos Aires is probably Argentina’s easiest province to get around: it is crisscrossed with roads and railways, making it pretty straightforward to negotiate using public transport. Bear in mind, though, that services to the coast are greatly reduced out of season.Read More