Big, busy and brash, MAR DEL PLATA towers above all other resorts on Argentina’s Atlantic coast. Around six million tourists holiday here every year, drawn by its bustling beaches and lively entertainment. If the thought of queuing for a restaurant or seeking an unoccupied scrap of sand makes you shudder, you’re better off avoiding the resort in the height of summer, but if you prefer to mix your trips to the beach with a spot of culture, nightlife or shopping, you may find this seaside town has a certain cheeky charm for you. Despite some haphazard development, Mar del Plata is favoured by the gentle drama of a sweeping coastline and hilly terrain, and while its rather urban beaches may lack the wild charm of less developed strips of sand, they are fun places to hang out and good for people-watching.
Mar del Plata is also the only resort really worth visiting out of season – while the city may breathe a sigh of relief when the last of the tourists leave at the end of the summer, it certainly doesn’t close down. The city has around 600,000 inhabitants, a rich cultural life that includes a number of modest but interesting museums and galleries, and one of Argentina’s most important ports, appealing not only for its colourful traditional fishing boats and seafood restaurants, but also for a close encounter with the area’s noisy colony of sea lions.
Founded in 1874, the settlement of Mar del Plata was developed three years later into a European-style bathing resort, following the vision of Pedro Luro, a Basque merchant. As the railway began to expand into the province, Mar del Plata became accessible to visitors from the capital, with the first passenger train arriving from Buenos Aires in September 1886. The subsequent opening of the town’s first hotel in 1888 – the luxurious, long-gone Hotel Bristol – was a great occasion for the Buenos Aires elite, many of whom travelled down for the opening on an overnight train.
The town’s initial success aside, the richest of Argentina’s very rich continued to make their regular pilgrimages to Europe. It took the outbreak of World War I in Europe to dampen Argentine enthusiasm for the journey across the Atlantic and to firmly establish Mar del Plata as an exclusive resort. Mass tourism began to arrive in the 1930s, helped by improved roads, but took off in the 1940s and 1950s, with the development of union-run hotels under Perón finally putting the city within the reach of Argentina’s middle and working classes. The horrified rich subsequently abandoned it for more chic resorts such as Pinamar and Uruguay’s Punta del Este.
Today, with the notable exception of its landmark seafront casino and the building housing the Gran Hotel Provincial, the resort’s coastline is dominated by modern developments. However, scattered here and there are wonderfully quirky buildings, built in a decorative – even fantastical – style known as pintoresquista, an eclectic brew of mostly Norman and Tudor architecture. Above all, it’s a place where the Argentine working classes go to forget the daily grind and have fun, and it would be hard not to be affected by the atmosphere.Read More
Miramar and Mar del Sud
Miramar and Mar del Sud
Heading south from Mar del Plata, the first resort you come to is MIRAMAR, 45km further down the RP-11. A largely modern town, it sells itself very much as a family-oriented resort and consequently most visitors tend to have children in tow. Miramar’s beachfront is dominated by some rather grim high-rise buildings, although it’s not a bad place to entertain children for a couple of days, and has a tranquil vibe outside the peak months of January and February.
A more interesting choice than Miramar if you want a complete break from the bustle of places like Mar del Plata is tiny MAR DEL SUD, a further 16km southeast. One of Argentina’s least-developed beach resorts, Mar del Sud is in many ways one of its most appealing. It is becoming increasingly popular with in-the-know Porteños looking for something a little different, but the atmosphere remains tranquil, with a friendly, community feel and the occasional party. Its beaches are far less frequented than those further north, and if you venture a few hundred metres away from the small clutch of beachgoers grouped around the bottom of Avenida 100, you won’t have much trouble finding a stretch of soft sand to yourself. The town’s pleasantly unassuming buildings are dominated by the crumbling faded-pink walls and steeply pitched roof of the ex-Boulevard Atlantic Hotel, an elegant, French-influenced construction built in 1886. It’s now a wonderfully creepy old building, its once glamorous rooms taken over by doves and scattered with chunks of plaster. Guided visits are possible during the day on request from Eduardo Gambo, who runs the place and is something of a local personality, and also rents out bungalows.