Argentina is a vast and varied land of cosmopolitan cities, wide-open plains, eerie glaciers, snow-capped peaks, and lush wetland groves. At 2,780,400 km2 km, it’s the eighth largest country in the world, and one of the few countries in South America with lasting European influences. You’ll find everything from Germanic towns like Bariloche, to villages where Welsh is the lingua franca, to urbane Italian gelato parlours in Buenos Aires. All of this makes for a head-spinning amount of things to do in Argentina. Here are some of the very best experiences that the country has to offer.
1. Marvel at the Perito Moreno Glacier
Standing before one of the world’s most famous glaciers is a truly humbling experience. The glacier zooms down off the icecap in a great motorway-like sweep, a jagged mass of crevasses and towering, knife-edged seracs. When it collides with the southern arm of Lago Argentino, the show really begins: vast blocks of ice, some weighing hundreds of tonnes, detonate off the face of the glacier and come crashing down into the waters below.
The Perito Moreno glacier near the Chilean border © saiko3p/Shutterstock
2. Experience the thrill of a milonga
Tango has gained a whole new audience in recent years, with an increasing number of young people filling the floors of social clubs and traditional dancehalls for regular local tango events known as milongas. Many places hold classes beforehand, and even if you don’t dance yourself, it’s still worth going to one. The spectacle of couples slipping almost trance-like around the dancefloor is a captivating sight.
Tango dancers © DMSU/Shutterstock
3. See southern right whales close-up
The rich, cool waters off Península Valdés on Patagonia’s eastern coast are home to an astonishing array of marine mammals. Puerto Pirámides is the place for whale-watching: between June and mid-December the nearby waters are temporarily home to the most famous of all the peninsula’s visitors, the southern right whale. Few experiences beat the thrill of watching these massive animals approaching your boat, leaping out of the water or jutting their tails above the surface as they dive to feed.
A southern right whale breaching the water in Patagonia © Foto 4440/Shutterstock
4. Explore the Ruta del Vino
The vineyards of Cafayate, some of the highest in the world, were originally developed by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century. The local speciality, however, is a grape thought to have been brought across from Spain's Rioja region in the late nineteenth century: the torrontés. The delicate, flowery white wine it produces, with a slight acidity, is the perfect accompaniment for the regional cuisine, but also goes well with fish and seafood.
Argentina's white torrontés grape is thought to have come from Spain © Il21/Shutterstock
5. Get a taste of the gaucho way of life
Argentina's vast plains are the spiritual home of the country's gauchos. Visitors can tap into life on horseback with a stay in a traditional estancia. With the greatest concentration in Buenos Aires Province, above all around San Antonio de Areco in the north and Cañuelas and Lobos in the south, many estancias take in paying guests. This can be either for a día de campo, during which visitors take part in outdoor activities, such as horseriding or polo class with hearty meals included, or for an overnight stay in one of the often luxurious rooms.
Gauchos ride across the Pampas in Argentina © sunsinger/Shutterstock
6. Look into the Devil’s Throat
Spanning the border with Brazil in the northeastern corner of the country, Iguazú’s claim to the title of the world’s most spectacular waterfall has few serious contenders. The vast majority of the Iguazú Falls lie within Argentina’s Parque Nacional Iguazú. A well-planned system of trails and walkways takes around and even behind the torrents of water – most notably to the Garganta del Diablo, or “Devil’s Throat”.
The Iguazu Falls, one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls © Det-anan/Shutterstock
7. Drive along Ruta 40
Like Route 66 in the US, Argentina’s Ruta 40 – the country’s longest highway, running from Patagonia's southern tip to the Bolivian border – has a legendary status. Highlights along this epic 5,224km route include the Cueva de los Manos Pintadas (a cave complex decorated with ten-thousand-year-old depictions of hands), the pristine scenery of the Lake District, the polychrome mountains of La Rioja Province and the poncho weaving of the highland village of Belén.
Argentina's Ruta 40 spans the length of the country© kavram/Shutterstock
8. Meet the ancestors
With a fascinating European heritage, exploring cultural connection is one of the most popular things to do in Argentina for visitors. You can enjoy cakes in the Welsh teahouses of Gaiman and Trevelin or wander through the colourful Genoese barrio of Boca. Then, sup locally brewed beer in the Germanic towns Villa General Belgrano or Bariloche.
Bariloche cathedral in Patagonia © nicolasdecorte/Shutterstock
9. Hike in the Patagonian Andes
The northern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is a trekking paradise. It contains some of the most breathtakingly beautiful mountain peaks on Earth, including Monte Fitz Roy. One of its main attractions is that those with limited time, or who are not in peak fitness, can still make worthwhile day-hikes using El Chaltén as a base.
Hiking Monte Fitz Roy in Argentina © Olga Danylenko/Shutterstock
10. Climb South America’s highest peak
With frigid temperatures and extreme altitude, scaling Mount Aconcagua (6962m) is a challenging but rewarding experience. Accessed from the city of Mendoza, it can be climbed with the right preparation and a knowledgeable guide, and makes for a world-class mountaineering experience.
Mount Aconcagua, Argentina's highest peak © Papa Bravo/Shutterstock
11. Get up close to deer, capybaras and myriad bird species
Covering nearly 13,000 square kilometres, the delicate ecosystem of the Esteros del Iberá is a magical landscape of wetlands. It's one of the best things to do in Argentina for wildlife lovers. An elongated sliver of land running through the centre of Corrientes Province, in addition to the esteros (swamps) that give the area its name, you will see a good many lakes, ponds, streams and wonderful floating islands, formed by a build-up of soil on top of intertwined waterlilies.
A marsh deer inEsteros del Iberá © Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock
12. Stand at the end of the world
At the southern tip of Argentina, Ushuaia enjoys a fabulous waterfront setting on the Beagle Channel, teeming with birds, sea lions and giant crabs. It provides a base for both boat trips along the channel and for exploring nearby Tierra del Fuego national park.
Basking sea lions in Ushuaia © Fabio Lotti/Shutterstock
13. Discover Argentina’s Lake District
No itinerary is complete without taking in the picture-perfect glacial lakes, forests and volcanoes of the Lake District in Patagonia. Its biggest attraction is the unspoilt beauty of the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, the grandfather of all Argentina’s national parks, packed with enough trekking and outdoor activities to entertain any enthusiast for weeks.
The serene surroundings of Argentina's Lake District © Rodrigo Kristensen/Shutterstock
14. Immerse yourself in contemporary Latin American art
Ogle the best of contemporary Latin American painting and sculpture in the salubrious barrio of Palermo Chico. The collection is housed in a modern, glass-fronted, purpose-built building in central Buenos Aires. The stunning example of cutting-edge architecture is an attraction in its own right.
An ivy-covered building in Barrio Palermo Chico in Buenos Aires© Alexandr Vorobev/Shutterstock
15. Walk in the footprints of dinosaurs
The world’s biggest dinosaurs once roamed Neuquén Province. Nothing will convey their immensity more than standing underneath their skeletons or seeing their giant footprints in the rock. The region is dotted with fossils of some of the largest dinosaurs ever found and some astonishingly well-preserved dinosaur footprints.
The Ernesto Bachmann museum in Neuquén Province displays dinosaur fossils © frank henry lisborg/Shutterstock
Inspired by our list of the best things to do in Argentina? Considering planning a trip yourself? We can help! Try our new tailor-made travel service and enjoy a fully personalised trip planned by a local expert.
Top image: The Iguazu Falls © Det-anan/Shutterstock