Its magnificent variety of landscapes and climates make tourism in Argentina a unique and wonderful experience. From the north to the south, there are thousands of places to discover and explore through all the natural beauty that tourism in Argentina has to offer.
Starting in the North, with its Calchaquíes Valleys and the Quebrada de Humahuaca, its rustic towns and the different shades of its mountains, passing through the Litoral, with the Iguazú Falls, the Moconá Falls, the Iberá Wetlands and the endless jungles of Mesopotamia.
Cuyo is another place that tourism in Argentina cannot fail to discover. Mendoza, its wine roads, its famous wineries, and the best vineyards make this province the country’s wine destination par excellence.
Buenos Aires It is the heart of tourism in Argentina and where much of the country’s history resides. In every corner or square of the city resonates the world-famous “Tango” and the thousands of native dances that are part of its renowned popular culture. The unmissable Artisan Fairs that fill the streets and the great cultural movement in each gallery or museum are witnesses of everything that this city can offer. The oldest neighborhoods, such as La Boca and San Telmo, still maintain the color and rich architecture of the houses occupied by the first immigrants. The modern pubs and restaurants of Las Cañitas and Palermo Viejo invite you to enjoy a bohemian evening while everything is luxurious in Recoleta. Tourism in Argentina does not sleep at night in Buenos Aires.
North Patagonia, in the south of the country, cities such as Bariloche, Villa la Angostura, and San Martín de los Andes amaze us with their white blankets and turquoise lakes under the unique scenery of mountains and mountain ranges. Los Glaciares National Park is a World Heritage Site and is a must-see destination for anyone who boasts of having covered tourism in Argentina in its entirety.
To get to Ushuaia, in South Patagonia, you have to go to the end of the world! With its port, its winter centers, and its museums, Tierra del Fuego receives thousands of tourists every year.
Tourism in Argentina has the best scenery in the world.
Argentina is the fifth largest wine producer in the world with over 210,000 hectares of vineyards. The first vines were introduced into Argentina by Father Juan Cedron who brought them from Chile to Santiago del Estero in the mid-16th century. He later introduced them to Mendoza together with its founders Pedro Del Castillo and Juan Jufré. Much later on the French agronomist Miguel Aime Pouget introduced the varietal Malbec, which thrived in Mendoza and is now one of Argentina’s most popular wines. Further vine plantations were spurred on with the arrival of the railway in the 19th century. Argentine wine producers always paid more attention to quantity rather than quality and most of the wine they produced was consumed locally, Argentina once being the sixth largest consumer in the world. But in the 1990s winemakers began to focus more on quality rather than quantity and started exporting wines, particularly to the USA. At the same time, local consumption slowed down, which also encouraged producers to find new markets.
Quality Not Quantity
One such winemaker was Nicolas Cantena who, inspired by Napa-valley wineries, took his knowledge back to the Argentine and to the winery, his grandfather had started in the late 19th century. There, he started to produce quality wines for export. And in 2002 when the peso was finally devalued after years of being pegged to the US dollar – wine producers suddenly found they were receiving almost four times as much for their export wine after they converted it into pesos. Needless to say, this encouraged many more vintners to focus on quality and the export market.
At the same time, foreign investment increased, primarily from the USA and Europe. Investors bought up land infinitely cheaper than their own. Robert Mondavi, Seagrams, and Paul Hobbs arrived from the USA and Pernod Ricard, Jacques Lurton, Rothschilds and Moët & Chandon from France. They established wineries around Mendoza. Today Argentina is a major competitor in the world market. A quarter of its wine production is exported to the USA.
Argentina’s most successful wine to date is Malbec and many associate Argentine wines with this particular grape variety. Malbec, ironically, was an insignificant grape in France where it was once mixed with Bordeaux wine. When introduced in the 19th century, it was grown as a single variety. Other red grape varietals include Bonarda, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Semillon and Torrontes are among the white varietals.
In Mendoza where the sun shines for over 300 days, a year and rain is scarce, melting Andean snow is the major source of water for irrigation. One of the best times to visit Mendoza is March during the Fiesta de la Vendimia which lasts for a week. Besides gathering the crop, wine tastings are plentiful and there are music, parades, and more celebrations. Before the Vendimia starts the bishop of Mendoza blesses the grapes in the Bendicion de los Frutos.
While Malbec is Argentina’s emblematic red wine, Torrontes is it’s white. Torrontes is only grown in Argentina and thrives, particularly in Cafayate in Salta province, the smallest of the country’s main wine regions. Cafayate is a valley surrounded by mountain ranges, with an average height of 1,700 meters above sea level, again with over 300 days of sunshine annually. Other varietals grown in the area include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah and Chardonnay. San Juan province, north of Mendoza, is the second largest producer with some 50,000 hectares of vines, followed by the province of La Rioja. Wines are also produced in Catamarca and Rio Negro.
In the 1990s vineyards also started to embrace tourism, offering tastings, opening wine shops, gourmet restaurants, and in some cases providing accommodation. Consequently, Mendoza, which produces just over 70 per of the national wine with over 143,000 hectares of vines, is now one of Argentina’s top tourist destinations. In most of Mendoza’s wineries (bodegas) you don’t need to have a reservation to visit. Many choose to take guided tours – English-speaking guides are nearly always available – which is a great way to learn about its wine and at the same time explore the reg. You can even bike the 24 km wine trail. See Mendoza Wineries.
Iguazú National Park
Iguazú National Park is another UNESCO-designated world heritage site. The park, which extends over 67,000 hectares in the northeast of Misiones province, is largely covered in sub-tropical rainforest. Here the River Iguazú flows for 1,320 km until it meets the River Parana 23 km before the falls where it makes a sharp U-turn, the terrain drops and the river cascades downwards producing the most spectacular semi-circle of waterfalls, 275 in all, some crashing over 70 meters on to the basalt rock below, filling the air with never-ending clouds of mist. Walkways take you to the edge of the impressive Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Gorge), the park’s biggest fall and you can get drenched by the Salto Bossetti while observing their vast expanse.
Argentina and Brazil share the Iguazú National Park. Each has a unique perspective in that you see the panorama of the falls from the Brazilian side, although there aren’t as many trails or walkways and it’s smaller. Whereas on the Argentine side you can appreciate more the sheer volume of water, get closer to the falls and enjoy the vegetation and wildlife of the rainforest. The area is home to jaguars, giant anteaters, ocelots, tapirs, and howler monkeys. And it’s not uncommon along the park’s numerous trails and walkways to see lizards, toucans, and butterflies and the Great Dusky Swift can often be seen swooping through the cascades. Tree species include the Curupay (Adenanthera macrocarpa), the exclusive to falls Cupay (Copaifera langsdorfi), the Aguay (Pouteria gardneriana), laurels Blanco and de Rio (Ocotea acutifolia and Nectandra falcifolia), the Coral tree (Erythrina crista-galli) – Argentina’s national flower – and spectacular begonias and orchids.
Whale Watching in Argentina
Southern Right Whale…
Every year between June and December, the Golfo Nuevo and the Gulfo San Jose off Peninsula Valdes, a spearhead of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean in southern Argentina, become the breeding grounds for the once-endangered Southern Right Whale (Eubalena Australis). Over 2,000 whales have been documented by the Whale Conservation Institute and Ocean Alliance near the peninsula, which together with its two bays, was designated a World Heritage Site in 1999, while Argentina declared the Southern Right Whale a Natural Monument in 1984.
The Right Whale to Hunt
The Southern Right Whale, which grows up to 18 meters long and weighs up to 100 tons, is mostly black with distinctive callosities (rough patches of skin) across their heads. They were so-called ‘right’ by 19th-century whalers who found them easier to hunt. They were slow and could be speared with hand-held harpoons. Also, they often swam close to shore and float when dead due to their low-density blubber, which constitutes 40 percent of their body weight. With these characteristics, it was considered the right whale to hunt and as a result, their numbers declined dramatically at the height of the whaling industry – the Right Whale features in the Herman Melville classic Moby Dick. In 1935 the International Whaling Commission gave it international protection which theoretically banned future hunting. Since then, its population is estimated to have increased by seven percent per annum. Numbers are now estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,000.
Whale Watching off Peninsula Valdes
The Southern Right Whale comes to Peninsula Valdes to reproduce. During the courting ritual, a few kilometers offshore, males twist, turn and vault into the air crashing back down to the sea. Males can become aggressive when vying to seduce the same female. Initially, the female will desist eventually giving way to her preferred suitor. The male Right Whale, with up to 500 kilograms of sperm in each testicle, can court several females. Coitus takes place in a vertical position, facing one another, with heads above the water. Whale cows reproduce every three years, gestation is 12 months and a whale calf measures around five meters long when born. The whales mate and calve off the peninsula, but during this time they don’t feed. When they do leave they are already weak and hungry having used up most of their up bodily reserves to produce milk for their young. By December they start heading for the rich-krill feeding grounds of the South Atlantic.
One of the best places to observe this gentle marine giant is from Golfo Nuevo just off the tiny coastal village of Puerto Pirámides on Peninsula Valdes. Here, you can take any one of a number of boats from several companies. Boats include Zodiacs, speed boats, or larger launches. You may seem closer in a Zodiac but from a height, you can gage exactly how enormous these magnificent creatures are. Boats always appear packed so be sure to arrive on time so as to get a good position. Not surprisingly, watching these enormous marine mammals cavorting with their calves is an incredible and unforgettable experience. It seems the whales have as much curiosity for us as we have for them – as long as their young are not in danger, both parties seem to thoroughly enjoy the encounter with each other.
Although the whales can be seen from June to December as they arrive from more southerly waters, some of the best months are from September to November. In fact, it is the only place in the world where it is possible to practice professional whale watching. There are only a few tourism companies permitted to operate. In bad weather, the boats simply don’t go out so you may be unlucky unless you plan to hang around for a few days.
Orcas (Killer Whales)
Orcas have been wandering the waters around Peninsula Valdes for decades, but generally, come closer to shore during the elephant seal and sea lion breeding seasons. The orca waits for an opportune moment and then charges like a submarine creating a wave around its head as it chases a seal pup and catches it deftly between its powerful jaws. This all seems to take just a fraction of a second as it slides up onto the shingle beach and then reverses skillfully back into the ocean. Such behavior has been called ‘intentional stranding’ and is the most exceptional and extraordinary show to see if you’re lucky and have time on your side.
Two pods made up of some seven adult Orcas and three juveniles come here every year. The old male, Mel, who starred in the BBC Blue Planet series as well as the National Geographic documentary Killer Whales: Wolves of the Sea is about 40 years old. The whales come to feed on young seal pups born in January and February and only strand themselves in calmer waters before and after high tide. During such conditions, they patrol the beach waiting to attack the unwary and inexperienced seal pup. Not all their attempts are successful. There are only two known locations in the world where this type of orca behavior has been observed. At Crozet Island in the South Sea, the orcas are helped by a river that pushes seal pups in their path while they patrol the beach line unlike at Peninsula Valdes, where the stranding is 100 percent intentional. However, reports suggest that the number of orcas proficient at stranding is dwindling so this phenomenon might just soon disappear altogether. The stranding beach, some 80 km from Puerto Pirámides, cannot be accessed by the public, but you can observe from the cliff tops above. Beach access requires a permit which is issued by the local government.
Peninsula Valdés is a veritable wildlife sanctuary – besides these two great whale species, it’s a breeding ground for southern elephant seals and sea lions. There are penguins, and dusky dolphins not to mention the inquisitive armadillo, guanacos (camelid), rheas, and a multitude of birdlife.