The Rough Guide to Argentinaby Andrew Benson
The Rough Guide to Argentina is the definitive travel guide to this epic country, with in-depth coverage of its vibrant cities, rich culture, and staggeringly diverse scenery. Discover shimmering mountain lakes, beautiful valleys, and majestic glaciers; ride with gauchos; get seduced by tango; savor the world's finest steak; watch a Superclásico football match; or pick up the trail of Bruce Chatwin across Patagonia's dramatic ice fields.
Lively accounts, clear maps, and stunning photography throughout bring Argentina's attractions to life, from the thunderous Iguazú Falls and ravishing capital, Buenos Aires, to Mendoza's celebrated vineyards and the wild and isolated snow-capped peaks of Tierra del Fuego. With easy-to-use maps, reliable transport advice, inspiring itineraries, and expert reviews of the best hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and shops for all budgets, this indispensable guide will ensure that you don't miss a thing.
Make the most of your time with The Rough Guide to Argentina.
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WHERE TO GO
Argentina has many sites that could claim the title of natural wonders of the world: the majestic waterfalls of Iguazú, the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier, whose towering sixty-metre walls calve icebergs into the lake below, fascinating whale colonies off the Península Valdés, or the quintessential Argentine mountain holiday-resort of Bariloche indeed Patagonia and the south in general. Yet many of the country's most noteworthy sights are also its least known, such as the Esteros del Iberà, a huge reserve of swamps and floating islands offering unforgettably close-up encounters with cayman, monkeys, capybara and hundreds of brightly plumed birds; or Antofagasta de la Sierra, an amazingly remote village close to the biggest crater on the Earth's surface, set amid frozen lagoons mottled pink with flamingos; or Laguna Diamante, a high-altitude lake reflecting a wondrous volcano straight out of a Japanese woodcut. In any case, weather conditions and the sheer size of the country will rule out any attempt to see every corner or even all the main destinations. If you do want to see each region broadly corresponding to our ten chapters air travel will be the only way of fitting them in, unless time is no object. But climatic restraints make it far more sensible and rewarding to concentrate on a particular section of the country, and that's where the excellent network of long-distance buses comes into its own. Other than if you¹re visiting Argentina as part of a South American tour, Buenos Aires is likely to be your point of entry, as it has the country¹s only bona fide international airport. Only inveterate city-haters will resist the capital's charm. Not a place for museum fans though several of the city's art collections are certainly worth a visit BA is one of the world's greatest urban experiences, with its intriguing blend of French-style architecture and a vernacular style that includes houses painted in the colours of a legendary football team. From the city, also Argentina's unrivalled transport hub, the various regions fan out to the north, west and south.
Due north stretches El Litoral, a region of subtropical riverine landscapes sharing borders with Brazil and Paraguay. Here are the photogenic Iguazú waterfalls, and the much-visited Jesuit Missions whose once noble ruins are crumbling into the tangled jungle, with the notable exception of well-preserved San Ignacio Miní set among manicured parkland. Immediately to the west of El Litoral stretches the Chaco, one of Argentina¹s most infrequently visited regions, a place for those with a dogged interest in wildlife, especially birdlife and endangered species of mammals; but be prepared for often fiercely hot conditions, a poor tourist infrastructure and a long wait if you want to see some of its rarer denizens. Tucked away in the country's landlocked Northwest, the historic cradle of present-day Argentina, bordering on Bolivia and northern Chile, is the polychrome Quebrada del Toro which can be viewed in comfort from the Tren a los Nubes, one of the world's highest railways. Even more colourful is the much photographed Quebrada de Humahuaca, a fabulous gorge winding up to the oxygen-starved Altiplano, where llamas and their wild relatives graze on straw-like pastures. In the Valles Calchaqúes, a series of stunningly beautiful valleys, high-altitude vineyards produce the delightfully flowery torrontés wine.
West and immediately south of Buenos Aires is pampa, pampa and more pampa. This is where you'll still glimpse signs of the traditional gaucho culture, most famously celebrated in the charming town of San Antonio de Areco. Here, too, you'll find some of the classiest estancias, offering a combination of understated luxury and horseback adventure activities. On the Atlantic coast are a string of fun beach resorts, including long-standing favourite Mar del Plata. While the farther west you go, the larger the Central Sierras loom on the horizon: the mild climate and bucolic woodlands of these ancient mountains have attracted Argentine tourists since the late nineteenth century, and within reach of Córdoba, the country's vibrant second city, are some of the oldest resorts on the continent. Both the city and its hinterland contain some wonderful colonial architecture, including the well-preserved Jesuit estancias of Alta Gracia and Santa Catalina. In the Cuyo, farther west still, with the highest Andean peaks as a splendid backdrop, you can discover one of Argentina's most enjoyable cities, the regional capital of Mendoza, also the country's wine capital. From here, the scenic Alta Montaña route climbs steeply to the Chilean border, passing Cerro Aconcagua, now well-established as a dream challenge for mountaineers from around the world. Just to the south, Las Leñas is a winter resort where a lot of skiers end up on the pages of the continent's glamour magazines, but the nearby black-and-red lava-wastes of La Payunia, one of the country's hidden jewels, are all but overlooked. Likewise, San Juan and La Rioja provinces are relatively uncharted territory, but their marvellous mountain-and-valley landscapes will reward exploration, along with their less known but often outstanding wineries. Their star attractions are a brace of parks: Parque Nacional Talampaya, with its giant red cliffs seen on many a poster, and the nearby Parque Provincial Ischigualasto, usually known the Valle de la Luna on account of its intriguing moonscapes.
Whereas neighbouring Chile takes up a mere sliver of the continent's Southern Cone, Argentina, like a greedy bedfellow hogging the blankets, has the lion's share of the wild, sparsely populated expanses of Patagonia and the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. These are lands of seemingly endless arid steppe hemmed in for the most part by the southern leg of the Andes, a series of volcanoes, craggy peaks and deep glacial lakes. An almost unbroken chain of national parks along these Patagonian and Fuegian cordilleras make for some of the best trekking anywhere on the planet. Certainly include the savage granite peaks of the Fitz Roy sector of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in your itinerary but also the less frequently visited monkey-puzzle forests of Parque Nacional Lanín or the trail network of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. These regions exert an irresistible lure on many visitors, and in addition to the fabulous scenery, they offer excellent opportunities for fly-fishing and adventurous horse-riding, with the famous sheep estancias as a base. For wildlife enthusiasts the Peninsula Valdés is a must-see: famous above all else as a breeding ground for southern right whales, it and the nearby coast also sustain enormous colonies of elephant seals, penguins and sea-lions. If you have a historical bent, you may like to trace the region¹s associations with early seafarers such as Magellan and Drake in the Bahía San Juliàn or Fitzroy and Darwin in the beautiful Beagle Channel off Ushuaia.
Ancestors of the Tehuelche, one of the many remarkable indigenous cultures wiped out after the Europeans arrived, painted the wonderful collage of handprints and animal scenes that adorn the walls of the Cueva de las Manos Pintadas in Santa Cruz Province. Finally, you might like to track down the legacy of outlaws like Butch Cassidy who lived near Cholila, or of the Welsh settlers whose influence can still be felt in communities like Gaiman and Trevelin.
WHEN TO GO
Since you're unlikely to flit from region to region, you could probably manage to visit every part of the country at the optimal time of year. Roughly falling in September to November, the Argentine spring is perfect just about everywhere except parts of the south, where icy gales may blow, while autumn (March and April) is great for the wine-harvest in the Cuyo and the red and orange hues of the beeches down south. Above all, you're best off not being in the far south in the coldest months(AprilOct), or in the Chaco and some lowland parts of the northwest in the height of summer (DecFeb). On the other hand, summer's the only time to climb the highest Andean peaks and the most reliable time of year to head for Tierra del Fuego. Buenos Aires can get unbearably hot and sticky in midsummer and may come across as somewhat bleak in midwinter (July and Aug) though that's when you should aim to be in the skiing resorts. A final point to bear in mind: the national holidays are roughly January, Easter and July, when transport and accommodation can get booked up and many resorts are packed out.
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