Argentina is a huge country with a plethora of things to do. Buenos Aires itself offers everything you might expect from a large, European city and serves as a wonderful gateway to the rest of the country. Iguazu Falls and the surrounding rainforests in the north, desert canyons in the northwest, wine in the center and the glaciers of the south ensure that there is something for all tastes. The fact that the Andes run the entire length of the country just adds to the splendor.
Budget: Argentina represents an incredible compromise between modern comforts and 3rd world pricing. One traveler described it as a 1st world country with 3rd world prices and although I don’t think that’s quite the case, some wealthy travelers may feel that way. Other places in South America (everything but Brazil and Chile) are much cheaper than Argentina but lack its charm and comfort. Truthfully I think there is something here for every budget, from $9/night dorm beds to $900 luxury hotels. ATMs are plentiful and changing money should never be a problem. As always, local restaurants are always cheaper than ones geared up for tourism.
Transportation: If you are spending a long time in Argentina you might find that renting a car can be an economical decision. For the two of us we couldn’t make the arithmetic pan out for the month or so we spent there but for a larger group, renting, or more time, buying used, will probably work in your favor.
That being said the bus system here is superb with plenty of comfortable options. Regular coach buses don’t exist, the worst you’ll be likely to find is semi-cama service which is like a standard coach but with more leg room and comfortable leg/foot rests. Cama is similar but with larger seat, only three to a row and then there is the executive/deluxe service which is comparable flying first class on an international airline. All classes generally include food and there is a 50% chance of the Hollywood movie being shown in English rather than Spanish. When covering large distances traveling by night may be your only option…so relax and enjoy the experience.
Planning: The seasons should play into your plan. If you are visiting in the winter months (May-Aug) then Patagonia and the far south are probably out of the question. A loop of the country can be done quite simply but be sure to allot plenty of time.
Buenos Aires: There is a lot to do here if your interested. Weekend markets abound and all are very close to one of the two main ice cream parlors. Museums, tango, nice meals, and historical hot spots are literally all over the place. If you’re in for the tourist thing, be sure to check out Florida Street, otherwise just spend some time mozying around and see what you find. Note that if flying into Buenos Aires there are two airports, one for international flights and one for domestic flights.
Igauzu Falls: Truly magnificent. Especially magnificent when the water is high and you can’t see everything. If the water is low, you can walk out across the water, which itself is a cool experience. If you don’t feel like walking into Brazil for the opposite view, don’t worry, everyone we met agreed that Argentina had the better view. Getting there might be a good reason to use an airplane but if going by bus Resitencia and the Chaco National Park can make a nice stopping point if coming or going to Salta in the northwest or even Buenos Aires and Cordoba.
North West: This land is beautiful. Go for a hike in the canyonlands of Juijui, go for a bike tour of the wine-lands of Cafayate, eat empenadas in Salta, or hit the river for some whitewater. Whatever you choose Salta is likely going to be your starting point for exploration in the area. Bus transportation to some of these smaller destinations can be difficult so if your short on time consider booking a Salta based tour or renting a car locally for a few days. This makes an excellent region for multi-day cycling but be sure to bring lots of sunscreen and water.
Cordoba: The best example of a Spanish colonial town, full of charm and history, in all of Argentina. Also the home of Che Guevarra. We decided to skip as we’d had our fill of colonial architecture already but if you’re looking for more this is the best place to go.
Mendoza: This wine producing region is a must see for many people, but I beg to differ. You can have a lot of fun riding around on a bicycle here sampling the wine but you might be surprised to note that a taste will often cost you 3 times what you’d pay for the bottle in the store not to mention the wines along the bike route aren’t exactly known for their excellence. That being said, you can have a lot of fun doing this if you’re with the right group of people and have the right attitude. There is also some class II-III whitewater in the area, but be sure to inquire about the river levels as they were a bit low when we were there.
San Juan: This is the jumping off point for tours to see Ischigualasto which features several interesting rock formations. This might be a must see if you’re a student of geology but if you aren’t you may find that the effort and money spent getting to the park may make the trip not worth it. You will be able to book tours from both San Juan and the park’s gateway towns but San Juan will charge you more in the end.
The Lake District: Bariloche is your main option here, filled with chocolate and coffee shops be prepared to enjoy this little taste of European dessert alongside the more traditional alfajore. The town is great place to practice kite-surfing or windsurfing on the lake, go for a day or multi-day hike, hit the trails with a nice mountain bike, or just take in the scenery. This is a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast and in the winter it is even a ski town. Prices here can run a bit high but deals can be had if you shop around a bit. San Martin is probably your other option and is generally considered to be an upmarket, and less crowded alternative.
Patagonia: There is a reason a clothing company calls themselves Patagonia…this is a foreboding, windswept, uninviting place. The trip south from Bariloche to the southern end of the continent is a long one and there are two ways to do it: go back toward the coast and down along the main road (boring) or with a tour along Ruta 40 through the Andes. If you take the Ruta 40 option you will cross into Chile in a few places and you will see beautiful scenery but don’t be fooled, most of your time will be spent in the car. These trips do not begin until mid-November and usually run until around March.
El Calafate: The reason to go here is to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and possibly El Chaten as well. El Calafate is a tourist town and only is open in the summertime. Once in town it is simple to arrange for a tour to the glacier but if you are with a group of 4 or more people you can save a few dollars on entrance by taking a taxi or a car rental into the park before the gate is open. The glacier itself is rather impressive and if this is your only sighting of one you will probably enjoy the boat ride to get closer as well. Adventure treks on the glacier are available as well but can be costly. Be advised that one trekker said it felt as though they were just walking on snow. You can also fly between Calafate and Bariloche with several airlines for about double the price of two days spent in the bus going via the coast and Rio Gallegos. It is very simple affair to hop on a bus here in Calafate for the ride to the Chillean Tierra del Fuego
Ushuaia: If you’re looking to go to Ushuaia its likely for one of two reasons: bragging rights or a cruise to Antarctica. Either way you won’t find much there besides a place to have your passport stamped with the words fin del mundo but save your money on Penguin viewing for Punta Tombo near Peninsula Valdez.
Peninsula Valdez: This is the oceanographer’s dream. Guaranteed sightings of the Southern Right Whale, beautiful scenery filled with elephant seals and sea lions, and the chance to see an Orca Whale swim up on the beach as part of a wave and snatch one up for the kill. Take a day to head down to Punta Tombo for more penguins walking around you than you would have ever thought possible.