Many adventurous travelers are drawn to Argentina — the land of romantic gauchos, haunting tangos, rolling pampas, towering mountains, sparkling lakes and, of course, sophisticated Buenos Aires. Many people, however, don’t fully appreciate how huge the country is — 60% the size of Europe — or that it also offers tropical jungle in the north and Antarctica-like glaciers in Patagonia. In case you plan to visit Argentina, here are some planning tips and some Do’s and Don’ts to help you get the most out of your trip:
Choose a manageable itinerary that works within your time frame. Traveling to Argentina takes a long time — 9 hours from Miami — and so does traveling around the country. The best destinations within Argentina require an internal flight from Buenos Aires, normally about 1 1/2 to 2 hours per segment but sometimes longer (Ushuaia-4 hours). Because most regions are worth visiting for at least three nights (see below), you’ll probably want to limit the number of regions visited outside BA to around three — especially if you will also be exploring Chile or Brazil. Otherwise, you’ll spend an incredible amount of time on planes and in airports and your internal airfare will bust the budget.
Be mindful of seasonality. Remember that the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. Unless you are looking to go skiing, most travelers will want to visit Argentina in the Spring and Summer, between late October through early April, when temperatures are more moderate and rain less plentiful. However, if your focus is mainly on the north — e.g. Buenos Aires and/or Iguazu Falls — then you can visit year-round.
Cultural immersion opportunities abound. Take time to soak in the Tango culture by visiting a milonga, a dance hall where Portenos will dance tango — usually with strangers — during their lunch break from work. Another option is to take a private tango lesson yourself, or to attend a tango show. If sports are more your thing, then plan your trip around a professional soccer game or polo match — the Argentines are world-beaters at both! You prefer opera, ballet or classical music concerts? Then attend a performance at the Teatro Colon, ranked by National Geographic as the third best Opera House in the world. If the culinary arts are appealing, consider a cooking workshop while in Buenos Aires.
Where to go and how long to stay?
- Buenos Aires, the “Paris of the South”, is worth at least two nights, three for city lovers. Free time here is not wasted but be careful of thieves.
- Glaciers National Park (Calafate) is the best place for seeing — and trekking on — glaciers within Argentina. The incomparably beautiful Perito Moreno glacier may just be the loveliest glacier outside Antarctica. Recommend three nights.
- The Lake District (Bariloche, Villa La Angostura) is justifiably called “Little Switzerland” for its mountains, lakes, rivers, lush vegetation and many adventure options – hiking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding and kayaking. Three nights.
- Iguazu Falls are widely considered one of the two most impressive falls in the world — MUCH more impressive than Niagara or Angel falls. Only Victoria Falls in Africa is on a par with Iguazu Falls. Depending on flight logistics, we recommend spending one or two nights to see both the Argentine and Brazilian sides, which offer completely different views.
- The Valdez Peninsula region is the best spot for wildlife viewing in Argentina. You can visit a huge penguin rookery in Punta Tombo, and observe whales, sea lions, elephant seals, guanaco and countless sea birds. Four hours of driving is required per day. Lodging is not upscale. Recommend two nights.
- Mt. Fitzroy (El Chalten) is one of the two most impressive sites within Argentina’s southern Patagonia region (the other being Perito Moreno glacier). A 3 1/2 hour drive from Calafate, this is a truly outstanding spot for scenery and hiking. Great for photographers. We recommend spending two nights at Fitzroy.
- Ushuaia is a pleasant town with a nice national park nearby (Tierra del Fuego) but the scenery in this region is not as outstanding as the places listed above. If you go, two nights.
Do’s & Don’ts for Argentina
We all know that traveling to another country means leaving behind our cultural assumptions and embracing local traditions. This is not only practical; it’s just plain polite – and is always appreciated by your hosts. Here are a few tips to make this process easier!
- DON’T dress too casually. Shorts and flip-flops will raise eyebrows in a country that is very concerned with fashion and appropriate dress.
- DON’T yawn or eat in public (on the street) – it’s considered very rude.
- DON’T make the “OK” or thumb’s up gesture – they are both considered vulgar.
- DON’T expect social occasions to begin on time – it’s actually considered rude to arrive for a party on time.
- DON’T say that you are “American”; instead say that you are from the “United States”, the “U.S.” or from “North America”. (Spanish speakers can say that they are from “Los Estados Unidos”.
- DON’T worry about change when the amount is small. Small-value coins and bills are rare in circulation and no one worries much about amounts less than 50 centavos.
- DON’T talk about sensitive topics such as Argentina’s relationship with Brazil, Great Britain or The Falkland Islands, which could evoke strong reactions. Also avoid discussing politics and religion.
- DO tip 10% at restaurants and 1 peso per bag to hotel porters.
- DO share some mate (tea) with your fellow travelers – or with strangers. The national drink is passed around clockwise and shared as a sign of friendship and acceptance. The tea packs quite a caffeine “punch.”
- DO expect to be kissed on the cheek when meeting or departing from acquaintances.
- DO sleep in – Argentina and especially Buenos Aires has a thriving tradition of nightlife, and things rarely get started until near midnight!
- DO try to learn the Tango. Tango is a way of life in Argentina, and being able to dance will make your time there more fun and exciting.
- DO check out a Polo match. Argentinians love Polo and it is quite a beautiful sport to observe.
- DO have a coffee at the famous Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires. The cafe has been popular with artists, intellectuals and others since 1858.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you have a wonderful time in Argentina. If you need help planning your trip to Argentina, or to any of the 39 other countries we offer, please email us or call us at 800- 869-0639.