From mighty Iguazú Falls in the subtropical north to the thunderous and crackling advance of the Glaciar Perito Moreno in the south, Argentina is a vast natural wonderland. The country boasts of some of the Andes’ highest peaks. It’s home to rich wetlands, mountains painted in rustic colors, deserts dotted with cacti, massive ice fields and dramatic steppes in Patagonia, cool lichen-clad Valdivian forests, Andean salt flats, a spectacular Lake District, penguins, flamingos, capybaras and more.
It has been quipped that Argentina is the most American of all European countries and the most European of all American countries, but it actually has a very special character all of its own, distilled into the national ideal of Argentinidad, characterized by proud, defiant passion. While there is a lot of truth in the clichés – Argentine society really is dominated by football, politics and living life in the fast lane (literally, when it comes to driving) – not everyone dances the tango, or is obsessed with Evita or gallops around on a horse.
One of Argentina’s top attractions is the leviathan metropolis of Buenos Aires, the most fascinating of all South American capitals. It’s a riveting place just to wander about, people-watching, shopping or simply soaking up the unique atmosphere. Its many barrios (neighborhoods) are startlingly different – some are decadently old-fashioned, others daringly modern – but all of them ooze character. Arriving at the city, one is gifted with a blurred mosaic of a modern metropolis followed by the street life – the cafes, the purple jacaranda flowers draped over the sidewalks, and porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) in stylish clothing, walking purposefully past handsome early-20th-century stone facades. The other main cities worth visiting are colonial Salta in the Northwest, beguiling Rosario – the birthplace of Che Guevara – and Ushuaia, which, in addition to being the world’s most southerly city, enjoys a fabulous waterfront setting on the Beagle Channel.
The country’s real trump cards outside the capital are the sheer size of the land and the diverse wildlife inhabiting it. Argentina hosts hundreds of bird species – including the Andean condor and three varieties of flamingo – plus pumas, armadillos, llamas, foxes and tapirs roaming the country’s forests and mountainsides and the dizzying heights of the altiplano, or puna. Lush tea plantations and parched salt-flats, palm groves and icebergs, plus the world’s mightiest waterfalls, are just some of the scenes that will catch you unawares if you were expecting Argentina to be one big cattle ranch.
Satisfying that carnal craving for juicy steaks isn’t hard to do in the land that has perfected grilling wonderfully flavorful sides of beef. Parrillas (steak restaurants) are everywhere and will offer up any cut you can imagine. And if you’re a fan of pizza and pasta, these Italian staples are ubiquitous as well. You can experience a huge variety of ethnic cuisine, from Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern to Scandinavian. Down it all with that famous Argentine wine, and you’ll be struggling to maintain your waistline.