Argentina is a fascinating country - distinctly Argentinian style and culture with a strong European influence. This influence is not a surprise given that 86% of the population is of European descent. Although Argentina became independent from Spain in 1816, they were still very reliant on foreign investment in those days, which led to a large influx of European immigration. From Spanish colonial and Swiss style architecture to a thriving wine industry with French origins, a fledgling craft beer industry of German roots and a number of other culinary delights, one can find the European influences all around.
From the big cities to the countryside, the influences of all these cultures, combined with the uniqueness of Argentina, offer visitors an exceptional experience for all the senses.
Buenos Aires is the nation's capital, a bustling metropolis of 3 million residents. Often called "Paris of South America", the city has a thriving art scene and plenty of nightlife. A city that never sleeps, be aware that most restaurants don't open until 9pm and bars at midnight. With it's mix of cultures from all over the world, just about any type of cuisine can be found, though Argentina is well known for their wonderful beef. They love their steaks!
Buenos Aires is a patchwork of distinct communities, from the hectic downtown to wealthy areas like the trendy Palermo to the working class community of La Boca, a popular destination for tourists with the colorful houses and pedestrian streets where tango artists perform and tango memorabilia is sold.
A distinctly Argentine dance, the origins of the tango are actually a bit of a mystery. An accepted theory is that the African slaves brought to Argentina and their descendants greatly influenced the dance. The development of the dance continued to be strongly influenced by immigrants, especially those from Poland, Spain and Cuba. Today visitors who want to watch or participate have endless venues from which to choose, from tours that take you to tango shows to dance events and cafes. Beware, tango shows tend to be touristy and not entirely tango oriented.
Visitors to Buenos Aires should take the opportunity to explore outside the metropolitan area. Here you will find the agricultural heart of Argentina. The pampas, the lush grasslands perfect for cattle grazing and horse farms, as well as the beautiful estancias can be seen on a day trip from the city. Get introduced to the gaucho, the romanticized version of the American cowboy.
Wine, Wine and More Wine!
Argentina is the world's 5th largest producer of wine, and has undoubtedly become a top destination for wine lovers from around the world. Even though the wine regions date back to the 1500's, wine has been the official drink of Argentina only since 2010.
Argentina has three major wine areas. The youngest and up and coming region is in Patagonia. Due to the altitude, the area is best suited for Pinot Noir, however other varieties that fit this region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. And for white wines: Semillón, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Torrontés from Río Negro. The second area is in the north, in the regions of Salta and Catamarca. Even higher in altitude than Patagonia, vineyards can be found as high as 9900 feet, specializing in Torrentes, Argentina's signature white grape varietal. The northwest province of Mendoza produces 80% of Argentina's wine. Known for its Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Bonarda varietals also thrive here.
Just under two hours flight time from Buenos Aires, the Mendoza region is an ideal destination for food and wine enthusiasts. With over 1200 wineries, how can one go wrong? The region offers accommodations for all tastes and budgets, from luxury lodges and hotels to small, family run operations. Local tour companies arrange winery visits and tastings, and for the more adventurous, hikes and rafting trips in the nearby mountains as well.
One of the world's largest waterfalls is a short 90 minute flight from Buenos Aires. On the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is Argentina's top natural attraction and a World Heritage site. Collectively made up of 275 individual falls, Iguazu Falls are almost 2 miles wide.
Patagonia, the southern third of Argentina, is home to Los Glaciares National Park. Also a World Heritage site, the park consists of 1.5 million acres and is located near the Chilean border. Mostly ice, the park has 47 glaciers, the most famous being Perito Moreno, known for it's constant show of fractures (or calving). At the northern end of the park one can take in the stunning scenery of Monte Fitz Roy, beautiful granite mountains. This region draws many climbers and trekkers.
The Lake District, a picturesque region of lakes, waterfalls and parks is one of the prettiest areas in Argentina. While it doesn't draw as many visitors as Iguazu Falls, it is a prime tourist destination. Located in the northwestern portion of Patagonia, people come here to hike, ski, climb and fish. In fact, the area boasts some of the best fly fishing in Argentina. The main city in the region is Bariloche, a resort town located on Lake Nahuel Huapi, in the southern portion of the district. Bariloche is often used as the base for day trips around the region. Bariloche is known for it's Swiss-like atmosphere, with alpine architecture and delicious chocolates.
There are many sides to Argentina, something for everyone. Small group guided tours make it easy to thoroughly enjoy the sites without having to worry about the details. Want more adventure? Consider adding a hiking or biking tour to a portion of your trip while enjoying wonderful overnight stays at top notch accommodations.
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