Ignacio Maza of Signature Travel Network recently visited Argentina and here he explains why it’s the right time to visit the South American nation.
Argentina is enormous—the eighth largest country in the world, roughly the size of India. The country is also having its moment. Because of the strength of the dollar and the variety of landscapes and experiences, now is the time to head south. Since I had limited time, I visited two regions that were new to me, the Northwest and Patagonia, adding a few days in Buenos Aires.
This sprawling metropolis of 15 million inhabitants at the mouth of the River Plate is the most European of all South American capitals—sophisticated, bustling and cosmopolitan. The city combines the architecture of Paris and Madrid with an irrepressible Latin American spirit, nonstop traffic, late hours, great dining and world-class culture added to the mix. Buenos Aires is a collection of distinct neighborhoods. Some of the most notable are the stately Centro, the historic district on the edge of the river, where you will find the Cabildo, the 18th-century town hall, Casa Rosada (Argentina’s Presidential Palace), and Plaza de Mayo, where Argentines celebrate, protest, and come together on special occasions. La Boca is where Buenos Aires began, the first port of the city and birthplace of Tango. Explore the charming cobblestone streets of San Telmo, in search of antiques and fun restaurants.
Don’t miss La Recoleta, the elegant neighborhood of Argentina’s elite, where you will find opulent palaces and great shopping and dining. Visit the namesake cemetery, burial place of Argentina’s wealthy and powerful, including Eva Perón. Continue to Palermo, stroll the parks, and wander through its trendy Soho and Hollywood subdivisions, filled with hip restaurants and stylish shops. For something completely different, visit the city’s newest neighborhood, Puerto Madero, home of high-rise buildings and former warehouses converted into celebrated restaurants. Buenos Aires is proud of its rich cultural heritage, vibrant theater district, and one of the world’s finest opera houses, Teatro Colón. Of the city’s hundreds of bookstores, my favorite is El Ateneo Grand Splendid, an ornate theater turned into a temple for book-lovers. Buenos Aires is justly celebrated for the quality of its dining, particularly its grass-fed beef, considered by many the very finest.
Where to stay? My two top choices: Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires is two hotels in one—the classic elegance of the palace on Avenida Alvear and the modern tower on Calle Posadas. Between the two wings is a beautiful garden with terraces—an oasis in the city. Contact the director of sales and marketing Lucía Bo at [email protected]. A few doors away is the Sofitel Buenos Aires Recoleta, offering French charm in a stylish high-rise tower with generously sized guestrooms. Tip: Book a suite with access to the Executive Lounge on the 18th floor, a great value. Contact the director of sales and marketing Lucila Pesci at [email protected].
From Buenos Aires, I flew to Salta, premier gateway to Argentina’s noroeste. This region is world apart, a land of stunning landscapes, snow-covered mountains, colonial towns, spectacular deserts and rock formations, and above all, the living heritage of ancient indigenous civilizations. Salta’s spirit is tied to the altiplano of Bolivia and Perú, not distant Buenos Aires. The best way to experience the northwest is with an expert guide and driver who can navigate the roads, especially unpaved and narrow stretches.
Highlights: The Quebrada de las Conchas and its 60-foot-high sandstone amphitheater carved by wind and water. Hike rocky paths covered by forests of giant cactus in the highlands of Cachi. Sample some of the best wines in Argentina, especially Malbecs and Torrontés whites in Cafayate’s vineyards. Ride the Train to the Clouds, one of the highest in the world, with sections reaching 14,200 feet over sea level.
Travel north to Jujuy province to see natural wonders like the Quebrada de Humahuaca and the Serranía del Hornocal, best seen in the afternoon, where layers of eroded limestone and exposed minerals have created colorful mountainsides. Another "must:" Salinas Grandes, vast salt flats that are the remains of an ancient lake, now dry.
Best of all are the enchanting villages like Molinos and Cachi, some dating back to the 16th century. These villages are frozen in time and a window into a rich and storied past. Spend time in Salta, a pleasant city of colonial architecture and the Museum of High Altitude (MAAM), with preserved Inca mummies. Where to stay? In Salta, I recommend Legado Mítico, a charming boutique hotel in the historic district. Twenty minutes out of town is House of Jasmines, an intimate Relais & Châteaux resort on a 250-acre estate. A four-hour drive south, high in the mountains, is Estancia Colomé, Argentina’s oldest working vineyard with a superb nine-room luxury retreat.
This remote region of endless landscapes, windswept plains and towering mountains has enchanted travelers of all stripes, from Magellan to Butch Cassidy. The top highlight in Patagonia is Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, home of jagged peaks, awe-inspiring scenery, and world-class hiking trails. The National Park has two focal points—the town of El Chaltén, trekking capital of South America, in the north, and El Calafate, gateway to the region and main airport, in the south. Stay at the newly opened Explora Lodge El Chaltén, the perfect ‘base camp’ from which to explore the north region. The lodge is located within the conservation reserve of Los Huemules, with views of the Electric Valley and Marconi Glacier.
Of the many hikes offered by Explora, the most sought-after is the trek to Laguna de Los Tres, for the best views of Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina’s Matterhorn. This challenging, 15-mile hike will demand every ounce of energy from you but is well worth the effort. At the south end of the park is the other star attraction, Perito Moreno Glacier. This glacier is notable because it is very accessible and is constantly advancing, causing massive chunks of ice calving from its front walls. Experience the wonder and grandeur of Perito Moreno Glacier by trekking across the ice, cruising or kayaking on the lake in front of the glacier’s walls or walking down elevated boardwalks for great views of massive ice formations.
Halfway between El Calafate and the glacier is EOLO, the intimate Relais & Châteaux lodge that embodies the spirit of Patagonia and is the best place to stay in this area. This serene and warmhearted lodge, set on a hill within a vast estate, was the perfect place to end my journey. Two great contacts: Wendy Zappelli ([email protected]), USA Sales for Explora, and Lucía Kuperman ([email protected]), commercial manager at EOLO.
Planning your itinerary
A great resource is Argentina Activa, the destination specialist, who creates custom-tailored, high-quality itineraries and experiences delivered with excellent service and expert advice. Contact Francesca Bercetche, president, at [email protected].