Argentina and Patagonia
Argentina’s lengthy list of offerings includes the Old World yet cosmopolitan allure of Buenos Aires and the chilly expanses of Patagonia. Add a constantly falling monetary exchange rate versus the U.S. dollar, and you have ever more inexpensive steak dinners, bottles of Malbec, tango lessons, and trekking tours.
Buenos Aires has weathered its share of upheaval in recent years, but that doesn’t keep porteños (Buenos Aires locals) from enjoying life to the fullest, whether it’s at a milonga (tango dance club), a century-old café, or the bright and glass-walled galleries of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. One of South America’s top modern-art museums, “El Malba” houses a permanent collection of works by Frida Kahlo, Brazilian Tarsila do Amaral, and Argentine icon Xul Solar.
Twice the size of California, Patagonia feels like the end of the world: windswept, glacier-chewed, and with seemingly endless grasslands climbing to savage snowy peaks. The Argentine section includes the Parque Nacional Perito Moreno, home to the glacier of the same name, a stunning 18-mile-long river of ice and the third largest freshwater reserve in the world. Find outstanding hiking trails here and across the Andes in Chile’s Cerro Castillo National Reserve, where multiday treks lead through mossy forests and past neon-blue meltwater lakes. Feeling more ambitious? Consider the ten-day, 52-mile “W” circuit around the unearthly granite crags of Torres del Paine National Park.
How to Get Around: These are both very big (or at least long) countries, so internal flights—there are plenty—are the quickest way to get around. Long-distance buses are more affordable and just as comfortable, if not more so. The only way to reach Chilean Patagonia, cut off from the north by ice caps, is by air, water, or via Argentina.
Where to Stay: Pop Hotel in Buenos Aires’s Villa Crespo district bills itself as “budget boutique,” which explains the bright modern color scheme and surprisingly affordable rates. Some rooms have balconies, and the Malabia metro station is close by. In El Calafate, the closest town to Perito Moreno, the Argentine Automobile Club runs the ACA Hotel, with spotless rooms and a modern minimalist design aesthetic. It’s near the bus station and the city’s main shopping and dining area. The Paine Grande Lodge isn’t fancy—it’s essentially a hostel, with dorm rooms and shared baths—but you can’t beat the views of Lake Pehoe and the surrounding mountains of Torres del Paine National Park. An ideal trekking base camp, it has a basic restaurant and bar (open October through April) to boot.
What to Eat or Drink: You can’t visit Argentina without hitting at least one parrillada (barbecue restaurant), and La Carniceria in Buenos Aires is a solid choice that avoids the tourist crowds at more famous spots. The modern restaurant offers meaty options from the owner’s farm, including smoked spare ribs and chorizo (spicy sausage). It’s small, so show up early or make a reservation. A leisurely café con leche (coffee with milk) at one of Buenos Aires’s classic cafés is another must-do; try the Bar de Cao in San Cristóbal. The atmospheric spot, all old wood and antiques, doesn’t seem much changed from when it opened in 1915, aside from the ultramodern espresso machines.
When to Go: Buenos Aires is best in spring (September through November) and fall (March through May). The blooming jacaranda trees in October and November give spring a slight edge. Patagonia’s weather is best from December through February, which is why prices are highest then.
Currency: Argentine peso, Chilean peso
Don’t Miss: The Valdés Peninsula, an approximately 600-mile flight southwest of Buenos Aires, is famous for its abundant marine wildlife. Between mid-June and mid-December, whale-watching boat tours leave from the town of Puerto Madryn in search of southern right whales. Get a new perspective on the aquatic giants from the Yellow Submarine, a custom-built semisubmersible lined with underwater viewing windows. A hundred miles south, Punta Tombo is the home of South America’s largest Magellanic penguin colony.
Fun Fact: Researchers aren’t sure exactly why, but the Perito Moreno glacier is one of only two in South America that is actually growing.
Staff Tip: A trip to Buenos Aires isn't complete without experiencing La Bomba de Tiempo—an incredibly talented percussion ensemble. They perform at Konex every Monday night from 7-10 p.m. and the show is unique each week. The amazing rhythym and sound of this 16-person group is sure to have you dancing the night away. —Megan Heltzel Weiler, @MeganHeltzel, producer, National Geographic Travel