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An open-air restaurant on Honduras Street near Plaza Serrano in Buenos Aires. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

The Best of Central Argentina

A few years back, when I was volunteering at an orphanage in Kathmandu, I met a high-powered, sassy New York lawyer who had taken a year off from her career-driven life to travel, give back, and trek the world’s highest mountains. Rima and I bonded instantly, trading stories about the trials, inefficiencies, and unexpected joys of travel and ended up exploring Nepal, India, and Kashmir together.

The night before we headed our separate ways, I made a prediction that she would fall in love on the next leg of her trip, in Argentina. She, of course, thought I was crazy. Fast forward four years, and I’m headed to Mendoza to attend her wedding — to her Argentinian trekking guide!

In keeping with the romantic theme, my boyfriend and I decided to make a two-week trip of the occasion (the wedding also happened to coincide with our one-year anniversary). While we by no means covered the entire country, we had a ball spending quality time in central Argentina.

Whether you’re heading to Argentina for romance, adventure, business, or complete cultural immersion, here are a few recommendations based on my personal experience:

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A little boy seeing the Andes on horseback. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

See the Andes on horseback. Our first stop was Mendoza, a destination popular among mountain climbers and adventure travelers in the wine-growing region on the eastern side of the Andes. While we were happy sampling delicious Malbecs, riding through the mountains on horseback was our most memorable experience by far. Many tour companies offer day trips from Mendoza, with combinations of rafting, trekking, repelling, horseback riding, and zip lining available. Whatever you do, be sure to wear lots of sunscreen!

Attend the Feria de Mataderos. If you are looking for an authentic South American experience, this is a great bet. In addition to getting to see gauchos display their horsemanship, you can enjoy horse racing, handicrafts, live music, folk dancing, and delicious food. Though it takes place about an hour from Buenos Aires (take the crowded local bus to get the full experience), this relatively tourist-free event is definitely worth the trip.

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A couple dancing at the Feria de Mataderos. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

Live like a local. In Buenos Aires we sublet a flat in the heart of the Palermo neighborhood via Airbnb. In addition to being cost effective (most of the time), renting makes you feel like a local. My boyfriend and I felt very Argentinian sitting on our sixth floor balcony sipping wine and snacking on olives while we watched the sun set.

Eat like royalty. I was expecting to be wowed, and I was. We were invited to a traditional asado (barbecue) at the groom’s uncle’s house and consumed what seemed to be endless quantities of melt-in-your-mouth beef, pork, goat, chicken, kidneys, and sweetbreads. Not one part went to waste. If you have the chance to eat a meal in an Argentine home, do it! We had our next best (and most expensive) meal at the famous Las Cabreras restaurant. Tip: Meals in Argentina are long, so pace yourself — and wear stretch pants!

Embrace your sweet tooth. Our entree at Las Cabreras was exquisite — but the ice cream drizzled with dulce de leche and merengue was the real highlight. Argentinians love their sweets. Every block smells of baked goods. From medialunas (croissants infused with what tastes like maple syrup) to alfajores (chocolate-covered dulce de leche cookies), this is the trip to take a break from your diet.

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A traditional asado is a national pastime in Argentina. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

Take time to cleanse. While my boyfriend can eat meat all day (every day), by our second week in Argentina we were looking for something of the leafy variety (which is surprisingly difficult to find). We eventually found Bio, an organic vegetarian restaurant serving up fresh and flavorful bruschetta, gazpacho, portobello mushroom sliders, and ginger lemonade. I instantly felt healthier.

Stock up on leather products (if you’re in to that sort of thing). Most tourists are told to go to Florida Avenue in Buenos Aires, but we found the best merchandise and the best deals on Calle Murillo. We picked up two pairs of shoes, a leather messenger bag, boots, a purse, and a leather jacket for a third of the price we would have paid in the U.S. Great quality, lots of options, and very reasonable prices.

Go on a field trip. To celebrate our anniversary, we took a day trip from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. One hour (by ferry) and one passport stamp later you’re find yourself in another country. While this UNESCO World Heritage site has become a bit touristy, we enjoyed wandering the streets, admiring the brightly colored buildings, climbing to the top of the lighthouse to take in a panoramic view of the town, and sipping on mate.

Jill Schneider teaches travel photography to high school students — a gig that has taken her to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Ecuador – as a National Geographic Student Expeditions trip leader.

What’s your favorite thing about Argentina? Share your recommendations with the Intelligent Travel community in the comments section: